When you fully immerse yourself into a new environment, you are bound to discover interesting nuances that are unique to that environment. This can range from the way the people greet each other, to their languages, accents, handshakes, favorite music, dance moves, idea of a good time, and many more. I always advise folks to keep an open mind as that decision alone can be the difference between having a very memorable story to tell over drinks or a story you’d rather bury under drinks. Please drink responsibly.
Ever since my move to South Africa, I’ve grown very fond of a few expressions. These are my top 5 expressions because not only are they fun to say, they also make me feel like a local, effortlessly.
- “Howzit?” pronounced: [houz zit]. This is the American equivalent of “How are you doing?” or “How are you?” or “What’s up?” It is a form of casual greeting that can be used for both your peers and seniors. It is acceptable in the workplace (I use it a lot in my office). The key to pronouncing the word is in the “z”, you have to stress the “z”. It is almost like saying “Howzzzit”. On your next trip to South Africa, when you walk up to the gentleman or lady checking your Passport/Visa, just say “Howzit?” before you hand them your documents and watch their face glow with a smile as they automatically welcome you as one of their own. I did this when I was returning to Johannesburg from my business trip in Nairobi, and it works!
- “Sharp” pronounced [shahrp]. This is the typical response to the Howzit question above. The jury is still out on how many “Sharps” are appropriate which means you have freedom on how many you want to share…depending on your mood and how much free time you think you have. Just keep in mind though that it could get annoying if you over use it. Let’s just say I learned the hard way. I’ve heard people say “Sharp” twice and I’ve heard it said four times. It can also be used to as a form of acknowledgement for directions, compliments, or suggestions. The other instance I’ve heard it been used is at the end of a phone conversation. The person on the other line will usually say “Sharp” as they wrap up the conversation. One of my relatives, UD, who lives in South Africa uses “Sharp” the best. He has a unique way of saying it that is quite intriguing. Although he says it once, it still takes about the same amount of time as someone saying “Sharp” twice. He does it in a manner that is deliberate, calculated, and synced to a rhythm. The length of time he takes is always the same. It is as if he purposely drags out the “a” which makes it sound like “Shaaaarp”.
- “Izit?” pronounced [Iz zit] On one hand this is used to casually seek confirmation rhetorically in a conversation. On the other hand, it can be used to express disbelief. Your pronunciation and tone of voice determines which category it falls under. When two South Africa locals are talking, this expression comes up a lot. The funny thing about this expression is that when I first heard it being used in a conversation I was part of, I thought I wasn’t being clear enough or they were struggling to understand my Nigerian-American accent. Being the clueless foreigner, I interrupted myself to clarify what I had just said, then continued on. After a few more occurrences and self-imposed interruptions, my response became “It is” with a smile as I continued on. My colleagues found this response funny. They say “Izit?” subconsciously that it took me pointing it out before they noticed they used it so often. The running joke in the office became responding with “It is” after anyone said “Izit?”. I remember when Jenn visited me in South Africa, I purposely used this during our conversation which threw her off, as expected. She did the exact same thing as me and paused to clarify. I laughed inside as she continued. Then I said it a couple more times again, and about the fourth or fifth time, she responded with “It is”. #greatmindsthinkalike
- “Shaaame” pronounced [sheeeymm]. This requires a bit of art to pull off as it is very contextual. It can be both positive and negative. When you feel sad for someone you say “Shaaame”; when you see a cute puppy you say “Shaaame”. I hope you are as confused as me.
- “Robots” pronounced [roh-bots]. This is the equivalent of “Traffic lights” for Americans. I first heard this when I was hanging out with UD. We were driving and he kept saying how the “Robots” didn’t seem to like him today of all days that he was in a hurry. I kept looking around to see where the so-called “Robots” were but couldn’t find any (lol). I didn’t want to ask since he assumed I knew what he was referring to. Nonetheless, my curiosity kept tugging at me. So when he said it the third time, I then realized he was referring to what I knew as traffic lights. I decided to validate my intuition with him, and he confirmed I was right. We both laughed for a few minutes as I wrapped my head around the concept of traffic lights as robots. I guess it does make some sense… or not. I will say this though, when you give directions via WhatsApp, it is much easier to type “Robot” than to type “Traffic light”. #justsaying
One thing is for sure, the world is so big and its people so unique, you owe it to yourself to get out there and spend some part of your life exploring and understanding both, at the same time if possible.
Special thanks to the BTS Africa ladies for being glamorous and fun during this photo shoot.
If you have other favorite South African expressions, please share in the comments. Also, if you have other unique expressions from other countries that really stuck with you, please share as well.