Robot Retail Therapy

South Africa… no place like it, really. But then again, anyone can say that about the country of their birth, yes? No?

Well, what makes this country great is its cultural diversity – yes, most countries are culturally diverse but not like South Africa, because here we actually celebrate and recognise all cultures and this all makes for a wonderful variety of English called the Standard South African English *how textbook of you – Sang*. See, it’s not uncommon for language varieties to have different names for certain things like say the Americans call it ketchup and the Pom’s call it tomato sauce, on the left of the pond it’s known as jelly and on the right it’s known as jam – or preservative *and the French have a joke about the English eating preservatives – Coin* The list is long.

Well, in South Africa certain objects also have their own special names… There’s the tennis shoe/sneaker debacle… we call ’em tekkies *maybe because they are tacky – Coin* and a barbecue is a braai (probably the most practiced rite here, which is another post altogether). A napkin is a serviette, sausage is wors, a plastic bag is a packet and when someone calls you a “china” they’re being nice, ditto for when they call you a “bra”… the list goes on, and there’s still the “black” South African Standard English words like how Cadbury’s chocolate éclairs are Jackson 5’s, all toothpaste is known as “Colgate” “packets (see above) are known as “Checkers” and all fizzy drinks are known as “Coke”. Yes this is South Africa.

My favourite South-Africanism is the robot *sigh*, tourists have remarked “are you lot ok with all these robots?” I swear the Japanese must think we beat them to making socially acceptable robots, people must think we live like we’re in I, Robot! To the world, a robot is a machine that resembles a human and does mechanical routine tasks on command but to South Africans a robot is a simple traffic light… yes, we just went one step ahead on that one.

The robots at most intersections are a fascinating place, apart from being solely built to control traffic one can spot the occasional driver digging his/her nose or catch another talk to him/herself only to find out they’re using a hand-free cell-phone kit, the robots are like where life begins. They are that one-stop shop all because of the traffic light vendors:


Forget drive-thru’s, these guys or rather traffic-light vendors have made living in South Africa so convenient.

Need a mobile phone car-charger? They have it.

Need an umbrella? They have it.

Need a cool drink? C’mon, that’s why there’s that cooler-box on the pavement with dry-ice, sometimes in summer they even sell ice-lollies.

When I was a kid, they mostly sold flowers and newspapers but now it’s fruit, DVD’s of the film that is yet to be released around the country, sunglasses, vuvuzela’s, potato crisps, sweets, beanies, gloves, scarves, blow up things, toys and knick-knacks. Watches, artwork, mirrors – I exaggerate not – sportswear, flags and aircon repais. These vendors are heaven sent. They saw a gap in the market and closed it, some call them annoying but I reckon they should also have coffee and to-go breakfast or carry satellite PDA’s linked to various government departments say the traffic department and Home Affairs then the world would be a better place.

They offer a quick – well, they have to be, traffic lights only close for like a minute – and friendly service for the type of condition they work in – which is more than I can say for in-store salespeople. They brave losing a limb and work weekends and public holidays and do it all with a smile.

The only down side is when you really want that DVD but everyone can see that you in the silver Jeep Wrangler with registration plate “AVABABY GP” buys pirated DVDs *sigh*

– Ava

The best ones are around Fourways, Johannesburg or Menlyn, Pretoria
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3 thoughts on “Robot Retail Therapy

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