20 first impressions

First impressions of two Europeans in Johannesburg:

  1. A high percentage of cars is white, and they all look very clean and new.
  2. There aren’t any normal taxis to be seen on the roads – in Malaysia it’s up to 50% of cars.
  3. The city centre skyscrapers are on a hill, making it look quite impressive from a distance.
  4. Despite an abundance of delicious fruit, many restaurants only pour juice and lemonade from cans.
  5. Not many white people walk along the streets, certainly not in the city centre.
  6. Most drivers seem to be careful, but minibuses drive like Albanians on their way to a wedding.
  7. It’s very chilly inside houses in winter – with no insulation, no central heating, and single-pane windows.
  8. Prices are generally low, at Eastern Europe levels.
  9. There’s no public transport to speak of.
  10. Roads are pretty good, but quite a few traffic lights and streetlights don’t work.
  11. There are a lot of paint shops, all named Barney’s, Jack’s etc.
  12. The national food, dense porridge ‘pap’ with sausage, is not unlike Romania’s favourite meal, polenta with meat.
  13. Fat white men with knobbly knees can get away with wearing schoolboy shorts.
  14. The dress sense is not modern European – awful 1980s patterns are worn publicly, even in upmarket malls.
  15. 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.
  16. Driving in from Roodepoort, there seem to be more poor white than black people begging at traffic lights.
  17. 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.
  18. It’s nearly always sunny, in the winter months anyway.
  19. Basic food like chicken soup tastes very different.
  20. 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.

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3 responses to “20 first impressions

  1. Interesting perspectives Jeroen! Loved #11
    Also love your banner!

    What brought you to Joburg?

  2. Thanks Tom. A woman brought me to Joburg – she got offered a job she couldn’t refuse and who am I to complain about a stay in the rainbow paint nation?
    It’s true about the paint shops. In Europe I’ve never noticed a paint shop in my life – here there are hundreds prominently along the roads with big lighthouses to advertise themselves. Why do SA-ns need so much paint?

    10 points if you know where the banner photo was taken…

  3. Funny ones! But Joburg seems so far and untouchable from Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania, Romania…. 🙂

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