Five Words To Know Before You Visit South Africa

Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town

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.

 Groot Constantia Winery Cape Town South Africa

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?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

19 thoughts on “Five Words To Know Before You Visit South Africa”

  1. Nightjar Travels

    “See you just now”, “koebaai” (good-bye), “Howzit” (how are you?), snoek (long, thin, perch-like commercial food fish) – great for braai (BBQ) and often combined with apricot jam, bokkoms (whole, salted and dried mullet) from the West Coast area, moerkoffie (old-fashioned way of making filter coffee), rooibos tea (indigenous to the Clanwiliam area – caffeine free bush tea).

  2. You have of course missed out the all-important swear words, but seeing as this is a family-friendly blog (pun intended), we’ll skip past those and go straight to the “Ja” – as in yes. Hate it personally and refuse to use it, but it’s omnipresent.

    Another classic, albeit two words rather than one, is “Just now”. I have still to figure out what this means – anything from 2 mins from now to 3 days from now, when somebody says something will be done “just now”.

  3. Hey
    Howzit from Cape Town! :)
    Very lekker article. :)
    Pity you didn’t put the real koeksister-pics with your article – the ones you have, are more the Muslim koeksisters; not the Boere-ones. The Boere-ones are the ones that are platted, remember?
    As for the braais – chops, man. We do do kebabs – but not that often. More like proper chops, steak and wors. (Sausage). Also – ‘wors’ is another Afrikaans word that EVERYONE uses. Even the Xhosas speak about “pap en wors” (porridge and sausage).
    Wine? Yes we can make wine. But with a braai – and even generally, I think – beer is far more popular than wine.
    Still… very grateful you wrote something about our stunning country. Really appreciate it. <3

  4. I love learning about the unique linguistic quirks of a place. I’m going to be fighting the urge to use Lekker in conversation for days haha. (As a Brit I’m also now slightly more aware of just how often I say ‘cheers’…)

  5. Shame …. this is not referred to as “it’s a shame” but very often used as an expression of feeling of empathy with the person for whatever reason.

  6. Ha, lekker! Never been to South Africa, but we have the same word in German: lecker. It means yummy :) I’d like to see if that applies to that wine you’re talking about :)

    1. Yes! I forgot about the German equivalent! No surprise really since lekker in SA is Afrikaans and a derivative of Dutch which of course has strong Germanic language influence

  7. Now here you have a great idea for a series of articles Matt! You should have five words for different countries, it would be a good help. Ghana for example, while English-speaking, has its quirks. You should never call anyone ‘silly’ because it’s a way stronger insult than we are used to. And if you stumble or spill your drink, for example, expect people to say ‘sorry’ as an expression of empathy rather than because it was somehow their fault. I also like the way rather than saying ‘I’ll be back soon’ they say ‘I go-come’. Ahh, I miss the place :-)

  8. Apparently we say ‘Definitely’ quite a lot and in a very pompus way… Most Americans I’ve met find it hilarious. BTW, I always found it very odd when going to the US and everyone says ‘You’re welcome’… When was someone going to say ‘Pleasure’
    My new favourite word in SA now is: Skotane
    It means going all out of your way, to the extreme, to show you have status and can afford to be reckless with your wealth at times when in fact you are not rich at all

  9. Awesome info! I had a few ‘saffa’ roommates when I was doing my yacht work training but the only things I learned were ‘braai’ and biltong! I also heard a couple of them skyline friends back home in Afrikaans and it truly is a distinct language and one that is hard to identify!

  10. Great article – I never really thought our use of the word Pleasure would spark so much interest – kind of second nature for us to respond with that after a thank you.

  11. Hey Matt, awesome post! We are two South African’s slow travelling around the world, and are currently stuck in southeast Asia (and I use stuck as in we wouldn’t have it any other way). South African’s do have a unique language… English is interspersed with words taken from the other official languages and we always say that the South African language is incredibly descriptive. Now… with the terms ‘now now’ and ‘just now’ visitors are always confused between the two phrases as their meaning (and timeframe) are really dependant on the context of the conversation (we truly don’t make it easy for visitors exploring our lands *grin*).
    ‘Now now’ defines a time frame that is sooner than ‘Just now’ although ‘Just now’ could mean anything between 5 minutes and 5 hours, which means that ‘now now’ could be between 2 minutes and 2 hours… African time works similar to Southeast Asian time. Another term that is great is for frustration – ‘Ag man’ which could also be used when fobbing someone off, or with friends and someone’s joke was way below the belt, and then there is the favourite ‘howzit my china’ (with no reference to a country in Asia) and used as a greeting (with glee) in certain parts of the country. Anyway enough confusion for one day – love your blog, keep it up (we use it as a resource for our travels)!

  12. You forgot the one that foreigners find the funniest: Robot = traffic light.

    As in ‘turn left at the first set of robots’… :)

  13. In southern Africa, We always say sorry when people have accidents like spilling their drinks, stumble, fall or hurt themselves in any way. But have realized that the Brits will respond to that by saying “Its not your fault”. As for robots, it’s quite a nice one, I still use it ….

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