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Voices

Family faribles are so pre-COVID-19

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Some years ago, we were making a guest list for a function. It went rather swimmingly until I innocently mentioned the name of someone whom I thought was a family friend. I realised I had blundered when the room went silent.

Not only was an invitation out of the question, it was clear that I had stepped into something unpleasant. For a few minutes, no one said a word, but after a short while I was relieved that the list-making process continued. It was then that I heard another family member whisper something to my wife, “I’m not stupid. I know we would never invite her. I just can’t remember why.”

A farible had successfully crossed the generational divide. What was important was that it was held on to, not why it was borne in the first instance.

Faribles are very South African. Not just because we hold onto things longer than others might do, but because the word seems to have mainly taken root in this country. The word is a Yiddish one, and means to be upset and hold a grudge. But like so many words of this origin, it’s so much more expressive than its English counterpart. Especially as it can be used in so many contexts, as a noun, adjective, and adverb.

In other parts of the Jewish world, the word isn’t common, and they prefer the use of the term “broiyges” which is angrier and more aggressive. It’s unsurprising that here in South Africa we’re much more comfortable with the more passive-aggressive approach. After all, locally, we don’t get angry. We just get disappointed.

The past few years have made it particularly difficult to hold on to faribles. Not only is there a reasonable chance that the person you are faribled with is now dead, but there was a lot less reason and opportunity to create new ones. Function sizes were curtailed, people couldn’t invite others over to their home, and chances are that just as much as Becky Horowitz didn’t make a single call to you to see if you were alive, you probably didn’t check up on her either. In fact, at this very moment, she’s likely to be chatting to the other Becky [the one with the chins], saying that the phone rings both ways, you know. And it does.

Functions have always been a great and magnificent source of faribles. Either they didn’t invite you, or they left the children off the invitation, or they seated you under the speakers with the band. The opportunities are endless, and no amount of “we were so limited” or “it was COVID-19 regulations” or “we thought you were musical” is likely to have an impact. When a farible is conceived it’s nearly almost born.

Which is why it’s time to let them all go. Faribles are stupid. They’re a waste of time. They destroy friendships, and they cause unexplained pain for years to come. If someone doesn’t invite you, it might be because they simply couldn’t or because they didn’t want to. To decide that you deserved to be invited is also arrogant. And ironically worthy of a farible in of itself. It’s time not only to leave old ones behind, but not to accumulate new ones.

As we emerge from the social hibernation of COVID-19, it’s worth considering what to take with us and what to leave behind. I submit that shedding the family farible, difficult as it might be, will allow for much lighter travel.

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