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.
- 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.
- 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.