African time is like dog years.
Or maybe it’s the reverse if you really did the math correctly. My point is, everything takes about seven times as long as you’re used to if, like most expats, you’ve grown up on a continent with a more mainstream concept of time. Or maybe I should come right out and say it: A more Western concept of time.
For just about the entire three years we lived in South Africa, I tried diligently to get Woolworths – the South African grocery store chain – to approve my customer member card, so that I could get promotions per email and accumulate loyalty points and such.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Woolworths. It is the best everyday grocery store I’ve ever shopped at. I love everything about them: the convenient locations, the small stores you can easily navigate in about 10 minutes, the friendly staff, the superior quality of just about everything they stock. I even love the cloth shopping bags I got there and use now when I go to Publix, and every bagger here practically drools over them.
But while Woolworths is probably one of the best-managed South African companies, my quest to register for their customer loyalty program resembled all my other quests to beat the Bureaucracy of Doom. It dragged on and on, parked indefinitely at that oh-so-South-African sweet spot between Just Now and Never.
My first application was denied because of the usual problem of digits: South African ID numbers have 13 digits, and US (or German, for that matter) passports don’t. So it’s impossible for your number to match their field, and it takes an act of God or at least the act of an extremely well-qualified and energetic supervisor to reconcile the two.
Lo and behold, I did eventually get the ID sorted out. But that’s when my application somehow got lost, and I had to start the whole thing from scratch. Miraculously, I got the ID problem fixed a second time which finally did enable me to get the coveted discount card, but in order to receive emails with weekly discount offers there was yet another application, and I never was able to get that one approved.
Imagine my surprise, then, when just last week, about one and a half years after our departure from South Africa, I received a mouth-watering e-mail from Woolworths.