When standards aren’t

I thought I was prepared for all the little things that differ between the United States and South Africa, but I feel that I discover new ones every day.  Many of these differences fall outside the normal definition of “standard.”  I’ll try to hit some of the highlights in this accounting below:

  • Be ready to think in Celsius, grams, meters, and liters!
  • American AC power is 120 V at 60 Hz, while South Africa runs 230 V at 50 Hz.  While many devices can use either voltage or frequency, I had to leave plenty of items behind as unusable.
  • South African power plugs are enormous, with massive prongs of two different sizes.  Just look at this power strip!  The small outlets are for European devices.IMG_1168.jpg
  • The South African school year starts in January and runs to December.  Yes, our medical school is graduating students right now!
  • Undergraduate coursework lasts only three years for many students.  Students continuing to graduate studies are required to take a fourth year of classes in honours.  Biomedical graduate degree programs focus on research, not coursework.
  • America uses unusual paper sizes.  People who don’t measure in inches wouldn’t use 8.5″ x 11″ paper!  Instead they use A4, which is slightly skinnier and a bit taller.


    My diploma is 8.5″ x 11″, and the sheet under it is A4 format.

  • Expect estate agents to highlight a northern exposure for a room, since that’s where the sun is down here.
  • Most South Africans do not use clothes dryers; as my friend Gerard noted, “we have abundant solar power!”
  • American broadcast TV was NTSC (updating the full picture 29.97 frames a second) until 2009, when it switched to ATSC (digital over-the-air broadcasts up to 1920 x 1080, originally).  South Africa is still broadcasting analog signals, despite an ITU agreement to stop.  In 2011 the government announced it would broadcast using the DVB-T2 standard, but they have not shown much progress in meeting a series of goal dates for the switch-over.

That’s it for now!  I’m sure more of these differences will come to mind as time passes, but I thought I’d share the grab-bag currently on my mind.


2 thoughts on “When standards aren’t

  1. Pingback: Turtle House utilities | Picking Up The Tabb

  2. Pingback: Five research institutions in one week | Picking Up The Tabb

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