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South Africans in Germany

Home » Thinking About Leaving? Battling with the decision? … rebuttal

Thinking About Leaving? Battling with the decision? … rebuttal

Preface

Written by Wayne Holmes

There are millions of people out there who, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still believe that being vaccinated for Polio will make you infertile or is a US government ploy to control you. Such misinformation found its way to the public via the internet and the result is that millions of children tragically die each year due to this easily preventable disease.

 A fellow South African in Germany shared this article on our Facebook group last week. For me, it was a difficult read because most, if not all of the information presented is subjective. To me it seems, the article is presented in such a way as to discourage people from considering emigrating to Europe.

I moved to Germany almost thirteen years ago and I think this qualifies me to rebut some of the statements the author made. In addition, I have travelled extensively in Europe; Africa and the Middle East and have been privileged to observe how the average working class person lives in most of the countries I’ve been to – including France and Sweden.

To validate facts, I enlisted help from work colleagues who are based in Stockholm and Paris. To support my responses, wherever possible I’ve added citations with a list of references at the end of this article – all of these are numbered and come from reliable sources.

 

Excerpts from the author’s post are included below in italics. The original post can be found here.

To put things into perspective, sagoodnews.co.za is a news website that highlights the positive developments in South Africa.

Looking at the first paragraph one can only conclude that the author is one of the privileged few in South Africa who, not only has a good income, but also can afford to take regular overseas holidays and then spend hours writing about their experiences.  

 Let’s have a look.


– And my word, did it ruk me right in about 14 seconds.

This is where the author makes her first mistake. How can you come to a conclusion about three very different countries in fourteen seconds? That’s like watching the first 14 seconds of Star Wars and wondering why everyone makes a big deal about a guy living in the desert living with his Aunt and Uncle.

 –  the schools in many parts of Europe are struggling to cope with the massive influx of foreign children from war-torn countries who don’t speak the language and are traumatised. Teachers and school staff are trying their best to integrate them, but while they do this, local children – inevitably – get the short straw.

 Refugee children account for 4,14% of the population in Germany under the age of 18 (1) (2). Some refugees tend to congregate in larger cities, where there are resources to help them; work opportunities for their parents; a place to stay and ideally others from the same cultural background (3). It’s kind of like all the South Africans who ended up in Perth.

My son was six years old when he arrived. Because he spoke no German and because we wanted him to attend a regular school, he was put into a special class for non-German-speaking children. There, he learnt the language and within four months was proficient enough to start first grade (4). My understanding is that there is a similar programme in the Swedish schooling system, which achieves the same outcome. (5) (6) (7)

Your teenage children would experience the same difficulties with learning a new language and writing system if they went to school in Korea where they only speak Korean. It’s easier for native English speakers to learn other Germanic languages compared to Semitic languages. (8) It’s the other way around for speakers of Arabic. (9)

– A friend’s 8-year-old still couldn’t read.

That would not be allowed to happen in Germany. Their child would be referred to a Förderschule where they are better equipped to teach children with learning difficulties. (8) (9)

  -Some schools in downtown Malmö (southern Sweden) have classes where the learners are 100% foreign, usually Arabic. Swedish families don’t want to send their kids there because none of the kids speak Swedish.

I could not find any verifiable information to support that assertion. Either she’s making this up or socializing with the wrong people. If Swedes don’t want to send their children to particular schools because of the ethnic makeup there, it shows that they are prejudiced against people whose home language is Arabic. Not sending little Lars or Anna to a certain school only worsens the outlook for all children – Swede or not – because it isolates both from other cultures. 

Consider this: If hypothetically the lingua franca of South Africa was Arabic, and we all had a darker complexion, would the author still feel the same way about her friend’s viewpoint?

My children’s friends were born in – or have parents who are from – South Africa; the UK; Finland; Kosovo; Croatia; Turkey and Syria. Having this exposure to distinctly different cultures has made them better human beings in many regards – something that would have been impossible has they grown up in South Africa.

The truth is that, while there has been an influx of refugees from war-torn countries, schools in Germany certainly aren’t struggling to cope (12). Schools in Sweden seem to be doing okay too. (7)

School attendance is compulsory for children under the age of fifteen in Germany – this includes children who have refugee status. (10)

Pupils go to school in a modern building with electricity; laboratories; a gym; running water and toilets. The standard is as good as, if not better than, private education in South Africa.

