Cultural crossed wires

padded envelope

Living in a largely Afrikaans community has given rise to some funny misunderstandings for me over the years. Earlier this week I once again fell into the culture gap when I took a bunch of completed tender documents up to the post office for despatching via courier.

“Would you like a padded envelope for those?” asked Janet, the Afrikaans-speaking postmistress.

“Yes,” I said, “because they are tender documents,” and I laughed.

Janet squinted at me. “What’s funny?” she said.

“Oh, you know, tender meaning bid and tender meaning… never mind,” I said. But I was sad that my hilarious pun had fallen on deaf ears, which is why I’m sharing it here.

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Janet has been the local postmistress since I moved to this village 15 years ago. Back then, in 2000, when I went to her about renting a postbox, she looked me carefully up and down before assigning me a number. It was only when I went out to the box that I realised what she’d been doing: she’d been literally taking the measure of me, estimating my height so that she could give me a postbox at eye level. Cool, hey?

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For more cultural crossed wires, go here and here.

 

And the hail came down

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The farmers around our village who put protective netting up over their blossoming fruit trees and other vulnerable crops must be congratulating themselves on their forethought. (And for those visitors to the valley who’ve commented on how ugly the netting looks – this is why it’s necessary!)

 

And then, in the evening, this:

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The other empty nest syndrome

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family may2014

If you were suddenly given a couple of teenagers to live with for 6 or 7 years, while their hormones turned them into monosyllabic spider-giants with alarmingly long limbs, and knees and elbows like cannonballs (boys), or boy-mad hysterics who regularly scream “You’re ruining my life!” and hog the bathroom for hours (girls), it would be hard for you not to kill them.

As it is, most parents have already gone through such hell before their kids get to their teens – from the awake-for-a-solid-year horror of a new baby, through the public tantrums of the terrible twos and the biting and scratching of the fucking fours [then a brief respite for the wonder years – that heavenly period from about 5 to 11 where your kids worship you and will do almost anything to please you], then the maddening flounce-offiness of the tweens, followed swiftly by the sickening plunge into the perdition of puberty – that they (the parents) aren’t fully aware of how awful their lives have become. It’s the frog-in-the-boiling-water syndrome: because the heat is turned up gradually over a long time, the frog isn’t even aware of any real discomfort before it boils to death.

But snatch that frog (still alive, if only just) out of the boiling water, and see the glee.

My frog-snatched-out-of-the-boiling-water moment came a few months ago, when I stood in the middle of the Spar with my weekly shopping list in my hand, staring at it in bewilderment. On it were only two items: oven cleaner and Salticrax. I’d put both of them in my large trolley and now I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t have to trundle up and down every aisle, filling the trolley until it was almost too heavy to push, then handing over huge wodges of hard-earned income at the till, before driving home to unpack everything into the kitchen cupboards and fridge, in order for it all to be consumed within a hideously short time – sometimes as quickly as 2 days, if it was the weekend.

For many, many years, the weekly shopping list had been a fixture on the counter next to the fridge. My kids knew that when they finished something (crackers, pasta, bread spreads, butter, shampoo, toothpaste, whatever), they had to write it up on the list. If it didn’t get written up, it didn’t get bought. Axiomatically, if it was on the list, Mummy would supply it.

In my kids’ teen years, the weekly shopping trip – usually every Friday – became particularly traumatising. Not only were they now eating like 2 adults who’d been stranded on a desert island for ages and had just been rescued, they were also using face washes, medicated shampoos, tampons and other expensive toiletries at a rate of knots. Rare was the weekend my bank account wasn’t lightened by at least a couple of thousand rands.

I didn’t begrudge them these necessities – not at all. I’m just stating a fact here: raising children is expensive, and supporting two teenagers is the financial equivalent of giving board and lodging to two hungry hobos who you’re also clothing, educating and occasionally entertaining. (For the record: my kids worked and earned their own money for all “non-necessities”: extra clothes and entertainment, cellphones, computers, music systems, etc.)

That “aha!” moment in the Spar marked what I suppose was the beginning of my empty nest syndrome. My kids – now aged 23 and 24 – had boomeranged for a few years (leaving home and then coming back) after finishing school but now both had finally really truly left for good.

But it wasn’t the same empty nest syndrome that my mother – and many other women whose main job was mothering, and who therefore felt “unemployed” when their kids left home – had experienced. I remember my father telling me, after the last of we four siblings left our very big, rambling family home, that my mother spent all her time furiously cleaning, and that the constant noise of the vacuum cleaner was beginning to drive him bonkers.

