Flashing Green Arrows Cause Cape Townians to Fall Asleep & Other Strange Things From the Republic

I moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town almost 2 years ago. I have not regretted it once, the quality of life here is much better than in Johannesburg, and I really enjoy being so close to the sea, mountains, and vineyards. However, during this time I picked up quite a few things that mildly reminds me that I’m in Cape Town.

1. Green Arrows at Traffic Lights. Drivers from Cape Town consistently forget to immediately drive when the green arrow flashes on traffic lights, indicating they can turn right or left onto the crossing street. This is something that constantly happens, to the point that I am quite surprised if the driver in front of me immediately drives when the light flashes. I have no idea why so many people from Cape Town fall a sleep when green arrow traffic lights flash. I always associated bright flashing lights with places that excite me like disco lights, signs of strip joints, and cheap chinese take aways. But somehow it looks like these flashing lights have the opposite effect on Cape Townians. Is it possible that there might be a different meaning in Cape Town? Or that there is some unspoken rule, like wait 50 flashes before driving, that only they know of? I won’t rule that one out, it is the Republic of Cape Town after all!

2. It’s acceptable to drive 80-100km/h in the fast lane on the highway. Even after a year and a half in Cape Town, I am still astonished at (1) how people drive 80Km in the fast lane on the N1, and (2) how only on rare occasions a faster driver will actually get annoyed with the aforementioned driver doing 80 in the fast lane. This just proves how people from Cape Town are much calmer and accepting on the roads, which is probably why Mabale Moloi from 5FM reports 100 less accidents every morning for Cape Town, compared to Jo’burg. But at the same time it can be really annoying to be stuck behind someone doing 80kms in the fast when you’re late for that interview, when the fast lane is completely open if only it wasn’t for mister sleepy in front of you. It doesn’t help too much to freak out, because half the time people have no clue what you’re going on about in case you do.

3. Don’t assume the shop is open after 1PM on Saturday. Wow, yes, no idea why shops close at 1 on a Saturday, but choose to be open the whole of Monday. I mean come on, how many of your customers actually have time to come in and buy that R15000 sofa on a Monday 10am from your shop somewhere on the outskirts of Kommetjie? Seriously, think about it mr. shopkeeper, these customers actually have to work in order to afford your goods, and this happens mostly during weekdays – in case you missed that small detail. Weekends mean the whole of Saturday and Sunday, so it’s probably a good idea to try and be open at those times, so that your customers have more time to visit your shop and you have a greater chance of selling stuff.

The one shop, I think it’s called Trade Roots, isn’t even open on Saturdays. The only shops open late on Saturday and Sunday are ones in a big mall like Canal Walk. Any shop or market, or anything that sells something that is not a restaurant, closes on 1pm Saturday.

4. You strictly can’t buy liquor from Saturday 5pm. Those that know me well will know that I never hesitate to spend enough time carefully selecting the right wines when the wine rack is empty. It doesn’t matter that I have a deadline this afternoon, if I’m out of wine I will take the time over lunch to choose the right wines for the next week or two. I just love wine – one of the reasons I moved to Cape Town. One Saturday afternoon while walking through the local Spar’s aisles, it dawned on me that we’ve run out of wine. I immediately set off to the store’s wine shelf to correct this unacceptable crisis, and as per custom, spent an additional 2o minutes selecting the right wines. Excited from my highly successful wine selection I enthusiastically pushed my trolley to the checkout counter and started unloading my groceries. Everything went well, until I put the wines on the counter. Suddenly the cashier’s face changed to one normally reserved for criminals caught in the act. For a second or two I thought she’s going to “moer” me when she said, “it’s already 5 o’clock so you’re not allowed to buy any liquor.” With enormous disappointment and a little embarrassment for revealing my non-Cape origin so publicly like that, I apologized and reluctantly returned the wines to their place on the shelf.

Afterwards, during long walk back to the car, I unsuccessfully tried to find a deeper meaning to this law. The only thing I could think was that anyone that really wanted to get their hands on some wine, and get drunk can do so easily but visiting their local “watergat”, shebeen or just any street corner in lower Woodstock. Surely this law is not going to deter any determined alcoholic to quench their first, or will it? Would be interesting to see actual statistics on the issue, and whether it actually made a difference to the number of rowdy and drunk characters slinging through the streets.

5. Smart casual is more casual, and less smart. During my time so far in Cape Town I’ve gone to a number of events and venues (I’m quite surprised about this myself, these days it’s getting harder to go out and requires ever increasing levels of motivation to not chill at home with a good wine and a book). At a number of these I was quite surprised to see how casual people dress when they go out. As a direct comparison, Cubana’s in Cedar Square (Fourways) will often stop you at the door if you’re not dressed correctly, and by correctly they mean rather smart. In the Republic on the other hand, Cubana’s in Tableview will allow you in even if you have shorts and “plakkies” on. Even at more serious things like a classical music performance, at least half the people wear very casual clothes, like K-Way jackets.

I really enjoy this characteristic of CT. Especially by someone like myself that really couldn’t be bothered about what I wear when I go out, and whether people realize that I am wearing clothes from Ackermans. However generally Cape Townians aren’t so  generous and casual with their friendship, and prefer to stick to the brands, I mean friends, they know… but that’s another day’s story about the Republic’s friendship etiquette.


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