If either of my children decide to study further at University, there’s no need for a money tree; student loan or bursary. Like school, university education here is free and not the reserve of a privileged few. (5) (13) (14) (15).  Please tell me how that is worse than South Africa?

-The healthcare systems are overburdened and no longer working very well.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare system in all countries was significantly overburdened. Prior to this, there were no significant problems in Germany. It also depends on what you define as working well. (16) (17) (18) (19)

I checked with my dentist and doctor today and can get an appointment with both before the end of next week if it’s nothing urgent. I live in a small village, more or less the same size as Hermanus.

My daughter broke her arm once (hairline fracture).  We had to go to a specialist hospital and wait a few hours because she was not in pain and the injury wasn’t life threatening (6). I don’t see how this is different from private health insurance experience in South Africa.

-Friends in Sweden (who pay a premium in tax) are having to take out private medical insurance at huge expense because you wait so long to see a doctor, even longer to see a specialist and years to get surgery.

 If the statutory health insurance in Sweden was so bad how come only 6,5% of the population are on it? (17) Sweden has its own, well-known, healthcare issues that are unique to them and not relevant to my article. If someone is taking private medical insurance in Europe, they are probably doing so to get special treatment. (17) For example, Victoria Bernadotte probably has private medical insurance so she doesn’t have to sit (and get stared at) in the local doctor’s waiting room like everyone else.

In Germany, if you earn above €64.350 per year, you have the option of switching to private medical insurance. Some specialist clinics and doctors will only see patients who are on private medical insurance. Waiting times at these exclusive facilities is short because they only see a small amount of people and charge you (your insurer) a premium for this privilege (7).

In Germany, the majority of people who earn more than the €64.350 threshold prefer to stay with their statutory health insurance since its cheaper and the service is not bad after all (8) (23)

You see, the primary goal of South African private medical insurers and hospital owners is to make money. (24) (25) (26) If you cannot afford private medical care, you have to take your chances at one of the nice state hospitals (9) (24).

-Trains are overfilled, late or don’t run at all because staff were laid off during Covid and have not been re-hired.

If you came to Germany in June-September 2022, overfilled would be a correct assessment (10). This is because Deutsche Bahn – one of the rail operators – had a special offer that allowed people to travel anywhere in the country on all regional public transport for €9 per month (11). Many people, who would ordinarily not travel by train, took advantage of this offer and explored the country.

Not one Deutsche Bahn employee was made redundant because of the COVID-19 pandemic (30). What might have happened, is that some employees would have been put onto a furlough scheme whereby they would receive less pay but would work fewer hours. For many people, this was not tolerable and so they found other jobs, like for example in logistics, where there was a home-shopping boom.

Now that trains and planes are running at full capacity, employers are having a hard time finding people to fill those vacancies. This is not unique to Europe or the Transportation sector (31).  I’m sure that the overloaded trains in Europe are nothing in comparison to the overloaded trains in South Africa

– You are not moving to South Africa without the crime, you are moving to Germany with German weather and German traditions and German rules and German Germanness.

Well, you can’t have everything. Europe, purely by its position on the globe, gets cold in winter. However, German homes and buildings are well insulated and heated. German-made winter clothes are proper, not like the Chinese junk you get in South Africa. In fact, I suffered more with the cold in Johannesburg than I have in Germany. 

In any case, if you went to Australia, you would have to contend with Australian weather; Australian traditions; Australian rules and Australian Australianess. Or, if you went to live in the UK, you would have to contend with the English weather; English traditions; English rules and English Britishness.

  -Culture shock is real and it’s lonely AF always being the odd one out.

 If you move to any country with the aim of being successful and happy, it will certainly happen. If you arrive and want to have things exactly the way they were in South Africa, then you are bound to be unhappy.

In South Africa, we hardly spoke to our neighbours. Here in Germany, while we’re certainly not bosom buddies with all our neighbours, we are all on first name basis and everybody in the village knows (and are thrilled) about the South Africans that have recently moved in.

