Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why don’t you ask 

The things you notice when you emigrate are the social norms that no longer apply. As a Pom, my senses of obligation and politeness are fairly well developed. That’s not to say that I always follow my conscience, but at least I am aware of when I am ignoring it.

Example: if someone invites me round for dinner, then I will probably invite them back. I can’t help it – unless it was a complete disaster, I am compelled by some force of nurture to have them round. If they are English too, then it can take years of increasing gaps between dinners to break the cycle. I am still dreading the phone call from the couple from Norwich that we met on honeymoon in 1997.

Not so Cape Town. Capetonians are notoriously insular, at least according to those of us who live here but didn’t go to school here. The outsiders include South Africans who have moved down here from Joburg or Durban. I think it’s a grand version of the grudging dislike that resort residents feel for the tourists who descend on them annually to clog their streets and make their restaurants viable. In the past couple of months, we have made dinner for half a dozen Capetonian couples and one or two Joburg ones, with only one return invitation – from the couple who spent 5 years in London being house-trained. Maybe it’s my cooking. I blame Jamie Oliver.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Leaving Home 

My son goes to a lovely school in the small suburb of Cape Town that we live in. My daughter will go there next year. It is a fee paying school, so all the parents are relatively well-off, and trying to buy the best all round education for their kids. The parents feel that on balance, the school is the best place for their kids. It’s local, they know it, and it is an easy and reassuring option at the moment.

The problem with this school is that the future of the high school is uncertain. At the moment, most parents seem to move their kids to other schools where the sporting teams are stronger, or the school is more established. This usually means a longer commute in the morning to drop kids off, and brings the usual problems of displacement and unfamiliarity to start with, but is seen as the better long term option. The sporting facilities, and the public success of the sports teams are often the big issue.

There are a lot of white liberals who live in SA who are not quite sure that things are working out the way they expected. So far nothing much has changed for the white middle class. They are still worried, though, about the signs that the ANC is tending towards a “with us or against us” mentality, and the fact that everything still comes down to race. Also that Mbeki is more concerned about how his policies look to the other black leaders in Africa than he is about how they look to the first world leaders that we associate with – hence the policies (or lack of them) on Zimbabwe. Still, South Africa seems, on balance, the best place to be – they know it, and it’s the easy and reassuring option at the moment.

The problem is that the future is uncertain. Gradually people are moving away – to Sydney, London or Auckland. Thie means displacement, unfamiliarity, and long trips to visit friends and relatives, but increasing numbers are seeing it as the better long term option. The the security and the economy are often the big issues.

At the moment, we are tying these two things together. Where do we send the kids for school? Well, there are broadly 3 options: government schools, which are currently pretty good, but what about the future; private schools, which are excellent but expensive and elitist; and the international school, which is good but too small. So. What if we go back to the UK? Then we will want the kids to have been at the international school. But if we are staying here it may not be the best thing. So a discussion about schools swerves towards a race / class discussion via the more integrated government schools, then ends up becoming a spot of soul searching about long term residency. More South African style conundrums.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dreams of the past 

Moments of modern manhood – watching Survivor with your 5 year old son. After their victory in one of the challenges, the token gay guy is doing his ‘what this means to me’ piece to camera.
“Why is he crying Dad?” He’s American and on TV – it makes them emotional. Not really:
“He’s sad that he didn’t try at some things in his life, and now he’s in a team that’s winning, he wishes he’d tried harder before.” Yeah, so diving in the Pacific for bits of jigsaw in the company of a selection of hunky actor wannabes and aspiring models with self-shaving armpits has made him re-assess his life. Like I said, he’s American.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Time on my hands 

So what did I miss? Well, we finished that tricky project. It was rounded off nicely with a dinner at which the entire executive team sat at their own table, away from the plebs, then without exception left early. So no problems there then. I sometimes think that the main role that consultants play is to talk to the staff, find out what needs to be done, and tell the management. The two would otherwise never communicate. It works the other way too – you talk to the management, figure out what they want to do, then help the staff to achieve it. So the trend for slashing middle management both created a group of ready made consultants, and simultaneously generated the need. Perfect. P’s theories of work number 24. Write it down now.

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