Friday, November 17, 2006

One more cup of coffee 

Let me recount an incident that I witnessed a while ago. It took place at a coffee shop near my kids’ school – the one with a carpark that fills up at 8am with 4x4s, erratcially parked by mothers the wrong side of their first cup of coffee. This place is quite smart – it even has some white waitresses, and all the staff are friendly and efficient.

I was having a cup of coffee and minding my own business when I saw one of the staff near the door, miming to a customer on the outside who was struggling to get in. The customer had presumably pulled on the door handle, and his helper inside was miming a push. This went on for a second or two, before the waiter stepped over to the door with a grin on his face, and slid it back on its runner. I thought this was hilarious, then in the painful second as the victim entered, another dimension occurred to me. The waiter was black, and the customer was white. These things have significance in South Africa. If I felt a bit sheepish about not being able to open a sliding door, and felt irritated that a lowly waiter was taking the piss, how would I feel that he was black as well? On the other hand, not that long ago, the waiter would never have dared to do what he had done. A complaint to the manager could well have resulted in unemployed waiter. I watched with interest.

The customer smiled and the waiter showed him to his table. Such is progress in this rainbow nation.

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