55 Tips for the New (and Seasoned) Expat

February 3, 2016

A while back I started an "Expat Tip of the Day" Twitter campaign to give advice to fellow expats.

Some of these were specific to South Africa (All expats/foreigners HAVE to apply for a Traffic Register Number to buy a car in South Africa), and some were universal expat concerns (Make a spreadsheet of family passport numbers and expiration dates; schedule expiration dates in your calendar).

Since Twitter is not really my thing, this never got a huge following. But I diligently collected all my Twitter tips, thinking I'd one day have enough to publish as a list.

Then I promptly forgot about it.

Until just a few days ago, I came across the hashtag #expatproblems. I thought that #Expattips would make a nice complement to that. Got problems? I got tips!

Except I couldn't just publish the tips as they are. I had to annotate and expand with some snide remarks and more tips. I hope you enjoy this slight departure from my typical expat blog post format.

Without further ado, here is my collected wisdom from collectively 5 years of expat life in Asia and Africa:

#ExpatTip 1:  Make a spreadsheet of family passport numbers and expiration dates; schedule expiration dates in your calendar.

#ExpatTip 2: Make (and keep in a file on your computer) a moving checklist; check out this sample http://bit.ly/1algyph

#ExpatTip 3:  If you don't have a visa, you're not a person, at least in South Africa; apply early, Home Affairs is slooooow! http://www.joburgexpat.com/2014/11/applying-for-south-african-visa.html

#ExpatTip 4:  Carry a passport copy with you when signing up for new services; In SA you'll also need your lease agreement.

#ExpatTip 5: Fly with a folder of family documents (birth certificates, immunization records, etc) rather than shipping them in the container. This is also a good place to mention things you should NOT be putting into your container. Like potatoes. Since they will arrive as #rottenpotatoes #ewwwholdsnose http://www.joburgexpat.com/2014/10/what-expats-shouldnt-let-packers-put-in.html

#ExpatTip 6: All expats/foreigners HAVE to apply for a Traffic Register Number to buy a car in South Africa.http://bit.ly/1alhpGq

#ExpatTip 7: Expats in Johannesburg: apply for a Traffic Register Number (TRN) for your car at the Randburg Licensing Office on Wednesdays from 7:30 to 10:00 am. This at the risk of them changing the times yet again, and some reader yelling at me that I gave terrible advice. To which I can say, you get what you pay for, guys! Donation to my blog, anyone?

#ExpatTip 8:  Make a spreadsheet with all personal numbers (ID/passport, drivers license, health insurance)

#ExpatTip 9: Foreigners can't obtain a South African driver's license unless they are permanent residents.

#ExpatTip 10: A foreign driver's license is valid in South Africa (if in English, current, with picture) http://bit.ly/1a4bk6H. The challenge is to keep it current. You may have to travel half around the world to renew it!

#ExpatTip 11: Don't drive in South Africa without a copy of the SA National Road Traffic Acthttp://bit.ly/1alinT4 

#ExpatTip 12:  Keep a postal address in your home country and have sensitive information (bank statements) sent there http://bit.ly/1a4cf70. Or you will have someone intercept your mail and next thing you know, your overseas bank rep, who, being German, is a very diligent bank rep, call you and wants to know, do you REALLY want 11,000 Euros transferred to an account in Nigeria?

#ExpatTip 13: Do not send anything valuable (any package) to South Africa via regular 
post http://bit.ly/1aljdzd

#ExpatTip 14: Do NOT bribe a cop who is telling you your foreign driver's license is not sufficient; wait it out. Who knows, you might get lucky so you can finally blog about a South African jail from the inside. http://www.joburgexpat.com/2015/04/should-i-bribe-south-african-cops.html

#ExpatTip 15: Keep an address, bank, and credit card in your home country.

#ExpatTip 16: Start exploring immediately; don't wait till the last box is unpacked and your house is perfect. Or you will leave three years later with a perfect house but no exciting adventures to show for. If you're looking for travel tips for South Africa, here is a start: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2014/12/top-10-must-visit-places-in-south-africa.html

#ExpatTip 17: Make a list of attractions in your new city/country for visitors; see Joburg Expat's list http://bit.ly/1aljOB1

#ExpatTip 18: Even the bad parts can have their charm; it helps to write about them. 

#ExpatTip 19: Start a blog for your future self and people back home; and remember, the crappier your mishap, the better the story! Become an #expatblogger. Wordpress or Blogger? That is the question. I have both. http://www.joburgexpat.com/. and http://evamelusinethieme.com/.

#ExpatTip 20: Buy yourself and your kids a Kindle before moving overseas. Not every country has nice libraries. http://bit.ly/1k8jq17

#ExpatTip 21: Go out of your shell to make new friends. Other expats are in the same boat and happy to meet you.

#ExpatTip 22: Reduce your baggage. The less you have, the easier it is to move. And you'll learn that you don't really need all that stuff.

#ExpatTip 23: Don't wait to find a doctor and dentist until you have an emergency. Do some research so you know who to call when you need one: http://bit.ly/MrFRjI

#ExpatTip 24: Don't be #GrumpyExpat; be #SuccessfulExpat. Here's how http://bit.ly/1k8nfU5

#ExpatTip 25: Enroll your kids in a local school if that's an option; continuity is overrated; novelty and adaptability provide better life lessons.

#ExpatTip 26: Understand which voltage is used in your new country. U.S. = 110V, most of rest of world = 220V. http://bit.ly/1k8o6Es

#ExpatTip 27: When in doubt, laughThe difference between dysfunctional and quirky is only a matter of mindset. Can I enter this into a philosophy contest?

#ExpatTip 28: When the power goes out, have coffee with a friend. Here are some Joburg locations: http://bit.ly/MrH62h

#ExpatTip 29: Research a new country using a website catering to expats such as @expatarrivals http://bit.ly/1k8oX82

#ExpatTip 30: When your container is packed, set aside an empty room in the house for items outside of the packers' reach.

#ExpatTip 31: Discuss with your kids who gets which room before moving, or you may never hear the end of it in future years. In fact, it might be best to take notarized statements from everyone.

#ExpatTip 32: Expat spouse? Sign up for services in YOUR name, or you may not be able to access your account: http://bit.ly/1k8pqqS

#ExpatTip 33: Think of the bright side. I may never have received a promised callback in South Africa, but our toilets were never clogged!

#ExpatTip 34: If renting a house in South Africa, take a water and electricity meter reading as soon as you move in. http://bit.ly/1k8pPcE

#ExpatTip 35: Make sure your passport contains several blank pages. A tale of warning if it doesn't: http://bit.ly/1k8pXsJ

#ExpatTip 36: Have a choice between expat locations? Pick the one where you can get domestic help!

