A common site here

This is a pretty common site here. There’s a sign saying something to this effect on pretty much every house in this neighborhood (and the neighborhood, remember, is surrounded by two layers of fences, one of which is entirely electrified). I have this image of trucks full of guys with machine guns coming screeching up if I accidentally set off the security alarm. Security is a huge industry here, and to be fair it grows out of a real problem: the crime rate here is very high. But South Africa is one of the most economically unequal country in the world, and to a certain extent I get the sense that people are trying to cocoon themselves from this fact. I may be projecting this, however; just because I don’t want to see how ludicrous the relative displays of wealth here are doesn’t mean that the average South African is as squeamish.

I will say this, however — largely I’ve been quite impressed with how friendly everyone has been (and when I say everyone, I mean the largely white, largely Afrikaner upper class I’ve been interacting with on a regular basis). Not to say that there haven’t been hiccups (some people really hate Americans, for example, and there’s often little to be done there). And not that people in casual low-level interactions are particularly open: I smile at everyone, from the maids I pass walking to houses in the neighborhood while I bike to work to guys sitting around on street corners to rich Afrikaners waiting in their cars at traffic lights, and no one smiles back. But generally, and when it counts, people have been quite nice at work & out and about. At the bar on Saturday a guy in a Blue Bulls jersey asked us what we were drinking, but us another round, and never said another word, happy his team won I suppose. And the same guys who blankly stare at me on the street corner are still quick to make way for me to bike by. It’s a society under strain, but not, as of yet, lacking civility.

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