Monday, 7 October 2013

Important Academic Work!

Lectures have started! For English, I'm going to be reading a novel every two weeks; for one of my Philosophy modules we're covering Heidegger's Being and Time and Collingwood's An Essay on Metaphysics. Then there's still another module of Philosophy and some History floating around somewhere, neither of which has graced me with lecture time yet. Then there are secondary readings, but the list of secondary readings has now become a reading on its own.

So obviously I'm getting my teeth stuck in early. I wouldn't sit around procrastinating or anything. That wouldn't be like me at all.

Ummm. Well, there was this Grocott's article which I read at 1 AM, while trying and failing to put my sleep pattern back to something which the rest of the world finds convenient.

Some terminology for foreigners - (Puts on condescending teacher voice): Grahamstown is the town where I live; Makana is our municipality - they're very good at figuring out how to spend their entire budget on luxury hotel lunches, but pretty hopeless at everything else, including walking and chewing gum at the same time; Grocott's is our local paper, which was South Africa's oldest independent newspaper, but now is neither independent (debatable) nor a newspaper (debatable).

So this post is actually located here: (I tried putting the image directly into my blog, but the Twitter feed got in the way, and then the feed and the article started fighting with each other, so I thought it best to separate them).

Saturday, 5 October 2013


I got to the till at Morrison's supermarket, and started the by now well-practiced speech. "No, it doesn't have a chip. You swipe it. See, a magnetic strip, like a cassette tape. Yes, you know, before CDs? (Oh my God, is she younger than I am?) Yes, it is a normal debit card. Yes, your card machine does have a slot to swipe cards. Yes, I know you've never used it before -- but look, it's quite simple. Yes, we also get chip cards in South Africa, but this one isn't one of them. Yes, I know my card isn't signed. Yes, you may see my driver's licence. No, I can't actually sign my name the way I did when I got my driver's licence. Yes, I also agree that that squiggle is close enough. Thank you, have a nice day."

Except this time I was only just getting going, when I was rudely interrupted. "Shhhh," I said. "If I stop in the middle I have to start again. You know, rote learning. Muscle memory."

"We can't accept cards like that."

"I've used this card in this shop three times. I know the drill. Swipe it, look for the signature, complain, look at my driver's and I leave. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."

"Let me just call someone to check."

"No, no. No need for that. I'm telling you, I know how this works. I've been here before. I've done this before. Look, I have the T-Shirt."

"Let me just check."

The manager arrived, while the people behind me the queue started waiting in a more obvious manner. They stopped looking at the DVDs on sale, and started not watching me instead, where "not watching" is closer to the opposite than to the absence of watching.

"We can't accept it unless it's signed."

Sigh. I started the speech again. Again it had no result. "I've used this card in this shop three times. This is the fourth time. Fourth."


A slightly prolonged silence, where the manager thought: Hmmm, I could let it go. But it's been a boring day, and a bad week. And he talks like he's not from here. Is that an Australian accent? Bad week, boring day. Let's go.

"Well then, I obviously need to retrain all my tellers."

Haha. Joke, right? Right? Ahhh. Not a joke.

"So, give me a pen, and I'll sign it. It is signed -- it's just faded and rubbed off a bit. Look, here's my licence. I've used this card all over Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Ireland, and England. I've used it in three different Morrisons, and three times in this Morrisons."

"Sorry, I can't let you do that. I still don't know you haven't stolen it."

OK, so now you're not only the world's least pleasant person, but you're also guilty of libel.

The not watching behind me grew a bit more intense. I decided to be nice.

"Fine. Fine. Let me go draw cash. I'm so happy that I can deal with humans in this shop. You know -- humans? Spirit of the law, not the letter. That kind of thing. I'd hate to receive unpleasant, unfriendly service. That wouldn't be nice -- might give me a bad impression of your whole country, you know? Thank you. Now if you just keep these over here for me, I'll go draw cash with my unsigned card. I'm sure I can convince the ATM to look past a faded signature -- humans, you know. I'd hate our world to be run by machines."

"Have you got any refrigerables in there?"

Say what? Is that even a word?

"Because if you do, I'm not allowed to keep them aside for longer than 20 minutes. I'll. Have. To. Put. Them. BACK. Mwaaahahahahaha."

May you and your family live lives of agony for a hundred generations, and then may they die in even more agony.

"Twenty minutes. I'll do my best, but you know I have to press three buttons on the ATM before it'll do its job and give me what I need. Three. That could easily take longer than 20 minutes. But I'll be back. Just leave my shopping there, OK. I'll be back now."

The friendly ATM said hello to me. "Please would you do me the honour of inserting your card? If it's not too much mission. Isn't it a nice day today. Would you like a receipt? No receipt? Cash? Unusual card you have there. Is that a magnetic strip? No problem, I can help you in German, French, Spanish, or even English if you want? English? Ah, you must be South African. Lovely place. Cool, well here we go. I got this. Going as fast as I can. 50 pounds. No problem. Shall I charge you a fixed exchange rate, or would you like to leave that up to your bank? Your bank? Are you sure -- the fees could be higher. Oh, you know that. OK, just being helpful and efficient. It's my job, you know. What I don't get paid for. Please take your card. Here's your cash. Thank you so much for letting me serve you. Have a good day.

Twenty seconds later, and I was back in the shop.

It was enough time for the manager to have taken her scheme further, and hidden my shopping. A long time later, I found it. She was standing there in a corner, waiting and gloating. She looked at her watch, and her face flooded with disappointment. "Nineteen minutes, fifty-five seconds. Huuurumph."

"Now," I said. "Let's be friends. No hard feelings, right? We have our differences, but let's resolve them. Be nice to each other. You've heard of that? I've got this deal, right? How it works, see, is you don't send me to the back of a queue."

"The items have been wiped off the system. Please go to the back of the queue."