Catherine Parker
Catherine Parker

The sharpened outline of a South African

Thought Leader often becomes the platform for The Great Emigration Debate, probably because there is such a collision of minds reading, writing and commenting in one place: expats who have left and who are defensive about it, expats who are dying to come home, those in South Africa who are thinking of leaving, and those in South Africa who believe it is traitorous to even consider such a decision.

The latest addition to the debate was Jarred Cinman’s thought-provoking piece, in which he says we should just let émigrés do their thing overseas, and leave the nation-building to those who have stayed behind in a country that glimmers with opportunity. While I appreciate the majority of what he says, one part of his article struck a note of discord for me. It’s the part where he says that “there are no South Africans abroad, as their South African-ness has gone”.

Does staying in the country define someone’s South African-ness? For what it’s worth, I’ve never felt more South African than I do now, even though I live 16 000 kilometres away. Part of this must have to do with the fact that I never have, and still don’t, consciously intend to be here for good. But besides that, I’ve found that there’s nothing like being out of the comfort zone of one’s country in order to sharpen the shades, colours and edges of one’s national identity. Part of my patriotism probably is a defence mechanism in reaction to the rather overwhelming culture in which I find myself. Whatever the psychological reasons though, the fact remains that I still feel truly South African. More importantly I think, I appreciate it more than ever.

So, in the spirit of appreciation and gratitude for the country that brought me up, I bring you:

Fifteen Random Things I Never Appreciated About Being South African Until I Lived in the USA

1) We really are good at cooking raw meat over an open fire.
2) Rugby players really are the toughest of the bunch.
3) Being able to drive a manual car is an unusual skill to possess – a talking point, in fact.
1) We have a good work-life balance, with our deluge of public holidays and 20+ days of leave per year instead of just two weeks.
2) We produce Ghost Pops, Ultra Mel, Snackbread, Lemon Twist, Fray Bentos and Cheese Curls, for which there are no other earthly comparisons.
3) We coincide Christmas holidays with summer, school holidays and the end of the school year. Finished and klaar.
4) Our cars are small and fuel-efficient.
5) We’re a family-centric nation.
6) We use the metric system, so we talk in tens and hundreds, not in stones, feet, rocks, or other.
7) It’s simple: zero degrees, not 32, is freezing.
8.) We use “now”, “now now” and “just now” in subtly different ways, and it is harder than you think to explain the difference between the three.
9) We make our kids play soccer, rugby, cricket, netball, hockey and tennis so that they grow up to make their kids play soccer, rugby, cricket, netball, hockey and tennis.
10) Generally, South African parents don’t know what a play date is.
11) We have eleven official languages, of which most of us can speak several.
12) We have “Republique D’Afrique Du Sud” on the front of our passports, even though French is not one of the eleven languages mentioned in 11 above. No one questions why this is.
13) Some of us can speak a language that apparently sounds like it is being spoken backwards (Afrikaans).
14) We exercise brain power in our signage. “Dead End”? No, we prefer abstract, thought-provoking phrases like “Cul-De-Sac”.
15) We say “zebra crossing” because:
a) It is more interesting than saying “crosswalk”
b) We have zebras