#ExpatTip 37: Be informed about hiring domestic help. Here is what it looks like in South Africa: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2012/01/hiring-domestic-help.html

#ExpatTip 38: Find a provider for Uncapped Internet, or you might run out of data quickly. http://bit.ly/1k8qk6P

#ExpatTip 39: Remember that if you want a house with sun exposure in the Southern hemisphere, it needs to be a North-facing house.

#ExpatTip 40: Research and make a list of things to buy before moving. http://bit.ly/1k8qwmm

#ExpatTip 41: DVD players (if you still use them) have different region codes. Best buy a multi-system one before your expat move. 

#ExpatTip 42: Open a local bank account in your new country. 

#ExpatTip 43: Buy plenty of universal adapter plugs and extension strips before your move - see http://bit.ly/MrIrWV for a great model.

#ExpatTip 44: Buy a cheap prepaid cell phone when you arrive in new country; research the perfect plan later when there is more time.

#ExpatTip 45: Before you buy a new Kindle charger for your new country, see if you don't have a Blackberry or Samsung one. They all use a USB compatible charger.

#ExpatTip 46: If you plan to travel in South Africa, let the agent know you are Sout African residents and not from the U.S.,or you'll be overcharged. Ask for the South African price!

#ExpatTip 47: How to make sure you have the right Kindle charger in South Africa http://bit.ly/1gQAK4c

#ExpatTip 48: Get to know your city - a great way for #Johannesburg is the Johannesburg in your Pocket guide http://bit.ly/1gQB1nP

#ExpatTip 49: Research pet import rules to cut down on costs, even if you use a relocation service. South Africa pet relocation advicehttp://bit.ly/1hlV9mM

#ExpatTip 50: What should be on my Expat Moving Checklist? The ultimate list: http://bit.ly/1algyph 

#ExpatTip 51: Don't listen to your mother. DO talk to strangers! http://www.joburgexpat.com/2014/04/do-talk-to-strangers.html

#ExpatTip 52: How Much is Enough - Expat Tips on Tipping http://www.joburgexpat.com/2014/06/how-much-is-enough-expat-tips-on-tipping.html

#ExpatTip 53: Regarding travel again, when visiting Namibia, fly to Windhoek & book rental car FIRST b4 booking flight. MUST get 4x4 vehicle.

#ExpatTip 54 on #petrelocation, check with airline if size of crate fits into cargo hatch. More on moving pets to SA: http://bit.ly/ZHdxju

#ExpatTip 55: Choose the right post office box location wisely. http://www.joburgexpat.com/2012/01/expat-tip-how-to-choose-your-post-box.html

I hope you've been able to find something useful on this list. As always, please leave a comment if I've forgotten anything or accidentally gave the wrong information. Good luck to all future expats in South Africa and beyond!
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Things to Pack (and Not to Pack) in Your South-Africa Bound Shipping Container

January 25, 2016

I got a reader question today that I think is worth sharing with the general public in terms of practical advice when moving to South Africa:

Do you have any tips regarding what is worth shipping in terms of furniture? For example, should we ship our outdoor grill that uses a propane tank? What about gardening tools like wheel barrows, push mower and water hoses? I have a 5 and 1 year old and I am thinking of shipping all of their toys, is that wise?

This reader is moving from the United States, so my answers are a bit skewed towards the American expat and might not necessarily be the same if you're moving from Europe or Asia. Please take that into consideration as you continue reading, as I don't want to get any angry rants on my Facebook page telling me "YOU GAVE ME TERRIBLE ADVICE!!! (Yes, I do get people shouting at me in all caps like that:-).

First off, what you ship and don't ship really depends on how much space you have in your container. If this is a corporate relocation, most likely your employer will provide a 40 foot shipping container, which can fit a lot of your household goods, if not all of them.

What it looks like when you ship all your furniture

If you're paying to ship everything yourself, I'd strongly consider renting a furnished place, or buying everything once there. It can be quite liberating to part with all your stuff, if you're bold enough to try it.

The following answers are geared toward the former, i.e. a corporate relocation where shipping space is not much of an issue, but where you still don't want to necessarily bring a bunch of useless or unnecessary items you'll  have to handle and store on arrival.

Q: Should we ship our outdoor grill with propane tank?

A: No. That's the short answer. There are several reasons I advise against it. A) Many South African houses have built-in "braais" already. South Africans love to grill, and chances are you'll end up in a beautiful house with an even more beautiful patio where your grill is already part of the layout. B) you can easily buy one there, you will find a great selection at places like Builder's Warehouse or Patio Warehouse. And most importantly C) the gauge of the gas line is different, a problem we are now having in reverse with our gas heater lamp purchased in South Africa. It doesn't fit onto the gas bottles we can get in the U.S., and to change it is iffy because of the potential for leaks. Better to buy everything there and the bottles will fit. 

Q: Should we ship our gardening stuff like mowers, wheelbarrows, and hoses and such?

A: That's also a good question. The answer is, that depends. Most likely you will use a gardening service in South Africa. That's just the way it is. It provides great employment opportunities for a lot of people and so everyone has gardeners. If you employ an individual guy, you need your tools. If you don't and rather go with a service (I can recommend Mike at Jean's Garden Service!), then don't bring your tools and mower as they will have all those. Personally, I'd bring shovels and hedge clippers, if you enjoy a little gardening like I do. But I'd leave behind the wheelbarrow. Your yard is likely going to be much smaller than in the United States. Also leave behind any electric tools like edge trimmers and such, because of the voltage. With regards to water hoses, I'd also buy those in South Africa, as again the gauge is a little different and it'll be easier for you to get them attached properly if you buy them there. Gardena is a great brand for all those junction pieces, and Builder's Warehouse is the place to shop for all that. 

Q: Should we ship the kids' toys to South Africa?

A: Yes, absolutely. When traveling with small children, it's especially important to create a comfortable environment in your new home. Having familiar toys will do just that. In fact, if your contract allows for an air shipment, I'd try to put as many toys as you can into that versus the ocean container. Our kids were older when me moved, and we actually took the Xbox on the plane with us, which was a great move as it gave them something to do for those long weeks without all our other stuff. You don't want to arrive in South Africa and have to figure out where to buy toys, because trust me, you will have plenty of other things on your mind on that first day in an unfamiliar place! In fact, I'd make a pitch here for not only bringing the toys you currently own, but perhaps buy a few toys ahead while you have the convenience of Amazon.com at your disposal. Splurge a little so that you have some upcoming birthdays and perhaps even Christmas already covered. (For a list of all the things I recommend you buy before moving to South Africa, read 19 Things to Put on your Shopping List for South Africa.)

