A Foreigner in South Africa: “What Have We Done?”

By PHIL MALONEY

I had a great life in Canada. I was comfortable. My career was on the right path. We were close to family and friends. Then, I was talking to one of our senior VPs one day, and he brought up the possibility of me taking a position with the company in South Africa…

One catch though – he couldn’t guarantee me a job when I moved back. The sensible thing to do would have been to say, “I really appreciate the consideration, but I like where my career is heading here, my wife is doing very well in her career, and our 2 young kids love living close to family in Vancouver, which is consistently rated one of the best cities to live in worldwide.

“So moving to a country that’s known for its insane crime rates and widespread corruption isn’t really in the cards for me right now.”

So anyway, we live in South Africa now.


South Africa is like that guy you meet at a party who seems KIND of familiar. You’re sure you know him from somewhere, but can’t quite place where. He acts similar to the rest of your friends and doesn’t seem very unusual to start with.

But something seems a little off with him. And while you’re trying to place how you know him, he takes off his pants and starts juggling swordfish (which he procured from who knows where) whilst barking into a kazoo. And then you think, “Ok, I THOUGHT maybe I knew him, but ya – I’ve never met this guy in my life.”

Literally everything here will kill the hell out of you.

While South Africa can feel like home sometimes – you can get all the food you like, it has all the amenities you’re used to, etc – you quickly realise that NOTHING here is like home.

You want to run a simple errand and have budgeted an hour, which would be overkill in Canada? Nope. It’s going to take you all day.

You want to get internet and figure you’ll just make a phone call and make it happen? Nope. You’ll make several phone calls. And then several more. And you still won’t have internet.

Phil Maloney – “This is what navigating Telkom’s customer service feels like.”

Just want to buy some appliances? Hahaha. Prepare to spend all day. And more.

But even with the frustrations of trying to get simple things done, it’s already worth it. Want to see wild lions? Easy. Elephants? Hard to miss.

Want great food? It’s everywhere. And the people here are some of the most friendly (if usually hilariously and unintentionally unhelpful) people you’ll ever spend time with.

So it’s best to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Because as I’ve discovered, nothing happens quickly here. So you might as well appreciate the scenery.

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This article first appeared on Phil Maloney’s Blog – Maple and Marula – and is republished here with Phil’s kind permission.

PHIL MALONEY moved with his wife and two young children from Vancouver, Canada, to Pretoria seven months ago, on a work contract. They’ve already visited the Kruger Park three times and Phil says “I already don’t want to go home!” He started his blog as a way to update his friends so he wouldn’t have to keep answering the same questions. It’s called Maple and Marula… about “a Canadian expat trying to figure this place out”.