Friendly faces in parking lots
South Africa is a friendly country.
So friendly in fact that when you park your car on a street, or in a parking lot – well, just about anywhere really – you’ll find a friendly face beaming at you as you pull into the parking space, twisting and turning your steering wheel to the whistles and directional hand signals of the friendly face. You get out of your car and the friendly face will beam even more widely, revealing a (frequently) toothless grin (especially if you’re in Cape Town, but more on that later) and you will be greeted by a gushing “Hello” and a wave of the hand.
Off you go, to do your shopping, watch your movie or drink your coffee and on your return, the same friendly face will be there, saying “Goodbye” and watching you intently as you get into your car. You’ll even get some whistling and hand signals to help you navigate your way out of your parking space [I find these hand signals particularly useful when I’ve reversed into the parking space and all I’m now doing is pulling straight out in a forward direction].
What could be friendlier than that?
But, it’s not all as straight-forward as it seems.
These are South Africa’s “Car guards” – an employment initiative introduced years ago in an effort to lower unemployment. Now, car guards are everywhere and their chief job is to “look after your car for you”. This means making sure that nobody crashes into your car, breaks into or damages your car or worse still – steals your car.
The question of course remains as to what a car guard will actually do when it comes to the crunch – would they put themselves in the line of fire to protect your car? The jury’s still out on this one. Some car guards have official uniforms, some have fluorescent bibs and some….well, let’s just say they could be any man off the street.
In return for their watchful eyes, they expect a tip of between R2 – R5. For most of us, that’s not too much. The annoyance starts to mount though when you’ve only been out of your car for a few minutes or [my personal favourite], the car guard doesn’t actually know which car is yours and is just saying “Hello” to you as you walk past on the off-chance that he’s guessed correctly. But, if you’re visiting South Africa, humour the poor fellows and give them a tip. Just don’t expect them to actually prevent anything happening to your car.
Disclaimer: This post was written before the Twitter #TNI discussion on friendly cities. Just so you know!