How to tell if you're South African
Another response to my E-Z home test for detecting Americans.
T'Mar (yes, she's a huge Star Trek fan) is a schoolteacher who loves science
fiction, writing fanfic and deconstructing TV shows.
South Africa is multicultural enough that the usual "90% true" rule may not apply. T'Mar is an urban, English-speaking South
African... perhaps there's some Zulus, Xhosa, etc. who'd like to write
about their own culture...?
If you're South African...
Boerewors, samoosas and a Big Mac
- You're familiar with many, many American TV personalities and movie stars
(Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Leo, the cast of Friends, the people on
Survivor) and a few South African ones. You definitely know who Charlize
Theron and Arnold Vosloo are. You talk about them as if you know them
personally. You might know some British stars (Sean Connery, Liam Neeson,
Ewan McGregor, Hugh Grant), but you probably only know them if they got famous by starring in American movies.
- You know someone who has met Nelson Mandela.
- You believe the news on TV and in the papers, especially when it's bad. In fact, the worse the news is, the more likely you are to believe it.
- You still believe in marriage, although if you do get married, the chances are one in three of it not lasting. If you're a black male you still have to pay lobola (bride price). You will probably have children: before, during or after marriage.
- You know an obscene amount about cricket and rugby, and you have a very definite opinion about Hansie and the match-fixing scandal. You know a lot about soccer. You probably know nothing about baseball, American football or basketball.
- You have a vacation of three weeks per year, and you spend it at the coast if possible. Or in the mountains or a game reserve. You wouldn't stay home.
- You are probably a Christian if you're white or black. If you're Indian, then you're most likely a Hindu or a Moslem. If you're a Christian, you could be either a Catholic or a Protestant, and you go to church regularly. If you're black you wear a special uniform to church; if you're white you don't, but you dress smartly in special "church clothes" you bought just for Sundays.
Brrr-r-r-r! At least it's not snowing
- If you're under 25 you probably consider McDonald's to be fine dining. You
think of KFC, Wimpy, Steers, Debonairs and the like as fast food as it isn't
really that cheap. If you're over 25 you enjoy going out to new restaurants.
You might even enjoy sushi bars.
- You love to feed tourists on boerewors (long sausage) and pap (made from
corn) at a braai (barbeque). You also consider samoosas (square curried
mince pies, usually found in Indian eating establishments) to be traditional
South African food.
- You don't consider dogs, cats, monkeys, guinea pigs and the like to be
food. If you're black you might eat mopani worms. You've heard that people
"in Europe" eat snails, frogs' legs and oysters, but you generally wouldn't.
- Milk comes in cardboard cartons, plastic 2-litre bottles, and one-litre
sachets, but not in glass bottles. You buy milk at the supermarket or the
corner cafe (which to Americans would be a "convenience store"). If you have
young children you try to get them to drink a glass of milk a day; otherwise
you just use it to put in your tea or coffee.
- You'll drink either coffee or tea depending on what you feel like at the
time. If you're a health fanatic you might drink Rooibos (herbal) tea. You
consider the American influence on coffee (dozens of varieties) to be a good
- If you're an urban dweller, your house has all the usual rooms, complete
with electricity and running water. If you're rural or live in a squatter
camp (shanty town), it might not have all those things.
- Your house is not heated in winter nor air-conditioned in summer. When it
gets really cold you might haul out your bar heater or oil heater and your
entire family will sit huddled around it. When it gets hot in summer you
just open all your windows and turn on a fan.
- Winters are never snowy, except in the Drakensberg. If you've never been
out of South Africa, you might never have seen snow in your life. If you
have seen snow, you still talk about it with wonder.
- A bathroom will have a basin, bath or shower and a toilet. You refer to
going to the toilet as "going to the bathroom."
euphemisms to disguise your real purpose for going there.