It's great to have toys at thre ready upon your arrival in a new country
On second thought, being reminded that THIS happens when you ship toys, you might reconsider

Q: Which if any furniture should we bring with us?

A: This goes back to the question of how much space you have. If you have space, why not bring it all? There were a few items that I just couldn't figure out where to buy when we first arrived in Johannesburg, and even though eventually finding a solution made for an interesting boondoggle and a great story on my blog, it would have been easier not to have to worry about it at the time. We brought all of our furniture, except patio furniture (which we only left behind, including the gas grill, because they were covered in snow on the day of packing and we didn't want to mess up the container). It all worked out as we found beautiful pool furniture at Patio Warehouse in Johannesburg. If you end up moving to South Africa without your furniture, the above link has a list of furniture stores in Joburg. Or you could always try Gumtree

Q: Is there anything else we should make sure to pack?

A: I threw that question in there because I sorely missed one thing in South Africa, and that was our warm winter stuff. Most people assume it's going to be warm year-round in a subtropical place, but Joburg's altitude ensures that winter nights are freezing. Your kids are going to need winter coats and hats and mittens on their way to school, and while you can buy all that in Joburg, it's kind of a pain to have to buy winter stuff for just a month worth of cold mornings. So bringing all that makes a lot of sense.

If your shipping company lets you bring booze, bring it! (And if not, bring it anyway!)

Q: Which electric appliances should we pack into the container?

A: Unless you  have some very dear ones, like a favorite cappuccino maker, and have purchased an electric step-down/step-up transformer to run them, don't bring any appliances. Things like hair dryers and vacuum cleaners are definitely a no, even with a transformer. Read my blog post Power Talk to learn about the issue with appliances, and then read Where can I find an Alarm Clock? to find stores for all those items you'll need to buy in South Africa, like appliances, other electronics, converter plugs, stationary, and school uniforms. (Everything except groceries; read Grocery Shopping in Johannesburg to find out where to buy those.)

This is a step-up/step-down transformer. It weighs as much as a small car!

Q: Should we ship our car to South Africa? 

A: This was a question from another reader I received at about the same time. I answered with a resounding NO, because this reader was coming from the United States, and driving an American left-steering car on left-driving roads for several years just sounds like a bad idea to me. But even if you're coming from England or another left-driving road system, I don't think bringing your car with you is the wisest course of action. I have friends who did just that and I seem to remember the associated bureaucratic nightmare (and payment of duties and taxes) was quite substantial. If you know how it's done, it's not that difficult to buy a car in South Africa.

Oh, and I almost forget, make sure you read What Expats SHOULDN'T Let the Packers Put in the Container.

I hope this list has been helpful for anyone moving to South Africa. If you've moved already, please share your experience or comment if I've forgotten anything!
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South African Bureaucracy Driving You Nuts

January 18, 2016

During that first year in South Africa, all that kept me sane at times was the knowledge that yet another crazy bureaucratic errand would make a good blog post. I'd be standing in the Telkom office clutching pages of my phone bill, wanting to hit the lady at the counter over the head - I really am not a violent person - because she was so intractable and obdurate about fixing an obvious error, and there'd be a little angel sitting on my right shoulder, tugging at my arm and whispering: Wait till you can tell your readers about this. They won't bloody believe this.

Yes, by then I had mentally absorbed the word "bloody" into my vocabulary. You can't live without it in South Africa, and it makes for an excellent companion when standing in line in a Telkom office.

The telephone in the Telkom office that I was told I'd have to use if I wanted to make a complaint.
Instead of being able to talk to any of the clerks sitting behind the counter twiddling their thumbs.

I'm glad to know that my readers indeed must have enjoyed such blog posts. Because I am now one of those readers.

Sitting in my lovely centrally-heated house in America, where the trash gets picked up rain or shine with unflinching regularity, where I can bank on every traffic light working like a charm each morning on the way to school, and where I can start and stop utility service on a whim with just a single phone call if I so desire, I chuckle with utter delight when reading about the misadventures of yet another American expat in South Africa in an imbroglio with Home Affairs. Or a crazy homeowner.

Sometimes both at the same time. In My Thoughts from the Deep End's latest blog post, you will be witness to how the sale of a home often leaves poor expat tenants in the middle of a "War of the Roses"-like dispute over piddly stuff like potted plants and movable kitchen islands. I can totally relate. I don't know what it is about South African home owners and what kinds of slights they must have endured in their previous lives to become quite so paranoid and unreasonable. It took us three tries to rent a home, because the previous two landlords inexplicably changed their minds after the leases were agreed to. No can do, don't want to rent, nope, we are now selling the house. The owners of the third house ended up being lovely people, but not before negotiating tooth and nail over the price of our refrigerator and dishwasher, which in comparison to the corporate lease they gained was peanuts.

But my favorite paragraph in the above blog post was the part where, after an already lengthy battle with Home Affairs depicted in numerous previous blog posts, the husband's visa was finally renewed, but not the wife's. This by the way is something that seems to occur pretty much every single time an expat renews a South African visa if I go by my friends' stories. The wife's visa was not renewed because instead of listing her as the dependent WIFE they made her into a dependent DAUGHTER, a situation which then needed to be rectified and would take until "next week."

Har har - has ANYTHING ever happened at Home Affairs next week? Fittingly, the wife's comment about this on her blog:

"Mr. Deep [the husband] wonders if it might be easier (and faster) if he and I get divorced and then he adopts me as his daughter so that the visa will be accurate."

Indeed. You do wonder if that might well be faster.

But wait... then the husband/father will have to apply for an unabridged birth certificate for the wife/daughter and make sure he always travels with that and a notarized affidavit from both parents... Uh-oh, who'd sign the affidavit for the mother's side - the wife? On second thought, It might be better not to veer into that territory.

Home Affairs, curiously, was never my big nemesis while living in South Africa. We got lucky and never had any issues, neither the first time we applied for visas nor for the renewals. Well - if you don't count having to get police certificates from the U.S., Germany, and Singapore about our non-criminal conduct, chest x-rays for the entire family, doctor's affidavits that none of us were crazy, plus fill out a plethora of forms. Everyone wanting to live or work in South Africa has to go through that. The only incident worthy of a blog post was when we had to go to the local police station to get our fingerprints taken.

