10 Culture Shocks: Cape Town

I spent a summer in Cape Town, South Africa interning for two start up marketing companies.  This experience was arranged by Volunteer Adventure Corps. I received a scholarship from the Benjamin A. Gilman program which covered my flight, housing, and more!  It allowed me to get the true experience of life in South Africa.  Here are some key culture shocks I experienced when I was there.

1. Time

In America we call it CPT, but here it’s the way of life for EVERYONE. Everyone is ALWAYS late and very laid back about deadlines at work. It was hard to adjust because when it comes to work or service when I’m out to eat - I like things to be timely.  It was a nice change though to not always be rushing.

2. Electricity

I thought I had paid all of my housing fees before I arrived, come to find out you have to physically go pay for electricity here! DUH! In every house there’s an electricity box, when it gets low you go to the grocery store and buy more. There's no bill that comes in the mail.

3. Laundry

In most areas there’s NO DRYERS. We pin our clothes on clothes lines to dry. Some houses do have dryers but they eat up so much electricity and don’t really work that well. 


4. Work Environment

Just by the companies I’ve seen and interacted with the business world here is much more laid back. People come to work when they please, wear whatever they’d like, work from wherever, and swear whenever! Also, a lot of people smoke cigarettes. When I was at my first internship, everyone kept disappearing. Then I realized they stepped outside at least every half hour to take a smoke.

5. Public Transportation

You’ve got the train, bus, and minibus taxis. The train is veryyy slow but gets you from point A to point B. It is sometimes very sketchy as there have been many robberies there. They have a metro plus section which is a couple of cents more and it’s the “nicer part” of the train. In the train there are hundreds of stickers with ads to witchdoctors, abortion specialists, and other crazy things.

The bus system is extremely nice in Cape Town! Fairly new buses and they run just about everywhere you could think.

The minibus taxis are veryyy interesting. They’re literally mini 15 passenger vans that run up and down the main roads. They each have a driver and then a guy that works the passenger door. He will yell out the window, jump out of the car to try and get customers. They drive crazy fast and stop without warning. Depending on how far you’re going it’s very cheap. My ride cost me 7ZAR which is about 50 cents. It was kind of cool to ride these but just different.  The drivers are very aggressive because they’re competing with the other taxis for customers. Once I was riding in one and the driver hopped out of the car and started fighting another driver for stealing a customer.



They also have Uber here! 

6. Load shedding

In short load shedding happens when there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand from all Eskom customers. It could be necessary to interrupt supply to certain areas. It is different from a power outage that could occur for several other reasons. Load shedding actually occurred when I was at the gym. Our class did not stop, we continued our burpees in the dark! Quite an experience.

7. Safety

Safety around here is a major issue. Our intern class was told not to use the ATM machines out on the streets because it’s almost guaranteed our information will be stolen (it’s happened to multiple interns). We couldn’t walk alone after dark because we might get mugged. The houses are bordered up, there are sharp poles along the gates preventing people from jumping over. We were discouraged from going into the townships (poorer areas of town) because of the crime and riots. Now, some of these things could happen in the states as well but many of these incidents occurred often so we were warned to be careful.

8. Drugs

Marijuana was not legal when I was there in 2015 but now I believe it’s legal to possess at home by adults. When I was there though I witnessed a lot of drug deals.  I was told that the Rastas were the main ones who sold it and they could be identified by the color of their clothes.

9. Houses

Many of the houses in my neighborhood (Observatory aka Obs) were old and worn. Hence the termites, roaches, cracks and holes in the walls.  But of course there are nicer areas with very modern homes closer to downtown and the beach areas.

10. Cost of living

Everything here is beyond CHEAP. In a good way. You can get a large cappuccino for $1.50. Something like that at Starbucks would be at least $3 – $4. Even alcohol is cheap. I purchased a strawberry daiquiri one night and it was about $4, where as in the US it’d be at least $8 or $9.