There’s something about South Africa – or the Cape region anyway – that makes you take life more slowly. Whether you want to or not.
Having come from a typical, frantic South East of England lifestyle, which involves rushing around, giving yourself heartburn and chewing your fingernails down to the quick because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of those oh so important tasks that simply have to be dealt with immediately or the world will collapse, it’s all a bit disconcerting.
I’ve had tastes of it before, of course. Peru, for example. A truly heart-warming country that I fell in love with immediately. But don’t expect to jump on that train from Cuzco to Puno on Monday like you planned because it probably won’t be running. Why should it, when Thursday will do? It’s the Mediterranean manyana vibe extraordinaire.
And I’m feeling it again here in Stellenbosch (a lovely, leafy university town in the heart of the Cape Winelands, similar in feel to Oxford or Cambridge, which means that it’s very easy for the average European to slot into), where we’ve decided to put down roots for a couple of years.
But it’s possibly a bit different for me. I’ve come to South Africa, not to be a productive economic unit, but to be the supportive wife of a high-powered exec (he’ll smile when he reads that because it all sounds so grown up and scary, and does anyone, deep down, really feel that those words relate to them?).
The tricky thing for me though is that I’ve never played the ‘housewifely’ role before. In fact, apart from a couple of stints on the dole after I left university, which I didn’t cope very well with (disempowerment doesn’t suit me), I’ve always had a ridiculously strong Protestant work ethic. And I’m not even Protestant, bizarrely.
But I don’t have a South African work visa and so working for a company here isn’t on the cards, although we’re checking out my status with an immigration lawyer/accountants to see if I can freelance back into the UK.
But I digress. What I was going to say is that no one here seems to do a minute beyond their assigned 9am-5pm (or less) hours and they certainly won’t go hassling and pushing for information as we’re wont to do in the UK.
If an estate agent says they’ll get back to you, they may well do, but it won’t be tomorrow, and it certainly won’t be just to update you or let you know what’s going on. If they have something concrete to tell you, they’ll get round to it in their own good time. Or not, if they haven’t and you’ve dropped off the radar. Out of sight and all that.
A big upside of all of this though is that everyone has time for life’s little niceties. People take the time to greet each other and enquire after each other’s wellbeing – and even seem to care about the response.
I’ve also been quite charmed by the various Afrikaans men (Stellenbosch is an Afrikaans town – but more on that later) that we’ve spoken to, who all seem to have beautiful, old-fashioned manners that I’d almost forgotten had existed in the UK, outside of a certain generation.
So if I were going to sum it up in a few words, I’d simply say that everyone seems generally more laid back. They speak more slowly, walk more slowly and generally appear to take life more slowly. Which has to be a good thing. Right?