COLUMN: It’s tough being a motoring journalist

Here’s the thing. If you’ve ever met a motoring journalist, chances are that you came away disappointed by the experience. We’re rarely as well articulated in person, never as entertaining, and the last car we drove probably wasn’t a product of Mr Horacio Pagani, rather something small and scrappy from Mr Lee, and as riveting an experience as watching paint dry. In a paint tin. So don’t be too disappointed when we fail to regale you with a recent entry into motoring nirvana, substituting that with a story on how Chinese cars are getting better instead. Subsequently, we come across as being absolutely, positively, incomparably dull people. But in our defense, it’s only because we’re so disconnected from reality. You see, once every week or so we get to be James Bond. We fly business class to exotic locations, check into lavish five star hotels and have disproportionally bodied, unrealistically tanned, overly-attractive women fawn over us while handing over keys to very expensive machinery which we’re meant to drive very quickly. Oft from the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. But then we come back home, so for the rest of the time we’re living in the same suburbs you do, shopping at the same Spar and avoiding the same over-populated malls as you. The delusion doesn’t end there. You complain to us about the increase in the price of petrol. We respond with ‘has it?’ When asked for advice on your next car, we’ll almost certainly suggest vehicles that are about R100 000 above your budget, despite us being unable to afford them ourselves. There’s a collective term for the vehicles that your average car journo possesses. And it’s called ‘entry level’. We’re the humble media after all. Not international men and women of mystery, no matter how many posh hotel lounges we swill gin and tonics in, no matter how many times we don the solitary and somewhat manky dinner jacket hanging in our closets. The foreign lingo we try to impress you with seldom goes beyond ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘complementary mini-bar?’ But you cannot sympathise, because ha! We have the most unpitiable profession on the planet. When conversation around a table of friends and family turns to the nuisances and burdens of their normal (real) jobs, we will typically shrink silently into the corner and try not to be noticed. You see, nobody ever feels sorry for the motoring journalist that has too many test cars to drive, or too many flights to take. Oh no, when we have bad days at our offices, you couldn’t find a violin tiny enough for our woes. Also, we are well aware that we’re not terribly smart either. I mean we drive cars for a living. So does the guy who delivers our pizza and collects our kids – it’s not rocket science and we’re not saving lives. On top of this, being a South African derivative of the species has its own challenges. Our tolerance for other cultures and nations extends only with great effort beyond our borders as an Arab man almost found out on a recent trip to South Korea. Let me explain.

For each day that passes without an international skirmish, you should thank a South African motoring journalist for keeping his or her head cool. South Africans in general are quite pleasant and accommodating, as long as we’re in our own country. Take us beyond these borders and it’s as if a timer has activated inside us, a threshold limit with which we are governed when dealing with the rest of the world’s inhabitants. All those stigmas, those clichés about the Germans, the Italians, French, Korean, Americas and so on… ALL TRUE. Stereotyping works, people. Get to know them.

At a recent international drive, us simple Zaffers had to share the Taebaek Korean Racing Circuit with all manners of foreigners, and it’s here that we encountered the man from the Middle East, just before he lost his mind. We were all in convoy, slowly stalking a terminally lethargic pace driver when said individual decided that if there was a pole position, he had to have it. This was not a race, mind you – rather a gradual meander in some fairly attractive luke-warm Korean coupes. So imagine our surprise when wild swerving, rampant overtaking and an almost forced meeting of metal (a de-mirroring session at least) followed as said journo proceeded to go Gran Turismo on our arses. What followed this moment was glorious because the South African stereotype is also a very, very real thing. Somebody was going to get moered. As the contingent of test cars regrouped in the pits, Mr UAE’s car was immediately surrounded by uppity South Africans that had an opinion they wanted to forcibly share with him about his behaviour. This terrified our South Korean hosts, who acted in their own stereotypical manner which was to pretend nothing had happened, get everyone off the circuit immediately and stuff us with enough food to invoke a comatose-like afternoon nap. This is a trick employed internationally in kindergartens and crèches. Not James Bond movies. But you don’t want to hear about our problems, do you? Cue the tiny violins.

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