Joburg Expat: USA versus South Africa

November 4, 2012

USA versus South Africa

No, this is not some sporting match I'm writing about. Unless of course you view living abroad as a sport. Which it might very well be, because it can be just about as exhausting yet at the same time exhilarating.

Anyway, I'm referring to an expat survey I recently came across. HSBC Explorer (I've guest-blogged for them here) runs an annual questionnaire among expats to determine the quality of life in different countries. You can go on their website and pick countries to compare. Seeing as we will soon swap South Africa for the USA, I was curious as to the differences.

The result? South Africa is ranked 9th overall in terms of quality of life, and the US 22nd. (Just in case you're wondering, number one is Singapore - another place we've lived before). Why so low for the US, I was wondering? So I delved into some of the details:

The US gets higher marks in a few areas, such as nicer cars, boats and yachts, and healthcare (I found that last one curious, given the raging healthcare debate in the US, but I suppose as an expat with a nice insurance plan your options are pretty good). It also beat SA in local work culture and setting up of utilities. The list of course didn't name any names, but you and I both know that what they meant by South African utilities was Eskom. So it's no wonder they got beat. I'm already liking this survey. It's spot-on!

Oh, and the other area the US surpassed SA was in the enjoying local food category, as well as entertainment and using the local language. Well - I'm not sure about the local food but I think that can only be attributed to the lack of Mexican restaurants here in SA. Other than that, wake up survey takers! Have you ever been to Cape Town, and Franschhoek in particular? And does Chardonnay count as local food? Then you would have had to give SA much higher marks. On entertainment I'd have to agree - given Multichoice's propensity to show reruns from 3 seasons ago. Or the fact there are only three HD channels.total. Except, wait - there is other entertainment out there? Like watching mating lions in the wild? Hmm, then not so sure on that one either. 

I can see, however, how using the local language would definitely get higher marks in a country that only has one official language, as opposed to eleven. Makes it definitely easier, doesn't it. Especially if their one language doesn't have any clicks in it.

Where South Africa gets higher marks than the US, within the expat community, is the quality of accommodation, having a swimming pool, and the availability of domestic staff. Yep, that last one is a glaring difference in quality of life. Everyone moving to the US from here is struggling with their household chores. In fact, we don't actually know for sure, because no one moving to the US from here has ever been heard from again. They're probably still folding laundry and scrubbing toothpaste out of sinks.

SA also gets higher marks in making friends, more luxurious holidays, local transport, social life, and work/life balance. The discrepancy for work/life balance is particularly huge, and I would have to wholly agree. You know how the U.S. East Coast recently shut down after a hurricane for a day or two? Well, South Africa shuts down for the entire month of December. Every business more or less closes and people flee to a beach somewhere. Or they stay put and enjoy the for once empty roads of Joburg. 

The number one thing I'm most scared of about being repatriated to the U.S. is the workaholic nature of Americans, and the danger of being sucked right back into the rat race of wanting to beat the Joneses and have your kids beat the Joneses' kids. Whereas people here in South Africa seem mostly to be interested in going on vacations and having a nice braai. Where parents pacing the sidelines of American football  matches sometimes have to be restrained lest they attack one another over a bad call, South African parents seem to be perfectly content sitting in the stands on a sunny day watching netball and drinking tea, occasionally clapping politely and calling out "well done!" Cricket matches come complete with a "tea break" before the sides change, perhaps so that spectators have enough time to adjust to the newly aligned field, lest they be confused by too rapid a change from offense to defense after, oh, the first four hours. I don't think a tea break would go over so well at an NHL match. Wait wait, let me take off my padding so I can pour some tea. Yes, a cup of Rooibos would be diviiiiiine, thank you!

Perhaps cricket, come to think of it, is the culprit of SA scoring a bit lower on the entertainment scale. Although ironically South Africa scores higher in the sports category. They must be counting having a braai as sport, is what I'm thinking.

I had to chuckle at local transport. When you've lived in Joburg it's hard to imagine a place anywhere in the world worse off in terms of public transport. But of course if there is one place, it would have to be the US, the world's car capital, that comes in even lower.

And finally, the other area where the US scores dismally low compared to South Africa? A healthy diet.

So let's all raise our glass of Chardonnay and propose a toast to healthy eating while we have some more boerewors, biltong, avocado, haloumi cheese, koeksisters, rusks.... And go easy on the tomahto sauce.

To see the complete results of USA vs South Africa on Expat Explorer, click here.