September 19, 2011

Where Can I Find an Alarm Clock?

Thanks to one of my new expat friends who just arrived in Joburg last week I thought of writing this post for the benefit of everyone. She sent me a somewhat urgent message, while out on errands on a Sunday, about where to go for stationary and lunchboxes and that very elusive item for newly arrived expats here, the radio alarm clock. It made me realize that while I've written about Things to Buy Before You Move to South Africa and Grocery Shopping in Johannesburg, even Searching for Applesauce in South Africa, I haven't given any tips on where to go for those first crucial items.

I well remember when I was on The First Shopping Trip myself. I was equally frustrated our first weekend here, having to buy school uniforms for four children, school supplies, food, and, yes, alarm clocks. Perhaps it is not surprising that alarm clocks should be hard to find in a country that has at least three different definitions of the word now, none of them actually meaning now. (Another very elusive item are night lights. I have to admit I never found those in South Africa, since no one had any idea what I was talking about.)

So here are my tips for Things to Buy Your First Week (I've tried to arrange them by topic as well as by the route you should take):

First of all, don't make this trip on a Sunday, if possible. Or get going right at 10:00 am before many stores close at 2:00 pm, if they are open at all.

Converter plugs and multi-strips: There is no doubt one of your first errands in South Africa will be to somehow get all your stuff plugged in. Once again, you best already come with converter plugs (we've fared very well with the Universal Outlet Travel Plug from Amazon), but you will probably still need some multi-strips, because South Africans insist on building houses with only two power outlets per room (and none in your bathroom). The best place for these is Builder's Warehouse, behind the McDonald's at Fourways Crossings. But make sure you take note before you go of what exactly it is you need, i.e. South African or Euro plugs, facing to which side because of wall constraints, etc. I have many of these multi-plugs sitting in a drawer because they didn't quite fit the way I had imagined.

Stationary: The best place for this is Walton's in Fourways Crossing, situated sort of behind and under Fournos Bakery if you turn right at the traffic circle next to Standard Bank. It's a bit like Office Depot. Checkers Hyper at Fourways Mall (across from Fourways Crossing on the other side of William Nicol) also has a decent stationary aisle. In fact, Checkers Hyper is the closest to a SuperTarget you will find here, so you could also go there first with your list.

Electronics: While you're already at Fourways Crossing, you can check out HiFi, Incredible Connection, or Stax. They all have large offerings of electronics. I think I was able to find a radio alarm clock at Incredible Connection, but the selection is almost nonexistent and the one model they have might not be great quality. Therefore, as I've said in my "What to buy before moving" post, I suggest getting battery operated alarms back home before moving here. You're better off with that in any case, because the power still goes off fairly regularly around here. Or get an iHome, those are usually dual voltage. When you're done at Fourways Crossings, you best go back out and up the hill past Builder's Warehouse, turn right, then left again, and this will get you in the vicinity of Pineslopes Shopping Centre, across from which you will find Hirsch's. They have a very large selection of electronics as well as appliances at good prices, so if you're strapped for time, you might just want to make one stop at Hirsch's.

I bought this deLonghi automatic coffe-
maker at Hirsch's and received good service
Appliances: If you didn't bring any transformers, you will need to buy things like toasters and hairdryers and such. If you haven't found anything at Hirsch's, the best place for this is probably Design Quarter, a shopping center with an emphasis on home furnishings. There is a very nice store there called @home that carries everything from kitchen appliances to patio furniture, but it is also very expensive. A better option would be Woolworth Home or Boardman's, both also at Design Quarter. There is also a Mr. Price Home there, which is a good inexpensive place for home furnishings. As no doubt you'll have gotten tired of all the shopping by now, stop quickly at vida e caffe and treat yourself to one of the better lattes you will find in Joburg. Oh, and I'm pretty sure you'll also need a vacuum cleaner. And I'm also sure there is no better brand than Miele. I will never go back to anything else and could probably dedicate an entire post just to the virtues of their vacuum cleaners. There is a Miele store on the road to Sandton on the left that you should definitely pay a visit to.

School uniforms: You won't need those for the American School, but if you chose Dainfern College or any of the other South African private schools, your very first trip will be to McCullagh & Bothwell to be clothed. Remember that they close at 3:00 pm on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays.

Are you already tired from reading all this? That first shopping trip is so crucial for expats, and I hope the above list will save some future shoppers time and effort, even if it probably already is too long for just one trip. Once you've got that out of the way, you might want to find out more about other shopping-related expat tips by clicking on "Shopping" in the Topics of Interest list to the right.

Oh, and one more thing: Beware of the return policy! Don't go buying the first thing you see, thinking you can always return it. I'd check out prices first or perhaps even do some homework reading reviews on Amazon, because here in South Africa, once you've bought it, you better well keep it. Most appliances and electronics have just a one-week return policy, and even then you will be grilled as to the reasons why you're returning the item, so it will be another loooooong errand. Manufacturer's warranties are typically a year but I'm sure there will be some lovely paperwork involved if you ever have a need to claim one of those!

12 comments : said...

Another very well timed post! I'm not quite sure how you do it!I arrived this weekend and am about to do that first shop for essentials tomorrow!

I did find well priced kettle and toaster sets at Pick n Pay today.

So now the big question is where to buy a laundry basket?! I was thinking that maybe a craft market will have a wicker style one, although I did see one in Mr Price home today...... do you have the answer??

Sine said...

