Top Similarities and Differences!

This week we wanted to highlight our top ten lists of things that are different and things that are (seemingly) the same between living in Cape Town and Boston. Before we get into that, however, a few highlights of the last two weeks:

  • Charlotte did it again. Won her second night time trail run, and then we all had a ball with our friends running the Cape Cod marathon 5k.  Both Charlotte and Luke rocked it!
  • Many many more hikes and beautiful vistas.  They are everywhere – and so accessible.
  • Many meetings and networking opportunities for me – at every level (government/systems; philanthropy, grassroots NGO).
  • Inspiration and excitement for Chris as he continues to engage with teachers and students alike at Elkanah House. Above all else, similar to
  • The decision that we would NOT in fact pursue being featured on House Hunters International. (background:  several months ago I reached out; they responded and were interested; we ultimately decided due to security considerations we would not pursue, much to our chagrin.)
  • The realization that, in addition to wine, Cape Town and environs are ground zero for craft gin. The concoctions are deliciously amazing and oh so dangerous!  How to replicate in Margate!


Now on to the fun!


These are things we have noticed as we go about our daily existence. I am working on a separate post that digs more deeply into the issues of poverty, especially through the lens of early childhood policy and practice – and the differences and similarities between the two countries. Although not legally permitted to work, I have begun to engage at various levels – systems, philanthropic, grassroots. While the scope and complexity of poverty and institutional racism here is breathtaking and horrific, I am inspired by the intentionality, good will and strength of community that exists here – similar to the states. More later.

Things that Seem Different (in no particular order):

1. Packaging and Serving Sizes:
• 5 minutes in a grocery store here presents a sharp contrast to the supersized portions we take for granted in the US through places like BJs and Costco – the bigger the better. In general we are grateful – it’s healthier to eat smaller portions, and we (Chris) don’t REALLY need second or third portions of a meal. However, there are a few things we regret – like the “family” size bag of potato chips here which is about half its equivalent at home.
• Similarly, while food is far cheaper here, serving sizes in restaurants are also much smaller. Again, a welcome change. We just don’t need everything we take for granted at home.

2. Driving
• When we first moved here, I was a little worried about driving on the left side. However, we’ve both become quite accustomed to it. One near death experience notwithstanding, we’re all set in this regard. 

  • Another difference:  very few people seem to be texting while driving here (thank goodness) and it is illegal to talk while driving.  We rarely see folks doing either. It’s refreshing and reminds us to be on our best (and safest) behavior as well.

3. Security
• This is a huge one, which we’ve discussed earlier. The concept of security systems – beams, locks, keypads, codes, security companies – was entirely foreign to us in the beginning, and a constant reminder of how lucky we are in Milton to not have to consider it constantly. Since moving into our home, we have joined our local “crime watch” and befriended many of our neighbors, and are much more comfortable knowing that a) crime is rare within our neighborhood and b) when it occurs, it’s isolated. One neighbor, who has lived on the street for 7 years, reports that the only crime with which she is familiar was a theft at another neighbors house of a few laptops – during a party they were hosting.

4. Water
• Our degree of consciousness regarding water usage has changed dramatically. While we historically were nominally conservative, choosing not to water our lawn, for instance, we certainly were far more liberal in using water for showers, baths, toilet flushing, washing machines, etc. We arrived in Cape Town in the midst of a severe drought, and were immediately forced to change life-long habits…….perhaps not showering every day, using the shower water to only wet ourselves and rinse off, wearing clothes multiple times, using excess shower water to flush toilets, and only flushing when absolutely necessary. Seeing people line up at water distribution centers to gather their allotted 30 liters/person, which they sometimes carried in jugs on their heads, reinforced the stark reality. While we did the best we could, we have no idea – still – how much we used out of a budgeted 50 liters/person/day – and what the associated bill will be. Cape Town is sighing with relief that its dams are nearly full and day Zero has been avoided but there is an urgent need for more strategic long term planning in anticipation of the next drought – which is inevitable.
• It has been interesting to process the collective sigh of relief we  feel when we travel outside of Cape Town to areas with better water management policies. While committed to using only what we need, we have all enjoyed taking longer showers once in a while!

5. Running race souvenirs: As we’ve discussed, we have jumped right into the road/trail running scene here. And while it’s the same basic concept –using legs and cardio systems to propel bodies forward – we’ve noticed some big differences:
• Registration fees. Typically fees in the states start at $20-$25. Here, one recent 5K was $3 per person, while trail runs have been in the $10 range.
• Swag. This has really been interesting! The trail runs hosted by vineyards offer free wine at the end, along with a free bottle of wine for every (adult) finisher. (I know this would be especially appreciated by some of my more “cultured” friends!) If you search a finisher area long enough, you might find water and/or some type of Gatorade-type drink, but the big focus is on wine.
• Hydration/water stations. There have been none during any of the races we have done to date. At the end of one 5K, rather than paper cups or bottles we received little bags of water. See pic below.


6. The broader concept of liability:
• None. Zero. We have marveled several times at the beautiful lack of liability. Trails that claim to be “AAA easy” would be identified as “moderately challenging” in the States, with associated liability limitation clauses. There is every possibility of imminent death on some of the trails that Chris and I have stumbled upon, yet it just doesn’t matter. I don’t sense that this is unique at all to South Africa – many countries I have visited are similar. The absence of liability protection here just highlights for us its omnipresence in the US.

