Sunday, 2 April 2017

11 Things I Wish I Could Get in South Africa

Because I'm incredibly lazy, I'm happy to accept suggestions for my blog. My friend Erin wants to know what we miss from back home. So here you go:

1) Graham Crackers

Destiny's child was two random ladies that history has forgotten and Beyonce. You know who nobody has ever heard about? The Two Musketeers. The Good and the Bad wouldn't exist without the Ugly. Nobody ever leaves the house feeling complete without first checking their pockets for the holy trinity: wallet, phone, keys. My point here is that everything great in the world has three parts.

I rest my case. (source)
And nothing in the world is better at reminding you that you deserve to die fat and alone while simultaneously making you not care because you DESERVE to experience heaven in your mouth than a delicious, gooey s'more. Whoever decided that simply roasting a marshmallow wasn't enough, that chocolate needed a companion, and that Graham Crackers weren't desserty enough, was a) probably American, and b) a genius. However, South Africa doesn't take kindly to genius, so they've banished every great idea to ever grace the planet. OK, that's probably not true. But they don't have Graham Crackers here, so they deserve to get made fun of. Just not to their faces. Cause everybody here has guns.

I'm not the only one feeling the pain.
2) Normal Freaking Tortilla Chips

Remember when you had a perfect life? You had a loving partner, a ton of friends, and a career that fulfilled you? Then one day you decided to smoke the pot. A slick looking dude rolled up to your office on his Razor scooter, pulled a marijuana out of his backpack, and said he'd share it with you. After inhaling the seductive smoke straight from the pit of Hades, it was a short trip to downtown smack town, and after the 5th time your wife found you passed out on the bathroom floor with a needle in your arm surrounded by My Little Ponies, she kicked you out, and because you were homeless, you lost your job, and now you're living in a cardboard box selling your body for bags of chips, and not even good chips. Off brand chips. Sound familiar? Didn't know what you had until it was gone, did you? Same thing happened to me. Except I didn't deserve any of it. And instead of my family, house, and job being ripped away from me, it was nachos. Pretty much the same thing.

I mean, they have nachos here. You can order them at any restaurant. They just happen to taste like despair mixed with skunk colon. Here's the thing- they use flavoured tortilla chips for nachos here. There's an ungodly powder on them, and then they stack the usual toppings on, resulting in a terrible pile of darkness and misery. The guy who first said "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" was definitely talking about nachos.

Pictured: an actual plate of South African Nachos
The good news is I met some new friends because of the dismal state of nachos here. Still relatively new, I was naively asking at a restaurant if they made their nachos with plain tortilla chips or the flavoured ones. I was assured they were plain, so I excitedly ordered them. Of course they weren't plain. But the waiter knew I WANTED plain chips, so he very helpfully lied to me in order to make me happy, Which is a common thing here. But anyway, an American woman at a nearby table overheard my desperate plea for regular nachos and came over to tell me to just let the dream die. And since then we've become friends with her and her family, so there's that.

Since then, I HAVE found bags of unflavoured tortilla chips at Woolworths, which is awesome. But they're about $678 for a tiny little bag, so I'm going to indulge only on special occasions. Like when I'm hungry and want nachos.

3) Pepsi

Yes, I know pop is bad for me (or cool drinks, as they refer to pop here, which makes no sense, because most of the other liquids they drink are also cool, but South Africans seem to make confusing the rest of the world their sole purpose). Don't judge. And I'm more of a Pepsi than a Coke guy. I know, I know. I make terrible life choices. I had two kids. You don't need to remind me.

The thing is, though, that South African's don't really like Pepsi. At any given gas station, you'll see an entire cooler filled with Coke. Just Coke. Not even other kinds of pop made by the Coca-Cola company. All Coke. And if you're lucky, you MAY find one row of Pepsi. But never Diet Pepsi, which I like.

