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expat life

Hannah, a moving to Joburg expert, in Breezeblock

Moving to Joburg? Hannah Can Help.

Are you moving to Joburg? Or have you already moved to Joburg and need some help adjusting? If so, meet Hannah of Translating Me. Hannah Pirnie, the bad-ass founder of Translating Me, at Breezeblock. I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her bad-ass but that’s what she is. Hannah and I share many things in common: We’re both foreigners living in South Africa. We both have blogs. We both love Joburg. We’re both on a mission to help other people love Joburg as much as we do. We both have names beginning with H. We’re both bad-ass. Basically Hannah and I are like the same person, only Hannah is way more organized than me and does a lot more stuff. Also she has three small children and two of them are twins. I’m digressing. The point of this post is to tell you about the services Hannah provides — helping people moving to Joburg (or actually to anywhere in South Africa) with all of the practical, logistical, and emotional aspects of relocating and adjusting to life in this crazy place. People often ask what I found most difficult about moving to South Africa. My answer is always the same: the bureaucracy. […]

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Baby Jack

Musings From a Traveling Auntie

I’ve known for a while that I won’t have children. It wasn’t a conscious decision, at least not at first. It was just something that never happened, for a variety of reasons, and in recent years I’ve become pretty certain that being a mom isn’t for me. A few of my close friends have kids, but most don’t. I hardly thought about babies at all until last September, when my sister Susanna dropped me a Facebook Messenger bombshell that she was pregnant. (We live many thousands of miles apart and delivering news via Messenger is the norm for us.) I hadn’t considered how overjoyed I would feel at the prospect of becoming an aunt. Even though it would mean two long trips back home within a six-month period, there was no question I would travel to the U.S. to meet the baby after he was born. I might only become an auntie once. This is my nephew, Jack, at his house in Middlebury, Vermont. I met him when he was five weeks old. Susanna and Jack, moments after my dad backed over Susanna’s mailbox with his pickup truck. It was an exciting moment for everyone, Baby Jack included. My father, Tenney, meets his first grandchild. Baby Jack […]

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Hyundai Atos after car accident

Five Tips for Dealing With a Car Accident in South Africa

There I was, minding my own business at a red robot (robot means “traffic light” in South African). Suddenly — crash! — a sickening crunch from behind, and I sat helplessly as my car slid into the Jaguar in front of me. Car accident. Aaaarrrrggggghhhhhhhhhh. My beloved little car, Henrike, with a very sad dent. The guy who hit me probably sustained the worst damage, although he was able to drive away and I wasn’t. Incidentally, the front of my car had no damage and Jaguar guy’s car had only a tiny scratch. I collected myself and got out of the car. Jaguar Guy was already berating Nissan Guy. “Really, boet?” said Jaguar Guy to Nissan Guy. (Boet means “dude” in South African.) “Do you have insurance?” Nissan Guy looked sheepish and shook his head. And thus began my journey through the maze of South African car insurance and auto body repair. Things I Learned When I Had a Car Accident Although I’d had a couple of minor dings before, this was my first time dealing with a multi-car accident and South African car insurance. I learned a few things that I think are worth passing on. 1. Don’t expect the police to show up. Cops […]

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Inside Industry Bakery

Quickie Restaurant Review: Industry Bakery in Emmarentia

A few weeks ago I organized an Internations coffee gathering at Industry Bakery in Emmarentia. I had been to Industry briefly once before, but didn’t sit down to eat. This time I ordered a couple of coffees and a full breakfast, so I thought I’d give the place a quick review in 400 words or less. Inside Industry Bakery. Before this recent visit I already knew that Industry has a pleasant atmosphere (I love the industrial feel of the interior) and good coffee. But I was surprised by the interesting breakfast menu. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the menu and now I can’t find it online, so I don’t know the exact description of what I ate. But it was innovative and tasty. I wish I could remember exactly what this breakfast dish is called. It was a burrito-like wrap, which tasted sort of like a thin crumpet, with a spicy egg mixture inside.  The man sitting next to me ordered these beautiful chocolate flapjacks, which contain no sugar and are therefore “Banting-friendly”. I didn’t try them. The man said they were good but could do with a little Banting-unfriendly sweetener. Either way, I love the look and would […]

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Melville Coffee Time With Internations

One of the most rewarding things about being a blogger in Johannesburg is the feedback I get from Joburg expats and visitors. Over the years I’ve gotten many nice messages from people who used my blog to help orient themselves when visiting or moving to Joburg, and even from people who used my blog to help them decide to move here in the first place. Several of those people have become lifelong friends. Potential Joburg expats frequently ask me about the best ways to connect with new friends and find things to do here. When I moved to Joburg in 2010, I didn’t have access to many resources for meeting people and it took me a while to make friends. I had a South African boyfriend to show me around the city, but except for him I didn’t get to know many people right away. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but looking back I realize that my first six to nine months in Jozi were pretty lonely. Unfortunately I didn’t know about Internations back then. Internations is a worldwide community for expats, with chapters in cities all over the world and dedicated online portals for each city where […]

