On Wednesday night, I was with a few naturalised Capetonians – artists, gallery people and such – and some visitors (mostly American) to the Cape’s shores. The Americans thought Cape Town reminded them of San Francisco, with the ocean and the mountains and the nearby wineries (I’ve heard this a lot from their sort); and the Europeans said it’s a Mediterranean sound bite in the summer and a snapshot of a sleepy, misty Dutch town when it rains in winter.
Everyone there that night was from somewhere else so invariably, the conversation turned to life in Cape Town for someone new. This wasn’t my first time around the block with this topic. It was no surprise then when this was said of Cape Town residents: they are incapable of driving, are very cliquey and act like laundry (the whites, colours and darks wash separately).
There must be something to these consistent observations, I think. I’ve been in Cape Town for a little under a year and have come to believe that these three, let’s call them symptoms, are caused by the same root disease. But you’ll have to get House, M.D on the case because I’m not sure yet what causes the disease.
Behind the wheel, Cape Town residents are very inward looking, selfish even. They seem incapable of acknowledging that other road users exist, which is why gridlock ensues wherever two or more lanes merge, or whenever a traffic light goes out. Have you ever tried to reverse out of a busy parking lot in Cape Town? Exactly. The idea that it’ll be good for everyone if people take turns is seemingly beyond comprehension.
In social circles, Cape Town residents stick to what they know. They talk about the things they are familiar with and go to the places where the people they know are going. It’s hard for someone new to break into a circle without feeling isolated by the history that the circle shares and continues to revisit over and over and over again. Still though, I’ve noticed, this doesn’t stop Cape Town residents from gathering in their well-structured social circles and moaning about how cliquey Cape Town is.
Linked to the social circles thing is the separation of colours. I think it’s changing for the younger generation, but Cape Town, because its residents stick to what they know, largely remains separated by colour.
All these three are symptoms of the disease of insular thought. Maybe it’s the psychological shadow of living behind a mountain, separated from the rest of South Africa that’s changes the behaviour of those who have settled here. Maybe it’s propaganda started by jealous Joburgers and Durbanites that’s been around so long it became true. Whatever it is, I’d like for it to change.