“So tell me, what does your husband do?”
And I cringe, because I know, it is not that they mean to be so… so South African, (even though they think they are not), it is just that their frame of reference has not changed yet.
The nasty Aunty Acid, hiding deep within me, wants to say, “Why? So that you can evaluate whether I fit into your social standing? Do you think that I am defined by what my husband does? Do you really think that you are able to decide whether or not you will like me, and want to be my friend based on what my husband does? I mean really mate!”
There are three questions that new South African Expats inevitably ask. Questions meant to suss out your social standing in South Africa. It is their attempt to make sense of the new hierarchy that they are confronted with when they arrive here. The new hierarchy : which is a shocker because there is not really much of a social class structure amongst most of the Australian population.
What are the three questions?
- So, tell me, what does your husband do?
Quite frankly, it does not matter mate! As long as he has a job, earns money honestly, and take care of his family. I do not care whether he sweeps the streets, drives the garbage truck, cleans the toilets or mows the lawns. He works, he sacrifices to keep his family fed and clothed and that is more than enough. Why not ask what I do?
You will soon come to discover that people here don’t mind whether you have a degree or social standing when they become your friend. The question is, do you have what it takes to be a friend, irrespective of your accomplishments? And please… puhleeze, people here do not care if you were in Grey College, Potch Gimnasium or St Michaels in gawd-knows-where. Honestly, if you have not been able to progress from name dropping where you went to school, you surely have not achieved much.
- Where did you live in South Africa?
There are two ways to address this question: Just say the town or city, people will relate, but I honestly DO NOT have to know the name of the estate, with the private security guard and the 6 feet high walled mansion that you lived in. Does it matter? I lived in Doornpoort where I could hear the gunshots of trigger happy illegals every weekend. Do you think people will be impressed by your home in Waterkloof? Really?
- What car did you drive?
Why? Did my little Opel Astra not get me from A to B? I also had air-conditioning, I could also do 120km/h and I had airbags. It was a car! Does it really matter? Really? Are you for real?
Look, I get it, you are making small talk. You are trying to figure out who is who and how you fit in. Still, something that many people echo when they have been here a while is that they have become friends with people they would not normally be friends with.
Why? What makes it so different now? Why would the mine manager and the boiler maker now be best mates when they would not even imagine doing it back in the “when we” time of their lives?
I think it is because when you come to the Great South Land Down Under, the playing field is levelled. You become more than just your job, or the house you live in or the car you drive, or the religion you profess, or the places you shop. You come here and you discover a bit about yourself and others, and you come to learn that we are not different at all. We all have the same need of safety and freedom, and love and acceptance.
Dear Migrant to the Great South Land,
please, please do not ask me or any other person the questions, “So, tell me what you husband does, where did you live, or what did you drive.”
Rather ask me, “Who are you, what is important to you, what gives you joy?”
What your husband does is not important to me, I am not married to him, and it will not make me like you more or less. My question when meeting new people is not what I can get from them, but what I can contribute to them. I honestly do not care where you lived in South Africa. Neither do I care what car you drove.
May you experience Aussie mateship even amongst your former countrymen. May you find friends here that you would not normally be friends with. May you discover yourself in this great land, as so many of us seem to have done.