Sunday 22 April 2012

It takes a lot of patience to live in South Africa

5 days  after arriving in South Africa. I did my first school run. I decided to take the children to a mall for their tea as we were living in a small apartment and I'd been indoors all day.
We selected one of many restaurants and placed an order.

A white man in his 60's sat down, clapped his hands loudly and yelled at the black waiter 'get me a cold drink, now' My 11yo exclaimed 'how rude'

Unfortunately, this is all too common. Last night hubby asked the waitress to close the door, it was a bit chilly. There were customers outside and the waiters and waitresses were back and forth with trays, it was difficult to keep the door closed. Just as we were leaving a white woman in her 50's screeched at a black waitress whilst clicking her fingers 'I said shut that freaking door, how many times do I have to tell you' I was angry, I made to say something to this woman, but decided not to as I didn't want a scene. I followed the waitress, told her I'd heard what had been said and how and would support her in a complaint, the white manager was appalled, told her to go on a break and as we left her approached the woman at the table.

Now you may be wondering why I've used the words black and white, male and female...does it really matter what colour of skin or sex someone is? It shouldn't really, but here it does, especially when the black person is a worker, living in a township and lacking in education.

Is that my opinion? No, its an observation and all too common. But I understand it, I'm just not ride, nasty or aggressive to those that come from a different back ground to me, be they white, black, speak a foreign language or have missed out on an education.

You see the main language spoken here, the one the government in 1976 tried to enforce the blacks to speak, to make life easier for the whites, that sparked the Soweto uprising is Afrikaans. My gardener and the guy who cleans the pool are black, they speak to me in Afrikaans, because I'm white, because they assume I speak the language, but its not even their language, their are 10 other official languages in South Africa, they also speak my language, English. I don't speak any other languages apart from a little conversational French.

But I don't think its the language that causes a problem, I'm not even sure it's the education divide, it's the culture. How can someone who lives 100's miles from their family, in what can only be described as a home made tin hut, sometimes without electric and water, a dirt floor, no windows and a roof that leaks when it rains, have anything in common with you? Standards and values are different, not wrong, just different.

A few times I've found myself getting wound up, trying to explain myself, to communicate my needs. It is annoying, I do get frustrated, but I've seen others scream and shout, where does it get them? No where. I see the workers shut down, walk away, shrug their shoulders.

I thought it was bad manners when I heard white people asking a black person to repeat back to them what they'd just asked them to do. I understand now why that happens.

Yesterday, I asked the black man at the garage to check my air in my tyres, I told him 227KPa. I tipped him and started the long drive home. At 120kms I hit a pot hole, I lost the back end of the car, fortunatly there was no one else around as I regained control of my vehicle. I stopped at the next garage, assumed I had a puncture. I asked the guy to check my tyres and tell me what the pressure was, he informed me out was 22PSI all round. I'd been misheard, I'd not checked, it should have been 33PSI. He'd heard 22 even he would've known that was too low unless I was driving on sand, but he did what I had asked, he didn't question me, they don't...there's too many memories of aparthid here.

That could've been a costly mistake, but it was my mistake for not checking I'd been understood.


  1. I think that regardless of colour, race, creed, religion, education or anything, you should treat people how you expect to be treated, and hope that they reciprocate. If they don't then they are at fault not you!

    The mistake over the tyre pressures was a simple and easily made one - and next time you could take the approach of asking for what you want, and then when the job is done, clarify what the pressure is - that way you don't make yourself sound like one of those loud and demanding individuals that treat anyone different to themselves like they are beneath them, and can insure that you have gotten the job done as you requested!

    Lou :-)

    PS.My husband says I spend way too much time being way too nice to absolutely everyone I come into contact with, so maybe my approach is way off!

    1. Because of the conditions of the roads and the fact i do alot of off roading, i get my tyres checked weekly for pressure, this was the first time this happened. My mistake was two fold...1) to assume that as it's been ok in the past it would be ok now and 2) not to have asked for clarification.
      I'm British, I'm polite, it takes a lot to get the balance right between shouting and getting clarification. the trouble is half the time, they nod and smile and if they dont understand you, usually just walk off.