From South Africa to America

When arriving in the States fourteen years ago my plan was to be here for one year, and then head back home to Cape Town, South Africa. Three Kids, A wonderful wife (of ten years), the ‘White Picket Fence’ and fourteen years I am still here.

During this time there have been many highs, some lows and some very ‘funny’ conversations. In 2001 South Africa was an unknown entity in the states, and the majority of the people I met were shocked I was white. Today, if watching television South Africa will be mentioned a minimum of once during the week. South Africa is no longer unknown and the questions below would not be asked today.

  • Just like Lethal Weapon 2, people were continuously shocked that I was white
  • Was asked how I got to the states……with a follow up….by Boat?
  • During a ten- fifteen minute conversation was asked what language I was speaking. (mind you I was answering her questions and then she had follow up questions from my answers—she had miraculously learnt a new language and she did not know it)
  • What do you do with all the animals? (I used to come up with a lot of fun answers for this one)

The first piece of advice I was given after arriving was too talk slower and enunciate. South Africans tend to swallow their words and run their sentences together. After fourteen years I still sometimes need to remind myself too talk slower. If you were looking to give yourself advice in life and business today what would it be?

I have learnt many lessons living in the states. There is a lot of competition in America which makes it  extremely competitive. When applying for a job, bidding on a new contract, prospecting etc. you are always competing with multiple people/ businesses. This I believe is one of the reasons that America is a leader in many segments. If you do not present yourself well, do not have the expertise and are not competitive it is difficult to succeed. There are always many people/ businesses standing in the wings waiting to replace to you.

 A few lessons learnt:

  • Build up your credit as early as you can
  • Higher Education is extremely expensive- start that 529 Plan early
  • Everyone is very Politically Correct
  • Do not talk politics (very sensitive subject)
  • Enunciate
  • Your accent will be mistaken for English or Australian
  • A lot of job positions like you to have an MBA
  • Make internal connection within your company
  • Network outside of your organization
  • Your Major while studying does not need to be Finance to be in Banking
  • Carry two pieces of identification with you
  • Baseball is definitely not cricket AND Football is definitely not Football (soccer)
  • America has a very diverse demographic (thus I believe miscommunication happens frequently)
  • Make sure your message is heard correctly
  • Generally people are very friendly
  • “Just Now” is still the greatest South African saying (idiomatically used to mean soon, later, in a short while, or a short time ago)


AMERICA is still the land of opportunity.  If you are willing to work hard, listen and learn you are generally given a chance.

 List of South African Regionalisms:

 “My heart is in South Africa, through my mum. My mum being from here, me spending a lot of time here as well, I feel most connected to this part of the world.” Roger Federer