Port Elizabeth Prawn Festival – a case study in false advertising?

In the days leading up to yesterday (Sunday 11 May 2014) our eyes had been caught by banners and advertisements telling us that one of the most delicious of crustaceans, the venerable prawn, was to be celebrated with a Festival at Port Elizabeth’s Fairview racecourse. This was an event on which I really hoped to provide a positive report, boosting local businesses, tourism and, perhaps indirectly, our local fishing industry.

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The mention of the word ‘Festival’, conjured up images of happy families meandering among many and varied stalls. We thought we’d see eager foodies and other folks delighting in local crafts and sampling prawns prepared in unique and tasty ways, possibly paired with great wines, beers or other beverages.

We had visions of exhilarating cook-offs with amateur cooks or professional chefs vying for our gastronomic attention with superbly crafted dishes in which the prawn, in its many shapes and sizes, would be the hero of the day. Afterwards, sufficiently stuffed and mellow, one could mop the last of the sauce from cheek, fingers and elbows while the dulcet tones the musicians and the afternoon sun would mesmerise one into a post-prawn trance. That Mother’s Day coincided with this event, clinched the deal and yesterday morning, five of us hied ourselves thither with Great Expectations [thank you Fred Dickens].

What a resounding (and annoying) disappointment! The hype built up by the advertisers and the radio jocks in no way reflected the reality of the event. For starters it was less Prawn Festival and more Queuing Orgy. From the time we arrived (before 11:30am) until the time we left, over an hour and a half later we simply stood in queues. There was a queue to get in, another queue to buy your lunch tickets, another queue to buy your drinks, another queue to wait for the prawns and finally another (albeit shorter) queue to get your refund. Unless you were among the first few punters at the venue, any thoughts of an agreeable stroll around the place, chatting to friends while munching on prawns were completely shattered.

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The Fairview Racecourse in Port Elizabeth. We felt quite posh swanning about with the well heeled horsey set.

The actual horse races, if the attention of the crowd were anything to judge by, undoubtedly eclipsed the so-called Prawn Festival as an attraction, and appeared to be organised by considerably more competent people. A dapper and urbane looking chap announced the races as they were about to begin, provided ‘hot tips’ and did the commentary as each race was decided. A local radio station was also present with their caravan, serving an unknown purpose, other than possibly providing the Public Address system.

This “festival” of theirs – their word, not mine – consisted of one tent, containing the drinks counter, the live music (a couple of women singing – not unpleasantly, mark you) and apparently four blokes frantically and futilely trying to cook prawns for over a thousand people. That’s it – no exaggeration. Outside the tent, was the ubiquitous jumping castle; as well as a railway of approximately 30m in length, around which little carriages wobbled their way. Tired parents thrust their offspring into these contraptions with instructions to enjoy it, and waved occasionally as the concerned looking kids completed each uncertain lap.

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The fenced off children’s play area. On a positive note, it appeared to be well supervised.

We did not see a crafter’s market. It may have been there, but if it was, it was very well hidden and five of us didn’t see any signs directing us to its location. There were no stalls, no queue control in the tent and only one outlet for the much advertised prawns. The power supply was intermittent at best, causing frustration amongst the musicians and serving staff.

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Facing the prawn counter – some of the increasingly disgruntled supporters wondering which is the official queue.

The bar area was inundated by a four-deep heaving throng of customers who, if they couldn’t get at the prawns, were determined to compensate by having a liquid lunch. One young female bar worker was spectacularly incapable of pouring a beer. Despite the overwhelming crowds, this girl would repeatedly and clumsily pour the beer in a manner which resulted in a huge head of foam; and then stand there with can and glass in hand, waiting for the foam to subside. The possibility of serving others during the wait had completely escaped her. We gave our order to a dreadlocked individual who summarily inflated the price by R1 per drink from the (already inflated) price lists taped to the counter. When I tried to query the difference, I was ignored, but the pressure of the crowd behind us prevented me from pursuing the matter. Maybe this additional income will keep him in drugs for a while longer?

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The view of the queue from about half an hour in – or one third of the distance from the back.

After standing in the food queue for well over an hour – with negligible progress – we started voicing our concerns. A fellow ‘queue-er’ asked us to keep his place while he went round the back to try and establish the cause of the delay. He returned a while later saying there were only four people cooking the prawns and that he was cutting his losses and going home.

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The poor punters behind us. We must have spoken to almost 20 people at different stages – the dissatisfaction vote was unanimous.

The five of us then considered our choices too. The distance we’d travelled from the back of the queue, in relation to the distance still to go (and the chaotic melee towards the front of the queue) made us realise that we’d only get our lunch, if we were lucky, by about 3pm, during which time we’d be showing visible signs of the shortage of food, drink and tempers.

With the retreat sounding in the ears I toodled off to get a refund. At the counter, while one worker was counting out the cash, another worker approached with the news that the cooks were running out of prawns and that no more lunch tickets were to be sold (this was at approximately 1:15pm!!!). My money-counting man blanched pale and voiced his concern that he doubted if there’d be enough cash to pay refunds as many had paid by credit card. With the queue for refunds growing by the minute, we skedaddled.

