It may sound strange, but I think as a South African, you're raised to be very thoughtful, conscious of your surroundings, and rational. This is something I've noticed in a lot of other South Africans too. The former probably stems from being raised in such a multicultural environment, where there's always something surprising to learn from someone about their views or lifestyle. People have such different ways of living and doing things in South Africa, and to pin down a collective "South African way" is incredibly difficult. It ensures you're raised always asking questions and getting insight from those around you. Conscious of your surroundings stems from the elephant in the room, being the threat of crime, which we must be suspicious of and prepared for. South Africans are very aware of who is walking behind them or approaching them, and what kind of situation they're finding themselves in. I think it's a good life skill and it's something I'm thankful for - it's saved me from a lot of potentially sticky situations abroad.
In terms of people's reactions to me being South African, the reactions were quite surprising and unexpected. This question is one I think about a lot and it's close to my heart. There is usually one of four reactions: 1. Total unfamiliarity; 2. Suspicion; 3. Affiliation; and 4. Probing for bad information. I'll address each one. First, being raised in South Africa, it feels like our country is a major world player, has a well-known history like Apartheid, and is involved in a lot of things globally - but the vast majority of people I've met know very little about it. Australia feels like a sister country to South Africans (so many of us move there), and I was surprised to find out how far off the radar we are for a lot of them. Some people don't even know our major cities, which I thought were important. This took me off-guard and continues to do so! Second, some nationalities (not naming names!) tend to become so suspicious when I tell them I'm from South Africa. At first they're really interested in me as a person, and then I tell them where I'm from, and they take a step back (sometimes literally!!). I find this reaction to be so strange. Third is affiliation, which is the nicest one to get. This is when someone gets excited about it and says that they either visited it before, have a family member or friend from there, or recall something like the World Cup. This is nice because they get so involved and excited about it, and it's always enjoyable sharing something mutual. The final one is probing for bad information, which I find come from about 1 in 7 people (that number just feels right). This is when people ask me to describe the crime in South Africa, talk about racial tension or any other bad things that the rest of the world might have heard about us. When I don't respond with what they want to hear (since I personally don't have many bad experiences to talk about in SA, if any?), they either stop listening or seem disappointed. For me, it's disappointing how co`mmon this actually is!! I think the general perception of South Africa is so incorrect to what it's actually like.