There's a simple reason for this. During apartheid, a bunch of global companies pulled out of South Africa to show their distaste for you know, the whole "not treating people like actual people" thing. Pepsi was one of them. Coca-Cola had a meeting and decided, "you know what, it's not THAT bad" and kept on selling Coke, which gave them a stranglehold on the market. Pepsi came back once apartheid ended, but it's been difficult to catch up ever since. Coca-Cola still dominates the soft drink landscape by a long shot. As it turns out, having questionable ethics is a sure way to succeed.

Just ask this guy. (source)
4) Arby's

I like Arby's. Whatever. Don't get all judgy. Statistically speaking, there's a 356% chance you picked your nose today. With your finger. You're gross too.

5) Affordable Toys and Books

OK, so I've got two young kids. I even sometimes like them. And I don't want them to grow up to be idiots, so I like to buy books for them. The Potato particularly likes the How To Train Your Dragon series. However, each paperback book is about $30 CDN, which is, if you haven't already guessed, absolutely batnuts crazy. Getting anything shipped here from North America is prohibitively expensive, so there's not a lot of options. I expected to get robbed at ATMs and gas stations in South Africa, not at bookstores.

Enter Book Depository. Although they are based out of the UK, they offer free shipping worldwide. It's more expensive than buying books back home, but much more affordable than buying them here in South Africa. So I've kinda got the book thing sorted out.

Toys are another thing. They are generally 2-3 times more expensive than buying them in North America. And forget about buying branded items (Disney, Transformers, etc). Worse, they don't even throw in a free tube of lube with every purchase, which is much needed after paying their exorbitant prices for toys. For now, I've spray painted a large ball of barbed wire for the kids to play with and called it Black Beauty. The nice thing about young kids is they're stupid and will believe anything you tell them.

6) A Working Postal Service

Remember when I said you could just order books online from the UK and it was way cheaper than buying them here? You should because it was like, literally 2 paragraphs ago. Anyway, about that...

I ordered the full set of How To Train Your Dragon books for the Potato because that's my way of making up for being an overall terrible parent and human being. It was supposed to take 10-14 working days to arrive. I thought that was pretty good. That was also when I was still fresh off the plane and thought anything worked as expected here. The books were shipped right away, and then after waiting the 10-14 days, then another month, I contact Book Depository and mentioned something may have gone awry. They seemed entirely unsurprised and re-sent the books, telling me that if the first set arrived, to please let them know.

In about 3 weeks, my second set of books showed up. Awesome. At least it worked this time. I've got to hand it to the customer service team at Book Depository- they were awesome and efficient. Then, about another month later, the books arrived again. It turns out what I thought was the second set was actually the FIRST set, and it had just taken over 2 months to get to me. Because that's entirely normal here, which I found out when I started receiving Christmas cards from friends and family back in Canada in late February.

To be honest though, I'm just surprised both sets showed up at all. It's a pretty well-known fact that the postal workers here do their Christmas shopping at work. And by that I mean they simply take likely looking packages home. It's totally a thing here, and everybody just seems to accept it. But even when packages DO make it through, the postal service is hilariously inefficient. It makes me feel bad for criticising Canada Post when they go on strike every other month.

7) Common Sense When it Come to Packaging

You know how you open up a package of food, then take what you want, then re-seal the bag, thus locking in the delicious freshness? Yes? South Africans don't. Ok, I guess some food is packaged normally, but try buying hot dog buns here. Or hot cross buns. Any kind of bun, really. Be prepared to eat them all in one sitting.

Like a lot of things here, everything looks normal at first glance.

The horror!
Look, South Africa. I KNOW you've heard of bread bag clips (unbelievably, I had to Google search "what's the name of those things that hold bread bags closed"). I've seen them on your bags of bread. Could you MAYBE just port that technology over to your buns? And use normal bags. The ones you currently use rip wide open when you glance at them wrong, causing the whole world to go prematurely stale. There's no way to close these things at all. Plastic wrap just glides across its smooth, shiny surface, then clumps together in an environmentally unfriendly wad several feet away from the food it's supposed to be protecting.

