Tuesday, February 01, 2005


4x4/Land Rover/Jeep/SUV
I'm adding this entry because I suspect I will rant many times about these things. While Africa is rugged and those old Land Rovers are cool, suburbian South Africa is, well, suburban and the roads, in many places, are narrow yet, for some inexplicable reason, businessman and soccer moms feel they need to 4x4 their way to and from schools, work, and malls every day. This results in three problems: 1) most people who drive these vehicles have no idea how long or wide their vehicles are, so they drive like morons; 2) most people who drive these vehicles have never been 4x4ing in their lives and would probably balk at the idea of venturing into "darkest Africa" or in, near, or past a desert, which just makes them totally, well, moronic; and 3) if you're trapped behind one of these things you can't see a damn thing.

arb (ärb)
adj. (South African slang)
1. Short for arbitrary. That was such an arb thing to say.
v. arbed, arbing, arbs
1. Drift around in an aimless manner. I just arbed around the mall because there was nothing else to do.

In South Africa these terms are used interchangeably to mean a road on which you can usually drive at up to 120 km/h (which means that you need to look out for people driving at at least 160 km/h) that may, or may not, consist of more than one lane at some point and which may, or may not (and shouldn't, but probably will), have a set of robots [*] at some point, and may, or may not, join one or more towns or suburbs of a large, sprawling city, such as Cape Town, together. Confused? Why?

adj. (South African slang)
1. Anything that is gross, vile, disgusting, filthy, yuck, unattractive (object, not person...usually), or unpleasant. The bin is totally manky because no one has cleaned it in three weeks.
  also mankers
[My sister tells me that this is a word, but I've never heard anyone use it except her, so I think she's trying to work a new term into the common consciousness...and, of course, I'm helping her by referencing it here...dammit!]

my friend in America
I have a friend in America (technically he is American, but he prefers to be referred to as being "in America" rather than "an American") with whom I have been conversing, almost daily, via email since 1998. We have yet to meet (all attempts at that, so far, have been thwarted by the universe), so we have a very odd relationship in that we know each other very well, but not at all. Our friendship started due to a mutual interest in singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins and up-and-coming Canadian singer-songwriter Tanisha Taitt, but we have since found that we have many other things in common and many other shared interests, which has resulted in this eight-year (and counting) conversation that never runs out of steam. Isn't the Internet wonderful?
Update: It took nearly a decade but we finally met in December 2007. He still prefers to be called "my friend in America" even though I've heard his accent.

n. (South African colloquialism)
To South Africans robots are traffic lights (but no one calls them traffic lights), unless they're actually robots, which would be kinda cool, except you don't really see randomly roaming robots in South Africa, only traffic lights (except at Toys "R" Us, which is a toy store, but not the same toy store as the Toys "R" Us in America, even though they share a name and a logo, but that's a long story for another time...). And I didn't mean that traffic lights roam, because they don't - they're pretty stationary, unless someone knocks them down, which happens all the time, probably because too many people drive SUVs [*] who shouldn't.

squiff (or possible skwiff)
adj. (South African colloquialism)
1. Suspiciously curious, unimpressed, and irked. It's mainly used to describe a glance. He gave me a squiff look.
2 Skew. If you look at the building from that angle it looks a little squiff.

Steve Hofmeyr
It is hard to describe him, but Steve Hofmeyr (actor, musician, father of an unknown number of illegitimate children, self-proclaimed defender and saviour of Afrikanerdom) is to many South Africans what Celine Dion is (culturally) to many Canadians (you can take that any way you like).

The magazine that I primarily used to work for focuses on home décor, DIY, food, and gardening. There was a running joke amongst the copy editors about this (there were four of us - two for the Afrikaans version of the magazine and two for the English), as half the staff on the magazines comprises "visual" people who always want to style things and "make them beautiful". Usually in a way that is beyond our comprehension (and I, unlike the other copy editors, have a design qualification).

taxis (and taxis)
In South Africa, when people mention taxis, they usually referring (in disdain) to minibus taxis (also known as kombis). If not, then they are referring (usually also in disdain) to cars that have a taxi sign on top and a fare scale printed on the passenger doors, and which look more like your typical taxi. "Traditional" taxis charge an absolute fortune and are a total ripoff (hence the disdain): locals seldom use them. Minibus taxis, on the other hand, are designed to seat - I believe - about 12-15 people, but I would estimate that they average 20 passengers, especially in rush-hour traffic. They are usually unroadworthy (I only see a handful each month that are roadworthy, and only the very occasionally one that is in good condition and is well loved and well looked after by its owner and/or driver) and driven (usually wildly, with total disregard for human life - both inside and nearby) by black or coloured men, with an assistant who helps people in and out and shouts the taxi's destination at potential customers and tries to entice extra passengers onboard. I have never travelled in a minibus, because I fear for my life and have heard that, although it's cheap, it's incredibly unpleasant (it would be, with so many people squished into a space designed for not-so-many people). It is the mode of transport, however, that much of the population of South Africa is forced to use, because trains are dangerous (in terms of crime) and don't reach most areas, busses are unreliable (in terms of keeping to a timetable), and cars are so expensive (nevermind parking being difficult to find) that most people can't afford them. If you should ever visit Cape Town, hire a car. You will need it.

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