Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Things I miss...and don't miss...about America

I miss...

Dreyers Rocky Road Ice Cream. Rocky Road ice cream of any kind, in fact...here, Rocky Road is a kind of candy...and not very good, either. I haven't even found any good chocolate ice cream, either...for some reason, plain chocolate isn't good enough, so whenever I can find chocolate, it is full of chips or chunks or blobs of bittersweet chocolate (ew!) or little shreds of Belgian chocolate (not as good as it sounds).

Oscar Mayer Weiners. We don't have weiners here. We have Viennas, Russians, bangers, bratwurst and, occasionally, "American hot dogs." Most of them aren't that good...and none of them hold a candle to Oscar Mayer Weiners. On a positive note, however, I have managed to find French's mustard. In the Kosher section of my local market. Who knew??

Central heating. That bears repeating: central heating. Tonight it is supposed to get down to 1C...just one degree above freezing...and we live in brick houses with no central heat. Some of us have fire places, the rest of us have portable heaters that we drag from room to room. And we live in brick houses that cannot, for the most part, be insulated as there are no hollow spaces in the walls to put the insulation. Once one of these houses gets cold, it is like being inside a refrigerator!

Window and door screens. And our windows are configured in such a way that it is almost impossible to screen them. We have security gates on all of our exterior doors and burglar bars on our windows, but nobody has screens to keep the worst villains out...biting and stinging bugs. As someone horribly allergic to mosquito bites and bee stings, I find this to be an egregious oversight on the part of local home builders!

Things I don't miss...

Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards: I have been here more than seven years and have experienced none of the foregoing. In that time, there has been one light (and very short-lived) snowfall in Johannesburg, a small surprise tornado in Pretoria, a mild earth tremor near the Wild Coast, and while the coastal areas get some impressive winter storms, nothing approximating a hurricane. Don't miss US weather at all.

Gender politics. Gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution and protected by the courts. In fact, it is taken so seriously that when two gay men approached the courts saying that the country's marriage laws discriminated against them, the court agreed and gay marriage became legal here. Abortions are legal and I have yet to see or hear of a medical facility being picketed because they perform abortions: a woman and her doctor make the choices and nobody else may have a voice. We even have an Equality Court that costs the plaintiffs nothing to bring a case to justice. This country takes equality seriously!

Attitudes about the poor. America seems to view poverty as a choice people make and should be punished for. South Africa, by contrast, recognizes that poverty is most often a result of circumstances and the government has a role in helping to change those circumstances. Every month people move to the large cities looking for work, making homes for themselves in rude squatters camps until they can better themselves. In American, such squatters camps are routinely bulldozed, the squatters chased away, as if destroying their meagre possessions will make them disappear. In South Africa the government brings in chemical toilets, clean water, and subsistence levels of free electricity in an effort to prevent disease and devastating shack fires. Free hospitals and clinics are available for anyone who hasn't the money for private care. Taxpayers do not moan and complain about paying for these things...they seem to accept that it is just a part of living in a country with a 25%+ unemployment rate and rampant poverty that, if allowed to fester, will create even greater social problems.

Aggressive religious presence: Oh, we do have the occasional religion peddlar come to our door, but they politely go away when asked and they are rare...perhaps one or two visits per year. And we don't have a movement of religious nuts trying to take over our schools and government, either, even though we do have a religious-based political party (which gets little more than a blip worth of votes each election...what does that tell you?). Don't think that South Africa is an atheist-leaning country though...it has an incredible abundance of churches...virtually every one I have ever heard of and quite a few that are new to me. And the people attend church, too...you can always tell when church lets out on Sundays because the roads, malls, restaurants and parking lots are suddenly mobbed! Not being Christian ourselves, Hubby and I make it a point to get our Sunday morning errands completed before they "release the Christian hordes," as he likes to put it.

Personality politics: In this country, you don't vote for a person, you vote for a political party...then the person who is the head of that party takes office (if it is the presidency) or appoints the mayor or whatever office the party has been elected to. This is actually a good thing: not only are we spared mudslinging campaigns prior to the elections, we also can get rid of a crappy politician before the end of a term...his own party replaces him mid-term!

Political signs, billboards, TV spots, etc.: Pre-election signs are limited in size to about the size of a sheet of newsprint. That's it...nothing bigger! And you can't say anything about your opponent in those signs, either...maybe a picture of your party's leader and an admonition for you to vote, but not much more is allowed. The absence of backstabbing, muck-racking, mud-slinging political advertising is a breath of fresh air, even though our politicians really aren't any better.

Inadequate regulation in financial, fuel, transportation, and other industries: The global economic downturn didn't hit South Africa all that hard because our highly regulated financial industry was forbidden to participate in the subprime fiasco that bankrupted Iceland and caused world-wide financial havoc. Gasoline prices are regulated by the government, so oil companies can't gouge or raise prices at will: the government raises...and lowers...the price according to market forces, not according to opportunities to gouge a little more money out of the driving public. Government exists to serve the citizenry rather than big business.

On balance, I think the things I miss are pretty petty in comparison to the social and political nightmares I'm glad to be shed of. Seems it ain't time yet to think about going back.


  1. Well, I've never lived anyplace that razor wire was standard fencing material. That freaks me out. Nor have I had an home invasion. I think I am probably known as an unholy terror in my neighborhood, though, telling all the security salesmen that I protect my home with Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson. Police in this town will not respond to burgler alarms, and the alarm company has to schlepp to the address to see if you are dead or merely being killed. And I have had to get really adamant with the churchies who dedicate this neighborhood as their Tuesday route. They make me crazy with an uncanny ability to interrupt almost anything I deem critical that day. I can relate to castle moats - with lots of mosquito fish :-). No storms, floods or earthquakes here either. Norine

  2. I like the design of your blog very much. It looks like a page from fairy tale. I’m really impressed!

  3. Thanks. I design all my own blog headers using Adobe Illustrator. Click on the link for Sweet Violet Cooks! under the "Interesting places to visit" header on the right for another one.


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