Satire on the South African English

2008-05-14 00:00

JIM Parker is not a man who follows the herd. So, as a military attaché at the British embassy in Pretoria at the time of the 1994 elections, he made a crucial decision. South African whites were stampeding to “safer” shores. Good luck to them. But he would stay put, and make a new life for himself as a B&B owner on an idyllic farm near Mooi River.

Just Now, Now Now is his account of his adventures during the decade he lived there.

The title gives a strong hint of what he found himself dealing with. The eccentricities of South African English — and South African timekeeping — were just the start as he rapidly learnt that being an English South African is a very different thing indeed from being an English Englishman.

And that was even before he had to deal with our country’s other ethnicities… not least in the form of his Zulu staff.

Many a hilarious tale ensues as Parker deals with all sorts of culture clashes.

The English English are very used to being satirised. The South African English are not. So it is a special, if sometimes awkward, treat as Parker (always fondly) exposes our foibles. And it’s very interesting seeing our inter-racial dynamics through the eye of a benevolent foreigner.

Parker, as he explains in his book, may have given up on his B&B, but he most certainly hasn’t given up on South Africa. He’s still here, pursuing other projects — in a climate a bit warmer than Mooi River’s. After all, if one chooses to live in Africa, one might as well enjoy its heat.

And it is very refreshing, amid all the negativity we endure about our country every day, to read the story of someone who could have lived anywhere, but chose to live here because he’s confident we’ll get it right.

Robin Crouch

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