7. Gas stations and parking lot attendants
• Petrol is expensive here, and the recently announced recession has pushed prices up even more. We estimate average prices at around $4/gallon and rising. There is no self-serve, and it is customary to “tip” the gas attendant anywhere from $.50-$1.00.
• All commercial parking lots are filled with uniformed attendants who ostensibly are there to “protect” cars but spend most of their time sheparding cars in and out of spaces and “helping” shoppers load packages. These attendants, too, depend on tips which makes complete sense when put in the broader context: there is currently a proposal being considered at the national level to establish a $1.00/hour minimum wage. Imagine.

8. Hair dresser
• This might resonate with friends who might need a little “touch up” now and then. Highlight treatments are executed by two hair dressers working together….one manning the foil and the (lead) actually applying the treatment. The fact that one is supporting two salaries makes the price – less than 1/3 of what one would pay in the States- even more striking.

9. West Coast Light
• As New Englanders, we are used to seeing the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and set over (the very far away) Pacific Ocean. We experience East Coast light – which, for anyone who follows Georgia O’Keefe, knows is quite different from the light of the Southwest, or of the West. Here, at the very southern tip of Africa, we benefit from that crisp clear light all the time. We are still getting used to the sun rising over the Indian Ocean, and SETTING over the Atlantic. It’s a mind blower.

10. Chocolate chips
• Last but certainly not least! Because we jumped into entertaining immediately upon moving into our house, I needed some “go-to” recipes. Thanks to my sister Jeanne, I was armed with our family’s secret Banana Chocolate Chip bread recepie several weeks ago when shopping at our local grocery store. After wandering the aisles for 30 minutes, I finally zeroed in on the “chocolate chips” – packaged in a box similar to a Band Aid box in the states. Of course, any chocolate would work perfectly in this recipie, which calls for about a pound of butter! It’s a huge hit here!

Things that seem (but aren’t quite) the same

11. Friendliness of the People
• Bar none, the South African people have been remarkably warm and welcoming. While they wonder at our politics (so much to say about that!), they seem to love Americans, and the concepts of openness and opportunity for which they believe America stands. Whether in our neighborhood, within our school community, within our respective networks (mine early childhood, Chris at Elkanah School) and/or road tripping – people have gone out of their way to welcome us, to invite us into their homes, to provide recommendations and advice – everything. One of the hardest things to leave at home was our incredible network of friends and family; and while we can’t recreate that we are so grateful to have been accepted with such open arms here.

12. Language
• One of the factors we considered in coming here was language. Experiencing another culture is arguably easier when one can understand packaging in stores, road side signs, etc. And while the kids and Chris might have thrived in a French-speaking environment, I would have been utterly clueless! We knew that English was a primary language spoken here. What we didn’t appreciate is that English is just one of 11 official languages, although it is the language of education and business. (This was not always the case; some of the most tragic student uprisings during the Apartheid era were to protest the use of Afrikans as the language of instruction.) Other languages include Afrikans (with Dutch origins) and Xhosa, one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages composed of a series of “clicks.” We hope to learn more of it.

13. Natural Beauty – everywhere.
• We are fortunate to live in New England. We love the rolling mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, the white beaches of Cape Cod, the dense forests, inland rivers and jagged beaches of Maine. All of that – and more – is combined in South Africa – and we have only explored a teeny part of it. While Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the world (IMHO), we are just beginning to experience the wonder of the rest of the country – and it is wonderous.

14. Uber
• While we haven’t had to rely on it much, it’s comforting to know that it’s just an app click away. Interestingly, every Uber ride we have taken has been driven by a Zimbabwean drive. We have a sense there are many Zimbabweans living in the townships, perhaps taking jobs, etc.  Need to better understand.

15. WAZE
• It’s hard to articulate how Waze has facilitated our ability to explore Cape Town and its environs. While necessary to have a sense of direction (and to avoid any particularly dangerous neighborhoods), Waze and Google Maps have been completely instrumental in virtually every adventure upon which we’ve embarked. Special call-out to brother Andy – the road atlas you gave us is an invaluable reinforcement to our reliance on technology!

16. Recycling.
• It’s here, but not omnipresent yet. We pay extra to have a recycling company collect rubbish once/week. Congrats to @Amy Robins and all our friends on Milton Town meeting for the recent progress in recycling!

17. Wine and Cheese
• As anyone reading this blog knows, they are here…..we knew they would be. But we had no idea just how accessible and affordable and absolutely delicious the wine and cheese options would be here. We freely admit we are in trouble; while it has been winter and rather rainy here, the spring and summer are quickly approaching. How to survive? (I personally am exploring an internship at a vineyard as a learning experience!)

18. Fortnite
• It’s here. It’s everywhere. Luke continues to be “the only kid in the world” without it. Enough said.

19. Premier League Soccer.
While I’m sure it would have been as readily accessible at home, for some reason/s – combinations of Bruins fanaticism and Pats worship? – we never paid much attention at home. Luke has adroitly expanded his encyclopedic knowledge of all things NHL to encompass all there is to know about Manny U, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, etc. etc. (An aside – I frequently check and am completely dismayed that the preponderance of headlines and coverage is about the Pats: Belly and TB12, Gronk, etc. A good excuse to diversify my news sources!)

20. Dramatic Income Inequality. WE are as equally privileged here as we are at home. We are white, we are well educated, we are an intact family unit, we are healthy and were raised in loving environments, we hold US dollars – a huge advantage as the Rand continues to struggle. Much more to come on this front.

One thought on “Top Similarities and Differences!

  1. Luckily dessert is a universal language – glad you found the chocolate chips! Let me know if you fall in love with any local recipes you’d like to add to the family cookbook. Can’t wait to see the light.


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