Mind the gaping cultural gap.

Yesterday I was in the train waiting room… waiting for my train. No really. Haha.

In came a woman holding a man’s arm (the man was probably late 50’s, early 60’s), and they were with some kids. She spoke in a DIK South African accent.

She started to explain to the man, in detail, every aspect of how to catch the train. She explained the waiting room doors (in the last few years almost all public doors are operated by whacking a huge button that is at wheel chair height, to comply with some or other accessibility laws), she explained how to look at the screen to see the trains and when they came and if they were delayed, and she explained about the guy announcing the trains.

Then she and her family kissed this man and walked out the door.

I totally freaked out, I was like, no way woman, you are leaving this clearly mentally disabled man to take a train, by himself! Are you insane? What if he misses his train, you’re just leaving him??

I felt like I should ask him if he was all right, or help him catch his train or something.

Then slowly it dawned on me. This man was not mentally disabled. This man was just…


He had never taken a train before. Oh how I laughed. Thank goodness I did not go and speak to him.

This is something that people in the UK struggle to comprehend. I know there is the Gautrain now, although many people I know seem to treat it more as a novelty than as an actual mode of transport, but loads of white South Africans have never taken public transport before.

I remember in one of my writing classes, writing about a South African girl who came to the UK for the first time (wonder where I got that idea from?) and how scared she was when she was on the train that she would not know when to get off. I remember that feeling oh so well.

A lady piped up in class that she liked my writing and all, but it was just so far fetched that a girl did not know how to catch a train that it detracted from the story. I tried to explain, but I don’t think she believed me.

The cultural gap. It seems non-existent but this just better disguises that sometimes it is a gaping chasm.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paula
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 08:17:38

    I feel sad for white south africans sometimes. Like so so sad.


  2. poseamonkey
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 09:20:22

    Bwahahahaha. Mentally disabled ;)


  3. Tamara
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 08:05:14

    I recently wrote a report on the Gautrain and that, apparently, is one of their biggest issues – getting Saffers to figure out how to use the train. For those who have used the Tube or the Metro it’s a cinch, but when we took my in-laws on it, they said they were so grateful we were with them because they’d never have figured it out on their own.
    I’m a huge fan of public transport. Used to take minibus taxis in CT all the time, and the Mynah buses in Dbn. But I’m scared of the taxis in Jhb – seen too may of them on fire. Wish we had safe, reliable public transport here. But they are working on it. The Rea Vaya buses are great and CT’s MyCiti system is apparently fantastic too. Pta is going to roll out a BRT system too.


  4. poseamonkey
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 10:54:48

    Tamara: hehe the thing is, I used to take trains in CT too, but I was still mentally disabled in the UK when I first arrived! Somehow it was just obvious when to get off in CT, maybe cos I was always going to the terminating stations. But when I first arrived here, they don’t always announce the stops or put them up on the electronic boards on the train, so it can cause newbies some panic! That’s why I loved the taxis in CT, you could just demand to get off wherever you wanted :)

    My Canadian friend told me that where she grew up there was like one train a day and it sat for ages at the station waiting for passengers, so when she first came to the UK she didn’t realise that the trains did not do the same, and she took too long getting up, and then was too polite and Canadian to push past the people coming on, and she couldn’t get off and had to go to the next station. So it is not just South Africans who are mentally challenged :)


  5. Spear The Mighty
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 09:09:23

    Lol! the few times I have been in London I actually enjoyed using the Tube. It is very convenient. That said I avoided rush hours completely.


  6. Sid
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 07:18:57

    Ha! I can totally related to the retarded man. I always feel apprehensive when I take the train in large cities – UK, New York. I’m always scared I’ve misread the subway map


  7. poseamonkey
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 11:15:24

    Aha Spear the tube is easy, because they announce the stations and they give you a map. The trains however….. arggggggggh it can be really stressful working out when to get off. But yes, I used to love the tube because it was so easy, now I hate it with a fiery passion and would rather walk. I am so glad I live in a small peaceful town. It is just too insane, I would be in a foul mood every day if I lived in London.

    Sid: I think it is a universal problem really, different stops, ways of doing things. I have heard that in Japan all the stops are only in Japanese writing? Have never been myself but just thinking about it makes me nervous!


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