Hulle is snaaks

Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
Trip End Oct 25, 2010

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Saturday, October 31, 2009

A thing or  two about  South Africans. Just some things I noticed and might have got wrong altogether. Simply not enough time to find out, but hopefully there will be another time.

First and foremost, I found them warm and friendly. Wherever you went, it was like walking into your local - ah, there you are, sit down, have a drink. Total strangers, as if they were expecting you and happy to see you.
The first question would be: 'Where are you from?,'  followed by: 'How long will you be here, where are you staying and where are you going to next?'
Genuinely interested, and somehow rejoicing in any good fortune they felt had fallen your way, as you tried to explain life in Europe. That was surprising, in many cases it would have been perfectly natural to feel life was not all that fair. Some people, old people, had never even travelled outside their own town. A dear lady told me her dream was to visit Johannesburg before she died.
To me it was just around the corner.........

The black women could seem bossy, especially when they were at work. They'd just look at you and you felt like a child, only to burst out laughing once they'd made their point.
The mamas, I've seen them like that with their kids - they made me feel safe somehow.
Solid, strong women with a lot of common sense and good humour.
The ma-thing was funny too. The ladies dancing and singing at Lesotho wore t-shirts with names beginning with ma followed by the name of their first daughter. They asked me the name of mine and so I became Marose.
I acquired a number of these names along the way, like Mafreespirit and Masissy (sister or young, not wimp!). A playful way of showing affection, a very nice way too.

Another thing that struck me was the total lack of airs and graces. I mistook this for impoliteness, but that is not the same thing.
Where I come from we step aside so we wont bump into each other on the streets. In a supermarket, we calculate our steps and slowdown or speed up to avoid arriving at the cashier at the same time. We sense what the other will do, anticipate. Without even thinking  - I suppose we are conditioned.
Men and boys show some gallantry towards women, at least in public; it helps pave the way - seems to work.
Mind you, I wasn't really aware of this until South Africa.
I thought people would walk right through me there, but they smiled as they approached; standing in line at a buffet the man beside you has no qualms taking his food first, but he grabs your arm and says: 'enjoy!'. The bartender ignores you while fiddling with his cell phone, then turns to greet you like you've just made his day. A taxi driver wont open his door for you, but he'll not only see you home, he'll wait till he's seen you're safely inside.
Please, thank you and sorry, words that make the world go round, are not used liberally. But smiles and hugs, humour and good will are readily available. You've just got to get it.
'Different people, different strokes,' as a friend of mine will say. But then he is a South African.

I loved to hear the talk. A certain way of speaking English; quaint and modern, some Dutch thrown in and often ending with a lilting and to me not always logical: 'isit.'
Afrikaans to a Dutch speaking person is like staring at a distorting mirror: familiar but funny and twisted. So my interpretation of Die Burger articles kept my guide in stitches.
Then there's Zulu and the clicking noises, couldn't understand a word but totally fascinated anyway. The children I was with were supposed to speak English but constantly switched to Zulu. They'd try to teach me, rolling their eyes and laughing at my pronunciation.
Just wait till I find a Zulu language course here - I might surprise them yet!

South Africans walk a lot. I have never seen anything like it. No matter what time of day, early morning, late at night, there are always people on the move. Solitary, or with a child or two, walking, walking. At a slow and steady pace, right along the highway too, no pavement, cars rushing by and no obvious destination. Many a time I have asked the driver: 'Where are they going to? How far must they walk?' 'Oh, here and there, who knows,' would be the answer. Sometimes a walker would hold out some rand notes, languidly waving them at the vehicles but looking straight ahead. I suppose they don't really expect anyone to stop and if someone does, he is there for that purpose: to stuff as many as possible into his bashed-up van.
Transportation - without a car or money for a cab, your chances are slim. See how you get there - never mind getting there on time.

Ah, now there's a subject. African time. That's an enigma. Of course, the above explains a little. You set a date, a time, but nobody expects anybody to actually be there at that particular hour.
Coming from Europe, where being on time means showing respect, care, discipline - not to mention money, where your job, relationships, your very life, revolve around time, this can take a bit of getting used to.
More often than I care to remember I have waited for hours on end, clutching my handbag, worried sick about what terrible disaster must be keeping people from showing up, only to be met by a totally relaxed bunch, no excuses, no apologies, no explanation.
Just big smiles: 'We're here, isit?'
The sweet sweet bonus is that, once you get over the bother, you can let yourself slip into the African-time comfort zone too. Easy does it - try it sometime.
A number of people have tried to explain the difference between: 'just now' and 'now now.'
Always laughing when they did. Apparently there's a significant distinction between the two but in the end I suspected they were having me on. To me both mean 'don't hold your breath.'
Fair enough, I suppose, just as long as you know.

I can happily say the South Africans I came across seemed easy-going with a ready sense of humour - though my puns were lost on them, resulting in confusion and blank looks.
I never found out why, however they were often amused when I didn't intend to be funny, so you could say that made up for it.

As I said, just some things I noticed, things I liked, things that puzzled me.
Things that make me want to go back and find out more.

(Nice word 'snaaks', but not soon found in any dictionary.)

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