Mine wasn’t that empty nest syndrome. Not at all. Mine was coming home on that day from the Spar, putting the oven cleaner and the Salticrax away in their respective cupboards in the kitchen, and then emptying a full bag of chocolates onto the kitchen counter, and realising that for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, I was going to be able to open and eat these chocolates without one of my kids hurtling through to claim their share. (This always amazed me: When I screamed their names at the top of my lungs because I wanted them to come and pick up their wet towels off the bathroom floor, they didn’t hear me; but when I unwrapped a Cadbury’s Top Deck in my bedroom with the door closed, very slowly and very very quietly, under my duvet in the dark, they would hear it from down at the bottom of the garden.)

This opened the door to other delightful “never again” realisations. Here’s a list of some of them, and, in brackets, the number of times I did or said these things over the course of my children’s lives with me.

• “Don’t leave lights on in rooms you’re not in!” (1 120)

• “What’s that terrible smell?” (349)

• “You’re not going out looking like that, young lady!” (33)

• “When did you last shower?” (70)

• “Get out the bathroom! What the hell are you doing in there?!” (170)

• “Who used all the hot water??!” (813)

• “Stop teasing your brother!” (643)

• “Stop teasing your sister!” (598)

• “Because I said so.” (94)

• “One day, when you have kids of your own, you’ll understand.” (66)

• “You’re going to call Child Welfare? What about Parent Welfare? Who can I report parent abuse to??!” (6 or 7)

• “It’s a beautiful day. Go out and do something!” (103)

• “I don’t care how awful you feel, you shouldn’t have drunk all that tequila. Get up and clean it up.” (21)

• “What are you doing??!” (311)

• “What do you mean, he’s still sleeping? It’s 2 in the afternoon! Wake him up!” (467)

• “This isn’t a hotel!” (120)

• Buying bread and milk every single blessed day. (730)

• Going to parent-teacher meetings, end-of-year concerts, prize-givings, etc (overcountable)

• Forking out cash for a neverending series of fund-raisers, excursions, cake sales, friends’ birthday presents, raffles, sponsored walks, etc etc etc (enough to buy a villa in Tuscany)

• Making and keeping appointments: doctors, dentists, opticians, driving lessons, karate lessons, play rehearsals… (loads and loads)

• Driving Mom’s Taxi (equivalent of to the Moon and back)

• Sleep deprivation – caused by sick kids in the early years, and kids out partying in the later ones.

• Putting your own social life on the back burner – because there simply aren’t enough hours in the weekend for both yours and your kids’.

 

Disclaimer: I loved raising my kids. It was very hard work but it was also such fun – I often used to compare life in my house to life in a circus, especially when my children were younger. The teen years were no joke – I take my hat off to any parent who gets through them without entirely losing their minds – but I believe the animosity of those years is necessary for the apron strings to be thoroughly cut. (My daughter, for one, hacked through them with an enthusiasm that would have alarmed me had I not been so thrilled that she was doing so.) It’s a whole new and wonderful stage when your grown-up children who’ve left home return as your friends.

 

Horrible bosses

Freelancers willingly do without a great deal in order to call their time their own. We get no sick leave and no paid leave – if we don’t work, we don’t earn. We pay for and maintain our own computers and office space; we supply our own tea and coffee; and if we steal from the stationery cupboard, it shows in our own bottom line.

We don’t get employer-subsidised medical aid or pension. We don’t get annual bonuses. And where December is a time for rest and recharging for the formally employed, for freelancers it often heralds a couple of months of anxiety and belt-tightening, as companies close for the holidays and commissions dry up.

What we do get, however, is complete control over our working lives, from how and when we work to the projects we choose and how we charge for and bill them.

In essence, the entire fabric of our working lives is a mirror image of that of the formally employed. Except for in one instance: our bosses.

Horrible bosses are a horrible reality of any working situation, regardless of whether it’s fulltime or freelance. But for a freelancer, probably more so than for a 9-to-5er, horrible bosses can be extremely dangerous – here are 5 types of horrible bosses, in order of dangerousness, from least dangerous (ie, reputation-damaging) to most dangerous (ie, career-killing).

(I’ve used the feminine pronoun throughout because – and this surprises and distresses me a bit – all these horrible-boss types I’ve had to deal with in the last 25+ years of freelancing have been women.)

 

Horrible Boss Type #1: The Credit Hog

credit hogger

Credit Hogs do very little or nothing while the freelancer works long, hard hours to get a project in, accurately and on time. Then they take full credit for it.

Credit Hogs are often (but not always) also Liars (see Horrible Boss Type #2).

