Thursday, January 8, 2015

Stuff South African White People Like

It’s so often laugh out loud funny –
but at the heart of the witticisms, there’s a ton
of recognition and a truth that runs strong and clear
Stuff South African White People Like
by Christian Lander and Hagen Engler

They say relationships are like mirrors to us, showing us the various ways we interact with the world, highlighting aspects of our personalities we may not even have been aware of.

And so I felt as I read this volume and reached the end, having chuckled my way through so many of the pithy observations about white South Africans. And yet, I also felt strangely illuminated – as though I’d had a mirror thrust before me as a white person – and so much of what I do, think, say and how I react is most certainly, forgive the pun, mirrored back at me in this book. It’s so often laugh out loud funny – but at the heart of the witticisms, there’s a ton of recognition and a truth that runs strong and clear. How extraordinary to both recognise yourself and to be quite moved and affected by a volume that you picked up as a light-hearted read. 

And so to the book: written as sort of a guide to people of the paler hues, there’s advice on how you can get white people to like you, become friends with you and so on. Although so much is tongue in cheek, as I said, there’s so much that strikes right to the heart of whiteness, whether you’re English or Afrikaans speaking. I imagine a lot of whities will buy this one out of curiosity and as a sort of mirroring I’ve mentioned.

 “While white people certainly love ‘the cinema’, they are required to balance their interest in film with an interest in live theatre ...”

It’s divided into short, numbered sections and on first receiving I opened it randomly I came to section no 43 called “Plays”: “While white people certainly love ‘the cinema’, they are required to balance their interest in film with an interest in live theatre ... in spite of plays having minimal sets, so special effects, an interval and a higher admission price, white people believe that theatre is essential to any cultured city. It is not known if white people enjoy plays or if they are just victims of massive peer pressure from the 75 percent of white people who have acted in a play at some point in their lives. The best advice around this subject is to never accept an invitation from a white person or go to see a play. Often you will be supporting their friend or cousin and be stuck with a R10 ticket (at least) and three hours of trying to work out how close you are to the end.”

Ha ha and not a little bit too close to the bird – one of the many reasons I’d never move to (insert small town name in here) is precisely because there’d be no notable plays out on here. OK, OK, as I said close to the bone. Let’s move on.

White people are complicated, say the authors. It’s one of the reasons they delay having children till their late thirties, why dinner parties can be such fraught occasions, why they believe fervently in therapy because it’s hard being so complicated, maybe it’s all the documentaries and “heavy” film festivals they attend?  Here we are with section 57 on Documentaries:  “As viewers white people like to watch these films because it helps them get a basic grasp on a complex issue in an hour or two. After watching a political documentary white people often feel as though they have learnt enough to begin teaching others about what they saw in the film.”

But it’s not all about culture, white people need to eat too and they, “need quality food to service, and where they purchase this food is an important as what they buy. In the white-people community Woolworths Food stores have replaced churches and cathedrals as the most important and relevant buildings in society.”

But quality costs, of course,  and when in a store, “they become unable to gauge what is a reasonable price to pay for anything”. Ouch. 

And the best way to endear a whitie to you? We’re still on food here, turn to the section 145 called “Cheese”: “As with wine, white people are expected to have an extensive and deep knowledge of cheese, cheese regions and proper cheese pairings.” But, never fear, head to Woollies, and “choose a cheese you’ve never heard of ... if you can introduce a white person to a new cheese, it’s like introducing them to a new spouse. They will remember it forever, or at least until they get bored.”

But there’s lots more that will strike a chord – from an almost universal white love of moleskin books, to the fact that so many writers’ retreats are filled with whites, because every white person wants to be a writer, to their love out branded name outdoor clothing (because you never know when a friend will call and invite you to climb a mountain, like, right now so you’d better be dressed for the climb), their love of living by the water and a huge affection toward and need to have dogs. They also only watch eNCA news, because it’s “independent and  stridently critical of the government and cordially respectful of people like Helen Zille and Thuli Madonsela, who keep the government on their toes”.  There’s the ever recurrent threat of emigrating, the almost universal white gap year overseas, the fact that white people made singer Rodriquez into a star before the rest of the world discovered him, and so this proves they have impeccable taste, a love of wooden floors and lastly, let’s not forget a passion for sports – from rugby to cricket – you’re made if you make some comment on the above and ask how the rugby’s going. As the season lasts all year around except for Christmas, you’re safe asking this question as long as there isn’t a bedecked tree in the corner of the room!

This is a wonderful read – the writing is clear, sharp, pithy and witty – both a fun and yes informative and enlightening addition to any bookshelf. Have fun with the reading – but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the mirror they hold up while you’re laughing and reading.

First published in the Pretoria News, October 20 2014 

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