How coloured are you?

2008-07-03 00:00

I am fairly dark-skinned with dark hair and have often been mistaken for being Portuguese, Greek, Italian and Israeli (but mostly Portuguese). I am actually half German and half Afrikaans.

So when I told friends at the office that I had once also been mistaken for being coloured, they all burst out laughing.

I was deeply and profoundly offended. They took pity on me and a few of my coloured co-workers began introducing me to the complex and involved life of the Cape coloured. (I was told if you want to be coloured, you have to be from Cape Town).

Apparently coloured people from Johannesburg don’t really qualify. Sorry.

The coloured lifestyle is an intricate and complicated puzzle with millions of confusing little pieces. It involves things like gatsbys, the Galaxy club, where you live, not only how you drink, but what you drink — and where.

You’ve got to like gatsbys, for instance. A gatsby, for the uninitiated, is a large roll with polony — I’m not calling it ham-and-deep-fried chips. If it doesn’t spill on to the ground when you try to eat it, it’s not a gatsby.

I like gatsbys, no problem. Okay, says a friend, but you have to drink brandy too. “With Klippies?” asks another colleague innocently, joining in the coloured education of Andrea. “No,” scream the coloured friends in horror (as all Afrikaners know, Klipdrift is the exclusive domain of the boerevolk). No, I’m informed, with Bertrams.

So far so good. I’m prepared to do all that. The problem starts when I hear that I wouldn’t be able to be a sturvey (that’s an uppity coloured), which I was gunning for of course. I don’t want to be a gangster from the badlands. But my colleague is firm on this. I couldn’t be a sturvey because apparently I “rafel uit too much”.

At this point I’m beginning to get despondent. Then I hear that, as a coloured, I wouldn’t be able to take my gatsby home and eat it with a knife and fork in front of the telly. No, it must be eaten on top of the bonnet of your car.

Also, this has to happen late at night when you come back from a night at the Galaxy club. This is another problem — I’m not a clubber. After all, I’m virtually in an old age home, being over 30.

Then it gets more complicated. I’m asked how big the mags on my car are, what kind of music I listen to and whether I’d be prepared to undergo an intensive language course.

Because, yes, for those of you who thought coloured people speak Afrikaans and English, think again. If you are really coloured you will know that anyone asking you “waar brand dit” is not referring to a fire in the neighbourhood, but is asking where “it’s happening” or where the party is.

I couldn’t help wondering if the Chinese community in South Africa are feeling the same sort of despair I was. Recently a

Pretoria court ruled that they should from now on be classified as coloured and be included in the definition of “black people” in laws including black economic empowerment legislation, which have been established to help previously disadvantaged groups.

Following this ground-breaking ruling, the labour minister made some strange comments, saying that he is now expecting Chinese people to behave more like black people (seeing as how they are now coloured people, I assume he meant behave like coloured people).

I’m not sure if he thought they should start eating gatsbys and going to the Galaxy club. He also said they should start assimilating the coloured culture by learning a local language, which put in my mind some Chinese people driving up to an Asian noodle bar in a car with huge, shiny mags and asking the fella behind the counter: “Hoezit my bra, ek’t lis vir ‘n dite”.*

* Translation: dite (pronounced like “date” with an i and refers to being hungry and wanting grub. Mostly though, it refers to a gatsby.

** Oh, before you send me the hate mail, I know not all coloured people drink Bertrams and eat gatsbys or go to the Galaxy. Only the cool ones.

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