From strange land to strange land

Someone said those who choose to live outside their home country begin to feel that they’re a stranger everywhere. This, is turns out, is true.

This can become normal. Actually, I have lost my thick skin after only 9 months in California. But it was beginning to grow back by the time I'd spent two weeks back in my home town. Swaziland's still more nuts than SA though - a monarchy in which people are staunch Christians, yet the king has as many young wives as he wants, and virgins dance bare breasted... it's a bit more complicated than that, or course.

Swazi Times - A crazy mish-mash of tabloid and daily paper, usually so badly written that the cruellest things become comedy.

My friend, a real journalist, works for AFP in Swaziland. She came town to Cape Town and we spent a couple of days together towards the end of my stay in South Africa. She told me this story of how she felt, flying into Cape Town, when without thinking she opened up her copy of the Swazi Times and began reading it… and felt other people’s eyes on her. You know that feeling, of being stared at. The hippies might just have a point with their “energy this, energy that” nonsense.

I’ve had just enough time to get used to being South African again, and now I’m leaving. I’m used to waiting longer for things, paying less for them, looking after my cell phone, locking my car doors, hearing many languages spoken around me, talking straight and getting straight talk back.

Soon I’ll be in the well-oiled world of America, where I have to watch my mouth – and my wallet, just in a totally different way.


6 Responses to “From strange land to strange land”

  1. Shannon Says:

    Please tell me about these hidden glorious places where things are cheaper. I keep hearing of them but have yet to find them. I know my shampoo, face wash and razors are twice as expensive here, enough that I had US friends I met up with in Turkey bring me a stash. Food seems more expensive here too–in the grocery store at least, not so much if you go out. Housewares from towels to blenders are more expensive. Clearly I’m missing something. Fill a fellow expat (in reverse) in.

    Also, I wonder how much of the “straight talk” issue is just that there are different minefields and we don’t yet know how to navigate them till we step squarely on one of them. I got roundly decried for being openly critical of the way a course at UCT was structured; it turns out there’s a deference to authority there even among faculty that I find very different than the rambunctious and even aggressive intellectual environment I came out of.

  2. jeanbarker Says:

    Well, in terms of good food that’s cheaper, I’ll stick to telling you about my favourite restaurant in Cape Town – La Boheme in Sea Point. For R90 – what’s that, about $12, you can have a two course french bistro meal. The wine by the glass is about half what it would cost in the US for the same quality.

    On the whole, good food seems cheaper in SA to me. The McDonalds index would support my argument – unless you’re shopping at Carlucci’s, which I doubt.

    Straight talk… well it might be because you were comparing it to how things were done in the USA. Were you? If so, bad move. Criticise on your arguement’s own merits and that alone. That’s one thing I’ve learned – and I still face a lot of moralism and mccarthyism from the most surprising sources when saying what I really feel.

  3. Shannon Says:

    I wasn’t, actually–I did at least have enough EQ (or whatever we’re calling it these days) to know that’s a bad way to approach it. It was a legit criticism of a course in an area that I have a lot of experience in, but because I’m not officially a lecturer (though my credentials put me on par with the convenor of the course) I was told it was unprofessional to criticize the structure of the course (although a professor later said he agreed with me). A couple of people later explained that there’s a definite pecking order and you have to observe your place in the hierarchy. Seems kind of counterintuitive to building an intellectually vibrant environment.

    I fully agree that going out for good food is cheaper here, I’m just not sure regular groceries are–milk, bread, cheese, eggs. Even Ramen noodles (or whatever their Pick-N-Pay equivalent is) are more expensive here. Maybe I’m in the only place in the world where it’d be more fiscally responsible to eat out rather than buy groceries! 😉

    I’ll be sure to check out the place in Sea Point, thank you for the rec!

  4. jeanbarker Says:

    Hmm. This sounds fun. What do the following cost?
    – 1 doz free range eggs (so irritiating that you can’t get six packs here)
    – 1.5 litre milk (since again, you don’t get litres here)
    – 1 loaf bread with no crap in it – sliced
    – 1 kilo ostrich, ground, free range (oh wait, you don’t get that here)… how about 1x free range chicken (whole).
    – one bag organic lettuce
    – 2 avocados
    – 4 x seasonal fruit pieces (apples, oranges, whatever)
    – 1 large punnet of plain yogurt

    Send a photo of the items and a photo of the pick ‘n pay or woolies til slip to me at godaellis @ gmail dot com and I’ll buy the same here and blog the price comparison.

    And since you seem to eat weird stuff, send me your own “basics” shopping list and I’ll shop that sometime, provided it doesn’t involve purchasing pork or non-organic meat… The noodles, I can deal with, since I can use them as emergency food during finals week.

  5. Shannon Says:

    Cool, will do. What is a punnet, though?

    I think Ramen noodles are the only strange thing I eat. But I could be wrong.

    Also, things that are definitely cheaper in SA: any sort of service. The plumber’s house call just cost me R150. A plumber in the US makes me sell my home so he can fix the drain in one room of that home.

    Agreed that it is nice to be able to get just a half-dozen eggs!

  6. jeanbarker Says:

    Ha ha. Oh… one large (say, 32oz) plain yogurt.

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