The shock of Joburg friendliness

2011-09-19 00:00

I LOVE the platteland of the North West, but I also love

going to Jo’burg. Jo’burg people are shockingly friendly. To be the recipient of Jo’burg friendliness, as an ex-Capetonian, is a bit like having cold water tossed in your face. “Hey! What’s going on? What was that for? You hardly know me!”

I remember once going to a movie on my own in Johannesburg. The woman who sat next to me spent so much time chatting to me, that at one stage I had to peer around her to look at her husband to gauge whether they were possibly fighting. They weren’t. She was just friendly.

You see, Capetonians, with all due respect (which is a polite way of saying, “I am now going to insult you”) are not friendly. They are other things. They are spiritual. They are pure and

vegan and have jungle gyms made from trees and they are all very politically correct. But they are not friendly.

I think the difference between the two cities has something to do with what they are built on. In lekker old Joeys, people sit on gold mines. They are richer, and if not happier, at least more relaxed because of it. In Cape Town we are placed next to a world energy centre, the mountain, and everyone sits around that altar in yoga cloth trying to spin together a living from the wonderful energy of the place.

But money is even less linked to a mountain’s energy than it is to other money nowadays. So people in Cape Town are generally poorer and more stressed (despite the good energy), and as a result more in need of a walk in the forest or a body stress-release session than the company of another human being, and God forbid, a newcomer at that.

I once heard a newcomer to the city describing the locals. “When a Capetonian says, ‘We must have you around for a braai’, what they really mean is “I like you but I already have 25 other best friends’. When a Joburger says ‘Come for a braai’ they mean ‘Come for a braai’.” Really. It’s kind of hard to take in.

I think it is good for my children, growing up on the platteland, to go to the big city occasionally. I want them to learn about things like traffic lights, malls and safety belts.

The trip before last we did movies on the big screen. “When are we going home?” Pippa moaned just after the first trailer. “This is getting too long.”

The trip before that we did mall manners.

“In the mall we walk close to one another and we keep our voices down even though there is a lovely echo when you yell.”

This last trip I focused a lot on the safety belt and the importance of wearing it. At first it was tough.

“But Mom, why do I have to wear one? None of my friends do.” So I worked my way through the dreadful possibilities of naughtiness in the car.

I started with basic accidents leading to hospitalisation. I spoke about paraplegia and quadriplegia, and I finished off with some role play around

comas and death. My children got the message. Safety belts were worn.

It was on the way home that I realised on what a broad level my children had absorbed my lecture. We were playing I spy. Nicolaas went first.

“I spy with my little eye I see something what begins with a G.”

“GPS.”

Pippa was next.

“I spy with my little eye, I see something that begins with a T,” Pippa’s objects always begin with a T. Nicolaas and I tried all the Ts we could see. Tree? No. Truck? No. Tar? No. When we had exhausted all things seen, we started on the unseen.

“Your teddy waiting for you at home on the farm?” Pause. Think. That sounds nice.

“Yes. Well done Mom.”

Our conversation then led to other things waiting for us, and to all the maatjies who had been to school that past week while we were in Jo’burg.

“I wonder,” said Pippa, “which of my maatjies will be in wheelchairs tomorrow?” She mused to herself. “I think that Malia

definitely will be. She is very naughty.”

Laugh. Gulp. Rewind. Try to explain. See the futility. Give up. Wonder. Can I use this in the

future?

“If you don’t eat your egg you could end up in a …”

Wrap over the knuckles. No. Bad parenting, blatant lying and unethical.

But tempting.

• Catherine Smetherham is an ex-city dweller who is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West. Contact her at Catherine@ holtzhausen.com

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