- At least one member of your family has a cellular phone. You also have a
land line, and expect it to work. You're shocked when thieves steal the
copper cables, but getting a new phone is routine. If they cut off your
phone for some reason or other, however, it might take days for it to be
- Trains are only for people with no alternative for getting around. You
yourself will always travel by car or minibus taxi. The bus service is
average but useless to anybody who doesn't work in or near the CBD (central business district).
- It seems natural to you to have more than one political party, but it's
only in recent years that you've been able to boast about democracy.
- You don't trust communists, but you understand why people fall for the
idea. You probably don't even realise that there are many socialist
institutions already functioning in your country (what do you think trade
unions are, anyway?) but you're in favour of privatising State assets.
- You may or may not be a racist, but if you are you don't tell anybody.
Whether you are or aren't makes no difference in the real world anyway,
because you'll be accused of being one no matter what you do.
- You know from recent experience that problems can be solved when people
- Almost all the TV you watch is of American origin. Even if you don't watch
Jerry Springer, you have an opinion about the show. Ditto for Survivor.
Because of these shows, you don't have a very high opinion of Americans.
However, due to the amount of American TV you watch, you know American court
proceedings better than your own. You can recite the Miranda warning as
smoothly as any cop on TV.
- You don't watch much South African TV (except maybe Egoli Carte
Blanche and Big Brother) and you don't get British humour at all.
Despite this, you feel more of an affinity with British people than
Americans, and consider American spelling and measuring units to be plain wrong.
- You generally trust doctors but you think they overcharge. You feel that
they should compensate you for time wasted if they make you wait more than
fifteen minutes for an appointment. You'll do anything to avoid being
treated in a State hospital, but you think that private hospitals are only
after your money.
- You speak English fluently, or you want to. At any rate, you can speak at
least two languages. If you're black you can most probably speak Zulu, even
if you're not Zulu yourself. You can sing your national anthem in four
languages, and are inordinately proud of this fact.
- School is supposed to be free, but if you send your child to a 'free'
school then it's likely that he or she will become a victim of the concept
that "you get what you pay for". University is not free. In fact, it's very
- The year comes first: 1994-04-27, or last: 27/04/94 (and you know what
happened on that date), but the month always goes in the middle.
- The decimal point is a comma, or so you were taught, but you think that
using a comma is silly and you use a dot when you can get away with it.
- A billion is a million times a million according to your Maths (not
'Math') teacher, but you consider a billion to be a thousand times a million
because you're used to that usage from American TV shows.
- World War II didn't have much of an impact on your country, but you most
likely know one or two people who fought in it.
Scatterlings of Africa
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties.
If you're a Christian you will get married in church. Fancy outdoor garden
weddings are for people with more money than sense. Your minister, priest or
pastor will be a marriage officer and you don't need to go to court. If
you're a Hindu or Moslem you might still have to go to court after your
religious ceremony. If you're black you might have a traditional ceremony
but for it to be considered legal you have to go to court or get married in
church. In South African black culture a man can have more than one wife,
but he can only marry one legally. You're fascinated by the idea of changing
the law so that cultures which traditionally practise polygamy can do it
- If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual, but you have no
right to discriminate against him because of this.
- If you're female, you probably wouldn't go to the beach topless. To go
naked, you'd have to visit Sandy Bay. However, you do think that some
traditional African dress, which involves women going topless, is beautiful.
- You think women should be able to breastfeed their babies in public
without being maligned.
- You'd rather a film be subtitled than dubbed, but you're used to dubbing
from the 'old days' and brag about South African dubbing being very good.
Generally, however, you don't watch 'foreign' films (for 'foreign', read,
'Anything that doesn't come out of Hollywood').
- You expect to be able to transact business or deal with the government
without paying bribes. You sometimes do have to pay bribes, but afterwards
you blow the whistle to the media about "the corruption in our country".
- If a politician has been cheating on his wife, the media will mention it
but you won't care. If a politician has been embezzling money or receiving
kickbacks, no one seems to care, and this annoys you.
