Local living in South Africa
August 23, 2007 1:18 AM   Subscribe

SouthAfricaFilter: Do you / have you lived in ZA? I've recently moved here and I have questions. Also, general questions on cell phone usage across the continent...

I've recently relocated to Pretoria for a project with my company, and while there's a number of good AskMe's about things to do and see in this wonderful country, I need a little help on how people actually live here (apologies for the length)...


A) Looking for a nicer area to live in around Pretoria. I'm in a B&B in Brooklyn right now, and its OK, but I need to find something more permanent - a short term lease around 6-8 months ideally. Nothing fancy - 1br is fine - but I would like something comfortable and in a younger, up-and-coming type neighborhood.

B) Looking for good places to hang out. I have friends in Joburg and Cape Town, so with them and the advice already on AskMeFi, I think I'm fine. I'm a little more interested in night/weekend life in Pretoria - I went to the mall at 6:30 last night looking for a cell phone and everything was closed! Where do people go between 6pm and bedtime? Home?? I've heard the best bar area is around the Uni, so I'll be checking that out this weekend, but I'm a late 20's single male, so more interested in a little more upscale places than college dive bars. Interested in restaurants, bars, and any other socio-cultural venues where I can connect with locals.

C) Cell phones. My work will involve travel to a number of other African countries (likely Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Sudan, etc.) so I'm not sure as to whether to drop the extra Rand on an unlocked phone, and get new sim cards when I get to other countries, or to get a (cheaper) local phone here (Vodacom, MTN) and just use the roaming / SMS when abroad. Pretty set on going with a pay-as-you-go plan, either way.

D) Vehicle. - I have a rental through work however I'm tasked with finding a short term (again, 6-8 mo.) lease for a vehicle. I'll be using it for personal stuff as well (driving to Joburg, Kruger, Plianesberg, etc.) and would like to get something that sits a little higher on the road (for visibility in the parks, mainly) than your average VW, Toyota, etc.. I have no idea where to start here beyond going by a local dealership.

E) Tipping. What's customary? At dinner last night they brought me the bill and apparently here you fill in your tip before giving them the credit card. I went with my standard (US) 20% - is that average? Also, is 10R a day customary for the chambermaid at my B&B? I left it in an envelope on a bed pillow yesterday but she left the money in the envelope on my desk, so I wrote "for housekeeping" on it today with another 10R and put it on the bed again. Any other abnormal situations I should be aware of tipping in?

F) Power conversion. I picked up an adapter for my US AC plugs to the local 3-prong, which works fine for my laptop power cable so far, but I'm a little wary of using it for my more sensitive electronics (toothbrush, video camera, etc.). Do I need some sort of converter? If so, where can I find this, and, hopefully, some surge protectors?

G) Afrikaans - should I even try? I'm trying to pick up a few common phrases to help with conversing with locals who don't speak fluent english, but I've ran into a few who seem a little annoyed when I start out in Afrikaans but am unable to continue the conversation (they speed up rather quickly above my comprehension). Should I just stick to starting with English? Any other communication tips?

H) Church. I'm a reformed presbyterian of sorts, but fairly relaxed religion-wise. Looking for a laid back reformed church, anglican or what-have-you.

Any other general or specific advice on anything I may have missed is greatly appreciated. Thanks again.
posted by allkindsoftime to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I live in Cape Town so I can't answer the Pretoria specific questions but here goes:

C) If you use international roaming and you're out of SA and people call your number you will be charged the difference between the cellphone and international rates. MTN is probably the company you want to talk to as they have a much larger Africa network than Vodacom.

D) Dealerships and car hire places (Avis, Tempest, Super-Rent) are probably your best bet. Car leasing isn't as widespread here as it is in the US. We have quite a robust 2nd hand car market and it might be worth your while to buy a car and sell it before you leave, although the paperwork might be a hindrance.

E) I tip waiters the standard 10%-15% depending on the service. As for abnormal tipping situations you've probably run into "car guards" by now. I tip about R2 and whatever coins I have below 50c in my wallet. I also tip about the same to petrol station attendants whenever they check my oil/water/tyre pressure.

F) I think it should work. The Automobile Association has a number of Travel Shops where they have all sorts of converters so you can double check with them.

G) You can try Afrikaans but almost everyone in SA can speak English as well, especially in business/academia. And if you can't speak Afrikaans then learning the local slang will help you get by.
posted by PenDevil at 2:14 AM on August 23, 2007

Best answer: Afrikaans? No, but you might try some Xhosa or Zulu.

20% tipping in a restaurant here is outrageous. You'll spoil them! I'd only tip 20% if there was something extra special they did, or perhaps if they were very attractive (LOL).

