Category Archives: surprises

Its just like tv

We were invited to a ‘cocktail evening’ the other night, a sometimes rare treat when you are the new kids in town. Friends of friends from Durban contacted us and we eagerly accepted their invitation to join them at their home for some drinks after 6pm.  When we arrived we found a small but multi cultural group; a french intern leaving after a year working here, a swiss couple new in town setting up a new branch of the company they work for, another American couple which included one real life Atlantan and our hosts. The genuine local offered to pose for photographs with us because it is so rare to meet someone born and raised here in Atlanta.

After the greetings and introductions were done one of the first questions asked was ‘How are y’all enjoying it here in the States?’ My response (after inwardly doing a little ‘he really said y’all’)  was  along the lines of – We are loving it so far, we grew up watching television shows about growing up in the American suburbs and now we are living the dream.

I always think Australians have a little window into both British and US culture through the television of the 70’s and 80’s on our tv screens and on more than one occasion in the past I have used that knowledge as a reference point to provide translation services in a three way conversation between citizens of those countries.

Moving on, after two wines and a champagne I was standing completely still in the backyard and simply fell over while talking to the charming Swiss lady who was five months pregnant, not drinking at all and possibly wondering what she had said that was able to blow me over. Its just my inbuilt ‘clumsy gene’ inherited from my mother’s side of the family and embarrasses me, my husband and my kids (even though they have it too) on a regular basis. After the stunned silence and everyone but my husband offering to help me up – which took a while as though I didn’t break the champagne glass, I did splash it into my eye so I couldn’t actually open it due to the stinging sensation (don’t recommend rinsing eyes in champagne), my other half finally appeared to haul me to my feet and said to our host ‘After we catalogue the injuries here you’ll be hearing from our lawyers’. There was a millisecond of silence before the hearty laughter. Phew. It just seemed like an ‘American’ thing to say and luckily everyone had a sense of humour. It may have been a had to be there moment but it moved the people on from the falling down part to a new conversation about litigious America, and the French intern’s hopes to find someone to sue in the next two weeks before she left town. Thank you husband.

Another thing we discussed which is just like the tv promised it would be are the mail boxes and the mail system here in suburbia.

First of all, every bill you receive comes with a return envelope for you to write a cheque (true story) and pop a stamp on the front and return.

The stamps, could you get any more ‘American’*? Or what us folks that didn’t grow up here think of as ‘American’.

Our mail box looks like this.  See the little red lever on the side?

You put the letters you want to send inside

Then put the lever up like this – the mailman TAKES THE MAIL from your mailbox and posts it.

So cool, too exciting and tres American, to us anyway.

After 9 years living in different countries with no actual stand alone mailbox I may be just excited to have one. If you ask WAFYO what her favourite thing is about our new house she always says the mailbox and she is not kidding. For me it makes it just like tv.

* American – to clarify is not a derogatory term, just a term used to describe something that really has no other way to refer to it, that we associate with the way we see American culture as an outsider. You may have to be not American to truly get it.


Bash the what? (& no mun no fun)

Just when I think I am beginning to understand how things work here in Africa something comes along and confuses me.

For instance today when I went to the ‘hole in the wall’ to get money out to pay for those Kettlebell from hell classes the machine said to me

Request denied Error 68

The last time I had a denied request like that it was because someone had been draining our bank account after cloning my card when I used it at Joburg airport and my heart sank that the thought of going through that process again. I remembered the drama, the police reports, the bank reports, the six trips back and forward between the two because no one could tell me which forms to fill out when and where. So I thought – I’ll just check the balance because it’s probably happened again. Only I couldn’t check the balance, at the machine or online, because all access to our bank account had been cut off.

Surely this has nothing to do with our recently applied for visas I thought?!? After all we had been back and forth with the immigration consultant and the bank several times on what we needed to do and provide to ensure while our visas were being processed our accounts weren’t frozen. We had supplied all the paperwork and documents they had asked for.

But no harm in a quick phone call to check with our ‘private banker’ (fancy schmancy title for not a lot I can tell you) who had promised to monitor our accounts daily until our visas were approved to ensure no problems. Hmmm looks like she forgot about that today – Um, Um, I’ll just check and get back to you.

Ten minutes later as I am standing in a shopping mall, ready to shop – Ahhh, yes – that’s correct, the paperwork is apparently not what we need…..

Cue suppressed swearing and shouting from me – and calmly asking what is it we could do to lift this ban on our accounts.

Hmm – not sure yet so will have to get back to you on that.