- All large shops, malls and chain stores take credit cards, but many don't
- It's very difficult to get rid of employees, which you are grateful for if
you're low man on the totem pole, and annoyed about if you're in a
- Workers' Day is on the 1st of May.
So Van Der Merwe walks into a bar...
- You've probably seen The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Mummy, everything
Charlize Theron has been in, the Star Wars films, Titanic, The Matrix and
The Sixth Sense. If you're over 30 you've probably also seen Gone with the
Wind, Casablanca, Rebel Without a Cause, Superman and E.T. You know who
Marilyn Monroe was, even if you've never seen one of her movies.
- You know Michael Jackson, Ricky Martin, Madonna, the Backstreet Boys,
Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, even though you may not want to. If
you're over 30 you also know the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the
Doors, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Abba. You definitely know
Juluka, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mango Groove, Brenda Fassie, Just Jinger, and Henry Ate.
- If you have medical aid, you count on excellent medical treatment. If you
don't, you pray you won't get sick. Your chances of dying of cholera,
malaria, TB or a similar Third World disease increase if you live in a rural
area or don't have running water. Or if you go to the Kruger National Park
without taking malaria preventatives. You think dying at 65 would be a
- At school, you learned the history of South Africa. If you're under 20
your teachers probably made you watch Shaka Zulu during History. You also
learned about World Wars I and II and the Anglo-Boer (a.k.a. South African)
War. You know all about the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Cold War, but
this is due to exposure to American TV.
- Your country as a whole has never been conquered, but the amount of
freedom you had prior to 1994 is debatable, and some people would argue it
- You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy.
- You measure things in litres, metres, kilometres, kilograms and celsius
(centigrade). You have no idea what people are talking about when they refer
to Farenheit temperature.
- The likelihood of your being a farmer is not very high, but you do know
- Comics come in the daily papers or in thin booklet form (Batman,
Superman, etc). If you want to read strange British comics like 2000AD (you
know, with Judge Dredd) then you have to order them specially, and they cost
- People who appear on local talk shows are either politicians or average
people with something to complain about. But you don't really know, because
you only watch Oprah or Jerry Springer anyway.
- If a woman is plumper than average, Western people think it doesn't
improve her looks. African thought on the subject seems to be that Real
Women will be a little plump. There are endless debates about this in
'women's' magazines. Black models who are too thin are considered to have
been corrupted by Western influence.
- You drive on the left-hand side of the road like other civilized countries
do. You tend to follow the dictum, 'Red light, stop. Green light, go. Yellow
light, go very fast.' You have to be careful when you cross the road, but
you do so with minimum fear. Unless you're in Durban.
Nkosi Sikelel i'Afrika
- You realise intellectually that South Africa is in Africa, but you
alternate between feeling extremely patriotic and extolling all things
African, and behaving as though you actually live in the United States or
- You are always anxious to hear what foreigners think of your country, and
you pray that tourists will come back, because your country needs the
- The Volkswagen Beetle is known as a "volksie" (pronounced 'fork-see') and
it's considered a small car, but everyone knows it's the most dependable car
ever made. You consider "the new Beetle" to be a shameless marketing ploy by
the Volkwagen people, and you'd never consider buying one because the engine
is in the FRONT!
- The police are armed, but not with machine guns. The criminals have the
- The biggest meal of the day is at night. Unless it's Sunday, in which case
it's at noon.
- The nationality most people make jokes about is the Afrikaner, or rather
the stereotypical Afrikaner known as "Van Der Merwe". Even Afrikaans people
tell Van Der Merwe jokes.
- If you live in any big city in South Africa, you won't go into the CBD at
night. Or in the day.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments, if you think
about them at all. You might never have even gone to live theatre. Your idea
of a stimulating night out is dinner and a movie, or dinner and a club.