My big nemesis, as you may recall, was Eskom. Runners-up were the City of Joburg and Telkom. My first blog post on the matter, Welcome to Africa! features all three. Eskom pretty much preoccupied me throughout most of our three years as you can see just by reading the blog post titles: Eskom: Adding Insult to Injury, Eskom: Absolute Power to Turn Off Your Power Whenever They so Choose, Eskom: How Much More Absurd can it Get?, My Truce with Eskom, Time to Put My Escom File in a Drawer, and my all-time favorite I'm Having an Affair.

Oh, and the Piki Tup saga of our stolen trash bin. Or not stolen, just misplaced it turns out. Again, the titles alone speak for that train of events: Security and Crime (when I thought it was stolen - the real title should have been "You GOTTA label your trash can in South Africa", The Dustbin Saga Continues..., Finally - a New Trash Can!, and Dustbin Saga - Still Going Strong!, in which it turns out the "new" trash can was just the old one returned, which we should have known, because it's unreasonable to think that in South Africa your trash company would send you a new one within just a few weeks instead of months.

Back to my sedate - and, I admit, rather boring - life in American suburbia. Luckily, every once in a while stuff happens here too that is blog-worthy.

It turns out we have our very own Eskom-in-new-clothing called Comcast. (Maybe we should all be wary of the syllable "com" in a utility.) You can read up on the evil antics of Comcast in Welcome to Af-merica. The reason I have not written anything else about it is that dealing with Comcast lacks the African charm of dealing with Eskom. Eskom was incompetent, Comcast is bad on purpose, I'm sure of it. I have never met such disdain for the customer in any other American company.

While my dealings with Comcast are more depressing than funny, some really funny stuff does happen here in our sleepy and otherwise unremarkable town. Only in America is by far the funniest thing that's happened to me here, and made for one of my better "crazy people" stories. Just looking at the picture I staged to reflect what happened that day should get you curious (and no, no one shot the kitty):

And the topic of First World Problems in our privileged bubble always makes for entertaining stories, as in Coyote Sightings, Ungainly Outhouses, and Other First World Problems.

With this, my friends, I shall leave you for the day. I hope you get a good laugh out of one of these stories.
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The Unsurpassed Beauty of South African Wildlife: The Expat Perspective

January 7, 2016

As reports of the drop in the South African Rand's value have trickled in, my heart has gone out to both South Africa and my friends and fellow expats living there. How would this bode for the future of the country? Would many people face hardships as imported goods became more expensive and out of reach?

But the good news is that one of South Africa's most prominent export goods has become as affordable as never before: Tourism. And, in particular, the African safari at one of the many wonderful game lodges throughout its wildlife reserves. When I was approached to feature a safari provider on Joburg Expat, I was happy to oblige. I have not had the privilege of trying out the featured game lodge, but from our experience at many such game lodges, all unique and wonderful in their own way, as well as the glowing Tripadvisor reviews, I have no reservations making this recommendation.

The following guest post is sponsored by Accu-rate Media:

The Unsurpassed Beauty of South African Wildlife

From the unmatched elegance and grace of the African leopard to the majestic awe and might of the legendary African lion, South Africa’s diverse range of endemic wildlife is unmatched in its natural beauty.

Home to the famous Big Five game – African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and white/black rhinoceros – game reserves in South Africa boast wildlife that has become renowned across the world. Because of this, the country sees a massive influx of foreign tourists who seek to experience the raw beauty. Such is the immense value and pride placed on the Big Five that since 1990 South African rand banknotes have featured a different Big Five animal on each denomination.

Other quintessentially African large animals are the hippo, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest (the famous gnu) and zebra, all frequently seen in South Africa's conservation areas. Even packs of the endangered African wild dog can be observed pursuing their prey.

With 299 species of mammals and 858 species of birds, South Africa’s appeal caters to most if not all animal lovers. The well-established tourism industry takes advantage of this natural beauty by offering shark cage diving, bird spotting, veld expeditions, whale watching, and arguably most famously, safari tours and packages in South African game reserves.

Of the hundreds of wildlife reserves, none is more popular and renowned than the Kruger National Park. Established in 1926 and with well over a million visitors per year, the Kruger National Park covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres, which makes it the largest game reserve in South Africa and one of the largest wildlife parks in all of Africa. Steeped in legend and history, Kruger Park is also South Africa’s most exciting African safari destination. Aside from the spectacular African wildlife on display, it also offers its visitors sweeping vast landscapes of immense natural beauty.

With many accommodation options available, it’s never been easier for both domestic and international tourists to get up close and personal with the country’s wildlife. Set on the cool banks of the Olifants River on the 40,000ha Balule Private Nature Reserve inside the greater Kruger National Park, the award winning Pondoro Game Lodge offers its visitors comfort, sophistication, elegance, and a canvas on which to create an unforgettable African Safari. As such, the Pondoro Game Lodge has fast become one of the most popular choices for South African game reserve visitors.

This South African game reserve offers:

  • Early morning game drive
  • Nature walk
  • Picnic lunch at the hide
  • Birdwatching in camp and during game drives
  • Evening game drive with spotlight
  • All game drives in open-top Safari Cruisers

Importantly, wildlife viewing and South African game reserve experiences are a crucial fundraiser and a key aspect of meaningful conversation.

The white rhino has been brought back from the brink of extinction and now flourishes both in the Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal, with similar attention now is focused on protecting the black rhino.

Whenever or wherever possible, try to take full advantage of South Africa’s unparalleled wildlife. Once you’ve been on an African safari, you will fall in love with Africa for the rest of your life. And if you already live in South Africa as an expat, now is your best opportunity to experience the beauty of Africa.

Find out about a South African game reserve today!
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Why South Africa Needs a Better Postal Service to Become Great

January 2, 2016

This article got my attention today:

Why the Post Office Makes America Great
For the author, arriving in the United States from Turkey many years ago, it was culture shock par excellence to discover reliable postal rates, a service you'd even gladly surrender your passport to, and a country dotted with libraries full of books free for the taking.

I know all about this kind of happy culture shock, where everything around you seems like a wonder, a fantasy that can't be real, though my teenage eyes when first arriving in America as an exchange student did not zero in on such things as reliable postal service and libraries. After all, we had plenty of that in Germany. I was awestruck by other sightings, which I'd breathlessly report in my weekly missives to my parents back home: drive-through restaurants, cordless phones, and the priest coming over for dinner with a paper bag full of oysters in his one hand, a six-pack in the other.

