Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Tact and Diplomacy - The White Lie



I decided that once I left home as an 18-year-old, I would never tell another lie, being somewhat ashamed of just how many brazen fibs I had told my parents during my teenage years in order to pursue various interests that I knew they would veto. I've pretty much kept to this credo ever since, barring a few compliments (fingers crossed) re dear ones' new hairstyles, clothes, home decor etc. These come into the category of white lies, do they not?  Living in a multi-lingual, post-apartheid, black empowerment country as I do, there is nevertheless one area in which I have had to resort to the White Lie on frequent occasions. These are confined to the times when I dial a 'Help' line in any shape or form. There is usually a choice of "Press 1 for English or 2 for Afrikaans."  Interestingly, still today English is the language of the cities and Afrikaans, the rural areas (geographically huge, but small, except for Kwa-Zulu Natal,  population-wise). I speak of the white population group here. As our education system has failed to find a solution to the language problem: the best it can do is demand that all children are taught in English for most of their school lives, so a great many do not get great marks in their final exams and find their way into answering telephones. It works like this:  if you Press 1 - you will get a black or Indian person answering the phone. It must be my European ear, but I find the Indian accent fairly easy to follow, but the black - virtually impossible.  There is something about the atonal and rapid way the black people speak English here that I (and the majority of my friends) simply can't become attuned to. Also, as many of our black people are immigrants/refugees from further north, they don't speak Afrikaans at all. So I press '2', knowing that I will get a 'person of color'  (native to Cape Town) to speak to whom I know will be bi-lingual, formerly exclusively Afrikaans, but determined to be 'English' since 1994. "Oh, sorry," I lie,"I pressed the wrong button. Would you mind speaking English for me?"  "No problem", they invariably reply and I can hear the grin in their voice.

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