Culture Shock in South Africa

► Buy the South Africa Guide for Kindle or PDF



Expats may experience culture shock in South AfricaIt is entirely natural for expats to feel a degree of culture shock in South Africa given the country's complex society and eclectic nature. With its sweeping geographic variations, 11 official languages and various cultures in close co-existence, the Rainbow Nation can be an easy place to blend in, but also presents expats with unique challenges.

Some expats will be relieved to know that there is no wildlife roaming the streets; that while crime is a reality, it is often sensationalised by the media; and that public infrastructure is generally good. 
 

Inequality in South Africa

 
Expats moving to South Africa from the West are often the most taken aback by the country's glaring wealth disparity. It’s not uncommon to see the newest Mercedes Benz model parked next to someone rummaging through a garbage bin. Guilt can overwhelm new arrivals, but expats should be careful about indulging beggars or opening their home to those in need. The best way to make a positive difference is to donate to registered charities. 
 

Safety in South Africa

 
Expats moving to Johannesburg will encounter an obsession with personal safety. Homes are surrounded by electrified fences walls and guarded by private security firms while, for many, walking outside in parks is unheard of. The role that crime plays in many people's lives may be the most unfamiliar and disconcerting feature of integrating into South African society.

The good news is that there has been a push towards urban renewal, with an increased emphasis on reducing crime. More and more people are enjoying Johannesburg's outdoor spaces and trendy inner-city areas. At the same time, walking around the streets, beaches and parks in Cape Town is much more common.

 

Time in South Africa

 
The concept of time in South Africa can be an adjustment for expats settling into their new life. South Africans often measure moments in 'now', 'just now' and 'now now' – respectively meaning 'anytime between the next 20 minutes and tomorrow', 'anytime within the day', and 'anytime within the hour'. For many South Africans, there is no rush if it can be done later.
 
This is not true in the South African corporate world which upholds very Western standards of punctuality and decorum. It functions relatively efficiently, although social engagements and government enterprise often function with a lot more flexibility. Expats should not take problems with punctuality or light-hearted rescheduling personally – this is a cultural norm.
 

Social life in South Africa

 
South Africans are generally known for being friendly and welcoming, and there are many expat clubs and groups to ease the transition from home. But most expats move to urban areas that are usually a familiar mix of middle-class values and Western consumerism with a local twist.

South Africans of all cultures enjoy a "braai", a kind of barbeque which entails cooking meat over hot coals, often accompanied by alcohol and salads. These often take place around sporting events – the country is passionate about rugby, cricket and football (soccer). While support for local rugby and cricket teams is high, especially on national level, many locals would rather watch the English Premier League than local coverage.
 
Shopping malls, which many South Africans are devoted to, are similar in their range of products and services to Western malls although the scope of clothing and haute couture is limited compared to London, New York and Singapore. Those looking for high-end boutiques should stick to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Search Expat Arrivals

Currencies Direct

Become our local expat expert for your area!

Expat Arrivals is looking for contributors to make this the ultimate guide for international expats.

If you are an established expat who could make time to write useful information for expats in your city and answering forum questions from new and prospective expats, please contact us.

As our local expert you can have your profile showing on each page you publish, and will have an option to promote your website or blog.

Got a question about your new country?

X
Login with your Facebook account (Recommended)
, after login or registration your account will be connected.