Twice more I'd arrive in the United States after that initial baptism. The first was at the turn of the millennium after two years in Singapore, which didn't prompt any big cultural revelations. Perhaps because I was too busy with two small boys and our daughter on the way. My biggest cultural adjustment was trying to figure out how to get through the day without my trusted live-in housekeeper.

It is the memory of our most recent return to U.S. shores when we returned from three years in South Africa in early 2013 that had me nodding in agreement with the author. I underwent plenty of reverse culture shock then, mostly also with that sense of innocent wonder. The abundance of shopping, the vast parking spaces, the cashless economy. But my singularly biggest experience of reverse culture shock occurred when standing - you guessed it - in line at our local post office. There were 3 people in front of me, and one of them was griping about the terrible service.

An emblem of South Africa's dysfunctional postal service.
Photo taken at Valley Shopping Centre, Dainfern, 2012.

Are you insane? was what I wanted to shout at this grouch. Do you have any IDEA what great service you actually get, at such little cost? Here I was standing in line with a return from an online purchase. All I'd have to do is wait for probably less than 10 minutes, and the thing would be on its way without me having to shed another thought. It would get there with absolute certainty, my account would be credited, and I could go on with my life.

I won't have to tell you about the alternative. This is a blog about South Africa, so you must know. You've dealt with the disappointment of a promised Christmas present never arriving, of ordering a book on Kalahari.com that you then have to spend 4 precious weeks of your life to try and track down, you've stood in line at the post office for 40 minutes to renew your vehicle registration, only to find out that "the machine is broken, so sorry."

The South African Postal Service (SAPO) is in a dismal shambles. I've documented my experiences here and here. I know it's anecdotal, but my Christmas card experiment from a few years ago paints a pretty accurate picture, tables and all. South Africa was dead last, by a wide margin, in delivery times and success rates.

As the author of the above article so eloquently states, a country needs good infrastructure to be great. And, all the gripes of its citizens notwithstanding, America has good infrastructure. Perhaps not the best roads and airports - after all, you have to keep investing in those, and, gulp! raise taxes - but in comparison with all the other countries I've called my home, even Germany, American government services work well. I have a 4-month start-to-finish citizenship to show for it.

Businessman Mark Barnes recently got appointed to head SAPO, so I have hope. Turning around its postal service might be the first step in making South Africa the great country it deserves to be.

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One of Johannesburg's Best Suburbs

December 21, 2015

This week's post will be short and sweet, but - so I think - all the more informative for the prospective expat in Johannesburg.

I often get asked what I think is the most important question any expat faces: Where should we look for a house? What is the best place to live?

Of course this is impossible to answer definitively, as it depends on so many factors - work, school, budget, lifestyle, size, etc. But often it's also hard to find good information about a particular suburb you might be looking at.

Therefore, I was thrilled to come across this promotional video about the suburb of Lonehill that I think very effectively gives prospective residents an idea of what life there might look like. It's an area a little south of Dainfern right off of William Nicol Drive, an up-and-coming neighborhood that I think still flies a little under the radar of the expat crowd and therefore might offer a better overall value than the mainstays of Dainfern and Fourways Gardens. See for yourself:

Lonehill has many great things going for it. Have you ever been to the Lonehill Koppies? I had lived in Joburg for a year before figuring out that not 5 minutes from our house there was this cool nature reserve right in between shopping malls and residential areas which I believe some naturalists bill as one of Joburg's prime bird watching spots.

Lonehill is also an open suburb as opposed to the surrounding enclosed estates. I recall visiting a friend there once and being amazed that I could drive up to her house without the tedious security procedures we associate with living in South Africa. This doesn't mean that Lonehill is any more dangerous. In fact, it's billed as one of Joburg's safest open suburbs. You can read more about Lonehill in this informative article on Property24.

I don't know if Lonehill is the right place for you. But if I was moving to Johannesburg, I'd give it a serious look. It's within easy reach of the American International School to the north and several excellent South African private schools to the south. There is convenient shopping all around, restaurants, cafes, the mall, and well, the Koppies (if you're not familiar with South African lingo, a koppie is a little hill and the word is often used for nature reserves that are strewn around cities like Johannesburg).

For further reading on where to live in Johannesburg, I suggest the following:

Finding a House in Johannesburg: Part 1. Questions you should be asking yourself in preparing to move to Johannesburg.

Finding a House in Johannesburg: Part 2. Includes a comprehensive listing of Joburg suburbs and a description of each.

Where to Live: Dainfern or Dainfern Valley? If you are dead-set on living in either of those two neighborhoods, this might sway you one way or another. Hint: We lived in one of them.

Private Schools in Johannesburg. There is a reason this is Joburg Expat's top-rated post with 60,000 page views. Selecting a school often comes before selecting your suburb, so this is a good place to start.

Sandton Field and Study Centre: Boring Name, Beautiful Park. A great article by 2Summers about another one of Joburg's lesser-known nature reserves, if living close to a nature reserve is important to you.
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About Waking up as an Expat in a New Land, about Hadedas, and about Joburg Expat the Book

December 14, 2015

For some reason I've had a succession of hadeda stories land in my inbox this week. First there was Heather's story on 2Summers about her beautiful new hadeda tattoo. I'm not one to get tattoos, and even if I were, I'm not sure I'd pick the image of the hadeda ibis as my first one. But I have to admit it's absolutely beautiful, more beautiful than most tattoos I've ever seen.

Then there was the Wall Street Journal story by Patrick McGroarty, who I actually know from our Joburg Days, discussing how hadedas came to Johannesburg, how people love and hate these birds in equal measure, how they keep at bay an even more reviled Joburg creature, and how they, much like everyone else in Joburg, are suffering from this year's severe drought.

Baaaad idea! Our cat Maus was curious here. She never went after hadedas, but she got a
little close that time and was lucky to escape unscathed.

Reading so much about hadedas, I was reminded that I too have written about them on my blog. But more importantly, it reminded me of the draft for a book that is sitting somewhere on my computer, untouched for many months, the story of Joburg Expat if you will. When I typed up the first few lines after returning from South Africa (and when another book, Kilimanjaro Diaries, hadn't yet consumed all my attention) I brainstormed about a way to begin my story. It didn't take long to find the perfect beginning, because the scene was still in my mind as vividly as I'd experienced it on that first morning waking up in a strange new land.

Can you guess who features in that opening paragraph without ever being named? Read on...

