The thing that has really stood out since day one is just how friendly people are here in South Africa. From the minute we arrived we have been overwhelmed at how much complete strangers are offering to do for us, especially when they hear that we are new here. We have had people offer to help us out with so many things, offering to go way over and above any kind of obligation. I’ve not experienced anything like it before – my own family wouldn’t go to such great lengths as some of these people have offered to!
After living in London for so long, where if you make eye contact with someone on the tube you will either die of surprise/embarrassment/anger (why the HELL is that person looking at me?!), it’s a novel thing to make conversation with absolute strangers. When you pass people on the street here, you greet them. We know the life story of the guy that works on the stall, the woman in the shop, the security guard in the car park, and similarly they know our story too. If you go to the shop and end up having a conversation with the people working there, they will take the time to speak and not rush you through the check out. Sometimes you feel a bit bad for the person in the queue behind you but you just keep chatting anyway! If another customer overhears your conversation then they will happily chip in, giving you their opinion and recommendations.
At first I balked when complete strangers were getting in my business – “excuse me, thanks for butting in but I’m British, so because I don’t know you it weirds me out that you are speaking to me”. I remember sitting in the gym changing room a couple of years ago in London crying my eyes out, and not one person who was getting changed asked me if I was OK. I can’t imagine that would ever happen here in South Africa.
We obviously have to be mindful of our security when we are talking to these strangers, and we don’t give out any personal details that would compromise our safety, but that is exactly the same as living in London. You just have to use your common sense.
We have been told a few times that the person is very happy that we are here, and I believe that they are being genuine. Whereas in the UK it wouldn’t have bothered me if someone had come over to live there, in SA I think that the people live here are proud of the country that South Africa is slowly becoming, and happy that there are people around the world that aren’t scared off by the stories that we constantly hear. They are proud to show you that it is not all bad and that this can be a really rewarding place to live.
Everyone here says that Joburg is much friendlier than anywhere else in SA, but then I suppose everyone must think that about where they come from. I can honestly say that it does feel like Joburger’s are the friendliest after previously spending a lot of time in Cape Town too, but then I’ve always been on holiday in Cape Town so only had a need to talk to family and friends. I’ve never been in the situation before where I have to constantly put myself out there in order to create a new life, which is where I find myself now.
With the prospect of at least two years in front of me here, I’m speaking to all kinds of people to make friends – I’ve made friends with other bloggers, I’ve made a friend from the night market that I might end up working with, we get on really well with our landlord and handy-man, we are very friendly with Chi Chi and the guys that guard our road. Plus obviously Rob has made friends through work, and there is a larger network of people that we have met via those contacts. I’m signing up for some classes and will meet people there too. We are very lucky as we have a few friends here already that we know from London, and we also moved over here at the same time as someone that Rob and I worked with in the UK. So we are not totally alone, and I’m making friends much more quickly than I thought I would. I’ve not even been here a month, and we didn’t have any time to socialise the first few weeks at all.
I think a big factor here in Joburg is that there are so many expats. Joburg is a business hub, and because of that a lot of people have moved here for work. This means that there are so many of us in the same boat that it is much easier to reach out to someone without feeling like a stalker, or to forge a friendship more quickly than usual. Obviously not everyone is going to click once they meet, but we all do have something in common, and that is that we all left a different life behind and started a new one. It takes a certain kind of person to do that, regardless of their interests or personality.
One way that I have found other people that I’m sure have at least some of the same interests as me is through blogging. I’m glad that I bit the bullet and contacted them rather than just becoming a silent reader like a lot of people do, and I’m glad that some others have contacted me after finding this blog. If you are reading any blogs regularly and wondering about whether to contact that person to meet for a coffee, then I strongly recommend that you just send that message. What have you got to lose? You could make some great friends if you are lucky.