This one I can’t quite file into my “Expat Joys” series. What I like about having my car serviced here in South Africa is the, um, service. They take me to my house (or anywhere else I wish to go) after dropping off the car, AND they actually pick me up again in the afternoon. I always hated having my car serviced in the U.S., where they’d take me home alright but not pick me up again. Meaning I’d opt to wait for my car then and there munching chips from the vending machine while watching “The Young and the Restless” at top volume. Here they serve cappuccino or tea with muffins, very civilized. And they always wash my car, inside and out.
So far it’s perfect, right? BUT. The reason the service at Fourways Audi (and I imagine any other place) doesn’t actually qualify for one of my expat joys is that I always have to arrive with a big bag to dump every little possession from my car into, lest it be stolen. For Noisette that’s an easy task, since he is very neat and doesn’t believe in any kind of clutter, but for me and my habit to tote around everything you might ever need in case you have a spare second at the red light (hand lotion, makeup, tooth picks, floss, tweezers, a notebook for blog ideas, coins for the parking attendants, water bottles, gum, the South African Road Traffic Act, a blanket, shopping bags, phone charges, mailbox keys, pens, you name it) it’s an entirely different story.
And you HAVE to do it. They even make you sign a form upon check-in that you’ve removed your valuables from your car. They even record the level of fuel. My first time there I forgot to remove the coins I keep in a cupholder for the parking attendants, and they were all gone afterwards. The last time I was there, I left my water bottle in the car, and it went the same way as the coins. I like to think that someone thought it was trash and was overeager to tidy up my car during the detailing, but I can’t be sure. Don’t even THINK of leaving your CD collection in your car in South Africa.
No one here really thinks twice about the fact that this is so. It’s such accepted behavior that I’m afraid it will never really change. It’s almost as if whoever services your car thinks whatever is left in it is intended by the owner as a tip for them and it’s their absolute right to take it. You find this attitude in other workplaces as well. Noisette informs me that they cannot keep their fire extinguisher in place at his factory. The minute they replace it, it is gone. Which poses a huge problem when there are audits and the auditing company gives an order to halt production because of safety violations. The only time rampant theft at their premises worked to his advantage was when he needed to get rid of some old wood planking. They loaded it onto a truck, drove it some way into the distance and left it standing there, unguarded, for about 20 minutes.When all the wood was gone (but not yet the tires) the driver retrieved the empty truck and everyone was happy.
You also hear stories of theft among domestics, but I tend to take these with a grain of salt. Domestics and gardeners are probably the most accused group of employees you will find in South Africa, just by virtue of their proximity to your household possessions. Once again, I can highly recommend the book The Help to see and understand the world from a domestic worker’s perspective. Most of the people I know are very happy with their housekeepers, affirmed by the fact that they are often employed by the same families for decades.
Still, I cannot begin to understand why anyone would want to risk their job – in a country with 35% or more unemployment, no less – just to make off with a few snatched items. But the reason I cannot understand this is probably that I’ve never known how it feels to possess so little and to need so much. I wonder if there is also an element of retribution in all of this, i.e. “we were treated so badly and as an inferior class during the years and years of apartheid that it’s only fair if we take back what’s due.” (As you can see, I’m trying very hard to write that controversial post that eluded me during my “7 Links” project).
Whatever the reasons, I hope that one day I’ll be able to get my car serviced here without having to clean it out first.
More car-related posts on Joburg Expat:
Tips on Buying a Car in South Africa
Tips on Selling a Car in South Africa
Expat Tip: Always Keep a Tire Lock Nut in your Car
Should I Get a South African Driver’s License?
Six Things to Know about Renewing your Vehicle License Disk
Finding a Good Car Insurance
Getting Your Car Serviced in South Africa