Joburg Expat the Book, Chapter One

African Night

I am wide awake, staring at the walls of what is to be our bedroom for the next few years. I can’t sleep, even though it can’t be past four in the morning. There is too much noise around me. I was woken by what sounded like a pig being slaughtered, and now a dog is barking incessantly, answered by more dogs somewhere in the distance. I twist and turn, careful not to disturb Noisette, my dear husband and the one to blame, if I were to lay blame, for my predicament. Without him, we wouldn’t suddenly find ourselves on the other side of the world, as far removed from our quiet suburban life in Kansas as I could ever have imagined. I don’t know how he does it, sleeping on the plane and then sleeping again at night.

The occasional car is making its way down the hill from Diepsloot, engine humming, its light beams illuminating the bedroom ceiling. My thoughts wander to what we were told about that place, an impoverished township right next to one of Johannesburg’s wealthiest suburbs on the northern outskirts of town. Before we even quite left the airport after landing two days ago, we were warned to never set foot in Diepsloot or any other township if we cared for our lives. In fact, it’s a miracle we moved here at all. When the prospect first came up – it now seems such a long time ago, even though barely six months have passed – I went online to Google South Africa, and my jaw dropped. The country was a cesspit of crime and we were going to be murdered for sure if we dared set foot on its shores.

But now that we are here, I’m much less concerned with the prospect of my own murder. What really frightens me is the murder of whatever it was that made this horrible noise just a minute ago, in the wee hours of the morning. It was a blood-curdling screech, not human, not animal. At least not any animal I’ve ever encountered in my life. If I have to listen to this racket every night, there is no way I’ll close an eye while living in this country.

I also can’t sleep because a million to-dos are churning around my head. Today I’ll have to buy food to fill our bare refrigerator. I’ll have to figure out where the grocery shops are. And I’ll have to figure out how to get to one because Noisette will take our rental car to drive to work, his new job already stressful beyond expectations. Before any of that, I’ll have to walk the kids to their new school and hope that none of them have a meltdown over not knowing where to go or wearing the wrong piece of school uniform, a real possibility for someone so unacquainted with preppy blazers and plaid skirts as our family.

By now the screeching outside has reached a cacophony, and I slide out from under the covers and quietly sneak outside onto the spacious balcony. It’s still devoid of any furniture, which along with the rest of our household is crammed into a 40-foot container that is presumably headed toward the Cape of Good Hope and won’t arrive for weeks. I lower myself against the tiled wall, carefully avoiding what I only now realize is a blanketing of bird shit. When I look up I can see why: The terrace is covered by a roof made from a row of beautiful wooden beams. A veritable invitation to pigeons. Maybe that’s what woke me up? But I quickly discard the idea. That otherworldly scream still reverberating through my bones cannot have issued from a pigeon.

And then the most glorious thing happens, something that lets me forget the lack of sleep, the murderous shrieking, the fretting about things to come: A sliver of orange rises over the horizon, first tiny, then impossibly fast growing into a glorious ball of fire. The sun has risen over Africa.

Starting out the day with this special view from my bird-dropping-covered perch, I just know that everything will be alright today. And possibly for the next three years.

I hope you enjoyed the first installment and welcome your comments. Maybe they can spur me on to write the other chapters so I can bring you another book, as so many have requested. Thank you for reading - it is you, my readers, who inspire me to put words on a page day after day!

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Patience vs Efficiency

December 7, 2015

I'm going to go out on a bit of a controversial limb and make the kind of generalization I myself have warned about. Generalizations lead to prejudices, and prejudices are the foundation of racism.

But one thing that makes expat life so interesting is that you do get to observe how other cultures foster behaviors different from our own, and often that teaches us something worth knowing about ourselves.

Most Africans (and yes, by that I mean black Africans) are patient. Very, VERY patient, in fact. If you see the kinds of queues people stand in on a Friday afternoon, especially at month's end, waiting for a taxi to take them home, you cannot help but marvel at such stoicism. Me, I would pull my hair out after about 10 minutes. Maybe 30 minutes if I'd brought along my Kindle. Let's not even talk about what Noisette would do.

What makes them so patient? Is it their upbringing? Is it that years of living under apartheid required of you to be very patient or you'd go insane? Or have they realized, better than the rest of the world, that patience is often the easiest path to happiness, or if not happiness, then contentment? Judging by all the white-toothed smiles you encounter so abundantly on any given day in Africa, that last one might be closest to the truth.

In general, I would say whites are more impatient than blacks, though South African whites of course are a lot more patient than us expats. Patience is a virtue every Africa-bound expat has to acquire sooner or later, or he'll go insane. I like to call it Type A Remedial School. In Africa, we learn to shrug and say "Welcome to Africa" and move on. Back home, we like to  yell at someone, fume until steam comes out of our ears, and expend a lot of energy nursing our anger.

Our first understanding for the need of patience came on our first safari at Yellow Wood Game Lodge, where it rained and rained and rained (hard to believe now that there is a severe drought) so that we were stuck at the lodge most of the time, not able to go out. When we finally were able to see our first giraffes and rhinos, the reward for our patience was awesome.

I'm a fairly patient person, and Africa has made me even more so. However, certain things I can't change about myself. If I can get there by walking faster, for instance, I will walk faster rather than slower. There is always something I want to get done, so speeding things up to get through with it is the ultimate goal. But that is just my Western, white, attitude. I could never ever sit by the roadside under a tree all day, as I've seen SO many times when touring the African countryside. I just couldn't. There would always be something more meaningful I could pass the time with.

Maybe you could argue that I'm just spoiled, always having something at my disposal to pass the time with, like my phone or a computer or even simply a book. But I don't think that's all of it. I think, in our Western culture, we are just raised in a way to keep ourselves busy. To show something for the time we've passed. Except of course if you're a teenager. Then you are perfectly content to sleep until 11:30, take a 45-minute shower, eat something, take a nap, eat a bit more, and spend the rest of the day depleting your parents' internet bandwidth watching YouTube videos.

Patience is definitely a virtue, and I have great admiration for patient people. However, there can be too much of a good thing. What is patience to one can be disrespect to the other. For instance, being told that everything will be fine and to wait until Just Now, whenever that might be, is greatly annoying when you know something COULD be done, if only there was a will. Many a South African government agency or utility could be run so much more efficiently without the automatic assumption that consumers will be patient. American customer service is often so superior because it has the customer at its center. Doesn't matter if you share the customer's' beliefs. The customers are always right, and they are probably impatient for a solution, so you better find one.

So much in South Africa could run better and faster if only people were a lot more impatient. Impatience has bred a lot of change in the world, and we like to think of it as progress. But if South Africa become more impatient and perhaps more efficient, would it lose some of its charm? No doubt.

