South Africans Abroad

South Africans abroad are interesting.

I read an article a while back about why Americans are so vocal. It's how a society changes when millions of immigrants come from different countries. And then they spread across vast open spaces.

The only way to survive in that kind of change is to talk to strangers. It's that or die. Contrast that with the village life these folk came from.

In your basic European village each person knows everyone else. They know your foibles and private life. But they accept you as the village idiot. They have no option. Besides, they're married to someone in your extended family.

The population of Norway is about the size of the population of Cape Town, and they stretch out over 385,000 km². Contrast that with Cape Town's 400 km².

Europe is like that, lots of small villages.

These people were thrust into the wild. They had to survive by relying on strangers. This was an environment fraught with opportunity for snake-oil salesman. The United States still seems to have no shortage of those.

Back in the village, if you screwed up you couldn't up-sticks and move on to the next town. My wife's home "village" is Fredrikstad ( 285 km² housing 80,000 people). Residents refer to people who've arrive since Independence in 1905 as "new".

South Africa is like the United States. We aspire to the Chevrolet, Beach Boys, and the California lifestyle. We adopted Rodriguez.

Anyway, South Africans overseas…

We don't fit well in Europe. Especially Northern Europe. Actually, anywhere north of Lisbon. We don't fit into Spain either because we don't speak the language. But at least they talk a lot. Nobody north of the Pyrenees talks much. At least not to strangers.

That ancient village life is still real. Our fresh blast of noisy African sunshine goes down like the Springboks losing to Japan.

Norwegians show respect by listening rather than talking.

We South Africans are nervous in the presence of silence. We want to fill it. Often with too many with personal anecdotes. Which works well in South Africa. But not in Norway. I am the noisy fellow to avoid in many villages, including Oslo.

Better to remain silent and make them wonder.

I'm writing this today as I look out my study window. I'm wondering how to package the frozen water on my garden, my roof, my car, and the garage, and send it to Cape Town.

If you can figure out how to ship snow, I have about 20 tons ready to go. You can have it for free.

I have learned that silence is golden. I don't get as excited. It's not that there's nothing to get excited about. These Northern folk show it in different ways. They don't throw rocks at each other or stick one finger out of windows, or even hoot. They wait patiently while you untangle your car from the ice.

When somebody does something grievous, they say something like "how can I help you?" You feel their pity for a lesser being.

Which kind of brings me to the point I wanted to raise 500 words ago. We small-business owners see setbacks as failures. We take them personally. I understand how difficult it is to see these as growth, but isn't that what they are? The very nature of this endeavour we share is that the money will be erratic. Nothing wrong with that joy that flows from too much food on the table. But the opposite, three slices of stale taste, shouldn't be paralysing.

Those waves and troughs are our reward for having our hands on a lever that we can pivot at will, like a surfboard, when next we see the hint of a crest. Try doing that as a junior manager at ABSA.

Some Norsk stoicism might be useful at the frequent times like these. Those waves cannot exist without them troughs.

Time to start shovelling. It's started snowing again. Where did my woman hide that forking shovel…?