On the Beach

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Cape Town Triangle

Someone said to me the other day that you "work in Jo'burg and live in Cape Town". The comment was not referring to a commuter, but simply to the mindset of the 2 cities.

I have yet to visit Jo'burg but I am informed that it is a very vibrant, fast-moving city full of motivated people making big bucks, making changes. I have no idea how it compares to London, but let's assume for sake of this blog post that it is at least comparable (broadly) to the mindset and motivation in London.

I suppose you can't have beaches, sun, mountains, cafes and wineries without there being a downside.

The downside is doing business here or working here.The pace is slooooooooooooow. The attitude to sticking to deadlines, answering emails is the equivalent of a hippy looking at you through a dope haze, shrugging and saying: "Meh" before taking another puff.

My husband has had a crash course in slowing down- he used to work in the City of London, attached to his  Blackberry which normally had an American voice shouting out of it: "...and I want that YESTERDAY!!"

Here, there seem to be deadlines but mostly for decoration, you know, just something you say to end an email, a phrase to finish a conversation. Kind of like when you say, "I'll call you" after a date but you're not really sure if you will.

Most people from Jo'burg and overseas are convinced that Capetonian work practices would lead to quick unemployment in most other cities and countries.

I spent a signification portion of 2 months sending out my CV- mostly in Cape Town, very occasionally to London. Some emails I sent in November I have not had acknowledged, others have just responded (after 3 months) with: "Sorry for the late reply, I've been so busy." Busy? BUSY? If it took you 3 months to write 3 lines in acknowledgement, dude, you're not busy- you've just come out of a coma! Others reply enthusiastically, saying they'll be in touch soon. Whenever that may be...

 I'd begin to take it personally, if it weren't for the fact that people in other cities and countries are awake enough to give me reasoned and timely responses.

Even workmen (in a country with a 23.5% unemployment rate) are chilled about their response time, about when they will or will not turn up. It's ridiculous to BEG someone to come and fix your toilet (really).

It's so bad it's contagious. I had an interesting email in my inbox the other day, offering me a potential opportunity. My reaction?"Meh, I'll answer  that later..."

I've been try to find a reason for this inertia, this sloppiness, this relaxed attitude, this-well, frankly- rudeness in not getting back to people.

I have concluded that Cape Town, like Bermuda  has a triangle  However, in Cape Town's case it is a triangle where, rather than planes and people disappearing, emails vanish, deadlines disappear and the will to work, to do business simply dissipates.

Why? Well, if you met all your deadlines and answered all your emails, you'd run out of time to go to the beach, climb a mountain, eat some sushi, drink some wine and have a braai with friends.

It's because of the Cape Town Triangle that so many want to live here.


  1. I feel as though I am taking over your blog and for that I am sorry. But it so resonataes with me that I can't keep my fingers off the keyboard.
    What you say is something I have found to be so true. My friends who live in South Africa ( not just CT) refer to it as African Time.
    My first experience with this was the same day I had arrived in SA for the first time. That was in Jo'burg. Still in a trance from the long flight, my friend hustled me off to Pick N PAY. While I followed her around in a total haze we finally arrived at the cahier with a cart full of groceries. As the cashier was checking us out, she frequently stopped to converse with the woman who was packing our things. So the stops in the check out procedure were frequent. When we finally finished, I asked my friend why it didn't bother her when they stopped working to chat and we waited. She said that no it didn't bother her as they were working in African time.
    My patience was worn so very thin.
    Another example from Cape Town. I email friends in CT and replies may come sometime in the following month. Drives me crazy.
    I guess I need to change my attitude and I can see why things just don't get done in a hurry.
    Thanks for another great blog. I will try not to take over the comments next time, Diane

  2. This is so very true and funny!!! After living in London its quite a shock;) but then again when you think about it why spend your life running around like a headless chicken?!
    Ok I do admit that when I first lived there I nearly lost my patience quite a few times but my hubby kept telling me: remember where you are. You funnily enough get used to it and turn to African time yourself... I will be better prepared for the next move and will have funny stories for my friends.

  3. hi Yvonne,
    Or should I rather say czesc Iwona :)
    I've just found your blog and I'm loving it! I'm Polish, living in Ireland, married to a South African and seriously considering moving to Cape Town as soon as possible. It's wonderful to read about your experiences and so reassuring to see a fellow European (and a Pole :) enjoying life in SA so much :) take care and I'll definitely be back