You know what's worse than crappy packaging on food though? No packaging on your bread-type items. Spar, I'm looking at you. There will be loads of delicious bread- cheese bread, savoury bread, buns, etc- sitting in piles on a table in the store. People walk up to the table, touch every single loaf in sight, smell it, cough on it, put it back, and choose another one they haven't coughed on (though 57 other people probably already have). Then you put it in the bag yourself, which is sitting right there next to all the bread. But the bread isn't in it. Cause hygiene is vastly over-rated.

8) The Absence of Huge, Disgusting Bugs

Know what I miss? Walking into any given room in my house and not fighting down the urge to bolt, screaming like a little girl, out of the room, using my children as shields against the crawling nightmares that Africa has spawned and unleashed into the universe.

While I'm getting used to fighting through swarms of ants to reach the bedroom and battling bat-sized moths, the one bug I really can't abide is the mole cricket. These things look a little bit like regular crickets if they bred with the lovechild of a demonic hot dog and that creepy girl from the movie The Ring.

These are in my back yard all the time. So annoying. (source)
I'm not even going to post a picture of them because I don't want to give you nightmares. If you really want, you can Google them. These end up everywhere. And they burrow into your lawn so you can't find them. They also make a sound like regular crickets, but much louder. I'm not even exaggerating when I say it hurts your ears when you get too close. Their call can be heard up to 600 metres away, which attracts countless other mole crickets and thoughts of clubbing yourself to death with an overpriced Elsa doll just to embrace the sweet, sweet silence of death. And no matter how many times you set your house and yard on fire and start a new life in another South African city, they come back.
This is literally the least frightening bug they have in South Africa
I miss the days when the biggest pest I had to endure was Justin Trudeau.

9) Public WiFi

Have you ever been out and remember a savage meme that you want to send to your friend? You send it, right? Because in Canada, it's normal to have access to WiFi wherever you are. And if you don't have WiFi, cell data is still relatively cheap, and it's totally worth using it to slay your friends with a sick burn. In South Africa, not so much. SOME restaurants offer free WiFi if you're eating there. A whopping 50 mb of it. Which is enough to check your e-mail. Then you're cut off. And cell data is ridiculously expensive here, so you have to think long and hard about whether or not you want to use your phone when you're not home. In fact, if you're dying right in front of me, I'd have to consider you a very close friend before I'd use my mobile data to look up emergency numbers to help you (here's another fun thing about South Africa: there's no 911. There are a bunch of different emergency numbers, and each one is roughly 43 digits long. There's no way I'll ever remember them). And even if you're my close friend, I'd have to decide if I want to use my precious data to save your life or send you one last fire meme. (Spoiler alert- you're probably going to die laughing).

10) Working Traffic Lights

In Canada, we kind of take for granted that things, you know, WORK. You plug something in, it works. You use an ATM, it works. You look at me at my job...ok, bad example. South Africa is fun because you're never bored. You can never get into a routine because sometimes the power will randomly go out. Sometimes it's the water. Sometimes roads are blocked off because of massive protests where people burn tires and everything else in the immediate surrounding area. And you will ALWAYS find traffic lights- or robots as they call them here- that don't work. Not all of them. But always a couple, no matter where you go. It has to be much more complicated than it looks to make these work. Or maybe people just don't give a crap. But I can tell you that when the drivers here are already insane (I talked about it a little bit in this post), the lack of functioning traffic lights becomes even more of a problem. It's not like anybody really pays attention when they do work though- red lights seem more like loose suggestions than hard and fast rules, especially when it come to the taxi drivers. But that's another story. At the risk of sounding lame and boring, I miss order and rules.

11) Sriracha Sauce

They don't have it here. I'm super bummed about it.

*Edit- thanks to a couple of readers, I've found Sriracha Sauce at Woolworth's. But it's not THE Sriracha sauce- it tastes a little off. However, it'll do for now!

