The How-to-be a South African Handbook

An Irreverent Cultural Guide for Tourists and Confused Locals
Thamm, Marianne
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The How-to-be a South African Handbook

Author: Marianne Thamm
Illustrator: Toby Newsome
Double Storey Books
Cape Town, 2002
ISBN: 9781919930046
Soft cover, 15x21 cm, 96 pages, several illustrations

About this publication:

What does the rainbow nation look like to the bemused visitors who flock to these shores? How do they make sense of our peculiar customs and habits that together make up the ‘South African way of life’?

In this funniest of guides Marianne Thamm presents for our delectation a string of appallingly familiar situations and a gallery of instantly recognisable characters that will have readers rolling in the aisles.

Who would have thought we and our ways could be so absurd and yet so endearingly human? An essential guide for locals as much as for visitors.

Puzzled by the lingo, surprised by that flock of sheep crossing the highway, confused about correct social etiquette?

If you've just arrived in South Africa, this insider's A-Z will help you navigate your way around the people and the country with the casual cool of a seasoned local.

In no time you will have stopped feeling and behaving like an outsider, tossed out those socks and sandals, and will be able to pass as a born-and-bred South African.

If you're a confused local, this guide offers you a range of stereotypes that will help you find and claim your place as a proud member of the Rainbow Nation.

South Africa is a land of enormous contrasts and beauty, and each year millions of tourists from across the world flock here to sample the delights in the country of the 'rainbow nation'.

Often because of urban myths about crime, violence and the ill-tempered nature of certain species of wildlife, some of these tourists prefer to experience the country from the interior of an airconditioned bus.

They will move about in a tight cluster, too afraid to leave the hotel room, and will spend their time here swapping potato-fritter recipes and phone numbers. If you can, ignore the paranoia of that tour guide who came with your package and get out and mix with the locals. South Africans will generally go out of their way to be friendly, especially if you are travelling with a strong, recognisable currency.

Which kind of tourist are you?

Medical tourist: Because of the high standards of the South African medical profession, many visitors to the country take advantage of the favourable exchange rate to do major body maintenance including facelifts, orthodontic work and heart bypasses. Because of post-operative discomfort, the medical tourist is not much of a party ani-mal, spending much of his or her time here nurs-ing lonely cappuccinos while the wounds heal.

The Big Fiver: Usually wealthy Europeans and Americans who fly straight into game parks, where they pay a fortune to experience Africa as a big-screen Hollywood epic. They arrive looking like celluloid neo-colonials kitted out in khaki, wearing retro pith helmets and bearing trunks full of Imodium, bottled water and herbal mosquito repellent.

The Yob: Likely to be a British or European tourist who has discovered that a strong currency can buy several weeks' worth of luxury and debauchery some-where in the 'developing world'. Yobs don't care where they end up as long as it's low-cost, alcohol is freely available and they can buy cheap souvenirs on the way out. Yobs (if you don't hear them first) are often identifiable by the crusty, pink skin sores from too many unprotected hours spent tanning in the merciless South African sun. Favoured yob outfits are undone floral Hawaiian shirts with shiny running shorts and plastic beach thongs.

Roots Tourist: Visitors, mostly from the USA, who would like to get in touch with their African roots. They are often overcome with emotion upon alighting on African soil and will immediately buy clothes that they believe reflect their true African identity. This makes them stand out from locals, who tend to prefer American designer labels.

Backpackers: Backpackers are often in the country in search of drugs and parties, neither of which are hard to find. A favoured destination for these young intrepids appears to be Cape Town, where they work on their tans, have sex with the locals, dance the night away and go home six months later with severe alcohol- and drug-induced brain damage and impressive dreadlocks.

The Jock safari: Health-and fitness-conscious visitors who use the country's extreme land-scape as a personal outdoor gym. You will find them jumping off bridges, hiking up mountains, surfing turbulent seas, shooting rapids or wrestling crocodiles.

The package tourist: Has heard of Africa, read the book, seen the movie but doesn't really want to explore the country or the locals outside very strict perimeters.

The self-driver: A very brave sort of tourist who feels confident enough to tackle South Africa's highways alone in a hired car. Some are never seen again, as our road signs can be very misleading. What may have started off as a journey to the airport could end up on the borders of Zimbabwe. Those who have lived to tell the tale swear this is one of the most thrilling ways of seeing the country.

On your trip you will encounter:

The rural guest-house proprietor: Often a divorced, former city dweller who has had enough of making her fortune in the advertising or insurance industry and who has now packed up and headed off in search of rural bliss. To supplement her income from clever offshore investments, she buys and renovates a tum-of-the-century rural homestead in a half-horse town, turning it into her idea of a private country retreat for tourists. Using local decor magazines as inspiration, she will try out a variety of styles.

She usually adorns the rooms with floral prints, voluminous curtains and bedspreads, and places small hand-made, local crafts including clay guinea fowl on side-tables and cistern tops. She has never really adjusted to the solitude of rural life and views you, the guest, as a long-lost friend who has just popped round to catch up on the last twenty years of news. From the moment of your arrival you will not know peace, as the proprietor will insist on 'entertaining' you with the story of her life and other amazing South African tales.

Do not be alarmed if she bursts into your bedroom unannounced, bearing a tray of tea and breakfast. Best ploy to get rid other is to tell her you are in a witness protection programme and that it may be extremely dangerous for her to interact with you. If that fails, pretend to be hard of hearing.

The hitchhiker: One of the most enduring myths in South Africa is that of the killer hitch-hiker who roams the countryside waiting to catch a ride with his next victim. If you don't like the look of that crowd of Sunday school kids stranded on the side of the road, don't stop. Generally go with your instincts.

The craft market: Hundreds of self-help craft centres have sprung up in townships and villages offering employment to talented locals who make anything from beaded handbags to cellphone covers. It is here that you will encounter some of the shrewdest businesswomen or -men in the country. Do not try and bargain down prices - otherwise you will have to endure much tongue clicking and looks of mild scorn. It is considered impolite to bargain when you are clearly loaded with cash.

The vistors' book: South Africans like to have a record of the private thoughts or inane mus-ings of guests, and for this reason many of us keep a visitors' book. It is ubiquitous in this country: you will find versions of it placed visibly at the exit or entrance to museums, libraries, guesthouses, art galleries and hotels. You will even find one at the top of Table Mountain. Ignore it. [...]