Power is 220V. You have to know what you're doing with this stuff. Some things like laptops often take either American 110v or 220v. Other things will FRY (yea, experience). For things using an AC/DC adapter, you may buy a new adapter made for 220v, with the correct polarity and DC voltage output.

I can't speak a word about Pretoria, I live in East London. But people avoid going out at night, and people party in private homes (BBQ = Braai, prounced like the first syllable of Brian. It's a typical social gathering). The not going out is both a security issue as well as economic. South Africans tend to be quite frugal.

I know Avis does leasing, but I don't know if they'll go for terms that work for your situation. If you plan to do any serious touring, you may want a 4x4, if you want to get off the paved roads. You can get by without, but depending on your ideas, you might be disappointed. Getting stuck is not an option. If you're in doubt, find a better road or go elsewhere.

I imagine you've been given the standard security warnings about life down here. But a few months ago I read a report which stated that thugs were now walking up to cars and throwing pool acid in driver's faces, to hijack their cars. This was happening at traffic lights around Johannesburg. More recently, thugs have been following people home from shopping. They busted some people doing this out of Sandton mall, by Johannesburg.

But down here, you can even have your home broken into while you're there. Happened to a colleague of my partner's. The key to that situation is do not look at the attackers! They generally are only interested in value, not violence, but violence is always an option.

What ever places you get to see, don't neglect the Wild Coast, in the Transkei region. Miles and miles of wilderness ocean beach are to be found. Also, consider doing some scuba diving. Sadwana Bay, near the northern border, is fantastic.

Feel free to drop me a line if you like, email is in my profile. I've been down here 3 years.
posted by Goofyy at 7:04 AM on August 23, 2007

Best answer: My wife is from Pretoria, I'll send this to her and post anything she has. Here's a few things from my experience down there though:

- Tipping 20% may result in the waiter coming back to the table and thanking you profusely, which can actually be quite embarrassing.

- Get an unlocked cell phone; from my experience it will almost certainly be cheaper to get a local SIM card as you travel. Depends who's paying the bill, of course, and whether you want to send people different numbers whenever you travel.

- Although what Goofyy says is somewhat true, there is still a thriving nightlife in Pretoria - it really depends on the crowd you're friends with. My wife is the expert in that area though. I do know Menlo Park has some decent bars that are open late, I've been to a few that are near the Menlyn shopping center.

- Afrikaans - depends on who you deal with on a daily basis. If your clients are primarily white, they will appreciate your efforts at learning Afrikaans (and it's a comparatively simple language) even if they don't show it. If your customers are more diverse, it's probably not something you want to use by default - it is still viewed by many as the "language of the oppressor."

- Power - if your electronics do not say they support both 120 and 220V, you will need a converter. Something like this.

- Living in general - you do need to be more aware of your surroundings there. As previous posters said, home burglaries and car hijackings are pretty common there, and you are far more likely to get killed in the process of the crime being committed than you would be in the US. Just be alert and look in the ditches when you come to stop lights at night; if it's a deserted area (and especially if it's by a "Hi-Jacking Hot Spot" traffic sign - yes, they have those), don't stop at all. It's an adjustment, but it becomes normal soon enough.
posted by chundo at 7:26 AM on August 23, 2007

Best answer: H - Churches

I'd look for churches aligned with the Uniting Presbyterian church of South Africa. Given the history of ZA, you shouldn't have a problem finding a church in the Reformed or Presbyterian traditions. Emmanuel and Grace are both in Pretoria.

Just steer clear of:
- Churches affiliated with the Free Presbyterian church (generally Scotland & Ireland), as they're going to be a lot more fundie than you're used to. (Assuming you're a US expat.)

- Anyone too closely aligned with Peter Hammond's Frontline fellowship. He's somewhere between fundie and batshit insane.
posted by buck09 at 7:56 AM on August 23, 2007

Best answer: From my wife:

- Living: you should look into Waterkloof or Faerie Glen. A 1BR will probably run you around 2000-3000/month.

- Socializing/nightlife: Some decent places to check out - Boston Tea Party and News Cafe are both by Menlyn. There's another News Cafe in Faerie Glen at Olympus & Hans Strydom. She used to go to a bunch of clubs in Hatfield, but apparently doesn't recommend it now, especially by yourself. My brother-in-law (who still lives there) says it's not that safe anymore, and drinks may be spiked. There's also a festival coming up at the end of November called Woodstock that you may find interesting.

- Church: The church she went too while living there was Hatfield Christian Church. It's non-denominational, and pretty large, but I've never been there so I can't vouch for it personally. It's a pretty modern, up-beat church, so it depends what you're used to.

Hope this helps.
posted by chundo at 9:00 AM on August 23, 2007

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