If you thrive on having social contact and desperately need to make friends; join a sports club; sign up for a language course or join a South Africans in … Facebook group to find fellow Saffers who also made the move and can help you work through some of that angst.  When living in a non-Anglophone; non-Commonwealth country, you should celebrate your uniqueness. Germans are particularly inquisitive when I tell them I’m from South Africa. I’ve struck up long and thought-provoking conversations with strangers because of this and because of my frame of mind.

-Never getting the joke.

 Let me introduce you to Martina Hill.

  -And I don’t mean to be rude but my goodness, I have visited a few times and not eaten one single good meal in that country.

Well, I (or anyone else) could come to Cape Town, only eat at the Surfside Restaurant in the Strand; Marimba in the city centre then Kaprinos and come to the exact same conclusion. While German cuisine (32) is not for everyone, the variety and quality of food in larger German cities is, in my opinion, way better than any city in South Africa. Where, for example, can you get traditional South African food like Ouma used to make? It’s all just the usual steak and slop at Spur wherever you go.

-Even the eisbein is shocking. They boil it, for the love of.

Eisbein (or Schweinshaxe) is a meat dish made from the lower leg of pork. The preparation varies by region but there is essentially two main variants: Eisbein – mostly served in northern Germany and parts of Poland – is pickled then boiled before serving. Schweinshaxe – served in the south; Austria and Czechia – is neither boiled nor pickled, but instead slow-grilled so that the rind becomes crispy and the meat tender. The latter variant is often served with Sauerkraut or potato salad (12).

-They do it much better at The Dros in Stellenbosch for a fraction of the price.

Dros seem to have made a mistake on their menu: they’ve called it Eisbein but are in fact serving Schweinshaxe. Perhaps the author should do some research and ask for the right thing next time. I will get onto the fraction of the price statement further on.

-Also, Paris. We were just there. We stayed in a very fashionable, hellishly expensive apartment in Montmartre. To call it compact would be an understatement. The whole thing was about 25 square meters in diameter.

 You cannot measure the diameter of a circle in square meters, so I’m assuming that statement is a superlative.  If you wanted to rent an apartment on Cape Town’s Clifton or Waterfront, it’d also be hellishly expensive. The 18th addriosment in Paris was laid out a long time ago for a very different group of people with different needs. As a result, the streets are narrow and the apartments are small with no lifts or place to park your car. You would find the same in most ancient European cities (13).

If you want to live in Paris, you have to expect to pay Parisian prices. If you find a job in Paris, more than likely, your employer will pay you enough so that you can easily afford an apartment in Paris.

-At 2am on a Monday morning the noise from the street made it impossible to sleep.

 In Hillbrow at 2am in the morning, you’re awoken by the sound of gunfire and domestic appliances hitting the pavement below.

  -It was hot (and due to get much hotter in the ensuing months), but if you opened a window you got eaten alive by mosquitoes.

 When I lived in Johannesburg and Durban, we also used to get eaten alive by mosquitoes and other, more dangerous animals.

  -Paris is every version of magical; the entire city is like a movie set, but it’s noisy and busy and the food is expensive AF – and, frankly, underwhelming. You get better French food on Bree Street and at my friend, Marlene’s, house. I love Paris. But we live well here. And honestly, the croissants taste the same as anywhere.

I refer once more to my Surfside; Marimba and Kaprinos analogy. If you only go to crappy French restaurants, you’ll only get to eat crappy food. I’m sure the author can list several other crappy restaurants in Cape Town.

Here, you go to Gallow’s Hill to renew your driver’s license and people say salaam and molo, sisi. You might wait a bit, but the people in the queue will be friendly and chatty and share their granny’s chicken masala recipe with you.

I’ve had similar experiences in Germany whilst queuing for other things. However, I’ve never had to renew my German drivers licence (there is no expiry date) and if I ever had to get a replacement, I would not have to bribe anyone to get it done; all the computers would be online and the replacement would come in the post next week. 

 -Yes, there is good public transport. You’ll wait for your bus in a wet little cubicle with smokers, your nice shoes in a bag because you’ll have to walk a way from the bus stop to your destination.