Lol, happy to oblige! Pick n Pay is actually not bad for smaller stuff like that, and their prices are indeed good. Forgot to mention another place for appliances/kitchen/cleaning stuff, Game at Fourways Mall, also lower end. But Mr. Price Home is probably the best for a wicker style laundry basket,that's where I got mine. @home has them too and Boardman's, but especially @home will be much more expensive. I'd go to Design Quarter, it's all there, even Mr. Price Home. And Woolworth with a big home section, they sometimes have nice things as well. They might also have wicker baskets at the craft market, that's where I got my shoe rack/drawer chest, but they've temporarily moved, I inquired for another reader and they say they're now across the Indaba Hotel where they always have had the nursery and the bean bag chairs. Good luck and let me know! said...

Thanks - I do love shopping for home stuff but it's a tad more stressful when you don't know if you are paying over the odds!

I have one more question - coat hangers?! I really didn't think about even needing them until I started to unpack my suitcases this morning

Sine said...

coat hangers! How could I forget about those! They were my very first interesting experience here. It was just a few days in and I had no car, just an occasional driver. He'd taken me to Macro,which I thought was overpriced and not all that convenient (sorry my new Walmart friends:-) and the clothes hangers were super expensive, it seemed. So I only bought a small bundle and what should we see on our way home at the intersection? A street vendor selling coat hangers! Emboldened by having a driver (I was warned to NEVER roll down my window) I had him ask what the price was, and it was good, so I bought a bunch. Ever since then, I've had no fear buying things from street vendors. In fact, you could go to a busy intersection and put in an order for coat hangers I'm sure and they'd get them for you the next day! (for the traditional route, try Checkers Hyper or Game).

Stephanie said...

One thing about buying things from Hirschs is that they give you a discount for buying lots of things and have an excellent return policy. Most of the other stores (mr. Price, pick and pay, game, incredible connection, etc.) will let you return with a receipt but it's not an easy task. And Sine, as far as alarm clocks go -- what about your cell phone? That's what we always use! ;-)Still looking for a night light myself!

Jozie Days said...

Another place that I really like for electrical appliances is Dion Wired. Their shop is at Cedar Square (near the artificial ski slope) They do give discounts and if you find the product cheaper anywhere else in 7 days they will refund the difference.You should also pop into the two plastic shops in Fourways - the one at the circle by Builders Warehouse has a great selection of lunch boxes for school - I got some made in New Zealand that have 3 sections on the top and place for a sandwich underneath. The other plastic shop at Fourways Value Mart(travelling towards Pineslopes from Builders) has plenty of Ziplock bags in various sizes and they can be purchased in bulk so you only need to go back once every six months.Talking about night lights I remember buying two at a store called Mica (something like Builders Warehouse) a couple of years ago. For school uniforms at St Stithians we have our own shop on the school premises - but never go there the day before school starts as there are usually dozens of parents trying to get uniforms. They can also make up uniform packs if you tell them the sizes and you can order name tapes for clothes and for stationary (which they can buy for you too).

Jozie Days said...

Oh I forgot - coat hangers. Plastic ones (Addis) at Pick'nPay or wooden at Woolworth's or Clicks, and when I took my son down to University in Cape Town I could not find hangers anywhere!!! So I ended up sending some down from Joburg! :)

Sine said...

Stephanie - you're so right about the cellphone alarm, I actually did mention that in the next post when alarm clocks came up again. Those radio alarms should just be condemned to the past:-)
Thanks on the coat hanger tip, Jozie Days, funny how we all struggle with the same things. I'll have to add plastic coat hangers to my "what to buy before moving" list, they are SO cheap at places like Walmart...

Jozie Days said...

Hi Sine, I thought I might help you out with the night light. In yesterdays Sunday Times newspaper in the Home Weekly section Pg3 they have a lovely night light called Space Shuttle Osram Orbis LED night light. It can be left permanently plugged in or removed from it's stand and carried as a torch - good for midnight trips to the bathroom. It has built in rechargeable batteries and it can be set to switch on of the power goes out. It says in the article that there is also a sweet ladybug design in the range. They give the price as R130 and you can get them at the Lighting Warehouse ( The closest one is next to InterCare at Fourways - behind Weyands.

Sine said...

Funny, I had been to Lighting Warehouse early on, several times, and never did they have any night lights. Maybe they've had more of us expats come and ask and decided to stock them:-)

I think we might safely have moved beyond the night light stage. Which just goes to show that sometimes it's actually good for you to have to make do without and shrug your shoulders and say "welcome to africa" - you learn to live without things like night lights! (But thanks for the advice, I'm sure another reader is going to be happy to know where to go).

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I seldom have need for an alarm but when I do my wristwatch has a nice loud one built in. I don't think that the lack of outlets in bathrooms is a universal thing in SA. I have seen a few houses that had an outlet near the sink. But those might have been exceptions to the rule. Funny about the night lights. I have seen houses where people had them but maybe they got them online or the houses belonged to expats and they brought them from back home. Yet I don't recall them plugged into adapters.

Speaking of adapters. Not all adapters are created equal and there are quite a few different companies that make them. I recommend ordering them online ahead of time from somewhere that specializes in that sort of thing and get your transformers from the same place while you are at it. Make note of what your wattage requirements are too. If you have a coffee maker that requires 1000w for instance, then get a transformer that provides at least 1500w, better yet get a 2000w or 3000w model. This will help the transformer last longer and not get so hot.

Sine said...

Absolutely. Some people think that the exact wattage is going to be enough, but you are right, you need a good buffer. Also agree on buying plugs etc ahead of time. My most recent blog post with the pre-SA shopping list addresses that.