Moving to another place gives the opportunity to learn and understand cultural habits and traditions, and I’ve had the fortune to do so on multiple occasions. Being abroad also gave me the chance to see my own country from an outside perspective, and see how incredibly
weird silly we Dutchies are. The most awkward thing to explain to foreigners is the cultural tradition of Sinterklaas, a sort of radical Santa clone (with black-faced male helpers) who arrives in December, rides a horse on the roof and kidnaps kids to Spain who behaved badly. If they behaved well they are either thrown sweets at them, or presented with food in their shoe. Mentally torturing children for possible kidnappings is something we gladly do in Dutch family life. Trying to explain this is met with no understanding why we have a holiday exactly like Christmas, three weeks before Christmas. I am going to give you an impression how Sinterklaas looks.
Aside from that, we have habits like constantly talking about the weather, being overly patriotic with the Eurovision Song Contest or ‘athletic’ sports like darts, getting very excited when we have natural ice on our rivers (a bunch of old men coming together to speculate about a race on natural ice is front page news) and we make a lot of songs about how great Dutch people are (also done per province or town).
Having lived in South Africa for a while, it has been quite a challenge to adapt. South Africa has so many different cultures to understand. I mean, just learning the rules of cricket will take you about two years, at least. Basic cultural traditions, like braai or heritage day, are easily understood. More advanced cultural lessons include now-now, public breastfeeding, lobola, why South Africans lose the ability to drive when it rains, black hair, why some people removed their front teeth, sangoma medicine and the national anthem. Oh, and rugby. I still don’t know what that is about.
I guess we are all granted our peculiar things. I read there is a Japanese scientist who is known for yelling at rice. True story. Here’s a few things South Africans do that I don’t understand:
If you decide to explore the promenade in Cape Town (or any beachfront place), you’ll notice lots of cars lined up overlooking the ocean. Inside the vehicle, families will spend hours staring, listening to music, smoking, dining and sleeping. Sometimes, they’ll even cover the front window, leaving no view whatsoever, and stay at the parking lot as some kind of outing.
Don’t get me wrong. I love it when South Africans dance. Especially because they have moves we white European stick figures can only dream off. As we awkwardly side-step our way across the dance floor looking like we are having a stroke, hips here actually have a purpose worth viewing. They use it to express themselves everywhere. Going to a sports match is more like a dance-off, funerals and weddings are filled with dance. But protests? Wait, what’s happening here. Teachers striking for higher wages? Dancing through grand parade like it’s carnival. It’s the oddest sight.
When I go to the beach I bring sunscreen, a towel, and in case it’s a bit too sunny, an umbrella. Takes me about 2 minutes to set up. Not here. South Africans can turn a beach into a village. Some will bring everything they know, ranging from tents, tables, braais, fridges, stereosets, bedding and food supplies for a small nation surviving a nuclear disaster. And always the biggest collection of camping chairs, most likely viewable from space. In Paternoster, I saw a guy with a generator, a satellite dish and a tv on the beach. I’m not joking. By the time they’ve set up it’s almost sunset, and they’ve burnt a herd of cattle on the fire. But they’ve caught the latest episode of Ekhasi, that’s for sure.
Look, I know the sea is cold. So when I first saw a person enter the freezing Atlantic in full outfit I wasn’t surprised much. But then I got to Durban, where the Indian Ocean is a good room temperature, yet people plunged into the sea wearing jeans and shirts. Surely, I’ve cycled through the Dutch rain and getting my jeans soaked, so I know this is, aside from having to stand in the cue at Shoprite, one of the most unpleasant experiences to have. Yet people roll around the sand in wet jeans like they’re in a Comfort advert. Can someone please explain this to me?
So when the foreigner in you tries to integrate in South Africa, get an understanding of the 11 languages with and without clicks, habits, customs and cultures, you’ll notice it will take longer than five years to understand. Step by step you’ll get there, and if you keep asking questions, you might get most of the answers. Now-now, just now, or later.