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Faux pas

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Faux pas are not the prerogative of the socially inept, the congenitally indiscreet or those who simply need glasses. Indeed, embarrassing mistakes are also made by eminent politicians, Trappist monks and the totally blind.


Politicians we know about and Trappist monks must speak for themselves. As for the blind, and I’m one of them, we make social cock-ups just as often as anyone else. The difference is that we blindies are more readily excused.

If, for instance, you knock over your wine glass early on at a dinner party, people think, “Shame. He can’t see,” while secretly wishing they’d never invited you. When they notice you putting tomato sauce on your tomatoes, they are in agonies about whether to tell you or not. It doesn’t occur to them that you might like it like that!

Now, it’s not a good idea to grope a gift horse in the mouth. I mean, it’s nice to be forgiven for your public errors. Surely though, a blindy who knows his oats would, when eating out for instance, take care to check out that the person he is about to slag off is not sitting at the very next table.

And so, one asks oneself the question. Is this stereotypical pardoning of blind people’s gaffes not, in its own way, socially inept? Having said that, we blindies do make some wonderful mistakes sometimes.

There was this blind guy and his wife. They were going shopping at a super-market. They agreed to stop at the sweet-counter on their way out. When they came to the counter, he paused. Then, on an impulse, he encircled his beloved spouse in his arms and said, softly, “buy me sweets and I’m yours tonight.

The trouble was, it wasn’t his wife! She had forgotten about their arrangement and simply walked on.

Now, the world of the partially blind produces its own particular range of matchless bloopers. We must understand here that people in this condition often pretend that they can see. They “try for sighted”, as it were.

Someone I know who is partially blind and who has to catch aeroplanes quite often, was at Johannesburg International just the other day. No doubt he had worked out his own tricks when it came to getting himself on board. Using a white cane wasn’t one of them.

So, he followed the blur of passengers ahead of him out through the terminal gate and onto the transit bus. The bus stopped. He scrambled off with the rest of his travel mates, cast about vaguely for the boarding-steps and made for them. His fellows had, by now, all disappeared. He mounted quickly. He got to the top and paused and behold…!

No aeroplane!

Another one of these partials, years ago when Deep Throat was banned in S.A., was on a solo trip overseas and thought he’d like to sit in on the movie.

It was, to him, as dark as all hell inside the theatre. He thought it best to grope his way down to the front row and get himself a seat there, which he did, only to find himself sitting on someone else’s lap. He apologised, fumbled about, discovered that the next seat was empty and slipped sheepishly into it

The film ran its course, the titles rolled, the lights came up. Our friend rose, turned and, to his horror, realised that the entire audience consisted of just the two of them!

One can ham it up a bit, of course, and concoct a blindy-blooper, just for a laugh. And so it was that a bunch of friends and I were gathered about a dinner table one chilly winter’s night.

The wine and the wit were flowing. Amidst the peals of laughter, I rose and started for the loo. I paused at the glowing heater to warm my hands. Standing thus, I turned to my hosts and said…

“Your dog’s got a bit of a temperature, you know!”

But a faux pas of a gentler kind always comes to mind when I think of these things.

It’s me that’s at Johannesburg Airport this time, I’m blind and I need a wee. So, the lady friend who is seeing me off, guides me to the door marked Gents. You enter, alone.

You are inside a disinfectant-scented chamber now, with lines of gleaming urinals, rows of painted toilet – doors and ranks of mirrored hand-basins.

White cane hesitates. White face casts about for a bearing. Black face over busy mop looks up, sees white cane and with quick concern says…

Kak, or piss?

Dear lavatory cleaner, I wonder if you remember me as well as I do, you.