My fans have been requesting a blog post from me (Darin) since it has been a few months, so here you go.
I really love living in South Africa 90% of the time. But there are some things that are rather annoying. Below I have compiled a list of things that really irritate me here. I am a very laid back person, so I don’t usually take out my frustration on others, it just stews inside for a couple minutes and then I’m fine again. These are in no particular order. Some might seem kind of childish or meaningless, but if you have to deal with them every day, they can become a real bother over time.
Taxis – In general, taxis are a huge pain. They are literally about 50% of the vehicles that are on the road in and around Hammanskraal. I don’t like the fact that they stop wherever and whenever they want. But a bigger annoyance to me is when I’m waiting in line to make a right turn(remember we drive on the other side of the road, so it is like turning left in the US) and a taxi drives around the line and turns either in front of or alongside the car whose turn it is, basically adding another turn lane because his passengers obviously are more important than everyone else waiting to get to their destination.
Traffic police – You’d think that with all the taxis breaking road rules left and right, the cops would have their hands full keeping up with all the ticket writing. But quite the opposite is true. Taxis never really get pulled over for violations, even when they speed thru VERY red lights and a cop car is waiting to cross the intersection. I’ve asked multiple people why the cops never pull over the taxis and I’ve been told it’s because cops know the taxi drivers don’t have the money to pay bribes, so they go after other people instead. True or not, it makes sense based on my own experiences with being pulled over for no reason.
Checkout line etiquette – This one honestly boggles my mind. At least half of the time that I am behind someone in a grocery store checkout line, they empty their goods onto the belt and then they leave their empty cart in the line behind them! So when it is my turn to go thru, I either have to push their cart past the checkout to allow room for me to enter or I back up and pull their cart out and get the attention of someone working there to take it away. Occasionally an alert teller will ask the suspect to take their cart with them, but most of the time they get away with it (or without it I guess in this case).
ATMS/Banks – We still keep a checking account in Michigan and we routinely have to pull money out of that account at an ATM and deposit it into another ATM for our South African checking account to cover expenses here. Twice in the last 2 weeks, I’ve been a little late in transferring the money between accounts and needed to do it that day to avoid fees. Both times, I’ve driven all over Hammanskraal trying the ATMs of our SA bank and none of them have had functioning cash deposit mechanisms. Ok, so it’s not like the size of Chicago or anything, but still I’ve wasted 30 minutes of my time and town is 15 minutes from home, so it’s not like I can just go home for an hour and come back and try again. The last time this happened, the ATM was right outside of a bank branch. I went inside and explained that the machine wasn’t working and asked the teller to deposit my money as it needed to be in the account right away. I was kindly told that they don’t handle cash inside the branch (remember this is a BANK!). I laughed, thinking it was a joke, but did not get a smile in response. So I walked out of there shaking my head and decided I needed to write a blog post about frustrations in SA.
While we are on the subject of banks, did we ever tell you that we have to PAY to deposit money at the bank into OUR account? ‘Tis true, a little under 1% of each transaction. Not a lot I agree, but still, I’m giving them my money, to make a profit off of while it is sitting in their institution, and they are charging me! This is on top of the monthly fee for actually having an account and the fees we pay if we ever have to talk to a live person and the fees we pay for asking for our account balance and…..
Paper money – This one maybe just bothers me, but the denominations of paper money here are all different sizes, with the R200 bill being the biggest and each one getting smaller till you get to the R10 bill. It possibly makes transactions easier for some, but for me, I get annoyed trying to stack the bills nicely so that I can fold them to fit in my wallet. I like the crease to be in the middle of all the bills, but with them being different lengths, either I take the time to precisely place each one in the stack, or I silently curse and just fold them knowing the 10s and 20s are going to have off-center folds. Usually it is the latter.
Buying in bulk is cheaper – Not really true in SA. We really have to watch out when we are buying bigger quantities of groceries because it is fairly common for the smaller quantity/size package to actually cost less when you compare the per item/weight cost. Some stores list the price per item or weight in the package, but some don’t. The funny thing is, on multiple occasions I’ve tried to convince some locals that buying a 25kg bag of mealie meal for R125 is not smart when you can buy two bags of 12.5kg mealie meal(of the same brand) for R54 each, for a total of R108, for a total of 25kg. The response I normally get is that the mealie meal seems to go much faster in the small bags, so people want the big one. I did hear a rational explanation recently that I hadn’t thought of. A lot of the grannies are the ones lugging groceries around and they often carry them on their heads. Though heavier, it is much easier to balance and carry one 25kg bag of mealie meal on your head than two 12.5kg bags.
Pop cans – Another “funny till it happens to you while you are choking” oddity is that the bottom of pop cans here are much heavier than cans in the US. Like very noticeably heavier. So what normally happens is I get down toward the end of a can and strategically, based on weight, leave a drink left in the can till after my last bite of food. Later I tip back the can to wash my food down and am met with a couple of drips and again I remember that pop can bottoms here are thick enough to stop a bullet.
Ordering at fast food establishments – I’ve always been irritated by the restaurants in the US that have their waiters and waitresses try to memorize the order and not write anything down. I’m often confronted with that same feeling when ordering fast food here. The gal at the register smiles politely and asks what I want. I usually have a long list of what the family wants and start rattling off a few items. After 3 or 4 things, I expect that the keys will start to be punched in the computer on the other side to keep up with my ordering. But usually, I get partially done stating what we want and the gal is still smiling away, not having entered anything yet. So then I struggle with “Did she not understand me?” and “Should I just keep ordering and hope she starts typing soon?” and “If I order my McChicken with no lettuce, will my special request be forgotten and I will end up with mayo all over my fingers from picking off the green stuff?”. So I usually pause, and stutter through something along the lines of “Did you get that?” and then I continue ordering and they usually start typing, repeating the order back to me, completely different than what I just told them. WHY???
“Ticket putter inner” at the mall - There are a few jobs that we see people doing around here that we just shake our heads at because they could be done with much fewer people and at a much faster pace. But the one job that I do not understand at all is what I call the “Ticket putter inner”, or TPI for short. For a little background, at most shopping malls here, you get a ticket at the parking lot entrance and have to pay for the time you were parked when leaving, similar to airport parking in the US. The machines are all automated, you push a button to get the ticket when you enter, you pay the fee as you walk out of the mall at an automated kiosk, and then you are supposed to deposit the ticket in a machine at the exit, which lifts a boom gate to allow you to leave. I forgot to mention that the ticket deposit machines at the exits are at car window height, they are 1-2 feet from your door, depending on how close you decide to get to them. So what do you find at some malls? A TPI in the form of an attendant leaning against the machine who gently removes the ticket from your hand as you are about 6 inches away from depositing it. They then take the ticket and… put it in the slot for you!