I could go on and on. The staggering lack of efficiency, the roads, the absence of customer service, and a thousand other things. That being said, the good here FAR outweighs the bad, and I'll be sure to make a post that outlines the things I'll miss when I leave South Africa. That post will be much longer than this one, I assure you. I do love it here, and I'm slowly learning to deal with the things that once drove me bananas. I do still miss chocolate chip cookies though- South Africans can't do those worth crap. Get it together, guys.


  1. Omg you say everything this Canadian girl is thinking and trying to say...but you say it nicer!

    They do have siriacha here... I bought at pick n pay but I've seen at woolies as well.

    1. Are you serious??? Like, REALLY Sriracha sauce??? I'm going to have to redouble my efforts! Also, just curious where this blog got posted. I suddenly had hundreds of readers in about 2 minutes. Can you help enlighten me? It obviously got posted somewhere!

    2. Phil - I so love this. And I have so many comments that I won't even start on anythign specific, but you totally nailed it with you topics.

      Also, I think I can enlighten you. I had posted a link to your other post about your house, and I think you took it down. So my readers probably went to your latest post instead, which was this. Just a guess... That other link showed a lot of Facebook "reach"...

    3. Thanks Sine! I obviously have a bunch more things I want to post about, but I didn't want to come across as too negative! The trick is to talk about them without offending people. Just wait until I post about the Boer shirts and tight short shorts...Coming soon.

      Ya, it got shared a bunch of times (I'm guessing other people taking the link from your page and re-sharing it) and people were getting a little passionate in their responses. I wanted to tone down the discussion a little bit, so I added a small note at the end and reposted. Thanks for sharing- it definitely got some attention!

  2. Siriacha sauce is available in most supermarkets in Cape Town so try looking harder. You don't sound like the type that is cut out for expatriate life if you're struggling without Canadian tortilla chips and Pepsi. Are you sure you're not American?

    1. Graham crackers. You forgot graham crackers. I'm not sure if you properly understand the struggle. (But yes, almost all my comments are meant to be taken tongue in cheek. I'm finding I've adapted quite well. And the addition of biltong in my home more than makes up for all the things I've lost)

  3. You made me smile, but you're going to cry the day you leave South Africa. Africa doesn't take well to being left.

    1. I 100% agree, Lorenda. I'm already dreading the day I have to leave, and I still have 2.5-3.5 years left here!

  4. As an American who recently moved to South Africa as well, I have to say your post is SPOT ON. Especially the graham crackers...and I'd add bagels to your list. I miss bagels, a LOT. Real, dense, chewy bagels.

    1. Oh man- are you serious??? No bagels here? I hadn't noticed yet. But NOW I'm painfully aware. It's like a clock ticking loudly in a room that you don't notice until someone mentions it. Then it's ALL you notice. Thanks for totally ruining my day!

    2. Bagels at Woolies are not so bad. In Cape Town, we also have New Work Bagels.

    3. There are plain bagels at the larger Woolies, and in Cape Town, there is also New York Bagels.

    4. Whoa- really, Deirdre? I need to find these. I've been craving bagels ever since I was reminded I couldn't find them here!

  5. I had to giggle at this blog! Obviously you haven't seen a Parktown Prawn yet! And you can get Siriacha sauce at Woollies but you should try some of the local hot sauces!With regards to wi-fi get your PicknPay Smart Shopper card and there is a way to get 1 Gb of free wifi per month free from the AlwaysOn that is found in many malls and coffee shops. Also Pretoria has free wi-fi in many places . As for the traffic lights sadly there is not much the City of Joburg can do about the huge amount of theft and vandalism that takes place although they do fix many of the lights every day as per their twitter account.

    1. There are still lots of things that I have no desire to ever see! We picked up some Sriracha sauce at Woolworths, but it's a knockoff sriracha sauce. Not THE Huy Fong Sriracha sauce. I'll give it a go and see how it tastes.

      I never knew that about the wifi- I'll definitely check it out!

  6. Where do I get to follow you? Love this!

    1. Hi Lin- I’ve moved everything over to

      There’s a mailing list form at the top of the page if you want to keep in the loop. Thanks for the kind words!