How to spot a Credit-hogging Horrible Boss. They never say thank you for a job well done; in fact, they seldom even acknowledge work you’ve turned in. And, of course, they never pass on praise.

In my actual experience… Two business e-newsletters I freelance-edited for a big corporate won prizes in a national competition. My Credit-hogging Boss didn’t only not forward to me the welter of congratulatory emails sent to her as the head of the department, she didn’t invite me to the celebratory staff lunch.

 

Horrible Boss Type #2: The Liar

liar

This is someone who can’t take responsibility for mistakes, and who lies her way out of everything. She loves working with freelancers because they’re seldom in the office so they’re the perfect patsy: when things go right, she can take credit for them (see Horrible Boss Type #1); when things go wrong, she can blame the freelancer.

Liars are often very good at it (lying, that is; they’re usually crap at their actual jobs). Over the years, they’ve honed their lying skills to such a fine art that they almost believe themselves, and everyone else usually believes them.

How to spot a Lying Horrible Boss. Unfortunately, it’s often only when you’re fired off a project that you realise how badly maligned you’ve been by this type of horrible boss. But Lying Horrible Bosses almost always have a track record – google or ask around about them before you take on work for them, and read between the lines.

In my actual experience… I was fired as the freelance subeditor on a big men’s magazine because changes that introduced errors were made to page proofs after I’d signed them off for print. It later emerged that the changes had been made by a senior writer – who had stood by, saying nothing, and watched me get fired in front of the entire staff.

 

Horrible Boss Type #3: The Greedy-guts

greedy guts

These shameless gobblers have the attitude that the freelancer is lucky to get work from them. They always haggle about word rates and always underpay. They don’t care a jot about freelancers’ other projects and/or private time, and brazenly muscle in on both. They’re not above professional blackmail.

How to spot a Greedy-guts Horrible Boss. They’re almost always loudmouthed public-relations people, often running lightweight PR firms. They throw around terms like “teamwork” and “all pulling together” as cover for making the freelancer do as much work as possible for as little money as they can get away with paying. They almost always live high on the hog, going on frequent overseas holidays and driving huge gas-guzzling cars with wanky personalised number-plates.

In my actual experience… A PRO commissioned an 800-word press release from me, which I wrote and submitted the same day. Two weeks later, one of her minions sent me clients’ changes which involved adding and editing 600 more words – which I did for free. A week later the same minion sent me yet more clients’ changes, which involved yet more editing, resulting in a 1 500-word press release (revision #3 at almost double the agreed wordcount). When I commented mildly in my return email that I hoped this would be the last of the work I’d be expected to do on this press release, I got a splutteringly threatening email from the PRO (copying in every person on her staff), accusing me of “inappropriate” comments and effectively telling me I wouldn’t be getting any more work from them.

 

Horrible Boss Type #4: The Ignoramus

Ignoramus

This is someone in a senior position in a company who doesn’t know how to do her job. She could be in that position because her daddy knows someone important, because she’s filling a quota, or because she got promoted out of her zone of professional competence.

Ignoramuses are usually found in big companies, because in smaller companies where workflow and results are more transparent, they would very quickly be revealed. Unfortunately, in big companies they can often last for years in positions of power, laying waste the careers of those around them.

How to spot an Ignoramus Horrible Boss. When you get a brief from her, you won’t understand it, and it will be awash with unexplained abbreviations and obtuse jargon; your emails and phonecalls asking for clarification will be ignored. You’ll suddenly get a bunch of emails from outraged higher-ups demanding you explain why you stated a certain thing in something you wrote, and when you try to get hold of the Ignoramus to ask her to explain it (she provided the information), she won’t be available. In fact, she won’t be available again until she emails you a new inexplicable brief.

In my actual experience… In the early days of e-communication, an Ignoramus Horrible Boss (the daughter of someone important) once scuttled an editing retainer contract I had with a women’s magazine because (and I’m not making this up) she didn’t know how to attach a Word document to an outgoing email.

 

Horrible Boss Type #5: The Avenger

vengeful

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, goes the old saying, and this apparently applies in business too. Although I’ve only once had the misfortune to run up against this type, the experience was scorching; and many other freelancers have their own hair-raising tales about Vengeful Horrible Bosses.

Avengers are usually control freaks. They’re also usually highly intelligent over-achievers, which makes them horribly dangerous. If you cross them, they will never ever give you freelance work again. And they’ll do all they can to make sure no-one else in your industry does either.

How to spot a Vengeful Horrible Boss. They run what they like to think is “a tight ship” but is in fact a fascist autocracy. Most of their permanent staff live in mortal fear of them.

