Culture Smart! has updated their guide to South Africa and as part of their first ever blog tour, promoting updated and brand new titles, I was invited to take a sneak preview.
What is Culture Smart!?
The concept of the Culture Smart! book series is similar to traditional travel guides in that they cover the basics of geography, history, language, climate and so forth. However, rather than accommodation, restaurant and sightseeing listings, Culture Smart! focusses on culture, customs and traditions. This is for the traveller who wants to travel easily without offending local sensibilities.
What can I expect from Culture Smart! South Africa?
Culture Smart! South Africa is a handy handbag/man-bag sized volume with bite sized information providing a general feel for the country. Writer Isabella Morris has a fluid, easy style which makes dipping in and out of the book very straightforward and user friendly.
Despite having lived in South Africa for almost 5 years now, I learned a few interesting new things. I’d never heard of “smilies” (boiled sheep heads) or “walkie talkies” (chicken feet and heads), dishes you might encounter in townships.
I also came across things I would certainly have found useful in my first months in South Africa, rather than working them out by trial and error. Concepts such as Ubuntu and Fallism (often mentioned in the news, their meaning not immediately obvious to the uninitiated) are succinctly explained.
Tapping into the psyche of a country is difficult. Doubly so in a country as complex as South Africa with its numerous tribes and languages, each with their own culture and customs. Isabella Morris does a sterling job of broaching an astounding number of topics.
From the perspective of a seasoned traveller, one or two of the tips may seem blindingly obvious at first glance, (such as the advice about not being too trusting and friendly with complete strangers and keeping an eye on your valuables). That being said, for a novice traveller common-sense travel tips are likely very useful. Equally when you’re new in a country, with your senses overwhelmed on all sides, it’s easy to forget your common sense regardless of previous travel credentials.
Who should read this?
Inquisitive travellers and expats.
From an expat point of view, when you are moving to a country rather than going on holiday, customs and culture are far more relevant that hotel and restaurant listings. When relocating you’ve got plenty of time to figure out what to do and where to go and to get recommendations from friends as you settle in, but you need to hit the ground running in terms of cultural dos and don’ts – especially as you are more likely to be invited to a wedding or funeral, attend a business meeting and will need to make friends and deal with local bureaucracy. Topics such as the etiquette of tipping car guards and a few lines about taking on domestic staff although brief, are invaluable for any expat newbie in town.
Is the guide useful?
Yes it is. The Rainbow Nation of South Africa is a vastly complex melting pot which has to be nigh on impossible to distil into under 170 pages. Being a slim volume, there are naturally sections that leave you with further questions, but a book designed to give an overview cannot be expected to be encyclopaedic in content and questions are a good thing. If you want to know more – then the book has both informed you AND piqued your curiosity.
If you’re going to an all-inclusive resort for a week of boozing on the beach, this type of guide probably isn’t for you, but if you want a genuine insight into South Africa this is an excellent starting point. Culture Smart! South Africa is the amuse bouche giving you a taste of what to expect, it’s a morsel of biltong*, a nibble of babotie** and a sip of Cape wine.
Does Culture Smart! offer titles for other countries?
Absolutely! There are upwards of 100 country titles in the Culture Smart! range offering a refreshing twist on the traditional travel guide. Culture Smart! also offers a title called ‘Preparing for your move abroad’, which is undoubtedly of interest to first time expats.
Thank you to Culture Smart! for inviting me to take part in your first ever blog tour. Advanced Reader Copy provided by Culture Smart!, opinions are my own. Book cover image and Culture Smart! logo used with kind permission of Culture Smart!
*biltong is a strip of dried, cured meat, extremely popular in South Africa
**babotie is a delicious curried Cape Malay dish.