We often forget about the variety of differences between home and the rest of the world. Part of the fun of traveling is seeing just what life looks like for other people, in other parts of the world. Sometimes, the differences are hard to spot due to a common language. Other times, it is the cultural overflow from “home” that we find most surprising. Both the differences and similarities can prove interesting and entertaining, if we take the time to look for them.
Our trip from LA to Cape Town was long, made longer with a 5 hour delay at Heathrow Airport in London while British Airways checked out a scratch on one of the engines on the plane that was supposed to take us to Johannesburg. Apparently, this scratch was important enough to need approval from both Airbus and Rolls Royce (the plane and engine manufacturers, respectively) before they would fly. This gave us time to revel in amazement at the shopping mall with boarding gates that is Heathrow International. They have as many stores inside security of the international terminal than some shopping malls. And many were high end luxury brands! We were astounded at the variety of items for sale in the airport that would’nt have been found in the same shopping center at home. They had no less than three stores selling high end watches, some brands found only in 3 or 4 American cities. And that is in the airport, inside security, where one needs a boarding pass to even enter the shop. Similar were the offerings of perfumes and fashion. And yet, when I asked for a coffee with Half and Half at the Starbucks, the lady behind the counter looked at me as if I were speaking Martian!
We finally got to fly to Johannesburg, with approval from the jet builder, the engine manufacturer, and the airline to fly the plane with it’s scratched engine. With a delay of 5 hours, most people on the plane were concerned about missing their connections. British Airways did book us through to Cape Town on another flight, but also lost a number of people’s bags, including one of ours between London and Johannesburg. As we had time on our side, we didn’t sweat it much, and got in line to get our info to their baggage department. Once we got to the desk and assured the gentleman we had looked everywhere for the bag, he said he would take our contact information “just now.” Jen had the address where we would be staying pulled up and started to tell him and he got a little snitty, saying “I’ll take that just now!” I thought “apparently not, she just tried to give it to you!” I could see that he was still shuffling through options on his computer screen, not yet ready for our information. I wondered why he asked for it if he wasn’t ready, but he then found the right option and asked for the info. After giving him that info and getting the details on when they thought it would deliver, we caught our plane to Cape Town, still scratching our heads at how English can sometimes seem a foreign language.
We stayed with our friends Marc and Carolyn, whom we had met nearly twelve years ago on our honeymoon. We all laugh when someone asks how we know each other. We were having dinner in a quiet little restaurant one night and I saw they had ordered a dessert I was contemplating. I asked how it was, we struck up a conversation, they invited us to their house later that week, and a friendship was born. We have stayed in contact with them over the years, visiting them again on our next trip to South Africa for World Cup. They offered to host us through the holidays until we headed to Madagascar. We were excited to get to celebrate Christmas with them and their families. Over dinner that first night, we told them about what the guy at the luggage desk had said. This had them both laughing as they told us that “just now” means “shortly”, which is why that guy got a little snitty, he thought we were rushing him. They explained further that “nownow” means “in a second,” which is less of a delay than “just now” but not the same as “right now” (which means the same as we are used to). This was a running gag throughout our stay, where someone would reference getting something done, and one of us would ask if that was “just now” or “now now” which made everyone laugh. They thought it was so funny that they told their friends about it and we were inundated with opinions on just how long someone meant when they said “just now.” Apparently, it can vary from 15 to 45 minutes!
We spent considerable time leading up to Christmas wandering grocery stores. We wandered the aisles, interested in equal parts at the foreign and familiar available. Lamb holds a larger place in the meat markets, on par with pork. Ostrich is available in multiple cuts, including pre-formed burger patties! We were surprised to see Old El Paso products, which are disproportionately expensive. Tortilla chips are available, but are hard to find plain, unflavored. Potato chips come in strange flavors we don’t get at home, Steak or Prawn, and in variations we do get, such as Mediterranean Onion & Balsamic Vinegar. Coke is cheap, and never has high fructose corn syrup. It’s funny how much interest we can find in the little things. This sounds strange, but Carolyn is a baker running her own company selling desserts to restaurants and coffee shops, and Marc had to move some things around after clearing a place for us to stay in the room that is the second story of their house, so we had time on our hands. On top of that, we hadn’t yet gotten our bag from the airline, and it was the big bag with all of our clothes in it, so we were not really ready to hit the town in the same clothes we had worn on the trip from LA to Cape Town.
Our bag was found and arrived a couple of days before Christmas and just in time for a birthday party for one of their friends on the 23rd. We were glad to be able to shower and wear clean clothes. We had also noticed the absence of the frantic crowds at the stores in the last days leading up to Christmas. We appreciated just how laid back everyone was, without the hectic brusqueness we associate with the holidays at home. We soon enough understood why on Christmas Eve, when Marc’s family and Carolyn’s parents came to their house for dinner. Most of the focus of the evening was at the dinner table. Spending time and visiting with family was the centerpiece of the holiday, even for Julia, Marc and Carolyn’s 7 1/2 year old daughter. Yes, she was excited for presents, which people brought for her and not really for the adults, but she was patient and engaged through dinner. She was better behaved that I ever was at Christmas! She left out cookies for Father Christmas, and opened her gifts from him prior to Christmas Day lunch at Carolyn’s parent’s home, with their family. Another gathering with the focus on conversation and time spent together. Presents were less anticipated than dessert, which was fantastic! Thank you again to everyone for making us a part of your Christmas celebrations.
We spent another couple of weeks in the Cape Town area with Marc, Carolyn, and Julia, including a New Year’s party with their friends around the pool at the house where Marc grew up. Marc took us to some fun historical sights, one of the original forts protecting Hout Bay, just south of Cape Town, and Groot Constantine, a winery that has been in business since 1685! Carolyn took a day off and we visited another wine estate where we had lunch and tasted chocolate. One afternoon was spent with Julia at The World of Birds, a bird and animal rescue center in Hout Bay. We even got to walk through their Monkey Jungle, where small monkeys climbed on us! We had fun at the beach and spent some time in Cape Town. All in all, we enjoyed the time we got to spend with our hosts, usually just visiting. We took one day in Johannesburg, where it was unseasonably rainy, before heading to Nosy Be, a small island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. We have only been here three days and have already wondered what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and started to figure out the answer! It is an interesting place, with nearly bathtub warm ocean water, stunningly beautiful tropical views, crazy drivers, feral chickens, and an absence of development. As we are figuring out our way around, we are also getting a crash course in French, as almost no one here understands English, and fewer speak it. It is starting to get fun!