Cue less suppressed tonal changes and anxious and louder than usual ‘discussion’ tone to voice my displeasure on the subject.

Then I went shopping.

The issue remains tonight unresolved, so I am very glad we had already paid our electricity bill for the month so I have my venting devices on hand – fully charged, as I await my husband to return home from a work dinner that I imagine someone else will be paying for.

What all this means is I still don’t understand how many things in this country work – so I wanted to put the question to South Africans here and away, other nationalities near and far and ask this.

Did anyone else grow up – in any country – where this was part of your school ‘Fun Days’ or local carnivals, as it was part of my children’s recent School Fun Day?

Bash the Skadonk?!?

Did you do this as a child? Is R10 an expensive bash?The 'Skadonk'

In my best Pauline Hanson voice (you have to be Australian to get that) PLEASE EXPLAIN?

I am only sorry (or not) that I don’t have the third photo in the series which was a five year old boy with a baseball bat having proudly handed over this ten rand for his turn to bash.

At the time I was confused – but the more I think about my bank experiences today, the more I understand.

The 'Skadonk'

Surprise! Or – my husband will never be able to have a secret affair

Here’s the thing – I HAVE to know things – anything, you name it I just like to know it. I believe the old fashioned term for it is busybody. Who knows what the latest and greatest txt spk is – what the cool kids (or heaven forbid now I am no longer in my 30’s) what the ‘young people’ are saying – but I know that the word my mother would (and does) use is busybody.

I HAD to know the sex of my unborn children when they were about the same size as a baked bean – it was ‘killing’ me not to know. I seriously don’t know how all those people who say – Oh we’re just waiting for a surprise on the day – do it – I think everyone secretly finds out and just uses that line, how can you not?

Along those lines it might be time for a confession or two

Dear Mum and Dad, when I was a child there was not a Christmas present I didn’t find before Christmas Day.

Phew – good to get that off my chest. I knew all the hidey-holes used and surprisingly would even enter into the deepest recesses of the garage (under the house bit where the monsters lived) to check – yes that was the year of the bikes. Mostly it was just in the second pantry in the hallway of the ‘other’ side of the house on the top few shelves, but I always found them, and the great thing was that on Christmas Day it was still just as exciting because I actually got to open and use all the cool presents I had pre-spotted. I really think they never knew – but maybe they did, either way we all know now.

This however is a story about my birthday, a big one – with an 0 a 4 in it. My first birthday in South Africa took place nearly twelve months to the day after we arrived here in Durban. To soften the blow of the move from my beloved Hong Kong my husband proposed the most amazing gift for my 40th birthday (one of course I had been dropping hints forever for) – a trip to New York for us, the grown ups – my birthday – not sure how he got on the ticket but there you go. I wasn’t knocking that gift horse in the mouth, it had long been on my wish list and we set about planning the trip, dates, flight routes, childcare etc. Then we had a terrible set back, something I can’t really talk about let alone discuss here without wincing but it had to do with an accountant, some bad advice and seven years of land tax. No New York – maybe another year……

Anyway the new budget was super strict (see above) and all spending had to have double, triple approvals and monthly reconciliations etc etc. Pretty much nothing was ‘in the budget’ and that included birthday celebrations and gifts for me – if I couldn’t go big I didn’t want to go at all.

That’s correct I was sulking ‘big style’.

I told all my friends ‘if I can’t have it the way I want it I don’t want it at all’ and I really meant it. Plus my birthday was during the World Cup – an already exciting time where there were five weeks of school holidays, people traveling within SA and away and it didn’t really make sense to have anything on.

Next confession –

I knew about my surprise party about two months before it happened

First of all let me say I have always wanted to have a surprise birthday party. When I was much smaller my best friend had a surprise party every year – I know that sounds strange, you would think she would work it out, or we would but there you go, every year we would hide in a different part of her house waiting to spring out and shout ‘Surprise’ and every year I thought it was the best thing ever. Not sure why the girl who had everyone sent home from her birthday party one year because of a tantrum surrounding a game of ‘Cut the chocolate’ never had a surprise party but am guessing there was a reason.

So one day when my husband was busy doing something and said to me – ‘Can you please send a text to XYZ and say blah blah blah on my phone’ of course I picked up his phone and entered the message as requested. The thing is – while I was doing that I saw that his inbox was full of messages between himself and my mother and a friend of mine – this warranted a quick look and I’m guessing you know what happened from there on in.

