Sunday, 22 November 2015

South Africa: Chance encounters of the uncouth kind

Chance encounters
As a lone traveller and guest in a hotel, I would normally go down to the restaurant with some reading material, usually a magazine. However, I might be fortunate enough to meet another guest and strike up a conversation.
However, at breakfast yesterday morning, having placed my magazine on a table and gone to make tea, another guest took up the table to the right of mine, seeing the magazine, picked it up, had a brief look and put it back.
Not a likeable person
When I returned to my table, I said hello and before we could commence a conversation, an acquaintance of his passed by and they disputed about some matter that required the other person send him an email since the day before which he did not and the exchange degenerated into belittling him and calling the other man ‘full of shit’.
From there, he descended to stereotyping black people as unreasonable and unreliable, that he had never met a black man that either delivered or kept his word. Addressing me, he asked why black men were always like this.
I answered, back saying he should expand his circle of acquaintances because my job is primarily based on delivering on projects apart from the fact that I always keep to time. I then attempted to educate him on cultural differences between the West and other places where time is based on season and convenience rather than on strict adherence to the hour and minute hands of the clock.
Tempering bad sentiment
He should know by doing business in Africa, the cultural differences and adapt to it. At which point he said, he knew two black people who were quite impressive in their attitude to agreements and time before letting on that he had a meeting with a number of white people that should have started hours ago, but they had not yet arrived. I guess that just affirmed the point I made earlier about the issue of the cultural issues of adherence to agreements and time.
The conversation moved on to other things as he observed that I had a Wiko phone which was a competitor to a phone that he had exclusive rights to distribute in South Africa. He was garrulous and in many ways uncouth, the kind of Englishman that irritates abroad with a sense of superiority that needs to be challenged.
A working class oaf pretending to standards and class abroad when at home the only things he might have plenty of will be the gift of the garb, money and the same shit he said black people have. When he learnt I am English too, he toned down his nonsense, I was saved much of additional tripe when another of his ilk appeared and their banter assume a tone best left out of hearing.
They disparage in packs
Later on, I went out socialising in some drearily dark scary part of Johannesburg that I doubt I will return to again. My arranged taxi ride back to my hotel was not available, so the club recommended an alternative service.
As I got my jacket, a group of four men arrived and the mouthiest of the lot saw me and made a rather disparaging remark about me in a language, they all thought I did not understand.
They continued in their banter of sighting people and finding something uncomplimentary to say about them as I watched and smiled before I said in that same language they thought I did not speak that ‘I have travelled the whole world and now I have come to meet Yoruba folk here.’
The shock and horror of realising that their bad attitude was observed and understood was interesting to watch as they made to apologise. It did not matter, I have seen this kind of behaviour many times before amongst the Yoruba and this might be because I do understand the language, and it might well be prevalent in any other ethnic group that believes they cannot be overhead or understood.
There’s always a better way
Yet, the other prejudicial part of this kind of behaviour is a kind of prissy superiority complex that thrives of disparaging and belittling others in order to feel good within oneself. It suggests a low self-esteem with a tendency to bullying others if the opportunity arises.
Genuinely, self-assured people with confidence rarely have the time to belittle others when more can be gained by helping others be better expressions of themselves. Even if there is much opportunity to insult or abuse, there is a better path if one can find encourage, praise and good advice to give.
However, in the two cases above, entrenched preconceptions close the mind to new experiences, stereotypes colour the view and deny the person the wholesome experience of seeing people as uniquely individual even if they easily fit into a group.
In South Africa, many of these elements of prejudice and cultural adjustment show, people lazily belong to group and class, then someone with a completely different cultural outlook and perspective upsets the accepted norms by not subscribing to the stereotype. It can make for interesting conversation and I have had a few of those.


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