Foreigners want to know the weird and wonderful about SA

Poppy Louw

FROM the weather to animals to polygamy, there are many aspects about South Africa and its people that are misunderstood by foreigners.

It has been nine years since the publication of expatriates Jenni Baxter and Ted Botha’s The Expat Confessions, yet they are still receiving mails from other South Africans on random questions put to them by foreign countrymen.

Kuruman-born Baxter, who lives in Australia with her husband and two children, said people she had met in recent years might have previously met other South Africans but continued to carry their own assumptions.

“But they would ask if I know the other South African they met, and sometimes that ‘South African’ turns out to actually be a person from Cairo or Nairobi.”

Ghanaian-South African Kwaku Obeng Opoku has been teaching English in China since April last year and said most Chinese people who had heard about South Africa only knew it because of the 2010 World Cup.

“They’ve heard that the country has a lot of diamonds and gold. They think it’s so cheap you can even walk into a convenience store and buy yourself a diamond ring,” Opoku said. “Or that the diamonds are lying around, you can pick them [up off] the ground while taking a walk.”

The male teachers at some of the schools where Opoku teaches sometimes make jokes about polygamy.

“… they think men can marry as many women as they like – because the president has more than one wife.”

Ghanaian expatriate Otumfuo Kofi Owusu- Ansah told Baxter how some of his South African pupils asked “very embarrassing” questions like whether they had cars or traffic lights.

Baxter described most of the perceptions that she has come across as “fantastic”.

“They might be ignorant but they want to know more and South Africa is a country they want to visit.”

Some of the previous questions about South Africa listed by Tourism Radio are:

  • Does it ever get windy in South Africa? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)
  • Will I be able to see elephants in the street? (USA)
  • Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in South Africa? Can you send me a list of them in JHB, Cape Town, Knysna and Jeffreys Bay? (UK)
  • Are there supermarkets in Cape Town and is milk available all year? (Germany)


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