I will miss the daily chats

When I arrived in South Africa a couple of months ago, the presence of security staff in many public and private places was unfamiliar to me. There is security staff on the campus, in public parks, in streets highly frequented by pedestrians, at every gate and parking lot entrance, in malls, and in shops alike. Besides patrolling the area, the security staff on the campus even offers services such as accompanying students to their cars or waiting with them for an Uber in the dark. Uber is a popular car ride service in South Africa. This escort service is provided almost all night, at least at venues such as some libraries which are open all day and night.

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Lekker, itafile, weak performance

South Africa has eleven official languages. The most spoken ones are English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. My roommates are English natives, the lectures at the university and most information is in English. As I graduated in English linguistics and literature in my Bachelor Minor, accomplished a C1 English certificate and lived in an English-speaking shared flat for a while in Switzerland, I was confident regarding the language challenges.

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Please, don’t do it by yourself – it’s a job for someone else.

This is not the way I learned it at home, neither in my private nor my professional life.

I was taught early to put clean sheets on my bed, to wash the dishes, to do grocery shopping, to cook, and other domestic tasks. Later, I learned to park a car in a narrow parking lot, fill the tank of a car, take care of my bike, to not leave my waste behind, and put it where it belongs, and countless other things of daily life. In my job, I was taught that economic efficiency is keeping personal costs as low as possible. Even though I do not agree with that approach, I know the concept. I was socialized to be independent, to behave respectfully towards people and objects alike. I was taught to behave as I wanted others to treat me.

In South Africa this is different.

Continue reading “Please, don’t do it by yourself – it’s a job for someone else.”

Trying to make a living: mini jobs in South Africa

Besides the braai-addiction and other, smaller cultural practices, what struck me most was the abundance of mini jobs that exists in South Africa. The first time I entered a supermarket – and it doesn’t matter if it is a brand or a no-name store – I was surprised to see so many people working in one single store. There was someone at the bread corner, handing you the bread you desire (although it would be perfectly possible to just grab it yourself); there is a person working at the hot food corner, weighing the box of food you picked out; another person is only there to weigh the fresh fruits and vegetables, on a normal scale accessible to everyone like we have it in Switzerland as well. Furthermore, several employees are constantly walking around doing inventory or assisting you with directions; at the check-out there is the cashier but also another person packing your groceries into your own bags or plastic bags (at every single check-out!); and when leaving the store there is someone else putting away the baskets or charts.

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How English is not just English

I actually didn’t know which language experience I should write about, as you encounter several languages here in South Africa, so this might be more a general account than anything else.

As Stellenbosch and the Western Cape are very Afrikaans, I signed up for a language course at the university. Afrikaans being a mix between English, Dutch and German (also Portuguese, Bantu languages and Malay, but to a lesser extent), I thought it would be quite quick to learn. The beginning was indeed pretty easy, as you understand a lot of the words because of their similarity to German and the grammar is rather simple. However, I felt that exactly its similarity to Dutch and German made it then difficult to pronounce it correctly, as I always seemed to sound German, no matter how hard I tried. At the end of the semester I can now read and understand most of the things, however, I would not be able to have a long conversation, let alone sound Afrikaans.

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Bridging cultures, provinces and language: ‘ Braai’ in South Africa

The South African culture is different in so many ways that it was hard to choose one single aspect. When I say the South African ‘culture’, this is actually wrong, as there is not just one culture in this country.  South Africa is not called the rainbow nation for nothing – it has 11 official languages and hence, at least, 11 different cultures. Interestingly, English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life, but only the fifth most spoken home language. The cultural composition varies also in all of the nine provinces. Continue reading “Bridging cultures, provinces and language: ‘ Braai’ in South Africa”

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