ASK YOURSELF how you would feel if someone walked up to you and for no reason stuck their tongue out at you?
Amused? Offended? Puzzled? If it were a friend – I have a few friends who do it anyway – you would probably see it as a friendly, playful gesture; however, in a more formal context, let’s say meeting someone for the first time, this would seem rather odd, even rude … but not everywhere though.
In Tibet, sticking out your tongue at a stranger is considered courteous, even reassuring. This custom began with Tibetan monks sticking out their tongues to prove that they were not the reincarnation of a wicked 9th-century ruler named Lang Darma, who was known to have a black tongue. So a protruding tongue is simply their way of saying, “I am not that guy”.
Meanwhile, over in Russia, the typical greeting is a very firm handshake. And when I say firm, I mean assume you’re trying to crush each other’s knuckles, all the while maintaining direct eye contact.
In Belgium, it’s less aggressive; in fact, the courtesy is on the other side of the spectrum. In Belgium when greeting, expect to be kissed on one of your cheeks, regardless of the gender of the person you are meeting or how well you know each other.
Greetings vary from country to country and region to region.
Recently, however, I found myself participating in the new international greeting ritual that is taking the world by storm when I met someone who I have not seen in over 20 years. We, at first, nodded politely to acknowledge recognition before launching into our ceremony.
“Oh, it IS you,” you say whilst narrowing your eyes to indicate that you are smiling. “I didn’t recognise you behind your mask at first,” you add before extending your elbow, withdrawing it, offering your fist, withdrawing that, and finally shaking hands saying, “Yeah, let’s do it the right way!”
Once we had greeted each other we launched into what has become common conversation for people who had grown up in Kimberley but have since moved to other places … yes, potholes.
He told me that he was a passenger one day and was cringing at how fast the young driver was going despite all the potholes in the roads. She laughed off his concern and said that in Kimberley people acquired the skill of memorising where the potholes are. He shook his head and said, “That’s both impressive and sad!”
Trying to impress him, I told him that Kimberley drivers have more skills than simply knowing where potholes are. Drivers also have to be on the lookout for pedestrians who, for some weird reason, walk in the road two metres from the sidewalk, sometimes two or three abreast.
People increasingly seem to be invading other people’s space these days, and because of this I get the impression tempers are heating up.
Just this past week I was in a queue sitting on a chair. Now this chair was not free-standing, it was constructed in such a way that there were two rows of seats, back-to-back on a single frame. I found sitting there to be very, very uncomfortable simply because the guy sitting behind me was leaning back in his seat, pushing the lady behind him forward in her seat, whilst draping his arm over the back of my seat, meaning I could also not sit back.
Yes, sure, the polite thing for me to have done would be to ask him to ‘sit properly’, but these days you do not know who you are dealing with. People can flare up at the slightest provocation. We saw this at the Oscars where one celebrity walked up to and slapped another celebrity for telling a joke … granted, the joke was a bit close to the bone, but there must have been at least a dozen other ways for the slapper to express his indignation.
I am no prophet, but I can see fallout from this incident haunting him for the rest of his life.
There are many that probably would agree that some people deserve a lekker stiff kopklap – drivers who park their cars across two parking bays in parking lots for example; what new trend is this? And the thing is, alarmingly, more and more people are doing it because in their minds it must, I assume, seem like a good idea.
Comedian Larry David, in his show Curb Your Enthusiasm, was always concerned about people taking up more than their ‘allotted space’, especially when it inconvenienced others. Of course in the show Larry was the one that was most guilty of this in every episode. It made for hilarious, though awkward and cringeworthy comedy.
When someone sees fit to take up more than their ‘fair share’ of space it often causes frustration, dissatisfaction and even alarm.
For example, I used to enjoy walking around the Kimberley CBD, but steadily over the past 20 years or so, I noticed informal traders packing out their wares on the sidewalks.
At first it was just a small strip, but over time they started using more and more of the pavement. Eventually pedestrians – the people for whom the sidewalks were built – were left with a narrow strip resulting in congestion on the walkway.
The informal trade in our city has become such a problem that stores that have been landmarks in our city have shut their doors. It is hard to compete with people who are selling goods outside your store that you sell inside your store, when those outside your store do not have the burden of rent, rates and utility bills.
Someone deserves a slap for allowing this mess to become … the norm.
But complaints, concerns and queries seem to be falling on deaf ears, it’s as if those who have the authority and responsibility of enforcing our city’s bylaws are simply rudely sticking their tongues out at their frustrated citizens.