Category Archives: South Africa

Not Stop Signs

Ok. I was born and raised in the “third world”. I was also raised to respect the rules of the road.

Numerous stints in Germany, France and other European countries have entrenched this way-of-life: if everyone follows the rules, no-one gets hurt. Since moving to the US, I have had this opinion strengthened immeasurably.

But this is not so in the third, or developing, world. I have yet to travel to any country not in the G8 where the word “stop”, written (mostly) in white on a red octagonal sign, has absolutely any visible meaning (clearly no enforceable meaning either).

It’s almost like it is offensive to stop. Something to be derided. It makes my life very distressing. If the car drivers have the right to ignore the stop at a pedestrian crossing, then is my right to cross the road lower? Will they stop? But what’s even more amazing is how the cars don’t seem to be in a constant fair-ground bumper car parade.

My ranking order for the worst nations at car driver rule following (from worst to best): Indian sub-continent drivers, South Africa, rest of Africa, China, Brazil, USA, Europe. (Note: South African drivers are probably the most dangerous drivers in the world as the rules they break are done with stupidity, arrogance and agression, but there are still some rules that are followed)

Driving in India can best be described as disorganised pandemonium, with a small touch of lucky telepathy. It seems that when approaching an intersection, it is necessary to tune into the minds of all other approachers and “feel” the rush they’re in. If they’re in more of a rush than I am, slow down and let them through. If not, I get right of way. And the worst thing is that it works.

To the American Businessman

To most American businessmen:

Thanks for destroying the assumption that all American visitors are arrogant, overbearing, loud mouths who travel the globe irritating the locals.

Most American business people, in my experience, are deferential in another country and realise they are the guests.

Thanks for this.

Oh yes, and to the traditional American tourist – shut up. Forcing your hosts to listen to your screaming between your group is not the way to garner any admiration or respect. Speak at the same level as your hosts (you’ll still be noticed, don’t worry).

PS: South Africans are to Africa what American’s are to the world. South Africans are arrogant, overbearing, loud and demanding when tourist-ing in Africa. Must be the “biggest economy in Africa” thinking that makes us think we are simply superior to those idiots in other African countries. Perhaps the “biggest economy on Earth” has a similar effect on American tourists.

The Whiskey Incident

I’ve told this story so many times I’m afraid I’m starting to embelish a little, so I want to write it down with the most accurate level of detail I can so that it can become a sort of “Calibration Standard” for me. Like a measuring tape, of sorts.

You see, the Queen Bee and I decided that South Africa was on a down-hill spiral of note and that for the sake of our two young children, it was imperative that we move to a country that is not proud of its title of “Rape Capital of the World”. There are a couple of other titles South Africa has, but they’re not absolute and so the government seems to be particularly proud (based on their willingness to not do something about the problem) of this title. The others are things like “Almost the Murder Capital of the World”, “Almost the Most Corrupt Country in Africa” (which is really quite an achievement), “Possibly the Most Racist Government in BRICS”. These titles just don’t have the finality, the power, of “Capital of the World”.

So we applied for Australian residency. We waited, and waited. It seemed nothing was happening. So we applied for New Zealand residency, and got it. In order to activate it, I needed to fly there before a certain date and get the visa stamped.

While I was searching for flights, I found a super-cheap fare that required me to leave on a Thursday afternoon, fly Johannesburg-Sydney, Sydney to Auckland, then spend two evenings there and then fly Auckland-Sydney and Sydney-Johannesburg. That was the plan.

On the Wednesday before my departure, we were in a management meeting and it was decided that I would need to go to Perth within a month. I suggested that we re-arrange my trip (for the following day) to just allow me to stop in Perth instead of Sydney on the way home. So said, so done. The itinerary was now:

Thu: depart Johannesburg 16:00
Fri: arrive Sydney, wait 3 hours, depart for Auckland, arrival at 23:50
Sat: depart Auckland 22:00, arrive Sydney. Depart Sydney for Melbourne, then onto Perth, arriving at 18:00.
Sun: Perth
Mon: morning meeting, depart Perth for Johannesburg at 16:00
Tue: arrive Johannesburg 06:00, go to work.

5 days, 6 flights. Flying time of about 36 hours.