Later, as the five of us sat at another establishment enjoying a very late lunch, we pondered on things like advertising lies in general and our experience in particular. We concluded thus:

There is a high probability that the first arrivals might have enjoyed an acceptable outing, complete with prawns, drinks and a dollop of fun. However, this definitely did not include the many people with whom we spoke in the various queues. Yes, there were live musicians. Yes, there was entertainment for the kids. Yes, there was a competition for some appliances. In this the organisers did not blatantly lie. But we did not see a crafter’s market. There were no additional stalls of any kind, and above all there was absolutely no Prawn Festival.

Similar to the disappointment one feels when seeing an advert for a Range Rover, then finding out it’s just a second hand Mini that is actually on the showroom floor; the expectations built by the advertisers were shamefully over-inflated. In my opinion, a jumping castle, bar, two singers and four blokes trying to cook prawns for over a thousand supporters do not, by any stretch of the most kindly imagination, constitute a Festival. This was, as Mrs Chips succinctly put it, a visit to the horse races with a bit of a prawn lunch – and that’s only if you were among the lucky few who arrived first.

Whether this applies to the organisers of the Prawn Festival or not, is up to you, However, this experience has highlighted, for me anyway, the questionable ethics in advertising in general. No, dammit. Let’s dispense with the cotton-wool, politically-correct bull . If you advertise one thing and deliver another, you’re nothing but an amoral liar; someone who should never be trusted and the servant of mongrels. In the law courts these people dodge, duck and dive the accusations and many of them escape shame and punishment on things called loopholes and legal technicalities, forgetting that, just because you have evaded a conviction, doesn’t mean you did not transgress.

Most civilised countries operate on the legal premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty. However, in the Chips household, this won’t be applying to advertisers, sales people and service centre minions. Henceforth, by default, any person or group selling or advertising any item or service will be deemed to be a scoundrel and an inveterate liar until proven otherwise. The extolled characteristics of the item or service on offer will be deemed to be complete and utter drivel and viewed with the utmost suspicion until the contrary is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. My Terms and Conditions Apply.

The days of giving trust freely are now over. It is time for trust to be earned

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About Freud Fission Chips

Despite the banality of the name, FFC has led an intensely varied life. Grateful for surviving almost three years as a 'troepie' (soldier for non-South African Readers) in the Angolan war, he determined to wring as much out of life as possible. Currently providing Business Analysis services, trading on the stock market and developing web pages to pay the bills, FFC also dabbles in wildlife, landscape and people photography, writing, and far too many interests for his own good. He has also travelled extensively in southern Africa (working on the sound theory that a moving target is more dificult to hit). These peregrinations also include over 1500kms on foot through some of the worlds most spectacular scenery. It hasn't all been plain sailing, beer and skittles, and endless beds of roses... Chief amongst the prerequisites for surviving Africa, with its mind-bending characteristics, is an appropriate sense of humour.... So, for now, he will be recounting the amusing among the annoying, the frustrating wrapped in the funny and extracting the mirth from the melancholy... Oh yes, there might be some alliteration too.
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2 Responses to Port Elizabeth Prawn Festival – a case study in false advertising?

  1. nun yo says:

    I enjoyed reading your review. Could you please review every restaurant and event before I go there to save me from disappointing experiences? I try to filter out places like this that don’t meet their advertising but sometimes one gets by me. One that comes to mind is a handcrafted arts festival I went to only to find that it was just a bunch of folding tables set up in a church basement with a lot of like christmas angels crocheted by bored old ladies out of bad quality polyester yarn that sells for $2 a skein at Walmart. There were quite a few keychains made from plastic pony beads and plastic rope. It was a bizarre bazaar of polyester and plastic handmade holiday themed junk.

    I think I avoided a bad experience at “Sax” in Washington, D.C. I found an advert for it that billed it as a cirque de soleil experience with acrobats performing over your head as you eat. I thought, cool! Then I looked at their website and tried to find pictures of the performances online. As best as I could tell, it is really just a small room behind glass on the second floor (not overhead, rather a window into a side room) that has a couple of stripper poles in it and has what looked to me to be out of shape performers wearing boy shorts and bras. Even real strippers are in better shape and usually have classier outfits and perform closer to you. If there is really anything cirque de soleil going on there, they haven’t posted the pictures to prove it. The only thing that saved me from going there was many bad experiences that have taught me to be very suspicious of what businesses claim they are offering. Cirque de soleil is in the advertising but I only find a couple of pictures of flabby ladies in their walmart older lady skivvies strutting about in front of two stripper poles. My boyfriend was really excited to go when I told him dinner with acrobats overhead like cirque de soleil! Then I said, wait, I found a picture that looks to be two stripper poles and some fat ladies in their underwear and he said, uh, no thanks.

    • Hi NY,

      Thank you so much for popping in, your kind words and for your scintillating account of your Cirque de Soleil experience at the ‘Sax’ object.

      I shall do my best to post reviews of as many places as the wallet allows :-).

      Now that your humble scribbler is living in New Zealand, it will be a tad closer for you to visit the establishments under review – so don’t go to far 🙂

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