Forgive me, I’m from Jo’burg

2011-10-12 00:00

“FORGIVE me, I’m from Jo’burg.” I think this should preface every conversation I have. You see, we are a weird species and I know we can be a little hard to handle. Some of us are loud and in your face, overconfident and insensitive.

In Johannesburg we have come to expect a certain amount of harshness and brutality in our daily lives. At any loud noise we dive to the floor expecting bullets to fly overhead. Most conversations revolve around crime, who died, who did it, and how pissed off we are. Moaning is a full-time hobby.

We expect good service, think everyone is trying to rip us off and believe implicitly in conspiracy theories. The world is ruled by aliens, the city is about to sink into an acid hole, 2012 is the end of the world … you get the picture.

When we get sick and tired of the daily struggle to find a parking space at the local mall we eventually choose to leave. But relocating out of the crime capital of the world into other parts of the country takes some getting used to. In a sense we really should be taken aside and debriefed, before being released into the “wild”. For some of us it takes years to unwind the tightly sprung coil inside us.

We think the sounds of birds are cellphone ringtones, we think a friendly wave is an invitation to a road-rage duel, we think the carpet of life is about to be ripped out from under us at any moment.

Adapting to a semi-rural life in the midlands is an education. In Johannesburg you have to have a thick skin because an insult is a daily occurrence.

“You having a bad hair day?” and “Howzit dufus,” are common greetings in the office. In this culture you are expected to give as good as you get. But in my 10 months in the midlands I’ve noticed people are a little offended by my calling a spade, well, a spade. They prefer an agricultural farming implement.

People in the midlands are well connected — in a different way. Pedigree applies to people apparently in KwaZulu-Natal. Schools are very important here. It’s all about who you married and where you went to school.

I’m divorced and I went to a very average no-name brand government school — that definitely means I’m NOCD — not our class dahling. Midlands people are all about family. They know all their relatives and keep in touch with them regularly.

In Gauteng shopping is a sport, you max out your credit card and spend time trawling the malls. In the midlands one is expected to sigh before saying: “I’m going to the mall.”

In the midlands people have a strange habit of giving each other nicknames — apparently a boarding-school tradition. Steve is actually Derek, Fudge is a person not a confectionery and Tinks is not a fairy. The proportion of daschunds and Jack Russells in relation to the overall human population in KwaZulu-Natal is alarming.

Only in Howick could a barber shop survive where the haircut is a “one cut fits all”. My son is a casualty of this method. One farmer apparently drives an hour from theBerg for this R50 special — it probably costs more in petrol, but he likes it.

In Jo’burg we are liberal, we are friends with moffies and blacks, fascists, Jews, Portuguese, hippies and the invading workforce of Zimbabweans. It is like a big bag of liquorice all sorts. But in the midlands you have to be careful about which side of the fence you sit on, who you have coffee with and what gardening club you join. Allegiances are very important.

In most parts of Jozi nobody cares who you are, what you do, they’ll tolerate a lot unless you are a Nigerian drug lord. But while on a superficial level we are very friendly, often we don’t know who our neighbours are. Numbers are only swopped at neighbourhood crime-watch meetings. I guess we have trust issues. On the other hand midlands people are hyper-sensitive. They are mortally wounded by any perceived slight on their character or reputation.

In Johannesburg nobody would care, as they would say in their lingo — “take a chill pill”. So, in advance, if I meet you or offend you, and you think I’m odd, well, forgive me I’m from Jo’burg.

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