Pardon me, but this is my *formal* loincloth

Saturday, 26 August 1995

Durban's premier hotel needs to be purged of colonial malaise and dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century...

I've become a regular reader of The Mercury ever since it was repositioned to become an "upmarket" publication. Hey, I thought, this is the paper for me! I'm in the A-B income group. I'm a 30-something decision-maker. I have the house in Morningside, the Merc, the imported American runabout, the wife, the kid, two dogs, one cat ... obviously if I want to go places, I should be reading The Mercury.

Funny thing is that The Mercury and I never seem to see eye-to-eye politically. This is obviously a shortcoming on my part which I will have to work on ...

Anyway, The Mercury recently gave a very good review to the Royal Grill, one of the many restaurants at the Royal Hotel, which is still the only five star hotel in the city. The place was supposedly quite empty on Saturday nights. So, last Saturday, we decided to have dinner at the Royal Grill.

Formal dress is required at the Royal Grill, I was told. So, we dressed for dinner. My partner wore a flowing Welsh creation in black and midnight blue. I decked myself out in my finest kurta (which I had worn to Carnegie Hall two years ago to see Ravi Shankar in concert).

The foyer had an almost funereal appearance which seemed to filter through into the restaurant itself, where a lone pianist dutifully plunked away. A waiter flitted by looking like a George Macdonald Fraser caricature. I flagged him down. "Do you have a table for two?" I asked.

He looked at me strangely (or as Marlon Hitzeroth might put it, he checked me skeef). "The Maitre d' is coming," he said, and exited hastily.

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A sombre person arrived in a black suit which would not have been out of place at Doves and Adlam Reid. His nametag announced him as the Maitre d', Dickie Thangamuthu.

And he could not let me in to the restaurant without a coat and tie.

"Wait a second," I said. "I telephoned and was told that formal dress was required." That was correct, he confirmed. "You are aware that this is Indian formal dress?" I asked. Yes, he was, but he couldn't let me in without a jacket and tie.

I asked to see the manager.

"I am the manager," Dickie Thangamuthu told me loftily.

"You don't count," I told him. "If you did, you would have the authority to change rules." He considered this. "Take a seat," he said, and fled.

He reappeared soon after with another dark-suited man whose name now escapes me, and a woman named Tessa van Aardt who introduced herself as the Public Relations Officer. And no, she could not let me in either.

"What would you do," I asked, "if foreign dignitaries were visiting this city and showed up for dinner in what was considered to be formal dress in their countries?" Oh, that wouldn't happen, she said. Everyone knows that formal dress means a jacket and tie.

"Not for the Prime Minister of India," I said, "nor for the royal family," (thinking of Charles and those military uniforms he favours), "and what about Minister Buthelezi? What would you do if he showed up in Zulu formal dress?"

Her nose seemed to curl up. "You mean those skins?" I nodded. "Oh, he wouldn't do that. He's here quite often. He's here right now, in the hotel."

We declined her offer to recommend another restaurant. She took my name and telephone number promising someone would call me during the week. I'm still waiting.

The Royal's attitude is the sort of cultural imperialism that makes one sympathetic toward the "One settler, one bullet" refrain.

Durban is the cultural bazaar of Africa. Our hospitality should reflect this. We don't need some centuries-old sexist dress code inherited from cold sterile Europe. This is Africa; warm, wanton, bare-breasted Africa.

We finished off at Joop's Place for dinner. The service was excellent, the food was superb, the wine was orgasmic. Joop's has warmth and hospitality that the Royal would do well to emulate.

I should be more kind to Van Aardt and Thangamuthu. Their jobs are high profile but easily filled. Affirmative action is the vogue. I would worry...