04.12.2005 09:21 - We Are The Robots
Nope, the title is nothing to do with that bunch from the neighbouring town1, this is all to do with differing names for the same thing. A couple of years ago, I was friendly with a nice young lady from the southernmost provinces of that large continent named Africa. This was (and still is) a great friendship which we both enjoyed enormously due to the similarities and differences in our upbringing - me brought up in an anonymous little mining town in the Midlands of the UK, famous for its power station and unparalleled serial killer, whilst she had grown up during the final days of Apartheid, and watched it come crashing down.
For example, whilst my generation in England lived a life regulated by television, pop music and consumer products, her generation - only slightly removed from mine and the same generation as my sister - rarely watched TV, because it was considered to be a bad influence by the SA government until at least the middle of the Eighties. Her family were, therefore, better conversationalists and considerably more skilled at making their own entertainment. She taught me a considerable number of card-games that I was laughably bad at, but which passed the time. To this day I look upon the goggle-box as an imagination-sapping device designed to ruin people's creativity.
However, the subject of today's story is a small trip we made in a hired car. I had been practicing my driving for some time, because, to quote Michael Caine, "In this country they drive on the wrong side of the road", and there was always the possibility of needing a van or something to transport pieces of recently-bought furniture. It was decided that it would be nice if we could go for a ride. And so off we went, through Cologne, through its dense traffic.
Now, there are a number of things which are unique to driving in Germany. The first is, that not everything that is behind you and beeps is necessarily getting angry with you. You could be in front of a Turkish wedding, which usually consists of about six cars, driving at terminal speeds whilst waving out of the windows and holding the horn down. Secondly, when you come to what we'd call a Zebra Crossing in the UK, you are allowed to cross the Zebra crossing whilst people are walking over it. Providing, of course, that you don't intersect with their path. This is somewhat confusing for a UK driver. Add to the fact that you are sitting in what would normally be the passenger seat, and if you are used to changing gear with your left hand, then you will have accidentally wound down your window instead of putting the car into first gear numerous times. Now, add this all together. You're coming toward a crossing where the lights are red, but which go green, and people start crossing. Behind you everyone is beeping their horns, so you turn to your (South African) passenger, panic written all over your face, who looks back at you with a disgusted expression and yells, "Look ewt for the rrrrrrobots!"
Ok, I'm pushing the accent a bit - she actually doesn't have that much of an SA accent, but, as you can imagine, I was a bit confused at that point. I'm in a car, sitting before a crossing, I've just wound the window down, people are crossing, when, in my opinion, they shouldn't, and I've got a fairly good impression of a New York minute going on behind me, and my companion seems to have descended into some sort of fantasy world based on Star Wars, which, by the way, she's never seen, because it was banned in S.A. Probably because they weren't too sure about that bloke in the black armour. So, I start looking around. What should I be looking for? Robbie-sized metallic beings with big glass domes? Perhaps the cars in front of me are actually Transformers - Robots in Disguise - and will unfold magically before my eyes and start beating seven types of shit out of each other, and me if I don't get out of the way.
Meanwhile my companion is pointing. "The robot is green" she says. I follow her finger. It is pointing at what I call a traffic light, a german would call an "Ampel", but what is commonly called in South Africa "A Robot". It is green. There is a crash of thunder and the jigsaw puzzle knits together. I wind up my window, put the car into first gear, and drive away, to thunderous applause from the Turkish wedding. In South Africa, they drive on the right side of the road, but believe me, it's a whole different country.
Molto bene, Dad.
1: Oh all right, if you must : Kraftwerk, who hail from Düsseldorf, which is next door, although Cologne tries to ignore the fact rather in the same way a dog-owner pretends he's nothing to do with the animal next to him shitting in the gutter, even though there is evidence to the contrary.