I may not be the best ambassador for South Africa.
See, at uni I made friends with a huge group of climbers. These people were the people I found it most easy to get on with ever, and I am still friends with some of them today, although we are all in different countries. We felt like one huge family. And of course we all had climbing in common, and that was good, seeing as that is what we spent all our spare time doing.
Climbers are a remarkably distinctive species. Worldwide.
The aim in life is to travel all over the country (students) / world (more upmarket climbers) climbing every rock there is. All the while spending as little money as possible. Money is for petrol and climbing gear see? Climbers are all incredibly stingy by nature. This means they will never pay for camping if they can sleep in a field or a car or a bush for free, and they will never eat out if they can eat two minute noodles or reconstituted Smash, and they will never ever pay for a National Park permit if they can avoid it because paying for climbing is sacrilege.
They also tend to avoid paying for clothes until, well, there is no until. Climbers wear T-shirts with more holes than material, or no T-shirt at all.
This is just the way they are. And because I hung out with so many of them, it is my norm.
Many of these friends have flitted in and out of the UK for business or conferences or studies or to live, and recently they have all been congregating around Oxford. So we have had a few reunions, and of course always go ... and play Bingo. Heyhey, gotcha, didn't I? We go climbing. What else?
A while ago there were four of us South Africans in a car with a token Russian. The poor girl. Anyway, we were on our way to go climbing indoors.
Now, a few things have changed since we were young and nimble. We all look much older, and we all get decent and sometimes even huge paychecks, but nothing really significant has changed.
One of my friends was wearing a climbing T-shirt that I had seen him wearing 7 years before. His belly was somewhat bigger and his hair somewhat sparser, but signs of age aside, they are all as stingy and as scruffy as ever.
The Russian was staring at my friends with their shorts and strops in winter, one with bare feet, all of them with holes in their clothes, and she asked me:
"Are all South Africans like this? People wear shoes in Russia."
And I told her without a waver:
"Sure, yes they are pretty much all like this."
It only occurs to me now that perhaps a fraction of South Africans, perhaps even a majority, like to dress neatly or even fashionably, wear clothes bought since 1999, would be happy to pay money to stay in decent accommodation with electricity and a bed, rather than sleep in a bush, and prefer eating food that takes more time and care to prepare than powdered mash potato from a sachet. And, like, they probably wear shoes.
It's just that for me, those guys are the norm. All South Africans I happen to know are like that, age 19 or 33. So it's not my fault the poor Russian thinks South Africans have not discovered the shoe.
We had her talking about robots within minutes though, and that is all that counts.