On My Mind 156 - Context by Peter Carruthers
I get Peter Carruthers communications on a regular basis and usually put them aside to read when I get the chance. Today, however, I read the article as it arrived on my desk and I thought it was so appropriate that I should send it to my avid readers and post it on my site, so here it is. In principle the article is simple enough but it does raise some interesting questions about us here in South Africa that will be worth exploring in future articles. Let me know what you think.
The best way to understand anything is to understand its context. Mostly we don't.
I write this piece from behind the Paella curtain, also known as Spain. And in the context of Spain, South Africa looks like the best country on earth for us folk plying any trade.
If you have never tried to live in Spain then it is easy to think that SA is lacking in some small way. Try telling that to a friend here who has been trying to get a business licence for the past year. Or George, the owner of a car hire firm, who has had three new vehicles on the floor for three months, paid for but as yet unlicensed. My problems seem small by comparison. But when two inward shipments face the same bureaucratic sinkholes, then you begin to feel some of the frustration that the locals feel.
Right now I await a special box that combines four 3G dongles into a single high speed Internet access. I need this soon because, although each mobile network works well, it does so at times dependent on the tides and how close Saturn is to Uranus. Putting four 3G thingies into a single box means that at least one will be working at any time, and if more than one is working then I might even be able to use Skype.
SA has 11 official languages. Spain has five, but they are all really just one spoken with a different accent. Except maybe the Basque area where they talk really funny, and have to resort to extreme measures to get any attention.
The police station, where they handle your request to be allowed to pay tax here has just one sign in English: "This office is Spanish. If you do not speak it, get an interpreter."
In this context, the SA business field is nirvana.
I find myself today on the top of a volcano, Gran Canaria, a tiny piece of Spain a few hundred miles off the Western Sahara, after a period in Norway. It sees three million visitors each year, mostly speaking English. Usually to themselves because very, very few Spaniards here speak any English at all. Ask them "¿Habla inglés?" and they will shrug and say "Pocito", which is also the only English word they know. But, like English folk worldwide, they just speak their own language louder and faster when they want to make their point.
Their point is almost always a "No". As in, "No, we do not have that." Or "No, you cannot do that."
Not much of our "Boer maak 'n plan" approach.
Without context we speak without understanding. Maybe that is why every outie returning to South Africa is a lot more optimistic than the innies who have yet to experience these foreign climes. So here is my plan: Home swapping for Christmas.
You folk in-country swap your homes, your sun, your cheap and wonderful wines, fruit, and cafes, your sun, your swimming pools, your watermelons, your sun, your large homes, and your braais. We will swap our snow, our awfully expensive and awful tasting fast food, our lacklustre fruit, our small cupboards, and our rain. And we will swap our bureaucracy for yours any day. Now that's what I am talking about. And then after Christmas you will have context and we will have had a jolly good time.
Peter can be found at http://petesweekly.com and I recomend you take a few minutes to read his other stuff.
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