Expat-ish

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On the Beach

Monday, 24 October 2011

The north-south divide.

There is a very clear divide between the people in Cape Town.

No, no, no, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s a north-south divide.

Having lived most of my adult life in the UK, I am completely au fait with north- south divides.

There has been much debate in the UK where north begins and where south stops, but I think it is generally accepted these days that "The North" begins just up from Watford and "The South" is just down from there.

What distinguishes the 2? Well a cup of tea in the North is not considered a cup of tea unless it is so strong that your spoon can stand unsupported in the middle of the cup. And it is always black tea, good old PG Tips. Those living in the South are free to drink herbal teas without ridicule, even organic fruit tea is acceptable and available in most middle class homes. In the North, if you ask for chamomile tea, you will immediately be called a pansy, and reinforce all stereotypes about southerners. The Northerner will dine out (on steak and kidney pie and chips from Morrisons- a shop mercifully almost entirely absent from the South. Somehow economy turkey mince never took off in the Home Counties) for months afterwards on the story: "Can you when I asked her what she wanted to drink she said chamomile tea. That's right chamomile. A bloody weed tea she wanted".

And personally, I wouldn't dare to ask for a latte, espresso or cappuccino north of the M25. And definitely not a skinny one: "Thinks she's bloody continental, she does.". As for the stronger stuff, be sure to order bitter not lager. And heaven forbid, continental lager.

In Cape Town, the divide is between the northern suburbs and all the other suburbs including the southern suburbs (where I live).

For the rest of Cape Town, going to the northern suburbs is almost like a safari into the unknown. I have no idea what the dwellers of the northern suburbs think of coming south- I wouldn’t dare be seen talking to one, the way the southern surburbanites talk, I feel my family could become social pariahs if there was any cross-suburban fraternising.

My children were recently invited to a party that was held in the northern suburbs in a place called Bugz Play Park. They had a wonderful time and it is one of the places that is absolute heaven for kids- rides, jungle gyms, sand, playhouses, ice cream, cakes. It is, frankly, less heavenly for the parents  for the very same reason it is a pleasure for a child.

All the guests at the party were fellow southern suburb dwellers. The location of the party was a topic for discussion not because it was a longer drive (no, South Africans generally consider anything around 100km to be: "round the corner") but because we were in the northern suburbs.

What's makes the northern suburbs so different? Well, for starters, there are more Afrikaans speakers and, if rumours are to be believed, it is the world of the indoor braai and 2 colour or 2 tone safari shirts. Long trousers on men at any time of year are frowned upon.

Hardly earth-shattering differences, but still the rest of Cape Town seems to treat going to the northern suburbs like a safari. I’m surprised they don’t take a camera and guide book to compliment their trepidation and uncertainty.

The way people talk, I half expected a check-point on the way back down south, manned by very cosmopolitan, English-speaking South Africans:

Them: “Please pull over, madam. We have reason to believe you’ve in the northern suburbs”

Me: “Well, yes, but….”

Them: “We’re not interested in your excuses, we just need to ask you a few questions to make sure that what happens in the northern suburbs, stays in the northern suburbs. First: how long did you spend there?”

Me: “Er..Um…3 hours.”

Them: “Ok, alright, a relatively short time. We’ll just do the brief survey. Next question: did you have an indoor braai?”

Me: “No”

Them: “But do you like the idea of one?”

Me: “Um, well, I suppose on a cold day...”

Them: *worried look* “Would you consider having one in your home, madam?”

Me: “No”

Them: “Phew, well, great, close one there. Has your Afrikaans improved since you left home this morning?”

Me: “ Not at all, apart from hearing “Never Ending Story” in Afrikaans on loop on the children’s train sung by a tuneless child, no. In fact, I tuned it out. I considered it a trauma”

Them: “That’s what we like to hear. Next: have you done any shopping, specifically; has your husband bought any 2 tone or 2 colour safari shirts?”

Me: “No.”

Them: “Can we just check the boot? Often people buy them as “joke souvenir” but then end up wearing them anyway, say, in Camp’s Bay. They can be quite compelling once bought. And that just won’t do.”

*Look in the boot*

Them: “Great, madam, you’re free to go”

Me: “Can I ask why you stopped our car?”

Them: “We had a report that your husband was wearing shorts. And it is spring.”

Me: “Well, yes, but it is a warm day. And he’s English.”

Them: “He’s ENGLISH!! The shorts! Well, that also explains your cavalier and carefree attitude about visiting thing the northern suburbs. Have a good day.”

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