The Name’s Neethling

It’s awesome to be in a country where loads of people recognize your last name 🙂 If my last name says anything about me, it’s that I am Afrikaans.

My parents have lived in the USA for over 30 years, and I was born and raised there, but the fact is that I have Afrikaner heritage. My parents were raised and educated here; my extended family lives here; my one claim-to-fame is rooted in South Africa (Abraham Izak Perold). Being here in the motherland where my parents spent their lives up until they were about my age, I’m growing to understand a few things about how they work and operate. Here are a few of my thoughts about things I’ve always noticed to be unique about my family that appear fairly normal here. Keep in mind, these are just observations.

Walking visitors out to their car

My parents love to host parties, and I’ve always noticed since I was young that my dad not only walks people to the door when they leave, but he walks them to their car. It’s very hospitable of him, but I always thought, “Isn’t it enough to just walk them to the door, give a hug and say goodbye, and then lock it behind them? What’s the point of going out to the car?” I honestly haven’t met many Americans who walk you to your car when you leave their house. My dad is very hospitable, and it’s funny to find something here that somewhat parallels this “habit” of hospitality. People here walk you to your car when you leave their house, giving you a nice long goodbye, and that’s because most homes have a gate around them. You simply can’t get out without someone letting you out. So, naturally, you can’t just leave people at the door and call it good. This all being said, I will definitely not discount the wonderful act of hospitality in seeing someone off and giving them a nice wave goodbye.

Taking people under your wing

This one could be said about many people I’ve met all over the world, but I’ve personally experienced it a lot since arriving here. My parents have cultivated a culture that invites people in as family. We’ve had numerous friends (long-time or just yesterday friends) spend holidays with us. It’s always been the norm to invite people you just met over for a braai. Now that I’m here, it seems everyone wants to take me under their wing. While none of my family lives in the Province I’m in, anyone they know has been beckoned to take care of me. People I hardly know have put me in touch with other people I don’t know to make sure that I will be safe and happy here. There’s some deep level of caring for others ingrained in the people my parents know here, and it’s magnificent. And it’s not just something you feel from them, but it’s about action. You see someone with a need, and you address it however you can. And here I am, a person with a need for direction and friends, and I’m telling you, these people I’m around are people of action, just like my parents. One example: I bought a car for my time here, but our friends did all the work to find the perfect car for me and then drove it 6 hours in traffic to deliver it to me. I’ll call them family!

Job creation

Let me start this one off by saying that the unemployment rate in SA is 26.4%. As a result, job-creation is a largely talked-about thing, and you’ll often find a few people doing a job one person could do, simply to provide jobs. One thing that is pretty different here in SA than in the States is that it’s common for people to have maids who clean their homes daily or weekly. I think for a lot of us from the US, this type of setup is uncomfortable, possibly due to our country’s history or maybe our self-sufficient, individualist culture.  Why should someone else do for me something I am fully capable of doing for myself? Well, for most of the people I’ve chatted to about it, it’s one way of providing a job for someone who would otherwise not have one. There are definitely systemic things that need to be addressed, such as age-old education systems and the need for more high-paying jobs, but what about NOW, when things haven’t yet progressed and changed? I’m not yet informed enough to debate or discuss this any more than that, but I do want to say that this aspect of the South African way of life has illuminated to me a characteristic my mom has. She has often employed people for a variety of tasks. For example, she once employed my friend to create a library of all of her recipes from the recipe books on the computer. My mom could’ve done that, but she rather decided to support someone by giving them a bit of employment. It’s all about context. My mom grew up in a context where this was the norm, and in that context, it made some sense. I’m very happy gaining more understanding of where my mom’s coming from and being able to celebrate where it comes from!

As I spend time here, I am so excited to learn more about my family heritage. I am learning it’s so vital to keep your mind, ears, and eyes open. Be aware of the things that are different and the things that make you tick, and figure out why. Find out why they make you tick and why others aren’t ticked by them. Maybe you’re missing something, or maybe they are. But either way, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow in understanding and wisdom.


This me in a museum next to a torch that was carried throughout South Africa. My grandmother carried it part of the way - family history!
This me at the Voortrekker Monument next to a torch that was carried throughout South Africa. My grandmother carried it part of the way – family history!

One thought on “The Name’s Neethling

  1. Yes, Jeanette! You have hit the nail squarely on the head with this one. And fulmarks for you observation skills about your parents.

    Yes, many people will also recognise yout surname, being that of one of South Africa’s famous swimmers, Ryk Neethling. Although, not being family of yours, or even related to you, he is to some extent related to my kids, by way of their mother, Felicity.

    You have also hit the mark about the employment story. I know for a fact that my our own family, ie me, felicity and kids, are of the same attitude in that respect. You will let someone in need do something for you and pay them a wage for doing so, in order that they can keep their selfrespect, and not seen as begging.

    I am looking forward to your next edition!

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