Every country has its own unique linguistic quirks and picking up on these is inevitable when you visit. I heard many new terms during my trip to Cape Town, but these are my five favorite South Africa words and phrases.
1. Pleasure – Pronounced [Pleeee-sure]. Just like the Brits say “cheers” every chance they get, the South Africans use pleasure for just about any occasion. Most commonly it’s a simple way of saying “You’re welcome,” or to denote recognition of having done something for someone else. Example: “Thank you for taking out the garbage.” “Pleasure!” “You did a great job painting the house.” “Pleasure!” I love this word and I love even more the South African pronunciation of the word, which is completely different from an American or British pronunciation, the difference is with the vowel sounds. For fun I made a habit of thanking as many people as I could just so I could hear the melodious word.
2. Koeksister – Although English is widely spoken throughout South Africa, so is Afrikaans and it has certainly made its way into everyday language. Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch, but the influence of other languages and accents transformed it into a distinct tongue over the centuries. As so often happens, words for food are usually the most important in language and this is certainly the case in Afrikaans. One of my favorite dessert items in the Dutch dialect is something known as koeksister. Koeksisters are a syrup-coated doughnut in a twisted or braided shape. Like most doughy delights around the world, the pastry is deep-fried and then a sugary syrup is added to make a delicious if not sticky sweet. When you visit you will see these everywhere, so instead of being confused by the term now you know to add these to your culinary must-do list.
3. Braai – This is another Afrikaans term that means so much more than its simple translation. A braai (pronounced ‘bry’) means roasted meat and is used to refer to a barbeque. But it’s much more expansive than that. Braai refers to the social custom of creating a great meal outside with friends and family, eating roasted meats, drinking wine and just having a good time. Sure, it’s just another way to describe grilling, but believe me if you are ever lucky enough to get invited to one, be sure to accept that kind invitation for a chance to live like a local in South Africa.
4. Lekker – The most challenging aspect of learning a new language or visiting a new destination is the local and regional slang. It’s almost impossible to really pick up on the ins and outs of casual language without spending a lot of time in a new place, but sometimes certain words become instantly obvious, like lekker in South Africa. Lekker is a product of the Afrikaans influence that is heard throughout the country. In plain terms, lekker simply means that something is good and adds a positive connotation to just about anything. “That meal was lekker,” “He’s attractive, yeah he’s lekker.” And so on. It can also be used on its own to mean that something is great – “Lekker!” You get the point. This is an easy way to add some local flair to your conversations and look and feel less like a tourist.
5. Pinotage – South Africans love their wine, and with good reason. They’ve been producing wine since the 17th century and the Constantia winery in Cape Town has a long reputation as one of the best wineries in the world. Embargoes during the apartheid era though meant that South African wines couldn’t access the international marketplace, which set back the industry at a time when people around the world were discovering new and tasty wines. South Africa is making up for lost time though and now consumers in the United States and Europe are once again learning about the many delicious wines produced on the bottom of the world. One of the most popular in South Africa is the pinotage. Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red grape varietal and was originally a hybrid between two other grape types: Pinot noir and Cinsaut. Today it’s easily the most popular wine in South Africa and is known for a smooth, smoky flavor. As the go-to wine you’ll look like a travel pro when you ask for it at a restaurant or local wine bar.
Have you been to South Africa? What were some of your favorite words or expressions?