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The Best Place to Live in Johannesburg

I receive lots of messages from people seeking advice on moving to Johannesburg from overseas. The most common question is: “Where is the best place to live in Johannesburg?” It’s a tricky question to answer. Johannesburg is a huge, sprawling city with dozens — maybe hundreds — of suburbs. And by “suburb” I don’t mean what you probably think I mean. Unlike in the United States, where a suburb is a commuter town outside of a big city, in South Africa a suburb is a smaller neighbourhood that is beyond the city center but still inside the city limits. Although there are also some more far-flung suburbs that are more like suburbs in the American sense. Confusing, right? Anyway, I digress. As I said, Joburg is ginormous and the best place to live depends on where you work and what kind of person you are. If you’re a banker or an advertising executive or a Porsche salesman, then your workplace is likely in Sandton and you’ll want to live in the northern suburbs. If you’re a university student or an edgy tattoo artist, then it might make sense for you to live in the CBD (central business district). If you need to live near public transport, Rosebank […]

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My 500th Blog Post: 5 Things I Love and Hate about Joburg

1) What I love about Joburg: The people This is a cliché and it flies in the face of Condé Nast‘s ludicrous pronouncement (ludicrous, I tell you!) that Johannesburg is the world’s unfriendliest city. But as a whole, people in Joburg are nicer, funnier, more creative, more genuine, and more interesting than people in any other place. Raymond, a street vendor in Newtown. 1) What I hate about Joburg: The traffic Traffic in Joburg sucks. And it’s dangerous. In fact Joburg’s traffic is far more life-threatening than its crime. Overlooking the traffic on William Nicol Drive in Fourways. If you’ve been there, then you know. 2) What I love about Joburg: The skyline I’ve written about the skyline many times. (See here and here and here.) The Joburg skyline is spectacular. It’s Joburg’s brand, and I love it. A view of the Joburg skyline from a rooftop on Rissik Street. 2) What I hate about Joburg: The poverty Obviously poverty exists all over the world. But in Joburg it’s not unusual to encounter a barefoot street child in rags, kneeling in the center of a busy intersection at 11 o’clock at night. Joburg’s poverty is terrible and it’s not okay. An informal settlement in Alexandra […]

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Gumtree: One Woman’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

I don’t normally do “sponsored” posts. I have no interest in writing about forex exchange companies, grocery coupons, or casinos in Brunei, and these are the kinds of sponsored post offers that I normally receive. But a couple of weeks ago contacted me and asked if we could work together. For those of you who don’t know, Gumtree is an online classifieds website similar to Craig’s List. I had never heard of Gumtree before I moved to Joburg. But it’s huge here — as huge as Craig’s List is in America. Gumtree is also big in the U.K. (where it was founded) and a few other countries. Before typing my normal polite decline, I stopped and thought. I had never used Gumtree before and it so happened that I had something I needed to sell. Why not try to sell it on Gumtree and then review the experience? Hence, this blog post. I needed to sell, of all things, a set of tires (tyres, to the South Africans and Brits among you). Five enormous, steel-belted radials that belonged to my late boyfriend Jon. I had been putting off selling them forever for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I have zero interest in tires and […]

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An American Migrant in Johannesburg

I’ve been thinking about migration. mi·grant 1. One that moves from one region to another by chance, instinct, or plan. 2. An itinerant worker who travels from one area to another in search of work. -From It started last week. My friend Nelisiwe, aka Nells, invited me to be part of a video campaign she’s working on for the International Organization for Migration, called “I Am a Migrant Too”.

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Registering a Car in South Africa: An Expat’s Epic Journey (Part 3)

Part 3 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 and part 2. Picking up where I left off: Kagiso, the traffic register number man at Langlaagte Licensing Office, tells me on Wednesday that I must come back the following Tuesday — Christmas Eve — to apply for a traffic register number. (I need to get a traffic register number before I can register my car.) I have now made five unsuccessful licensing office visits. I’m not hopeful about the sixth.

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Registering a Car in South Africa: An Expat’s Epic Journey (Part 2)

Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1. As I was saying…I came full-circle. I started my epic journey at the Randburg Licensing Department, at 11:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, only to learn that Randburg only accepts traffic register number applications on Wednesdays from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. (I need to get a traffic register number before I can register my car.) Thursday morning I went to the Langlaagte Licensing Department, only to learn that the power was out. Friday morning I went to the Roodepoort Licensing Department, only to learn that traffic register number applications are closed until February at that office.

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