Snobs & Strangers, Kindness & Friends.

I called her the “b” word, and I was yelling it, and almost crying, my knuckles white on the steering wheel. I’m not a very sweary person normally, to be honest. (My kids might dispute this. Actually, by now, the kids know it’s them that usually make me swear, so I’m in the clear here.) The person that it applied to was nowhere near me, as I was driving away from the venue, but I was venting to God and He knows everyone, so He knew I was right.  Help me with her! I cried out. This was not the first time I was left feeling hurt and outraged at the same time. Maybe ten times of greeting, smiling, conversing, helping, and she continually made me feel snubbed and belittled. She was outright rude, despite my best efforts at being friendly.

And I can be damn friendly. I’m Zimbabwean, for goodness’ sake, we’re renowned for this. We can get into a lift with complete strangers, make eye contact with them, greet, smile, and on a good day, have a full blown conversation about nothing and everything. I take gifts to neighbours’ newborn twins, flowers to sick ladies across the road, I say “sorry” when my wayward shopping trolley veers dangerously towards yours, or when your child is kicking my seat in the cinema. It’s not even my fault, but sorry I am.

That was one of the hardest things to adjust to here- that no-one else is ever sorry. It may be a cultural thing, but I suspect that it may also be a worldwide thing- people are so unwilling to make connections, yet those connections are what make living worthwhile. The other day I let someone in to the traffic (doo-do-doo, sorry, that’s my trumpet being blown) and they were so happy! For once, I got a wave back, and in case I missed it, they also flicked their hazard lights on to really say thanks. I felt so affirmed, I felt like we could be best friends, I felt like I was going to have a good day! A tad desperate, I’ll admit. But that’s why I’m so puzzled when people who are NOT complete strangers- ones whose kids do extra-murals with my kids, or go to the same school as my kid, or who park on the same road as me every single day to wait for kid collection and then fight the insane collection traffic outta there- are so unfriendly.

The problem is, I can’t leave it alone. I drive my husband crazy with stories of crazy people throughout my crazy days, and I keep trying harder, to the point of considering baking brownies for the traffic waiting outside the school. What works better than brownies?? They’d all soften up and wave at me every day. Hmm, second thoughts, I don’t know if I could do with that much peopley stuff daily. Maybe just a few select people for brownie delivery, then.

I can still recall the first get-togethers I had after moving to South Africa. A lady with “mutual-school” kids invited her circle of friends out to coffee, and took me along to meet everyone. Okay, so they were confined to a coffee shop, so had to chat and ask polite questions, but I can still remember those who didn’t really pay me any attention. It was hard work, man. They don’t need me. I am the immigrant, the newbie, the foreigner. They have their established routines, relationships, resources, network, so they don’t NEED me. But I need them. I need to know where to find a kind dentist, where to cheaply feed a family of 6, which driving school won’t kill my son, and how to deal with confusing school protocols. But kudos to confined coffee shops, because most of those women are my friends today, my network, my sanity.

So after privately insulting my hurtful snob, and then sheepishly asking God what he wanted me to do- I felt determined to keep on doing what I know to be right. The fruit of that is in the fact that we are friends today, months after this incident. Kept sowing the right stuff, eventually got a return. We don’t have a lot in common, but we can hold a conversation (without swearing) and enjoy the company… and perhaps even learn something new about one another. How wonderful it is to see and be seen.

Most of all, I have really had to turn this inward and make sure I’m not her in a different circumstance. I’m a four-year old Capetonian now, I know the drill, and now we’ve got all these immigrant newbies who know nothing. They end up in the wrong lanes in hectic traffic, and they don’t know where to find grocery discounts or kind dentists. I’m determined to see and hear them, and take the time out of my well-established, routine life to give another the same hand I needed not so long ago. I know how they feel.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13

May the lessons learned in the chaos and the quiet lead you closer to Him.

Lots of love,

Lea.

4 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    So relatable Lea! One difference from your experience and mine is this crazy thing here, that EVERYONE says ‘sorry’, ALL THE TIME! I’m not sure if it’s a Florida thing, or a US thing. It’s actually too much sorry. Even more ‘sorry’ than Zimbabweans know! For example, if you pass someone in the grocery store and they are looking at the shelves even if there is plenty of room, you must say sorry. Or if you are waiting for their cart (sorry, trolley) to go past, they must say ‘sorry’ or if you want to browse in a similar vicinity at the same items, you must say sorry. I’m used to politely smiling, and using sorry if I actually bump someone, but not used to a grocery trip of a hundred ‘sorries’! If you feel you need some ‘sorry’ therapy, come visit us, we’ll hit the grocery store! I do like that folk here are easy to chat to, friendly and personable and will often strike up a conversation randomly with a stranger, this is good, I understand this. But the need to be needed and understood at a whole different level – so real.

    • Lea Stewart says:

      Thanks Pauline, awesome to hear your side of things! Would love a “sorry filled” grocery trip with you! X

  2. Anonymous says:

    You were that person who invited me to coffee to meet all your friends, and you taught me how to drive and navigate the grocery store and. . .

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