Your experience of culture shock in South Africa


Living in a foreign country implies to discover its culture, to learn and master the cultural codes.

How did you deal with that? Share with us your culture shock stories where you experienced a funny or awkward moment in South Africa.

What is your advice regarding the don'ts and what would you recommend to avoid any mistake?

Thank you in advance for sharing your stories,


1973 and only a few months in SA. My car broke down and my only option was to travel to my home by train. In those days Apartheid had determined a policy of segregated carriages.
The train was on the verge of leaving so I ran to catch the last carriage. I sat with a feeling of triumph, which gradually turned into a feeling of great discomfort due to a full carriage of black faces staring at the lone white man. In my hast  I had picked the wrong carriage.
With no escape, I made an effort to sit it out with an air of nonchalance.Fortunately Elandsfontein to Kempton Park is only a short distance.
Daunting at the time but now just an amusing memory.

I fully understand your issues and strongly empathize with you culture shock is part of the human experience which is part of our lives is is very nostalgic and melancholic to read your experiences in 1973 which is more than 30 years ago

I find the most shocking element of SA culture for me and my family was the racism and lack of interracial mixing or relationships. My husband and I have experienced a lot of subtle and not so subtle racism here. My children as well. My husband is what they call 'coloured' here. He is half German and half Ghanaian and people often think he is not my husband but my employee. If you want more details, message me and I'll explain. If you are an interracial couple with children, not used to being stared at or discriminated against, harden your shell before you come here.

Hello Christina,

I'm quite curious as to why you were so shocked by the discrimination in South Africa? The scourge of Apartheid was only officially ended on April 27, 1994 after all.

I know that you're from the Pacific Northwest, a much more open minded part of the United States, but really looking back over American history what do you find? While slavery was abolished officially on January 1, 1863. It wasn't until the mid-1960s that segregation was ended, over 100 years later.

Even today in the United States, unfortunately there are still small pockets in your society where Afro-Americans will never truly be considered equal. You had the good fortune to live in a part of the country where people are far more enlightened than in other states. Even so, it has been half a century since the Kennedy administration acted on civil rights.

Did you really think that it would be much different in South Africa? This is something that will take a great deal of time yet, whether we like the idea or not. Speaking for myself, if I could wave a magic wand and end racism wherever it exists I'd do so in a heartbeat, but the realist in me knows that Rome was not built in a day. Be patient, I'm sure that South Africans will get there one day.

James Experts Team

I appreciate your response and no I did not enter my stay in SA with rose colored glasses. I have a firm understanding of the rise fall of apartheid as well as US history but that's all pretty irrelevant when you are in the midst of discrimination.
I will not be staying here past July 2016 and look forward to leaving the low boil of race relations here. It will take time, yes, but I'm not willing to go back in time, to the US in the 60s, which is what SA racial disparity and relation play out.
To add, your post feels patronizing. The topic was what are your experiences, not defend your experiences. I'm surprised at your reply and why you are even schooling me on history I already know--you're in Brazil, not South Africa.

Hi Cristina,

Have you always lived in the Pacific Northwest before you moved to South Africa? I can tell you from my own experience that you will get the "strange looks" from many people in southern states like Alabama, Georgia and Texas too, even nowadays.

Sad to say, you'll probably even get a few if you were to live in some areas of my beloved homeland Canada, which really makes me ashamed, because discrimination was really never a problem in Canada before.

You're not moving back in time. You've stepped into another country, with a different reality and a different timeline. You can't possibly expect every nation on earth to be working on the US calendar. I've been living in Brazil for the past 14 years and while probably 60 to 70% of all Brazilians have some Afro-Brasileiro roots if they search back, there is still a great deal of descrimination in this country. I certainly don't like it, but it's clearly not something I can change. I feel it every day since my wife and son are both Afro-Brasileiro. Accepting something that you cannot change and getting beyond it IS NOT the same as condoning it.

James Experts Team

Yes, strange looks abound, all over this world and in the US, but SA is like going back in time. 10% of the population is white and although the ANC is in power, the ruling class is that 10%. What this means is that if you are brown you can expect to be told there are no tables at a restaurant, until they realize you that white lady standing beside you is your wife. It can mean your daughter will be told her skin is not peach and so she cannot play with certain girls. And when you bring this up to her SA teachers they discount you and say oh, that's not true.

So again, I appreciate your response but your response feels like more of the same, a bit patronizing and a lot discounting, of my and my family's experience.

I am Caucasian, formerly from the United Kingdom (there's an ironic title for my homeland) and have lived in South Africa for 42 years.

Many of my lady friends were black and I attracted no more attention than when being accompanied by a non black.
I subsequently married a Thai and public reaction continues to be unremarkable.

We  attract no unpleasant attention at restaurants, hotels or shopping excursions and receive only complimentary smiles.

Christina, I suggest that you are over sensitive and may be interpreting natural curiosity for racism.


It's interesting how all of this "you're over sensitive" -ness is coming from Middle Aged  White men. Honestly, I give up. Done with this site But not before I report both seeming insensitive and discounting replies.

So much for a supportive expat experience here.

PS Notice I'm not telling your experience is wrong, that's called listening.


I'm sorry if you feel that expressing an observation that doesn't completely mesh with your, seems patronizing and insensitive, but if you haven't noticed you are NOT in the USA.

My postings were observations from real life and day-to-day experience gathered from being in a mixed race marriage in a country where racism is equally omnipresent as it is in South Africa. My situation is actually compounded by the fact that my (very) negro wife is considerably younger than I am and our young son is also very dark skinned.

I'm sorry, but I really must agree with Alan4406 on his observation that you are being overly sensative to the whole issue. One can always find incidents that they can attribute to racism if they look hard enough. Obviously from your comments here you are very thin skinned to begin with and that's going to make you even more uncomfortable.

