I’m going to tell you a little story about Johannesburg. Partly informative and partly as a warning, cause life ain’t always easy here as a foreigner. I think I’ve lived here long enough to give my honest opinion about this city, and I would like to take this opportunity to make a few things very clear to other visitors. I mainly want to warn people that come to Jozi with certain expectations, when they are crazy enough to visit this city in the first place. Jeh, Africa ain’t for sissies and Joburg definitely ain’t.
Firstly, let’s talk about crime. People love talking about crime in South Africa and Johannesburg has been a specifically hot item. Tourist agencies and travel guides will tell you to avoid Joburg by all means, and rather spend some extra hours on a detour when Joburg is on your path. So I would like to state the following: you will be very, very disappointed when you do dare to visit Johannesburg and expect crime, as it is largely absent. I have lived here for 4 years and have not yet looked death in the eye. To make matters worse: I’ve had zero crime-related encounters thus far, none. No guns, no muggings, no harassments whatsoever. It is actually very likely you will leave this city without any cool stories to tell your friends at home. To illustrate: those many “I was shot in Joburg” T-shirts and posters often refer to photography, as all these people have actually never been shot. It is highly disappointing for some people.
A second issue I would like to warn tourists about: people in Joburg are extremely nice. They tend to have small conversations with strangers, help them out whenever needed, invite them for a drink at their table, or even open their doors to them. The strangest thing is that these Joburgers want nothing more from you than a nice chat, and will leave you alone afterwards. This is unheard of in many European cultures and might take some getting-used to. Joburgers also laugh a lot and make jokes that will make other people laugh. For strangers visiting this city it might be considered uncomfortable, because they are not used to such open and genuine human interactions.
Moreover, people that sympathize with racism and think South Africa is the place to be will be distraught when visiting Joburg. Joburg is actually very mixed and in most places people get along no matter what race, age or background they represent. It is even okay to be gay or transsexual. Joburg people seem to simply like being in the presence of other nice people, no matter how different they are. So please be aware of this.
Another thing I noticed about Joburgers is that they don’t care how you look or what you wear, which might be shocking to foreign visitors. They come all this way from fashionable Europe and no-one pays attention to their designer dress, which is not always appreciated. Because people don’t really focus on looks in Joburg, they tend to build more character. This can cause conflict, as many fashionable visitors from abroad have never worked on their character. So if you solely depend on your looks, Joburg might not be the place for you. I have also seen disappointed visitors that were told to never wear jeans, bags or jewellery in Joburg because it will attract crime. You will find out that all people in Joburg wear these items without any problems.
Then let’s move on to the aesthetics of Johannesburg. People often picture a large, dark city with high buildings and dirty streets. So if this is your thing, I’m gonna have to disappoint once more. Only few parts of Joburg are dark and dirty, and the part of the city that has high buildings is only very small. In fact, most of Joburg is hidden amongst trees, only has one-store buildings, and many parks and dams. Highly disappointing.
Even the traffic is different in this bad-ass city. Traffic rules do exist but are not considered to be there for our own safety. Traffic lights, referred to as robots, cheer up the streets in the same way as Christmas lights do, but are not to be taken too seriously. The same goes for indicator lights on cars. They look nice when flashed, but rarely serve the purpose of showing other drivers what direction one is heading. There are also many stop signs and roundabouts in this city, and they are used in whatever way suits the driver at the moment. When traffic rules are violated you don’t have to worry about police cars too much. Well, not more than usual that is. Because in Joburg, the police is your enemy even when you do nothing wrong. They always find something to fine you for, so you might as well give them some value for your money. I have occasionally created life threatening situations in traffic just to avoid an encounter with the police in a road-block further down the road. Pretty bad-ass.
Another thing I want to address about Joburg is that the weather is exceptionally nice. I come from the Netherlands where people bitch and moan about the weather all the time, and I felt uneasy with the lack of bad weather in Jozi when I moved here. I had nothing left to moan about. It’s never too hot and rarely too cold, and it’s sunny most of the time. Very annoying. To make matters worse: when it does storm it storms so bad that there is literally no time to complain about the weather. When roads are flooding, roofs are falling and bridges are collapsing, you just focus on making it home alive. And the next day it’s sunny and 30 degrees again, which makes it so inappropriate to moan about the weather the day before.
The last good advice I want to give to my fellow Joburg visitors is that there is no need to spend too much money here. People are often advised to only book the fanciest hotels, dine in restaurants with ultimate security, and to never walk around but rather stay in bullet-proof taxis. It’s not that fancy hotels aren’t nice, but so are cute guest houses of which we have many. And we have many lovely restaurants that sell the finest food for little money. And they even have outside tables, right on the street, surrounded by plants. Because Joburg has many nice plants. And although taxis are nice to get around with, you can even walk in Joburg; in fact we do it all the time! And we have bicycle lanes, and people actually cycle around too! And we have city parks where you can picnic without bringing armed protection. And there is a lot of street art too. There are even walls with the most stunning graffiti without a single drug dealer around. We also have many events with live music, food markets and performances with a zero-terrorism record.
So my conclusion: Joburg is pretty bad-ass and it takes some getting-used to, but once you do it’s a pretty damn good city.