October 23, 2018 ♥♥♥

Living in Cape Town has been quite the adventure for the past 11 months. My husband Dave and I moved here for a new job and a chance to experience a different culture. Along the way, we’ve learned so many interesting things that have surprised us about life as Cape Tonians. Here are a few of them if you’re interested.

1. Surprisingly modern city.

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town

From high rise buildings and modern architecture in the CBD (“central business district”, which means “downtown” to us Americans) to its’ clean and paved highways, Cape Town looks like a city in California. In fact, it reminds me of Los Angeles quite often with it’s long hot summers, trendy restaurants, and healthy lifestyle. Except we don’t have to deal with the 405 over here :).

2. Everyone is insanely active. 

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town

People here work out with a fervor that is admirable. I suppose when you have beautiful mountain trails and the ocean at your finger tips, one may as well take advantage. These energetic citizens surf, kite-surf, kayak, paddle board, mountain bike, road bike, trail run, train for marathons, or spend hours weight training in the gym (often times doing more than one of these within a day). I’m in awe and exhausted by Cape Tonians. I’m more of a how-much-do-I-have-to-work-out-so-I-can-eat-cake-person so I just stick to Pilates once a week.

3. It’s really difficult if not impossible to run errands on the weekend.

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town

This pretty much sums up all my shopping experiences.

Most stores close by 2pm on a Saturday and don’t reopen til Monday at 9am. Also, Monday – Friday, they are only open 9am-5pm. Sometimes during these hours, they won’t even be there. Sometimes they’ll put up a “Back in 15 min” sign and I will patiently wait, and 45 mins later still no one will have returned. I cannot for the life of me figure out how working people get their errands done. Dave has me, but what do other people do?? It’s madness. At first, while I was running around getting our home set up, I was so frustrated. How does anyone make any money?! But then….I started to see the beauty of having zero options to do anything productive on a Sunday. And that is really lovely. You are essentially forced to relax, exercise, socialize or generally just do something fun. It’s such a shock to us Americans who are used to Targets, Ikeas and West Elms all being open 7 days a week.

4. Braai’s are a huge part of the culture.

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town

Braii is short for “braaivleis” which is an Afrikaans word for roasted meat. Braii’s are a Southern Africa social custom where friends gather around an open fire and grill meat.  South Africans are very prideful and passionate about their braiii’s. For us Americans, a “Braai” translates to a barbecue. Instead of hot dogs, and hamburgers, we grill ostrich sausages (so good!) and spicy per-peri prawns (my favorite).

5. So are coffees. Coffee is like a religion here. 

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town Flat White

Frothy Flat White’s in Kalk Bay.

An absolute perk of living in Cape Town is being able to have the best coffees often times in beautifully designed cafes.  I probably spend way too much time researching the top “Flat White” (a cappuccino with no foam, and for some reason, that makes it sooooo much tastier than an ordinary cappuccino). My favorites are Giovanni’s and Bootlegger which suits me well as they are next door to my home!

6. Wine tasting is a normal weekend activity, like going out to eat.

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town

A tasting at Beau Constantia.

In the US, we treat Napa and Sonoma as special destination weekends. In Cape Town, we just hop in the car, and cruise 20-30 minutes in any direction and find ourselves at arguably some of the best wineries in the world. It’s very common to meet friends, or take your family (kids too) and visit a winery for the afternoon. Tastings are as inexpensive as $2, often including 6 flights of wine (side-note: the pours in South Africa are huge so it’s like having 2-3 glasses of wine for $2.) Also, kids are always welcome, and the venue is almost always spectacular, so it’s no wonder South Africans spend their weekends wine tasting!

7. No outlets in bathrooms.

The construction codes to build the bathrooms here deem electrical outlets as dangerous. Therefore, I cannot curl my hair in the bathroom. Therefore, my hair looks terrible 99% of the time.

8. Grocery stores are better than the US.

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town Woolworths

Woolworths, my favorite grocery store here. Like a Trader Joe’s meets Whole Foods.

Much to my surprise, our grocery stores here are filled with wonderfully healthy and organic options that are easily accessible and affordable. I think I imagined the stores to have alot of strange exotic items with limited access to healthy foods. Happy to discover that it’s the complete opposite. Woolworths, where I mainly shop, is like Trader Joe’s but with a 30% discount. It is actually much easier and cheaper to shop healthy here than in the States. Coming from NYC where a small carton of almond milk was $6 dollars, I am beyond thrilled!

9. When it comes to retail, it feels like everyone started their job here yesterday with zero training.

Taking a deep breath before I discuss this one… patience is not my forte, and I am tested here every day. Let me start by saying that generally speaking the employees at the stores are so nice and friendly, and truly do want to help you. I’m always cheerily greeted with a “Howz it!” and a big smile, and that really counts for something. But you know what else counts? Knowledge. Just good old fashion training at your job before you actually begin it. Doesn’t that sound normal? Nope. Doesn’t happen here. Don’t expect a vacuum sales person to know how to turn on the vacuum. Don’t expect the phone stores salespeople to actually know how to set up your voicemail. There are exception to the rule of course, but I find that if I just have no expectations, life is good!

10. Restaurant cuisine is diverse.

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town Silo Hotel

Cape Town is quite the foodie city. In 2016, Conde Nast Traveler named Cape Town the best food city in the world in its Readers’ Choice Awards survey. Dave and I make it our mission every weekend to try at least 2 new places of the never ending options.  A bonus of eating out in Cape Town is that it can often be cheaper than cooking in. A really nice meal, with a bottle of wine and desert for 2 people plus tip and tax is roughly $40. In NYC, I’d  have to sell my soul. Kidding. But, you know what I mean.

11. Car guards. 

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town

This fun fact took some getting used to…I am still adjusting as I write this post. It’s a bit tricky so follow me here… when you park your car on a street, there will be a man in a bright vest looking official as if he is the parking police, but he is not. He is more than likely a homeless man who procured a fluorescent yellow vest from a dumpster and he’s going to help you in and out of your parking space whether you need it or not. In exchange he’ll expect a tip. The common courtesy here (although this is HIGHLY debated amongst our South African friends) is that you oblige him with 5 to 10 rand. There is no law or any real obligation to do this and I was confused for a loooong time. I had no idea what to do. Eventually I settled on my own rule: if they really do make it easier for me to get in or out of a parking space, or if they’re just generally jovial and polite, I’ll give them a little something.

12. Amazing Private healthcare

South Africa’s private healthcare is fantastic. There’s a company called Discovery which is how most people with average means get healthcare. Once you’ve joined, you get on a point system (like credit card points in America) that reward you with discounts on flights on airlines like Emirates, 50% off your gym membership, and sometimes free smoothies if you’ve worked out alot! In short, they reward you for being healthy here.  Something to think about America….


That’s all I have so far.  I’m sure I will do a new edition of this next year after we’ve learned even more.

Until next time!

xx- Vee

Surprising Facts about Living in Cape Town
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