 Can’t walk around the pedestrian zone in the Jimmy Choo’s darling, those paving stones are murderous.  Out of necessity, South Africans have become like the Americans: they drive everywhere. It was not always like this but out of fear for their personal safety, they go by car everywhere. They simply have no choice anymore.

  -It won’t be cheap. You’ll have at least one stop on the way where you will repeat the process. It will take you a decade to get there. In the end you just stop going out. Or, we did, especially when we had young kids. It’s just too hard.

 For almost six months after arriving, we (wife plus two small children) got by okay without a car. In that time, we made several long distance trips to all the tourist destinations in our region, including a trip to Berlin with a stopover in Wolfsburg. We lived in a town the size of Worcester some distance away from big cities.

-Here, an Uber on a Saturday night costs you R30.

Yes, if you do not travel more than 3km (13). In Germany; if it’s not too far, we walk or ride a bicycle, it’s safe; healthy and helps reduce your carbon footprint. Even though we might go by car, we at least have choices – something that’s unthinkable in South Africa. 

 – Or you drive.

My wife and I both have cars but there is good public transport so we have a choice. In South Africa, if you have no car, you’re screwed. (12) (13)

 – Or you go to the Labia cinema on a Sunday night with your mom who has a dicky knee and can’t walk far but there’s nowhere close to the park so you tell the parking attendant of your situation and three seconds later he’s whipped a couple of cones out the way and is directing you to park on the pavement meters away from your show.

In Germany you would be allowed to park your car in either a handicapped; children’s or women’s parking place right in front of the door. 

In any case, there are very few shopping malls here, so the cinema is usually on the street, which means you could even drop your mom off in front of the place then park your car – if you choose to go there by car.

– And expensive things are affordable.

I finished Matric in 1991 but if I remember correctly, this sentence is known as an oxymoron?

– A bottle of nice wine costs the same as a glass of shit wine in Sweden. Restaurant food is better and incomparably cheaper. Things in SA are easy and accessible in a way they are just not in Europe (or Australia or the States).

A 750ml bottle of Nederberg Cabernet Sauvignon costs R169 at Makro. The same bottle costs 129Kr at Systembolaget. The average employed South African earns around R32.800 per month. The average Swede earns 39.900kr.

However, the official unemployment rate in South Africa is 32% whereas in Sweden its 8,5%, so in reality, the average South African earns much less – when you group the unemployed and underemployed, the average South African earns a mere R7.800 per month.

I’m sure the author does not know this but the Swedish government has a monopoly on all sales of alcohol. This means that in order to buy anything other than beer, you have to go to one of their Systembolagets. Because of this, and because of taxation, booze is artificially more expensive there than many other European countries.

I’ve had some dreadful South African wine which was more expensive than a very excellent Primitivo.

None the less, based on the above wage and cost data, the average Swede can splash out and afford to buy 346 bottles of Nederberg per month whereas the poor South African will have to be satisfied with only 96 –  if there’s money for such luxuries at all.

For comparison, the same bottle of Nederberg Cabernet Sauvignon goes for €6,90 at Lidl Germany. The average German earns €3.975 per month and so we can afford 576 bottles of this famed South African plonk.

For a South African who calculates everything in Rand, of course everything here will be expensive. But, remember that the average German earns the equivalent of R66.860.

A steak will cost more in Europe because we don’t have vast expanses of veld to raise cattle on. Lamb will also be expensive because there’s no Karoo down the road. Also, there’s no such thing as cheap labour like in South Africa. So next time you’re having that ribeye at the Dros, think about all those underpaid workers who’ve toiled to prepare your nice meal.

In fact, for the vast majority of South Africans, eating a R170 Eisbein at the Dros in Stellenbosch is something they can only dream of.

– Things in SA are easy and accessible in a way they are just not in Europe (or Australia or the States).

I really don’t understand what the author means by that. I suppose if you live in a nice house; drive a nice car; have a domestic servant and a gardener, things could be easy and accessible. You must certainly feel special since you are one of the very few in the country who can tick all those boxes.

The decision to leave the country of your birth is a very personal one: it must be based on facts and not on the opinions of some tourist. Like many countries in Europe, Germany is not the land of milk and honey but with the right mental attitude, you can have a far better quality of life while not sacrificing too much. That is true for any country you choose to emigrate to.

References

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