It takes leaving South Africa to realise just how South African you are
This was the moment I realised how much South Africa had molded me into the person I am today and just how much my South African identity was going to continue to shape me in ways I never thought possible.
September 19, 2016
Over the years I’ve seen those around me leaving South Africa for work, love, education, or just in search of a better life. Moving abroad seemed like a simple process so I thought, ‘Why can’t I too?’.
When the time was right, and I finally made the decision to embark on my new journey abroad, everything seemed to be just peachy. I was moving to Israel, a place I had dreamed of living in for half my life.
Well, I was right, everything was going to be just fine (now that I write this in hindsight). But I was also very very wrong.
The moment I said goodbye to my family at the airport was the hardest moment of my life and one which I never want to relive. I didn’t think leaving South Africa would be so bad and I definitely wasn’t prepared.
This was the moment when I realised just how much South Africa had molded me into the person I am today and just how much my South African identity was going to continue to shape me in ways I never thought possible.
I have taken the plunge into a new culture, which was somewhat always part of my identity, but I was still in for a major culture shock. While now I am a bit of a hybrid, I always find myself reverting to certain ‘South Africanisms’.
These are some of the South African attributes and characteristics about myself which have shaped me and continue to be an extension of who I am.
My South African accent
While most people I talk to can’t quite pinpoint where I am from if they don’t know me, it’s always funny to hear the wild guesses…which most of the time is British.
Seeing that I only left South Africa two and a half years ago, I have embraced the fact that my accent is here to stay and I love it. I am surrounded by different cultures and accents, so it’s the best to feel unique or to spot a fellow South African from miles away.
Minding my manners
Everyone prefers well-mannered people and wants to maintain a sense of decorum at the post office, supermarket, a queue, or wherever it may be.
Well, that’s kind of non-existent where I live now. Sure, people are warm, friendly, and helpful, but also very rude and hot-headed.
The South African in me has taught me to just smile and remain calm, which actually creates a ripple effect in that the person I converse with often reacts in the same way.
Sorry, not sorry
South Africans have a strange habit of saying “sorry” all the time for unnecessary things. Where I live now, “sorry” is not part of the vocabulary.
It took me some time to learn not to apologise unless I do something wrong or offend someone. Now if I accidentally brush past someone at the supermarket I don’t feel the need to say sorry.
I only learned how lucky I was to have the luxury of space when I left South Africa. From spacious houses, endless parking spots, to longer drives and bigger supermarket aisles, South Africa really boasts an endless amount of space.
Now I have to think twice before I buy something, and I have to plan ahead whether there will be a parking spot or not before I go out.
I appreciate my own little niche and the new sense of space I have created for myself. I have learned how to make-do with what I have and to be resourceful in terms of generating more ideas for space.
Freedom and security
I grew up learning to be observant about what goes on around me, and while I was blessed to grow up in a democratic South Africa, we all know there are still significant issues that remain part and parcel of living in South Africa.
For example, it isn’t commonplace to see thousands of people walking around the streets all day every day or sitting in sidewalk cafes.
Now that I live in a city where most people commute by foot or bus and there are hundreds of cafes and coffee shops all over the place, I have adapted to this new way of life.
But, the South African in me still likes to get around by car, and it took me a while to just walk around in the streets without having to think twice.
South Africans are fantastic planners and they tend to plan a simple get-together with friends at least one or two days before.
Spontaneity is the name of the game in my new home. Nobody plans; in fact, people just rock up at your place or call two minutes before.
I am not complaining, it’s great! But I am still South African when push comes to shove. I prefer to plan things in general, and I haven’t quite gotten used to the meaning of what true spontaneity is just yet.
I am anything but the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I like to be punctual and I respect others more when they arrive when they say they will; yes, even the bus drivers.
Unfortunately, things in my life now don’t run as smoothly as they did in South Africa, and it has taken me a long time not to get angry or upset about it.
Despite this, everything manages to fall into place at the end of the day, and it has taught me that things do work out as planned after all; even if it’s a few days later. I have adapted to my new pace of life, new bureaucratic ways, and the fact that the busses don’t arrive when they say they will.
I am a work in the making; a mix of the new me and old me.
One thing I know for certain is that my South Africanisms will always be a part of who I am as much as I try to assimilate into my new surroundings and no matter where I live in the world.
Danielle currently lives in Tel Aviv, Israel after moving from her hometown, Johannesburg in May 2014. She is an avid reader, a lover of fashion, she dreams about traveling the world all day every day, and two of her favorite foods are popcorn and nutella. Danielle holds a BA in English and Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand, and she is currently completing her MA Thesis in English Literature at Bar Ilan University.