The first time I went to South Africa, way back when we had been married only 6 months, I noticed that things were different there…things like their ketchup (or ‘tomato sauce’), which is a great deal sweeter than Heinz. That really threw me for a loop…here I was in a land full of uncommonly delicious french fries (or ‘chips’), and no decent ketchup with which to enjoy them. It was such a traumatic experience that the next time I went I took a ziplock full of McDonald’s ketchup packets. Also in the way of food, if you order a Greek salad in SA, you will not get Greek dressing. You will get salad, tomato, feta, and kalamata olives accompanied by a house dressing or your choice of the usuals. (Greek salad does not taste right with Thousand Island). Feta cheese and kalamata olives abound in South African restaurants.
On my first trip I also noticed other fundamental differences like their toilets, which resemble American toilets, but are…different. More swooshy, for one thing. That first trip I was fascinated by the methods in which South Africans fence themselves in and everybody else out. I actually began a photo journal of the many different ways you can fortify a fence. Sadly, by this trip, many of the more ingenious and eco-friendly ways to harm would-be burglars (like broken glass bottle shards cemented to the top of a brick wall) have been replaced by the ubiquitous metal green fence sporting barbed points. (Want to make money in SA? Sell security fences).
Our second trip was a whirlwind tour with the pastoral staff from our church. I was pregnant and my main memories from that trip (other than an overwhelming awe of Chris Oberg’s tactfulness) consist of trying to stay awake, trying not to breathe noxious fumes (smog check has not yet discovered SA), and a love/hate relationship with the ever-present toasted cheese and tomato sandwich (the most consistently available vegetarian option).
This trip, my third, was the longest, and the most relaxed. Less a tourist, we spent longer times in places, long enough to get a sense of the people, etc.
Some general impressions from this trip, not listed because of importance or in order of importance:
1) one Afrikaner has got to be able to recognize another Afrikaner in a crowd anywhere else in the world. The facial features are just unmistakable. I especially enjoyed how all the women over a certain age have basically the same hairstyle.
2) South Africans drive small cars. If you are rich and pretentious you do not drive a big car, you drive a labeled car (Mercedes, BMW, the occasional Lexus)…and nothing bigger than a sedan. I saw one minivan, maybe two, in the entire three and a half weeks. Apparently, when you go on vacation and need the trunk space, you hook up a little trailer behind. When we went to see Sleeping Beauty and Jungle Book and were surrounded by all the upper-middle-class-white-mothers-of-two-children (in the States, typically minivan drivers), I was intrigued to notice that they also drove very small cars. Which leads me to my third observation–
3) South Africans do not believe in car seat and seatbelt safety for their children. This is a sweeping statement, of course, but I was blown away at how many children were in their carseats, but not buckled (oh, mommy is sitting next to the baby, we don’t need to buckle her in). Or freely roaming around the car. And this crossed all economic classes. Let’s just say I was horrified and appalled and scared witless on a regular basis.
4) South Africa is very beautiful. I took picture after picture, but was unable to capture the beautiful palette of colors around Heidelberg. I couldn’t capture the sweeping expanse of Mpumalanga. So I just looked and looked and soaked it all in. I have come to the untested conclusion that when ex-pat South Africans say that they love South Africa, what they are talking most about is the land. It gets under your skin.