Eventually on the Monday evening, after the meeting, I was so fucked I could almost not speak. I won’t be surprised if there was a small stream of drool coming out of both corners of my mouth. How I navigated to my seat I don’t know, but here I was, visa stamped and business meeting complete. A success. Triumphant. I noticed that the flight was particularly full, but I was fortunate to have the window seat, right at the front of economy = first for drinks, closest to the bathroom, able to fart with impunity.

In those days one could still charm the air-hostess for “more than the normal” drinks. When the cart came around, I asked very nicely if I could swap the ice in the glass for more whiskey. A fair trade I thought. The hostess obliged and gave me 4 of the little bottles – I think that’s like 8 tots, or 200ml. Sleep I was going to on this flight.

Sometimes when I nod off, I wake with a start. It’s usually accompanied by wild arm flailing, my arms horizontal and flapping like Icarus. A zombie on speed.

Well, this time I nodded off with the full glass of whiskey in my paw. I was so tired I hadn’t even had a sip. The problem was that my first waking zombie flail was in an arc upward to my shoulder, then a rapid stop and arms flailing down. The whiskey, however, did not want to follow the down motion and continued on over my shoulder for about 5 rows. Some of it even ended up on the overhead consoles of the rows behind me. So, for the rest of the flight, 5 rows of window seated passengers, reeking like homeless drunks, drenched in whiskey were subjected to Chinese water torture using whiskey dripping from an overhead console more normally used to dispense oxygen during cataclysms.

I made sure I was first off the plane after we’d landed.

Officers of the Law

I grew up in South Africa during the pre-”end of Apartheid”. That’s not the current ANC version, it’s the previous one. Police officers were downright scary and were respected, even feared.

I now live in the US, where police officers are downright scary and are respected, even feared.

This is very different from the current South African ANC Apartheid police officers who, when I see them (which is very infrequently), are an object of mirth. To explain to people not familiar with the breed: normally an individual with a godzillian butt (100m dash in infinity time because no one can run 100m with a butt like that), wrapped in some form of cotton cling-wrap, with a bright reflective vest, sunglasses that have a gold frame that is so enormous it obscures the entire mid half of the face (like welding goggles, only bigger), and eyes constantly on the prowl for someone to elicit a bribe from, or for a fellow police officer of the opposite sex with whom to have sex. Honestly a pathetic bunch of losers.

Anyway, the point is that I’ve experienced both sides of the police officer respect thing – none and full.

So, when I travel around, I am always befuddled when I see a police officer. Do I bow my head and sneak-a-peak, to make sure they’re not eyeing me? Do I look bold and confident, stare them in the eye with a “I’ve got nothing to hide. Buddy” look? Or do I just turn and walk the other way? Perhaps even the South African “you fucking immoral, incompetent, loser” look?

I think the world has become so paranoid that one is paranoid about not becoming an object of attention. People who get noticed end up on military aircraft on the way to a quiz-show where the prize is retention of testicles.

In China it is easy. One basically falls to the ground and grovels. That’s easy.

In Germany, I just glance. I’m sure somewhere there is a specification for the duration a South African, with American residency, is allowed to stare at a police officer. I have better things to read, so I just give a cursory glance.

In the US, one uses the “I’ve got nothing to hide” but without the “Buddy” look. One then looks away and continues on one’s path. But don’t stare at tall buildings while the officer can still see you.

So in Brazil this morning, I’m standing outside having a smoke and two police officers come around the corner on their motorbikes. These are the first two specimens I’ve seen. I’m curious. I think the safe way to stare is to first look at the motorbike (what brand, engine size, colour, etc) and then move up to look at the officer. This should be respectful enough to be classed as a thumbs-up type of stare. Well, when I finally got to the officer’s head, he was glowering at me as if he was Arnold Schwarzenegger and I was some male hairdresser with a high pitched voice asking him for a date. He was so focused on giving me the “I see you. Arsehole” look that his head had rotated through more than ninety degrees as he drove past and his colleague on the other bike had to tap his shoulder for him to see that he had to brake before becoming lodged in the back of a car that had stopped in front of him.

I guess in Brazil I’ll try the supplication strategy next.