Its so strange that it happened because we don’t do that – read each other’s text messages – unless we have our hands full with something or perhaps someone’s like small people and say – Can you just see who that text was from? I would never pick up his phone and just scroll through the messages – how boring – and now I know he’s got nothing to hide anyway.

But once I knew – I was suckered into the secret and of course torn between excitement of having the very type of birthday party I had always wanted and the fact that it was going to cost money and it was not ‘in the budget’, excitement obviously won out.

Everyone picked the husband to be the ‘weak link’ in the plan – I can tell you he was not (except for the text thing). He umm-ed and ahhh-ed about the fake activity on the night of the party – the Bryan Adams concert – saying I could go if I wanted, he wasn’t sure he was going to go, I had to practically talk him into it – lets go, fun with a group, don’t get out much……..

He is also known in our house as ‘the vault’ – people tell him things and it never crosses his mind to share their secrets with anyone let alone me – this can be a problem when some things aren’t actually secrets and I find out a friend in Australia was pregnant after the birth announcement and I get a ‘oh that’s what I meant to tell you’

Anyway I was hooked and became a secret text checker – I felt like I was trying to catch him having an affair – that would have been a real surprise but that wasn’t what I was seeing. What I was finding was a series of messages about dates, venues and gifts. Once again I was fully advance appraised of the gift situation, just like looking in the top cupboard at home. It was touch and go there for a while when he and Mum talked about changing the plan for their gift from an iPhone 4 (love my iPhones) to a painting (South African themed on point) and I was conflicted but I did breathe a little sigh of relief when they went back to the phone. (I would say don’t judge me here but I feel its too late)

The guy at the school café was showing off his new iPad one day and it was getting close to the event so I felt safe to say (where noone knew me) ‘Hey I’m having a surprise party next week and my friends are getting me an iPad, I’ll have to come to you for some tips, isn’t that so exciting?’ – it did get a big laugh.

I was so excited to have a surprise party I was desperate to tell one person – but who could I tell? I didn’t want to spoil the effort of my closest friends here who had done most of the organizing and ruin their hard work and secretive activities. I tried it on facebook chat with a friend in Hong Kong – I’m having a surprise party I wrote – I know she said – oh the plot thickens. How and why did she know? I knew I couldn’t ask that but my mind ran wild with the possibilities – turns out there was a fabulous video screened on the night from some of my HK buddies. It wasn’t satisfying enough because she already knew – so I came up with a cunning plan, well I thought it was cunning at the time.

I lasted all the way up til the week of the party and then I had to tell Twitter. Now that might sound strange and stupid but I did take some precautions – I blocked my mother and the two friends I have here that I know in real life and that would be attending the party. I was sure that would cover it – they could no longer see my tweets and it was only a few days – I didn’t interact with them regularly on Twitter so I couldn’t see where the problem would be – after the party I would just switch them back on. I had a great time – soliciting advice on the best way to act surprised – sharing my excitement about my surprise party. Yay.

So it was THE DAY of the party and I was in the hairdressers – of course I was, it was my bloody surprise party, there would be photos – everyone else knew they weren’t going to a Bryan Adams concert so a little hairdo wouldn’t hurt. The fact that I then had my make up done at the Chanel counter may have tipped it that I knew but again – MY PARTY.

I digress, I took a call from a friend who casually flung into the conversation that she couldn’t see me on Twitter anymore – Oh that I said – I deleted a whole lot of things on my Twitter account earlier in the day, very frustrating, would fix it over the weekend. Thought I played it to perfection – casual, nonchalant – I’ll get to it later. Conversation continued, time to go, had to take the plunge – So are you coming to the Bryan Adams concert tonight?

Turns out my plan wasn’t foolproof – she could no longer see my tweets, she couldn’t see my profile when she searched for me but she had done a search and she could see @ replies to me, all about – guess what? Traps for young players. Had not thought of that.

I can’t believe you know, she said –

OK – I’m sorry – I confess – Please don’t tell X (the person that had organized the whole party) I don’t want her to be upset about a ruined surprise.

She was the first person I called………

My husband, bless him, on the way to the party – Who’s got the concert tickets? Carried it on to the end.

To everyone

This is my full confession, I am sorry. I am sure there is a lesson I should have learnt here.

Certainly I should learn to send thank you notes for fabulous parties and over generous gifts much earlier than two and a half months after the party. Does ‘its in the mail’ work for you? Thought not.

I had a wonderful night, great party, great friends and finally finally the Surprise Party I always wanted. As they would say in South Africa – it was ‘Hundreds’.