There are just some things in life that YOU are not going to be able to change, and as much as I would also like to, experience has taught me that it is just not possible. The whole country (any country) is not going to change overnight just because WE may wish it to.

Regarding reporting what you perceive to be "patronizing" and "insensitive" remarks. Good luck with that, young lady! Not only is it not going to score you many points with our other members, but you're barking up the wrong tree altogether. Moderators will certainly review the postings and come to the obvious conclusion that they were in no way offensive. They were simply a reflection of REALITY.

If we want to talk about being offended, I'm personally quite offended by someone who registers with TODAY simply to post a rant about racism, and then goes off like a bomb when other logic based opinions get posted. Talk about disrespect for members who have been here for many years working very hard to improve things for everyone else. Your super-sensitivity and arrogance are really impressive.

James Experts Team


The post asked for personal experiences-I posted mine and was  not expecting a flame war.

I was also not looking for a historical explanation of the world and its history. 

I wanted to be heard and listen.

I did not want any suggestions on how to to fix my perceptions or how to see my experiences differently.
I did not register on this site to complain.

I thought it would perhaps find a community of supportive people. 

I offered my experience and expertise regarding taking pets in and out of South Africa, as well as the requirements for bringing children in and out of the country.

I think it's so unfortunate that I cannot pose my experience without being discounted and humiliated by white men who see my experience as in need of a sensitivity an attitude adjustment overhaul.

I leave here feeling like my honest descriptions of my experience were not wanted. Perhaps a diverse set of experiences is not wanted and instead a rosy outlook of the expat experience takes precedence over people sharing their experiences.

You clearly have a large stake in this website, given the number of posts you've contributed, that's nice and good for you and for whomever described your advice or opinions. However, I have to wonder what the purpose and intent of this site is, as well as its experts. I am not a 'young lady', in fact I might even be your peer or older, young man, so please do not continue making assumptions that are not founded our fact and reason based.

I would have loved to hear of your experience in an interracial relationship, which a child, in a country very focused on a racial caste system. However, your approach, although seemingly well meaning came across as patronizing. Yiu can choose to look at that or not, but that's my perception.

And, as a woman, who does not hold grudges, I wish the best for you and I hope the next person to post regarding their experiences in Canada, Brazil, the U.K. and South Africa has only wonderful experiences to share and that you may, in the future impart some kind wisdom on someone like myself, telling their story for people considering moving to South Africa.



You clearly did not intend to LISTEN when you posted to this topic thread, the undeniable truth is just that. Nobody here did anything other than to post their own experiences and observations on the subject of racism in South Africa and other nations.

By discounting completely the experiences of other members who, themselves, are in mixed race marriages that was painfully clear.

I'm sorry if you found any of the replies you received as "insensitive", "patronizing," or "discounting", but by throwing out those terms you made it abundantly clear that you weren't prepared to hear anything other than absolute agreement with your position.

My previous comments still stand, as they are valid observations gained through many years of painful personal experience. Nobody here got angry until you did. As I said before, your attitude is not going to score you any points with our other members. I've been here for 6 years now, and I spend literally hundreds of hours a month here working very diligently to assist members on numerous forums. All of that as a VOLUNTEER. You come here today, with absolutely no previous knowledge of what (previously Expat-blog) is even about and go off on people. What would YOU call that???

I'm sorry, but at the risk of offending you even further, but...

I find the terms you threw out highly inflammatory and offensive. You clearly are being overly sensitive to what you personally perceive to be racism, and I agree with the other member that you are probably confusing the CURIOSITY of others with racism. Your reaction to the statements here show you to be combative and I would suspect that you are just one of the many people who see "racism" around every corner.

Report any of us that you wish to, that's your choice. Don't hold out any great hopes that anyone on our administrative staff are going to do much when (from my perspective) all of the other postings on this topic thread have been well though out, and rather benign in their wording. Certainly nothing that the average person would take offense at. (until this reply, which I take full responsibility for because now I'm super PISSED OFF).

And for the record, you stated that you were "finished with this sited",  your loss, not ours. Try Facebook.... I understand that micro-complaints, carping and whining are the order of the day there.

James Experts Team

James, come on, stop it all ready.

I posted my rxperiences for someone to read and take in. This is not a support forum is it? I did not say people help me, did I? Instead I answered the question. To which you replied with a series of questions and statements in response--is that what this post was about? Was it not to be a collection on voices stating their experiences? You opened this up and perhaps went above and beyond what was warranted.

It's also sad that as a woman I am 'combative' and my replies are mere nonsense--which is a typical response to a strong woman.

How do you tell a child that being told they can not play with someone because they are not a certain color is a factor of being 'curious'?

I did not come on here to gain friends and likes--personally that does not feel necessary useful to anyone potentially coming to South Africa, do you not agree? With regard to inflammatory language like 'discounting' and the like how are these inflammatory? Once you are willing to listen to someone and not take their experiences and baggage on as your weight yiu will see that these are not inflammatory; rather, they are someone's truths, which you might want to respect if you like to be helpful.

On the topic of website senority: the Internet is not a club house. New people equals exposure and revenue it is not a hazing system. It's great that you've been committed to this expat project but why does my newness deem my presence invalid?

And also, I have decided to not leave this forum because I believe my experience is important and my insight could benefit one of the many people you also helped in your thousands of posts to help people in a new land.

I give up! Enjoy your stay in South Africa if you possibly can, certainly it will be a short one. As for me I will not be commenting any further since it is obviously useless.


Thanks James, I respect you for that. May Brazil be good to you and your family.

Hi everybody,

Let all stay calm, is a friendly site. ;)

Let's share our own experience without judging others and without exaggeration please.

Thanks all,

Priscilla  :cheers: