I grew up in Canada. And because I grew up in Canada, I never quite realised quite how boring my life was. For example, if I wanted to buy something, I’d buy it. I wouldn’t find myself immersed in a hilarious maze of customer disservice. And if I wanted to go to a movie, I’d just go to a movie and you know, watch it. Because a movie theatre has one job: to play movies, and it’s very difficult to mess that one job up. However, as we all know, South Africa has an uncanny ability to snatch failure right from the jaws of success, and in so doing, give me subject material for another blog post. So away we go…
South Africa is like no other place on earth. It has all the amenities people in other countries are used to. And as long as you don’t look too closely, you’ll have the impression that all these amenities work and that it really has its act together.
Until you’ve become used to robots (traffic lights) being out of order with shocking regularity. Or not even being phased when an ATM isn’t working because you already have a contingency plan for when the ATM isn’t working.
But you get used to that sort of thing. And if you ask the average South African, they don’t even realise that things not working isn’t “normal.” Because in South Africa, it is.
I’ve found I’ve learned to let go of the little things. To enjoy all the things I love about South Africa, I also need to embrace the quirkiness of the country.
However, there are some things that should be sacred. Like movie theatres, for example.
I lead a stunningly boring life. So when I get the chance, I love going to movies. Seeing other people be interesting is about as much excitement as I get. And make no mistake, the movie theatres in South Africa are top notch! There’s a chain called Nu Metro that has massive leather reclining seats so comfortable that it feels like a panda is hugging you. They serve booze. And food. All of this would be even more impressive if they could just figure out how to play movies.
For a bit of backstory, I went with my family to see Frozen II a couple of weeks ago because I’ve given up on life and have realised that I no longer get to do anything I enjoy for the rest of eternity. It was in 3D. I hate 3D movies, as does literally everybody else I know. They’re pretty much just like regular movies, but way more awful. However, corporations generally aren’t known for caring about what their customers want. Whatever.
But when the movie started, it was super blurry. And I wasn’t even drunk. While a few people got up to complain, most people remained in their seats, showing me once again that South Africans have just learned to accept that things won’t ever go right.
After about ten minutes, the movie focused and kept playing. I would have thought it would make sense to restart the movie, but South Africans aren’t internationally recognised for making sense. So we just powered through.
But surely that was an isolated incident. And SURELY they would take efforts to make sure they didn’t cock up the most highly anticipated movie of the year. Surely.
Fast forward to last night. It was the South African premiere of the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. And it was a big deal, because I finally got to see a movie I actually wanted to see. Or at least, I kind of got to see a movie I actually wanted to see. Because as excited as I was, South Africa had other plans.
To be fair, we should have known we weren’t in for a good time the second we walked up the stairs. The air conditioner wasn’t working. Because why would something like that be important? It’s not like it’s the middle of summer in South Africa or anything…
In Nu Metro’s defence, consumers are a bunch of pampered babies these days and deserve to sweat it out. Still, we should have just walked away at that point. But I’m not known for making great life choices, and besides, I had pre-paid for our tickets online, so we soldiered on to the next challenge- picking up the tickets.
Like most things in South Africa, they’ve copied good ideas from other parts of the world and then unimproved on those ideas. Here’s the email I got from Nu Metro:
Except the self serve kiosk has been out of order for several months. It doesn’t really matter though, because I’m a fat sack of crap and always buy snacks anyway, and I can just get my tickets at the same time.
Or at least in THEORY I can.
But not last night. Last night, I was told the system was offline. So instead of printing tickets, the cashier just scribbled “B4-B8” on the back of a receipt. That was our entry ticket. No big deal. I’m used to things not going precisely as planned. Or even nothing like as planned. After 3 years in South Africa, this kind of thing just rolls off me like acid off a duck’s back.
I ordered my drink and popcorn and met my other friends, who were doing the same thing two tills down from me.
John looked at me and asked how I got a Coke. I told him I got it like I get most things- I used my mouth to make words, which were then received by the cashier, who put those words into action. He just stared at me and told me when HE tried to order a soda, he was told they were all out. To be fair to the cashier, if she got John what he asked for, she probably would have had to walk two tills away from where she currently was. And I’m pretty sure extra effort like that wasn’t in her employment contract.
But it didn’t really matter- we were going to see Star Wars! We took our seats, donned our 3D glasses, and watched as the trademark opening screen began to scroll by. Except it was far too blurry to read. Instantly, several people got up and ran out to complain. After all, the opening screen is one of the most crucial parts of all Star Wars movies! People started to filter back in, and John, who was one of the people who went to complain, was told that they would fix the problem and restart the movie.
Which is exactly what they did not do.
As the minutes went by and the movie showed no sign of being watchable, more and more people left and came back with theatre employees. John tried to show one of them how blurry the screen was. The employee disagreed and said it was fine. But the many people leaving seemed to disprove that theory. John eventually had enough and left with his wife. On his way out, he asked for a refund. The manager kept insisting that he show his receipt, even though the system was offline and we were never given a receipt, and further, the attendant had taken our handwritten ticket and ripped it when we entered. But after some time, the manager sensed John was about to be in the news and gave him tickets to come back another time.
Shortly after, I thought (stupidly) that I’d be able to have some success if I tried to get the problem fixed.
There were already 3 other people arguing with the theatre manager, and they looked at me, fresh blood, with hope that I’d be able to provide a different way of making the manager understand that things weren’t going how they should go.
Me: We’re about 20 minutes in, and the screen is still really blurry. Is there something you can do to fix it?
Manager: It’s not that bad.
Me: What’s an acceptable amount of bad? Because what’s currently happening in there seems to cross that threshold.
Manager: Have you seen this? *pointing to a sign that informs people with epilepsy that the 3D effect may trigger seizures
Manager: Yes. It says so here.
Me: I don’t have epilepsy. Neither do the other people standing out here instead of watching the movie. And also, probably none of the many people who have already left.
Manager: Your eyes will adjust.
Me: Are you….are you kidding right now? We’ve gone from not having a problem, to a statistically impossible number of us having epileptic fits, to it simply being a problem with our eyes? Our eyes don’t need to adjust. Somebody who works here needs to adjust the focus!
Manager: It will get better.
If you got frustrated reading that…I don’t know what to tell you. I find myself in similar conversations almost daily here. It’s a thing.
To make a long story, well, LESS long. the focus did eventually improve. And I stuck it out with Richard and Jeanette because we weren’t going to let a simple thing like a movie theatre forgetting how to be a movie theatre ruin a night without kids.
After all, this IS South Africa. If you have any expectations whatsoever, you’ve set the bar too high. And that’s YOUR fault.
And besides, what else would I write about?
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