4 differences between life in the U.S. and South Africa

By Brooke Axness*

Moving to Africa is a big enough change all on its own, but the day-to-day differences are definitely the ones that are the hardest to get used to. I know that personally I am a creature of habit. When it comes to life at home or school my routine is key. When I set out to get things accomplished at home, the process is usually painless and more or less predictable, which is something I take for granted. Simply put, I like knowing what to expect and getting what I know. However, as one of my favorite authors once put it, "the world is not a wish-granting factory."

directional road sign
The whole metric system thing is blowing my mind. Why do Americans have to be different?

Life here in the beautiful city of Cape Town presents a problem for my comfortable little schedule of the mundane because lets face it, there are really few similarities between my home and this place. Here are a few differences I have really noticed in my daily life here in South Africa:

1. Portion sizes

Whenever I go out for dinner in the States, 9 times out of 10 I come home stuffed out of my mind not even sure if I will live another day I’m so full. I feel like it’s a common occurrence due to how much food we are typically given. I never realized how big American portion sizes are until I got here. I can order a meal and it doesn’t come with three sides, a salad and bread and it’s actually a GOOD thing. I can simply enjoy the main dish without overdoing it. Perfect!

bag of snacks
One of my favorite snacks in SA- a dried toast for dipping in tea or coffee
girl in front of cupcake shop
Still getting my cupcake fix in South Africa

2. Prices

One difference I absolutely love is the prices. Everything here is so cheap! I can get a huge amount of groceries that would normally cost me $100+ in the States and get the same thing here for less than half the price. Going to a nice restaurant is never a problem because it is usually less than $5 for a typical meal including drinks. Can I live here forever?

3. Traffic

Part of being in a 3 million+ populated city is the insane amount of traffic that goes along with it. But here everything about driving is different. The left side is where cars drive, the drivers seat is opposite of what it is in the US, people typically only drive stick-shifts, and finally I have never in my life seen crazier drivers than I have here. People wave in and out and stop and start no matter what road they are on. I have seen my life flash before my eyes on multiple occasions while taking a taxi and have fallen on my face on the bus due to the constant abrupt stops in heavy traffic. It is a crazy chaotic atmosphere but I can’t help but laugh at the experience.

taxi
One of the many taxis seen swerving around Cape Town's streets

4. "African Time"

The last, most pronounced difference is the concept of “African Time.” This is basically the overall theme that everyone is more laid-back and relaxed in Africa when it comes to time and punctuality. It really does exist, people. Some love it and others hate it but regardless, it is definitely part of SA culture. Coming from the US you would most likely be fired for coming in tardy to work every day or even a few days, but here it is more or less accepted because, well, everyone else is probably late too! Personally, I thoroughly enjoy this due to my natural tendency to be late to everything. I’ve finally found people who understand my struggle!

view of ocean
One thing I'll never get tired of-- this kickin' view

*Brooke Axness, a native of Fort Dodge, IA, is a sophomore majoring in biology and global health studies at the University of Iowa. This summer she is interning abroad at a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa on the Connect-123 program.

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