I wonder if there is some kind of middle ground on that spectrum between patience on the one side, and efficiency on the other, and a peak of whatever curve  you draw between the two. The ideal center.

Maybe expat life is so rewarding  because it allows you to approach such an ideal center between cultural extremes.
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More on Retired Person's Visa, Financial Requirements for Permanent Residence, and Purchasing Property in South Africa

November 30, 2015

Q: Can I Purchase Property in South Africa?

This question was recently asked by a reader. I knew that the answer was yes, as I have a friend who purchased a home in Dainfern after their lease ran out, but didn't know much else about the details.

Lucky for me, I have another reader, Jeff from the U.S., who is weighing whether to retire in South Africa, and he has done a ton of research. He was generous enough for me to share his answers, which I have incorporated into this blog post as the following Q&A:

A: Yes, expats CAN purchase property in South Africa. I know for a fact that permanent residents can purchase property and can even own investment properties like holiday rentals, but you will have to abide by all relevant tax laws when doing so. I don't know if holders of temporary residency permits under the retired persons' category can purchase property or not. You can contact a professional service like Intergate Immigration if you'd like. That is the company I deal with and I have been very pleased with the information they have provided.
My first reader then had a number of other questions regarding visas and permanent residence. I address many of these questions in my post about applying for a visa in South Africa, but here are more of Jeff's answers re visas and permanent residence:

Q: Should I apply for permanent residence or the temporary retired person's visa? How long does each take?
A: Most people who apply for the temporary retired persons' permit also apply for the permanent residency permit as well. It is recommended you do this at the same time due to the long approval times. At present it can take up to 24 months to get a permanent residency permit. The temporary retired persons' permit takes between 8 to 12 weeks. However this sometimes happens much faster. I have heard of people getting their permits in a matter of days but this is rare and you can't count on it. By applying for both at the same time you can go ahead and move once the temporary permit is granted and not have to worry about the permanent permit, just go pick it up when it comes in. Some sites can be confusing on this last point as they give the impression all permits have to be picked up from consulate offices in your country of origin but that isn't true. You file in your home country, pick up the temporary permit once it is granted and then go ahead and move to SA. Then (usually much later), once your permanent residency is approved, you can pick up that permit at the Department of Home Affairs in SA.
The next question deals with income requirements. There are different requirements based on which visa category you apply for. There is a retired person's route and an independently wealthy route, and some of this is highlighted in my recent post How We Retired in South Africa. But read on for some Jeff's more specific answers.

Q: What exactly are the income requirements for the retired person's visa?
A: For the temporary retired person's permit you need to prove income equivalent to 37,000 ZAR per month per applicant (i.e. a married couple would have to prove 74,000 ZAR per month). This can be from a pension, rental income, cash or cash equivalents. It does not have to come from a single source, it can be in any combination you like. Regardless of how you do it, you have to prove enough income to meet the total amount for the entire 4 years the permit is good for. So even if you did not have an actual monthly income but had cash or cash equivalents that totaled 1,776,000 ZAR (37,000 per month for 48 months) you would be good to go. At the end of the 4 years you could apply for renewal in which case you would have to prove that you had enough money to meet the total for a further 4 years.
Q: How about income requirements for permanent residency?
A: At this point it would be wise for me to point out that you cannot use a capital asset or lump cash sum to meet income requirements for the permanent residency permit for retired persons. The 37,000 ZAR per month per applicant would have to be lifelong guaranteed. Now, if your financial situation does not meet the criteria for permanent residency under the retired persons' category you still have another option. You can apply for a financially independent permit. Under this permit you can get permanent residency if you can prove assets totaling 12 million ZAR or more. Unlike the 37,000 ZAR, I don't think the 12 million is per applicant so the amount should be the same even for married couples. It used to be slightly higher for a married couple (17M) but they must have changed it because I couldn't find any reference to a different amount. You don't have to relocate these assets to SA, you can keep them in any jurisdiction you choose. Also, there is no tax on your accumulated assets other than ongoing requirements in terms of income tax and capital tax, and only then if you are deemed a South African resident for tax purposes (which you likely will be but don't worry about that as the USA and SA have a tax treaty that keeps you from being double taxed).  An added benefit of the financially independent permit is that you are free to work, invest, start a business, volunteer, and do pretty much anything else a South African citizen can do except vote or run for office. There is, however, one little downside and that is that there is an additional one-time fee of 120,000 ZAR that has to be paid to Home Affairs once the permit is granted. This fee is in addition to the standard 1,250 ZAR application fee. It is not too bad considering you only have to pay it if your application is approved. You pay the 1,250 ZAR up front and then the remaining 120,000 ZAR upon approval. This is an improvement over the old rules that required the larger sum up front and was non-refundable if you were refused a permit.
Q: That is quite a lot of money!
A: If all of these numbers seem daunting remember that the US dollar is worth considerably more than the rand. At current exchange rates the dollar equivalents (rounded up to the nearest dollar) are $107 for the standard application fee, $2,613 per month per applicant for the temporary retired person's permit ($125,401 total for the 4 years), $847,441 total assets for the financially independent permanent residency permit, and $8,473 one-time fee for that permit if approved. These amounts may change in the future as they have done before so it is good to keep up to date. In fact I kind of expect the required amount of income or assets to increase at some point in the coming years because the value of the rand keeps dropping.
Q: So what would be your advice for someone intending to retire in South Africa?
A: My advice would be to go for a permanent residency permit (retired or financially independent depending on how you have your assets structured) and apply for the temporary residency permit for retired persons at the same time so you don't have to wait forever before getting to emigrate. Also, it would be a good idea to buy rather than rent. The reason I say this is because of some of the political tensions in SA regarding these issues. Immigration laws are constantly in flux and part of the problem is that a lot of voters want less immigration but the government knows that SA needs more of the right kind of immigrants (skilled workers and wealthy retirees). So the rules tend to ebb and flow; they get stricter for a while and then they get more lax. If you get a permanent residency permit then you don't have to worry about future changes in the law. As long as you are a law abiding resident they can't try to make you leave. Regarding property, there is a popular notion among the general populace in SA and encouraged by the politicians that the rise in housing prices in recent years is due to rich foreign buyers bidding the prices up and that regular South Africans cannot afford to buy property. This is a fantasy but it sells well at election time. There has been talk of passing laws banning or restricting the purchasing of real estate by foreign nationals. So far it hasn't gotten beyond the talking stage and I doubt anything will come of it because of opposition by the banking and construction industries, but for expats who can afford it I would recommend buying as any legal changes will apply to future activity and won't be retroactive. 
Thanks Jeff for all the legwork on these questions, and thank you to all the readers of Joburg Expat to keep these topics at the forefront so we can provide important answers to future expats! Also, I'd like to once again include the link to where you will find all the SA visa applications online, since for some reason Home Affairs has taken them down its own website: http://www.savisas.com/south-africa-visa-application-form/
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11 More Things to Put on your Shopping List for South Africa

November 27, 2015

My previous post, 19 Things to Put on your Shopping List for South Africa, proved quite popular. Everyone jumped in and had another item they wanted to add to my list, particularly in the food department. Every nationality feels quite strongly about their particular foods.

