South Africa has nine provinces and a whopping 11 official languages. Almost everyone you meet in Cape Town will understand and speak English but, given our diversity of tongues, it’s a little more colourful than the Queen’s.
We travel on highways, not freeways; walk on pavements, not sidewalks; and if you order a ‘soda’ instead of a ‘cooldrink’ you’re going to get soda water, rather than a good old Coca Cola.
You may also want to familiarise yourself with a few ‘South Africanisms’ – quirky colloquial words and phrases, often combining more than one language.
Ag shame Used to express sympathy or delight at something cute
Bakkie What Americans might call a pick-up truck
Bergie Derived from ‘berg’, meaning mountain in Afrikaans, this word originally referred to the homeless sheltering in Table Mountain’s forests and is now a general (but not pejorative) term for the city’s homeless
Braai A barbeque, preferably over a wood fire, around which to gather with beer
Bru Technically ‘brother’ but used to address almost anyone informally, including females
Eish An expression of surprise, distress or commiseration
Howzit? A shortened form of ‘How is it going?’ (Different to ‘howzat!’ in cricket, used as a form of appeal)
Is it? Not a question but a kind of punctuating statement indicating interest in what someone else is saying
Ja-nee Literally ‘yes-no’ in Afrikaans, used to indicate partial agreement with a statement
Jawelnofine Literally ‘yes-well-no-fine’, this one is similar to ‘ja-nee’ and used to indicate reluctant acceptance
Just now Not quite now, and not quite ‘now now’, but soon. A particularly frustrating one for foreigners.
Lekker Afrikaans for ‘very good’
Now now This doesn’t mean ‘now’, but rather sometime between the next 30 seconds and a few hours from now. Also particularly frustrating if you’re not used to it.
Ouma The Afrikaans word for ‘grandmother’. You may also hear people talking about ‘dipping an Ouma’, but this refers to the name of a brand of rusks
Robot Known to the rest of the world as a traffic light
Sharp Cool, fine, understood
Sorry Used interchangeably with ‘excuse me’
Yebo Yes, in Zulu