- Christmas is in the summer. You give presents and put up a tree. You get
together with family and have a large potluck lunch while sitting around the
pool in your swimming costume (bathing suit). You make sure to put on lots
of sunblock because December is one of the hottest months and the African
sun is brutal.
- You know the capitals of the southern African countries that surround
yours. You might know the capitals of one or two European countries. For
years you thought that New York was the capital of the U.S.A., and didn't
know that Washington state and Washington, D.C. were different places. You
have no idea what the capital of Australia is. At a guess you'd probably say
Sydney, even though it's actually Canberra. Not only don't you know what the
capitals of any South American countries are, you have a vague idea that
South America consists of... well, Brazil.
- The only comic character you're familiar with is Asterix. If you're over
25 you may remember Tintin. If you talk about animation, however, you know
at least one of the characters from Pokemon, and that the Warner Sister's
name is Dot.
- You've left a message at the beep. You've left voicemail at the beep.
- There is the occasional "yellow cab" type taxi, but most taxis are white
minibuses. To hail one you stand on the corner with your index finger in the
air, and you have developed nerves of steel from riding in them. If you have
a car you will have used extremely foul language when a minibus taxi has
stopped without warning, cut you off in traffic, or driven twice the speed
limit past you. You know how in America they have "gang wars"? In South
Africa you have "taxi wars". Yes, complete with machine guns and innocent
bystanders getting killed.
- You think instituting a welfare system would be a good idea, but you know
that the government does not have the money to do it, and that's a shame.
- Changing your name requires a bit of paperwork but it's not that hard.
- If you're a white male you're probably circumcised, whether you're Jewish,
Christian or anything else. If you're a black male it will depend on where
you were born and what your traditional beliefs are.
- You can drink alcohol, and drive, when you're 18. Some of the large number
of roads deaths are due to some 18 year-olds doing both at once.
- You have no Royal Family of your own if you're white, Indian or Coloured.
If you're black you might have. It doesn't matter what colour you are, you
know who the Zulu king is (Goodwill Zwelithini). You're impressed that the
African monarchs in your country are seldom in the papers. You think
the doings of the British Royal Family are better than a soap opera.
- You think it's civilized and sane that women can have abortions if they
want, even if you do believe that abortion is murder. You're glad that
contraceptives (especially condoms) are freely available, but you wish more
people would use them, if only to stay alive.
- Journalists may write anything, and do, but when they write about the
government, the government might accuse them of being racist and
unsupportive. This just makes you believe what the journalists write.
- If you're white you're either "English" (i.e. English-speaking),
"Afrikaans" (Afrikaans-speaking), Portuguese, Lebanese, Greek, British, or a
mixture of all of the above. If you're black you are either Zulu, Sotho,
Tswana, Venda, Pedi or Xhosa. If you're Coloured you are probably Afrikaans
speaking and have black, white, San or Khoi people in your ancestry. If
you're Indian your ancestors came from India. You might know an Indian
language but you probably speak English most of the time. If you're Chinese
you have a hard time filling in forms for "race" and always have to tick
"other". You fully understand why South Africa is called the "rainbow
nation", and you love this concept. You love it so much that you paint your
face like the South African flag at international cricket matches.
- There sure are a lot of criminals.
- If you have an appointment, you'd better not be more than fifteen minutes
late, or people will start without you. When people are late you comment
that they are running on "African time", but that's just because you're
jealous and would also like to live at a less hectic pace.
- If you say to someone that you will do something "just now", it means you
will do it later.
- If you're talking to someone you get very uncomfortable if they approach
to within less than half a metre. You're very protective of your personal
- The only things you expect to bargain for are houses. Cars have a fixed
price. You might be able to bargain if you buy fruit and vegetables from
informal traders, though.
- You might show up at people's houses unannounced, but most of the time you
call first. If people show up at your house unannounced, you consider them
to have very bad manners. However, if you invite people over for a meal, you
do not expect them to contribute anything, not even flowers, dessert or
wine. After all, YOU invited THEM.