In my actual experience… I discovered by chance that a big women’s magazine for which I’d done regular work for many years had sold an article of mine (on which I held copyright) for a tidy sum to an advertising agency. I tried repeatedly to get hold of the editor (who was new in the position), who never answered my emails and was never available to take my calls. Finally, I threatened legal action. The editor sent me a cheque accompanied by a scathing email, copying in every conceivable person in the known universe. Immediately, my commissions from that magazine dropped to zero, and have remained zero to this day.

 

People are living here

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Dear weekend visitors to our little village

 

Do you recall the eight of you standing outside Wicked Treats, in the street, and idly chatting (perhaps about where to wander to next)? And do you recall a person in a small silver car slowing down to give you time to move off the street? And do you recall completely ignoring that person? And that person hooting in order to get you to move your arses so she could drive on what is, after all, a road meant for cars? And you lot, instead of moving out the way, turning to her and giving her looks of open contempt for having the bloody gall to interrupt your little middle-of-the-road chat?

 

Do you recall driving your huge SUV up Royal Street and, at the top, where there’s a very clearly marked stop sign (both painted on the road and signposted on the pavement), simply turning right into Main Road, without bothering to either slow down or look? And do you recall a person in a small silver car having to slam on brakes in order to avoid a certain accident? And do you recall her hooting as you drove heedlessly past her, and you winding down the window and calling out, “Ag, relax, man!”

 

Do you recall driving your foreign-made luxury vehicle at a snail’s pace (20km per hour, never any faster) down any road in Riebeek Kasteel, gazing idly out the window at the houses going slooooowly by, and pointing at this and that? And do you recall driving more or less in the middle of the road, because apparently normal driving etiquette doesn’t apply here? And do you recall a person in a small silver car being stuck behind you as you hogged the road, block after block after block? And her flashing her headlights and of course being ignored by you; and her finally hooting in irritation, and you finally glancing in your rear-view mirror and making it very clear that you just couldn’t give a flying fuck that in your leisurely tourist circuit of our town, you inconvenience other drivers – the people who actually live here?

 

Just because our village has no traffic lights and barely any stop streets doesn’t mean that it’s a go-kart track for you to use at your leisure and how you see fit. The normal road rules apply here. You have to stop at stop signs, you need to keep an eye out for other drivers, and, when you’re on foot, it’s not okay to gather in idle bunches in the middle of the road or stroll down the centre line as if you own the bloody place.

 

So next time you drive out to “the country” in your giant 4X4 that never touches mud, or your BMW or Mercedes that apparently gives you the right to do whatever the fuck you like on the roads, please bear in mind that you’re visiting a village where people actually live real lives. Just as you do in the city where you live, on Saturday mornings and at other times during the weekend, we’re beetling about doing chores, paying bills, buying groceries, dropping off and picking up items, and so on. We’re busy. And having to negotiate your incredibly rude utter contempt for our roads not only makes our lives unnecessarily more stressful, it also makes us hate you.

 

 

A year of joy: Jessie turns 1

The last year has been a busy one, with some wonderful highs and some horrible lows. But having Jessie in our lives has also meant it’s gone by in a flash, filled with love and laughs. Here’s a look back over Jessie Rose Hawthorne-Bezuidenhout’s first 12 months on the planet.

Jessie’s very first picture.

first pic of Bubs's baby

 

Jessie’s very first hour (25 July 2013).

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Jessie’s first month (August 2013).

Maui II and Jessie Aug 2013

 

Jessie’s second month (September 2013).

Missy and Jessie Sept 2013

 

This photo (below) of four generations was taken, fittingly, on Heritage Day. The photograph is of my late mother, Jessie – Jessie Roses’s great-grandmother.

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Jessie’s third month (October 2013). The dog basket on top of the tyre swing made a perfect rocking crib, while the food net kept the bugs off!

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Jessie’s fourth month (November 2013).

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Jessie’s fifth month (December 2013). Miss Zany Hair.

Dec 2013

 

Jessie’s sixth month (January 2014).

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Jessie’s seventh month (February 2014).

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Jessie’s eighth month (March 2014).

Jessie shopping april 2014

 

Jessie’s ninth month (April 2014).

Jessie

 

Jessie’s 10th month (May 2014). This was the month Jessie decided, having crawled for a few weeks, that walking was a much better option. And climbing, obviously, was the best possible thing!

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Jessie’s 11th month (June 2014). Even though she was plenty big enough for the bath, it was much kinder on her Nana’s creaky back to bath her in the kitchen sink.

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Jessie’s first year (July 2014). My two special babies.

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Happy 1st birthday, Jessie Rose! (25 July 2014) With her mummy and her brother Kean at her birthday party.

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