4 Cultural Differences Between South Africa and Europe

So, you finally booked your volunteer project and can’t wait to see what the other side of the world is all about. Before you have a culture shock when you arrive here, you need to understand that South Africa and Europe have quite a few cultural differences. The fact is, if you go unprepared, your first few days might be a bit challenging.

To prepare you we have outlined some of the major difference below.

1.Majority South Africans are extroverted

South African people are much more open and talkative towards people they don’t know. European people keep very much to themselves and expect people to respect their personal space, people in South Africa are the complete opposite. You can call them more outgoing. It’s not a weird thing for people to randomly approach you in the street or during your night out.  And don’t worry if they start asking you tons of questions, it’s just them being nice!  

walking the streets

2.A relaxed way of living

Life in South Africa is also way more relaxed. Most Europeans, especially those living in North and West Europe are used to living their lives in a rush. We work, come home, cook, go to our hobbies and usually do about a million things at the same time. ‘Time is money’, is what we learn at a young age and we live for this. We never take time out for self-reflection. In South Africa, time is money as well of course, but it’s not always as visible. Here people are more relaxed in the way they live their lives. They work at the office, come home, go to the beach or have a drink, and basically, they forget about their work. Of course, South Africans have their daily tasks like cooking and picking the kids up from school as well, but they take their time for that and themselves. You don’t see them running around all the time, doing a million things at the same time.

3.South African time

Their relaxed lifestyle goes hand in hand with the punctuality here. Or it doesn’t, because let’s be honest, South African people do things on their own time. Being late sometimes seems to be the norm here, and because of that the volunteers often refer to the time as ‘European time’ and ‘South African’ time. So, if someone’s coming in 20 minutes European time, they will be there in 20 minutes, if it is 20 minutes South African time, you will most likely be waiting a little longer.

watch in the clouds

4.Public transport

When first arriving in South Africa, you would think that there is no such thing as public transport, but it does in fact exist. There are things like taxi busses, busses that connect the bigger cities, and even trains. It’s just that these ways of transport are not used as often as they are in Europe, especially not by foreigners. Volunteers usually use Ubers to go anywhere they want to go or rent their own car. Contrary to Europe these options are not expensive at all and a safer way to travel.

public transport city

4.Safety first

The idea that it is very dangerous to travel in South Africa, is old and not true at all. Travelling in South Africa is perfectly safe, but there a few things you need to consider, that you don’t think of waking around a European country. Walking around with your phone in your hands or sticking out your back pocket is a no go. Just leave your phone at home if you don’t need it. Furthermore, you should not leave the house by yourself, especially at night time. Try to always go out in groups, just for your own safety! But, if you take some precautions, you will be all fine!

Although these are obviously not the only differences, knowing these will prepare you for the biggest cultural shocks. They will help you get ready for the experience of a lifetime!

See you in Africa!

FREE Volunteer Travel Guide

Get our Volunteer Travel Guide for absolutely FREE!

Volunteer Travel Guide Cover Pic

Send My FREE Guide!


Have any questions?

Let us call you and we can have a chat!

trust badge
volunteer project khaya
provincial visitor experience