johannesburg, south africa, travel

Culture Shock in Johannesburg

June 17, 2016

I’m not someone who strays too far away from the tourist track and I’ve never been anywhere that warrants an excuse for culture shock, except for South Africa, particularly Johannesburg.

I’ve been to South Africa three times in my life, the first time when I was one year old, just after apartheid ended. The second when I was eleven, the third when I was twenty-one and fully capable of grasping all the strange South-African-isms that are so different to life at home. It surprised me, honestly, because South Africa is very western. The primary language is English (although they have 11 official languages) and having family there, I didn’t expect anything quite like what I saw.Road Sellers  

Traffic lights, or as South African’s call them, “robots” are mostly ignored. When they are obeyed, it is completely normal to have five or ten people jump out in front of your car or by your windows and try and sell you something. It could be something as normal as sunglasses, windscreen wipers or mangoes, or something extremely strange like a dancing robotic cow that sings Katy Perry songs.

My uncle once accidentally caught the attention of a road-seller and when he said he didn’t want to buy anything, they assumed he wanted to buy the secret product they were selling but weren’t displaying to the public. Could it be illegal drugs? Prostitutes? Weapons? Nope. Their secret product was stolen chameleons. Yeah, my uncle didn’t want to buy one of those either.

It is also quite normal to see people crossing motorways or sitting in the middle of roundabout, or as the South Africans call them, circles. Either way, there are more pedestrians on the road than cars most of the time.Taxi Drivers

This one might be exclusive to Johannesburg, because the taxi drivers in Durban were the standard ones that take you from A to B for a fee. They are nothing like that in Johannesburg.

These are mini-van-esque vehicles that should hold twelve passengers. However, the taxi drivers must make a certain amount of money a day to give to the company they work for and anything they make on the side, they are allowed to keep. This means a lot of rules are bent to make sure they make enough money. These rules include the basic ones, like speeding. It’s not unusual to see a taxi overtake you, driving at triple the maximum speed limit. Then there are the not-so-basic broken rules like bending the amount of passengers a taxi holds. I do believe the record holding taxi with the highest number of passengers was 106, but I got that ‘fact’ from a Johannesburg coffee table book and haven’t been able to find the official statistic. But keep in mind, the guy with 106 passengers is only the record holder because he got caught. Think of all the taxi-drivers who didn’t!

Then there’s the competitiveness within the taxi-driving community. I witnessed a taxi-driver crash into another, then drive away, unapologetically through stand-still traffic. We also saw a guy getting mugged simultaneously, inches away from the car crash. Only in Downtown Johannesburg.The Rich-Poor Divide

There is a huge divide between the rich and the poor in many countries, but in South Africa, it’s quite striking. You can be by a luxury hotel one second, and by a road-side slum the next.

However, South Africa is developing quickly and there are so many improvements being made with the rich and poor divide. It’s actually happening a lot quicker than in countries like the UK and the USA. Unfortunately, it’s common to witness a rolling blackout as a result of these prioritised spending.The food, the animals, the prices

It isn’t all depressing culture shock. In fact, there are so many things that make South Africa such a cool place to visit. The first being the animals. It’s very normal to see monkeys at the sides of roads, hanging out outside a crocodile sanctuary, or to see lions, elephants and rhinos in a national park the size of Israel.

As for the food, we found the fruit grows to quadruple the sizes and the prices are ridiculously cheap. Where else could you get a full-sized vegan pizza for the equivalent of £2?So despite a few culture shocks, Johannesburg is a very interesting, amazing place to visit. There’s so much to do, including the apartheid museum, a day trip to Kruger or Pilanesberg, or a trip to Mandela Square. Just make sure you hire a car, and don’t get in a taxi!

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