First impressions of two Europeans in Johannesburg:
- A high percentage of cars is white, and they all look very clean and new.
- There aren’t any normal taxis to be seen on the roads – in Malaysia it’s up to 50% of cars.
- The city centre skyscrapers are on a hill, making it look quite impressive from a distance.
- Despite an abundance of delicious fruit, many restaurants only pour juice and lemonade from cans.
- Not many white people walk along the streets, certainly not in the city centre.
- Most drivers seem to be careful, but minibuses drive like Albanians on their way to a wedding.
- It’s very chilly inside houses in winter – with no insulation, no central heating, and single-pane windows.
- Prices are generally low, at Eastern Europe levels.
- There’s no public transport to speak of.
- Roads are pretty good, but quite a few traffic lights and streetlights don’t work.
- There are a lot of paint shops, all named Barney’s, Jack’s etc.
- The national food, dense porridge ‘pap’ with sausage, is not unlike Romania’s favourite meal, polenta with meat.
- Fat white men with knobbly knees can get away with wearing schoolboy shorts.
- The dress sense is not modern European – awful 1980s patterns are worn publicly, even in upmarket malls.
- Signs on the streets, in supermarkets and texts in brochures seem randomly written in English or Afrikaans, and there are hardly any texts visible in the ‘native’ African languages.
- Driving in from Roodepoort, there seem to be more poor white than black people begging at traffic lights.
- Itinerant sellers usually ring the bell offering brooms; at traffic lights and along roads they sell everything from cupboards, kites, sports T-shirts, biltong machines (for drying game meat), and clothes hangers to newspapers.
- It’s nearly always sunny, in the winter months anyway.
- Basic food like chicken soup tastes very different.
- Behind Johannesburg’s Western-looking facade, nothing really works the way you’d expect it to – everything from opening a Standard Bank account to subscribing to ADT security and getting a notary to spell things correctly on official documents is a slow and frustrating process.
We love it.