Friday, 10 August 2007

First Impressions

So I've now been in Cape Town for two weeks. Let me now take the time
to write down my first impressions.

Funnily enough, what I have seen of Africa so far (which has not been
a great deal, admittedly), is really not very different to life in the
States. Yes, there are people speaking different languages (I've
heard some Afrikaans, and some Xhosa - the language of The Gods Must
Be Crazy [edit - I'm dead wrong - the people in the movie are Bushmen,
or the San people - which always makes me think of Star Wars,
and they speak Khoisian]), everyone else has a funny accent (half British, half
Australian, seemingly), and they drive on the left side of the road.
But probably the biggest and strangest difference to me is that the
public transportation systems sucks, and to do anything you need a
car. But presumably this is weird to me only because I've lived in
New York City for six years, and Montreal for five years before that -
having a car is insanity in those cities. Most other American cities
are probably just like Cape Town in that regard.

Which is not to say that there aren't differences. Like I said, the
fact that I have a foreign accent here has been kind of amusing. For
the first week or so, I was embarrassed to speak to anyone, because I
felt out of place by having an American accent. By now, it really
doesn't bother me anymore - nobody acts particularly weird when I
speak, so I just got over the whole thing. Although I have to say,
all the heavy accents makes it really frustrating sometimes to
understand. Especially when it's a non-native English speaker talking
(English is totally the dominant language here, though - a few things
are written in Afrikaans, but absolutely everyone speaks English). I
felt really bad in the class I was teaching the other day, because
this guy asked me a question, and I had ABSOLUTELY no idea what he was
saying. I had to ask him to repeat himself four times, went all the
way to the back of the room to hear him better, and I still only
caught about five of the words he was saying. I ended up nodding
stupidly, and I'm sure he just gave up trying to get me to understand

Regarding driving on the left - I'm quite nervous about it, because
I'm going to have to get a car soon (hopefully in the next few days).
The funny thing is, I was completely taken aback to realize that not
only do they DRIVE on the left, but people WALK on the left in
hallways, on the street, etc. It is completely obvious in retrospect,
but it never even crossed my mind that people wouldn't walk in the
same way as they do at home. It really brought back memories of grade
school, when my teacher had to drill into our heads that it was polite
to walk on the right side of the hall. Well, I'm taking advantage of
this state of affairs by being very conscious of walking on the left,
in an effort to get myself used to it so that it won't be so weird
when I have to drive.

Probably the biggest actual difference I've noticed here (other than
my New York City car-phobia) is security consciousness. Everything
has WAY more security than I'd ever been used to. Every single
residence has locked bars over windows and doors (even my little
single bedroom apartment, which is INSIDE a complex with guards and
gates) has an iron gate with a padlock. And if you walk around, every
house has a serious alarm system. It was definitely very creepy when
I first got here, but I have to say, I haven't seen any crime yet. Of
course, I've been totally sheltered the past few weeks, being mostly
on campus, so that doesn't necessarily mean anything. However, I get
the strong impression (and have been told this directly) that at least
part of all this security is a status symbol. The richer you are, the
more gates, and giant search lights, and alarms you have, in order to
say - "look, I'm SERIOUSLY important, so I can't afford to get broken
into." Of course, I'm sure that crime is a significant problem, and
these security measures don't come out of nowhere. It's definitely an
interesting scenario, and I predict that this will become a continuing
source of discussion for me.


Susan said...

Forget about the monkeys, I want to know about the penguins in your yard. I think that is why they have the bars on the windows - to keep the penguins out.

Andy said...

I had exactly the same kind of pedestrian collision issues when I first moved to the states. I found it particularly bad in supermarkets - I was alway bashing my trolley into frustrated Texas housewives. If you know what I mean. Luckily the driving part is actually a little easier - because basically, you can't forget which side you are supposed to be on since you'll cause a horrible crash otherwise!

I've noticed that some people have a really hard time figuring out how far away from the edge of the road they are if they have switched driving sides. My Dad and my Missus both seemed to veer off the road without noticing. (He in the US, she in the UK). I think that it is mainly some subconscious thing that is thrown off by sitting on the other side of the car, since my Dad is fine driving his right-hand-drive English car in France, he just couldn't do the left-hand-drive car in the states.

alexgirl said...

Well, it's nice to know your safe in your apartment! That sounds like some serious precautionary measures, eh?

And your story about the student asking you a question totally cracked me up. I'm sure it wasnt' supposed to--and I was supposed to feel bad for you, but no, I just thought it was funny. I'm laughing at you right now!! hehehe.

Miss you tons. Send us your address when you have a sec.

k. said...

Yes, I want to hear about the penguins too!

Rhonda said...

We are loving your blog - give us more!! Don't make the mistake of spending so much time living in Capetown that you forget to write it all down for those of us living vicariously through you!

Rhonda and Thomas