I've got size D culture shock

2012-10-16 18:23

It took just three minutes after walking out of Arrivals at O.R. Tambo on my return to South Africa after six months in France to lose my Euro cool and get into a slanging match with Trolley Man in the car park.

As I opened the boot of the car to stash my luggage, a man in a bib abruptly materialised at my side and, without a word, started pawing at my bags.

I was, to say the least, startled. “No, thanks,” I said, tugging back my case, “I’m fine.”

“I’m hungry,” he replied.

This just set my tired teeth on edge. I had no South African currency to hand and, anyhow, he hadn’t asked if it was OK to touch my stuff, or even explained what he was doing.

“No. Thank. You.”

“Serious,” he said, grabbing another bag, “I’m hungry.”

“Please leave me alone and step away from the car,” I said loudly, too upset now to think how much like cheesy cop show dialogue this sounded. Giving me a filthy look, he shuffled back a bit and watched me lugging. Then he shuffled forward again.

“I need the trolley,” he smirked.

I snapped. “Get the eff away from me!

He looked around to see if anyone was watching our little show. I did the same. They were. Finally, he slouched off.

My daughter, who had gone to pay for the parking, returned. When I told her what had happened, she patted my arm and said, “Oh, mom, you have the worst luck.” Then she drove all the way home with two cellphones in her lap and her handbag on the dashboard.

I felt drained. Three minutes on South African soil was all it took to get back to stereo-basics. I was just another rich white bitch. He was just another scary young black man.

I hated him for his rudeness, for shoving his hostile hunger in my face. I hated myself for losing it, and for forgetting how to play the South African game of flinging coins at poor people to load your shopping, push your trolley and guide you into parking spaces you can see perfectly well yourself.

No wonder the South African middle-classes lose muscle tone and have to join gyms.

The next morning I took out the trash and noticed there was a dustbin missing from the driveway.

“Weren’t there two?” I asked my husband.

“Oh right, one got stolen while you were away,” he said. “Which reminds me, we need to report it to the police – the City needs a case number before they’ll replace it. Could you…?”

Business was slow at the Norwood police station; still, I felt bad about wasting police time and resources on a missing dustbin. But the desk clerk seemed used to housewife types coming in to report stolen bins.

“We need to make a report and fill in this form,” he said, bustling about with carbon paper and ink stamps.

He asked me a lot of questions about the theft – time, date, place – and for a description of the bin. To his credit he did not burst out laughing. Neither did I. Was he going to put out an all-car alert? Dispatch the flying squad? Call Piet Byleveld?

We plodded through the paperwork. Curiously, when I left the police station 20 minutes later with my signed and stamped stolen dustbin “docket”, I felt better.

Once again it was my daughter who explained: “Of course you do, mom. You got a result from the cops. Case solved!”

If I play my cards right, I might get more than my dustbin back. At a traffic light on the way home from the police station, a man in a chewed cap waggled a flyer at my window. It turned out to be an advert for the “World Renowned Psychic Prof. K. Bart & Mama Sophy” (sic).

Among other things, Prof K. Bart & Mama Sophy can recover stolen property, remove curses and send them back to my enemy, and enlarge my breasts to “Size D”.

Prof. K. Bart & Mama Sophy squeezed a lot of information onto their little flyer – even a grainy photograph of a woman knocking together a pair of supernaturally large breasts – so I can also tell you that they have helped numerous Hollywood celebrities, giant CEOs and famous politicians.

If they have ever had success curing culture shock, they didn’t mention it on their flyer. But I’m tempted to make an appointment because I’m struggling to remember how to behave in Johannesburg. This city has big cups to fill, and I’m going to have to measure up. A Size D should just about do it.

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