The grocery store serves as entry to Cape Town life

June 27, 2014

A trip to another country raises expectations of the exotic and unusual. I hold to this notion that the people in this country or that – China or Ireland or Trinidad or South Africa – will somehow be revealed to me as different.  And so my expectations of South Africa and its Mother City of Cape Town bordered on the unpredictable.I knew I would not find the stereotypical vision of Africa as a land of elephants and zebras.   I suspected I would find a cosmopolitan, fast-paced and modern city in Cape Town.

What I found was a place of warmth, friendliness and diversity.  And I found all that in my first-day, very un-touristy activity – a trip to the grocery store.  Rather than stay in  the city centre, our all-suite hotel was in Sea Point, situated a half-block from the ocean and promenade and a half-block from Main Road.  The three or four-block walk to the Pick n Pay sent me past Thai, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Nando’s (South Africa’s answer to Boston Market) restaurants, an adult store,  ice cream shop, pizza parlor, cellphone stores, laundromat, home goods and clothing shops.  That diversity was nothing compared to folks inside the Pick n Pay.

I understand some 11 languages are spoken in South Africa and just trying to catch the sounds of Xhosa or Afrikaans intrigued me.  Once again, this one-note Johnny of languages, the fluent speaker of only American English, felt a bit intimidated.  Several people spoke at least 3 languages: English, Afrikaan and Xhosa.  If you worked in tourism, that was the expectation whether cab drivers or front desk clerks.

That diversity of shoppers and languages spilled onto the grocery store shelves. Avocados are hugely popular (shorthand here is avos).  And in the meat section, ostrich.  Trust me, it looks nothing like chicken, but rather a beef roast.  Maybe it was the cut.   The rice aisle reflects the Malaysian, Indian, African and Chinese tastes, just to name a few.   Oh, and apparently banana bread is a big deal.  I think I just may live on it as a key breakfast staple.

But I can still find that American standby of Coke. I think I might like their Coke Light and Sprite Zero better than what I get bottled back home. So yes different, yet the same.






About janetkolodzy

Janet Kolodzy is a Professor of Journalism at Emerson College, Boston, MA. After a career as a print and broadcast journalist, she has been teaching about the practice of convergence journalism, which encourages the use of a mix of media storytelling tools to help journalists inform audiences.
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