So I thought I'd give you Part Two featuring all those essential reader additions. It's Black Friday today. There is no better time to go online and do some serious shopping. Click on any of the links below and it'll take you straight to Amazon. It's also a great way to support this blog. Any item you buy on Amazon when linking from here gives me some advertising $$ back. If you've enjoyed reading my stories, heading to Amazon straight from a link on my blog is a great way to show your appreciation. (And it's SO much more relaxing than jostling with the Black Friday crowds in the stores!)

Happy Shopping!

More items for your South Africa shopping basket:

  1. Marmite. By request of Clara, of Expat Partner Survival fame. Know that I'm only doing this in the spirit of US-UK cooperation. It's a nod to our English friends, including Clara, that we support them despite their serious lapse of taste. Whoever came up with a spread that tastes like you took a bunch of Knorr chicken bouillon cubes and mashed them up with some vegetable oil and molasses? Only the Brits, that's who! It's the biggest scam ever that UK parents pull on their kids, serving them Marmite on their toast and making them buy into the notion that it's yummy, so that they grow up and their senses are so warped that they honestly think Marmite is such a desirable food item as to order it from overseas when living far from home. But as I said, we like to support our friends here and besides, this is a list of reader favorites, so there you are. (By the way, isn't another horrible spread named Bovril the SA equivalent of Marmite? And who lays claim to that other one, Vegemite?)
  2. Nutella. For those of you like me who now have an urge to counteract that salty pungent taste in their mouth that the Marmite left behind, here is a nice treat - as my husband, with the fitting name of Noisette would attest, the greatest invention of mankind. Mind you, Nutella can be bought no problem in South Africa, but typically in much smaller jars. Whereas here in the U.S. you can get gigantic jars of it. Although that can be deceiving. The very cheapest Nutella can be found in Germany. While the above link will take you to Amazon.com where the pictured jar (33.5 oz) is sold for $18.33, on Amazon.de you can find a 450g jar, which is about half that size, for €2.49. Times two equals €4.98 which translates to $5.31, which is a whopping $13.02 cheaper than the U.S. price for the same amount of Nutella. Soooo - you might want to hold off on the Nutella purchases if you're coming from the U.S. I really only listed it here to get that funny taste out of my mouth.
  3.  Graham Crackers. Lara wanted to make sure I added those. I think one can make a nice living without these, but I will say they are definitely gentler on your teeth than a South African rusk. 
  4.  Hershey's Chocolate. Now, while I agree that chocolate is much nicer on the tastebuds than a certain pungent salty spread, I still have to make a little fun of this one. Only someone growing up on Hershey's chocolate will think that this is the best chocolate in the world. It is really more like the most mediocre chocolate in the world, if you compare it to Lindt or Milka, but I do realize that American expats are going to want their Hershey's bars when overseas, if only to sit around a campfire and make S'mores (with the addition of the Graham Crackers plus the next item on my list). You're going to encounter plenty of campfires and braais in South Africa, and plenty of balmy evenings to sit around them to roast marshmallows (which are perfectly easy to source in South African stores).
  5.   S'more forks. To supplement above two items, while you're at it. I'm sure it will go over well with your South African host when you bring those the next time you're invited over and stick them into his braai.
  6.  Indoor S'mores kit. Digressing a little bit here, but I couldn't resist. This might make a great present for the soon-to-be-departing expat in your midst. 
  7.  Toilet Paper. I know you will now say Here she goes again, given my track record of toilet talk, but this was Anne's idea, not mine. She strongly felt that toilet paper should be on the list if you move from the U.S. to Europe, because your bum will thank you. Toilet paper in German and apparently Switzerland can be quite harsh on your nether regions, to put it mildly. Although it still beats the kind I remember from traveling to France as a kid and feeling very confused when what came out of the dispenser at the public restroom had the feel of those sheets of waxed paper you use at the grocery store to grab donuts with to put into a paper bag. You know, shiny and slick. Totally does not do the job of toilet paper. What were they thinking? Anyway, I feel quite strongly that Charmin Ultra is the best TP there is. I didn't really miss American toilet paper in SA, so it must have been okay. Definitely not European. But I'm putting old Charmin Ultra on this list anyway.
  8.  Lipton Onion Soup. Suggested by Darleen. Guys, this is another American thing. You have no idea how useful this is for us. It's sort of like the baking soda of food - you can simply make anything with it. At any given Thanksgiving potluck I bet you that at least 5 out of 10 side dish casseroles have Lipton Onion Soup mix in them. Anytime a non-American would just add a little salt and pepper and perhaps some Worcester Sauce, the American cook will reach for the Lipton Onion Soup packet. Brilliant stroke of marketing by Lipton, I must say.
  9.  Cheerios. How could I have forgotten those? My favorite are Honey Nut Cheerios. I don't eat them often, as I hardly ever eat sweetened cereal, but when I do, there is no stopping. they are SO good! Are they really not for sale in South Africa? Or maybe just more expensive?
  10.    Pencils with erasers.Yellow pencils are almost as quaint an American institution as yellow school buses. But Darleen, who suggested these, is onto something. Thinking back, I realize that all the pencils I bought in SA over the years did not have any erasers on them. The kids didn't seem to mind, so I never missed those. What I missed more was my automatic pencil sharpener, another great American invention. Ours died the first week when someone plugged it into a 220V outlet without the transformer. Poof! (Please see the previous list for the transformer. You definitely need one of those, not just to operate your pencil sharpener.)
  11.  Not-Starbucks Coffee. I got the message loud and clear that Starbucks was NOT something greatly missed by most, so to make up for this lapse, I thought I'd feature the coffee brand that was highly recommended by Jeff as a great alternative - Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC.

On that note, I'll take my leave for today, because the coffee beans reminded me that my morning cappuccino beckons. And wouldn't you know it, combined with the previous list, I'm now at a nice and tidy number of 30. Now I can sleep easier.

Do let me know your comments and suggestions. I'm sure we'll meet again for some more online shopping in the near future!

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