Which would you prefer?

2009-05-20 00:00

THE people of Cape Town, or “Cairp Tahn” if you prefer, must be among the rudest people on Earth. At first I thought it might be my imagination. But gradually, I started to realise that it is completely real. I mean, phuleeze! I came from Gauteng. I thought I was a pretty straight up-and-down, no-nonsense sort of person. I was deeply misguided and seriously unprepared.

When you encounter a four-way stop in Cairp Tahn, you just carry on driving. None of this one–one, namby-pamby nonsense. You just drive. So, 13 cars go one way, 25 the other, and bugger everyone else.

Now, as you know, other than the few highways we have, the rest of the roads are actually just paved driveways. Sometimes, there are big oak trees in the middle of them. Always, there are cars parked effortlessly on both sides of the driveway (aka road). So, it is a physical impossibility for two cars to pass each other on these driveways (aka roads). So, when you come across another car coming towards you in the opposite direction, there is no politeness about the encounter. Never an “After you.” “No, no, no, after you!” None of that rubbish. You just drive, with a glazed look on your face, straight at the other car, and whoever blinks first gets right of way. Then (ah, this is my absolute favourite) you must never, under any circumstances, no matter how extraordinary, say “Thank you”. Never. It doesn’t matter if the other car lands up climbing a tree to give you clearance, or lands in a fast-flowing river. You never say thank you.

And the same rules apply everywhere else. In the supermarket, you wield your trolley like it is a nuclear weapon. Never apologise if you hit anyone else and if someone accidentally blocks your way somewhere, sigh deeply making sure to heave your shoulders noticeably and do not acknowledge their apology, if they are so un-Capetonian as to offer one. In the gym — you must never let anyone go before you on anything. In the shops — if you are a shop assistant or a waitron in a restaurant, chew gum and ignore all the shoppers or diners until they are forced to interrupt what you are doing by tapping you on the shoulder. When they have finished asking you whatever they want to ask you, just make clear that it isn’t your problem.

At work — never give anyone else any credit for anything, just put yourself first. At school — put your own child first and don’t give a damn about anyone else’s child. And teach your children to do the same. At the drive-through fast-food place — if you can’t be bothered to drive through because the car queue is too long, just park in the middle of the road with your hazards on — everyone else will just wait for you while you collect your food. Oh, that also goes for stopping in the middle of Adderley Street, if you are waiting to pick someone up after work.

In the workplace, you can speak to people in meetings as if you are at an illegal dog fight. If you are in politics, just slag everyone else off to your heart’s content. Just be as rude as you like. Call people whores and serial adulterers and anything else you think might insult and ridicule them. It’s all part of living in Cape Town and being snotty. It is behaviour that cuts across all race groups. It cuts across gender and across class and religion. It is a rude place, full of the most unspeakably rude people. No one seems to challenge anyone. This kind of behaviour is just accepted as normal. It is the way we do things down here.

And so, we can continue to live as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Racial divisions remain intact, sublimely unchallenged and with no expectation of change on the part of anyone.

And so, after almost a year- and-a-half of living in this supposed “tourism mecca”, that has been my constant and pretty much unwavering experience. Unashamed and unchallenged rudeness by a broad spectrum of people, coupled with unbelievable racism and unfathomable conservatism. It is not a pretty mix.

But then, I watch CNN and Sky and see bombs going off in Pakistan and people being used as human shields in Sri Lanka, and I think to myself, which would I rather have? Personally, I would rather live with the rudeness, which is probably only a reflection of underexposure, than with the finality of bombs and war.

• Michael Worsnip is director: 2010 World Cup Unit, Western Cape Province, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport. He writes in his personal capacity.

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