I love South Africanisms!

vehicle penguins

It started during our first road trip: picking up on sayings, food, treats and more that stood out to us as uniquely South African. Our expat family in Jo’burg helped further our education: a host of uniquely South African sounds, sights, tastes, and more.

Animalspinterest post lekker

If there’s one thing everyone knows about South Africa before arrival, it’s the iconic wildlife. We were blown away by what we saw at game parks during our first weeks: the sightings had a storybook quality. But it’s not just game parks! In the residential neighborhood of Yzerfontein, north of Cape Town, ostrich wander between the houses. On our first inland jaunt, we saw a group of zebra drifting through a field. During our road trip across the country, meerkats stood at attention on the side of the highway, and a group bachelor kudu held their spiraled horns for us to admire. That’s just scratching the surface! Perhaps it’s why the road signs, like the penguin warning above, have charm.


Most South Africans speak English, but it’s not the American English we know. Some of these turns of phrase are fun just for now; others will stay with us for the long term. Anyone planning to visit South Africa, here’s a preview for a handthat make us smile!

Shame. It’s a crackup how commonly this word, which we don’t use often in American English, crops up in SA. Missed the weather window? Shame. Feeling low? Shame. It can be loaded with all kind of delicious sarcasm, and may be intended as a positive comment as well. “What a cute dress! Shame.” Yes, really.

Lekker. Afrikaans, but with much broader use than just “delicious” (the meaning retained in origin Dutch). That hike was lekker. How’s your day been? Lekker. This biltong is lekker! And yes, Low Carb is Lekker cookbook, seen below.


Howzit? Slang greeting from “how’s it” that I’ve turned heads by using without thinking, because it’s the same in familiar-to-me Hawaiian pidgin. The fact that Hawaii’s “howzit brah” (bro, brother) lines right up with the SA “howzit, bru” just makes it even funnier.

Yehbo. A Zulu word meaning yes, but used more broadly as a response, a greeting, or just an interjectory filler word. Use as frequent and mixed up as the Afrikaans ‘Ja,’ such as in “Ja, no?” (yes, no?) and the habit of ending sentences in “Ja” or “hey,” kind of like the Canadian “eh.”

Braai. We will no longer barbecue, Siobhan has declared; we will only braai. Considering the fine art that South Africans raise grilling towards, I’m OK with that.

Robots. Told to turn left at the robot? That’s a stoplight reference. And, occasionally, a convenient way to describe tri-color bell peppers. (R30 is about $2, for those who pay attention to such things.)


The best of all, but something we aren’t quite equipped to take with us, are the clicking sounds in Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and probably a bunch of other languages here we haven’t learned about yet. All clicks are not created equal: they may be made in the back of your mouth, or with a ‘ch’ sound, or more of a lisp, or something else entirely. Interesting and challenging; and especially, mesmerizingly beautiful to listen to.


We had an introduction to South African food from friends in Malaysia, and the SA-owned butcher on Langkawi. As our friend Oskar will tell you, this is the land of meat. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a carnivorous diet!

Biltong is the early favorite. It’s dried chips of meat (could be beef…could be kudu, ostrich, nyala, etc.), or the similar drywors, a dried sausage. Comparing them to our beef jerky will only offend a South African, so I’ll just say they’re…related. We have learned from experience that a bag of biltong is an excellent road trip companion.

lekker biltong

Boerewors is sausage that’s usually beef, but can be pork or lamb or a combination. It’s one big long spiral instead of multiple segments, and often has spices we usually associate with sweeter dishes: nutmeg, cloves, allspice. It seems no braai is complete without boerewors!

I don’t think I’ve ever had eisbein, a roasted pork knuckle with generous crackling, but it pops up on almost every menu here. It’s an almost shockingly large serving. Jamie and I split one, and had enough leftovers for another meal.


Rusks. We read about Peekay having rusks and coffee for breakfast in The Power of One and couldn’t wait to try them. Sure enough, these dry biscuits are everywhere. They’re good, but not for the faint of tooth!

Cheese with everything! In case your cholesterol isn’t hurting enough already South Africans seem to like to serve cheese with just about everything. How about a side of grated cheddar with that French toast and bacon?

cheese with everything


We all love to go barefoot, but Siobhan in particular resists wearing shoes whenever possible. In South Africa, she fits right in. Shoes are highly optional, especially for anyone under the age of about 15. It seems to be the Afrikaans kids in particular, but it is TOTALLY NORMAL to see barefoot kids in malls, or grocery stores, or just walking down the street.

This post is syndicated on Sailfeed.

20 Responses

  1. You got us pretty much down…. although the Eisbein is more German.As you have figured out South Africans love beer and meat which is how the Eisbein is cooked, meat in beer, so that is maybe the reason it features so often on restaurant menus here. We also have many pockets of people of German decent. So glad you have enjoyed your stay. Certain you will one day be back!South Africa is one heck of a country, a beautiful but complex place????When are you guys off again? Also we will see you soon-soon!

    1. We’ve had SUCH a good stay here. What a gorgeous and yes, very complex place! Our visas expire the 26th, we’ll probably stay till then. And meat and beer… of course! And now I know why I feel crummy later? I’m not GF, but for some reason, beer makes me sick.

  2. A note about Rusks…….they are usually dipped in your tea or coffee to soften them up. Mu fovorites are the Muelsi Rusks made for Wollworths. Just look for a Woolworths food store. Worth the effort.
    If you haven’t already done it eat a good Cape Malay Bobotie.

    1. Would you believe, we had bobotie last night? It is a family favorite! Good point re: dipping in tea/coffee (again, like Peekay!). I am almost certain to be in a Woolworth’s before we go and will look for the muesli rusks- thanks Johno.

  3. FYI, the Dutch still say lekker for everything that can possibly be “tasty,” not just the Afrikaaners. Makes one wonder when it got popular as slang!

    There’s also another huge context btw in which lekker is said a lot that you didn’t touch on (at least amongst the Dutch!), but it’s not rated G. 😉

  4. Glad you and your family are enjoying South Africa and I hope especially Cape Town? (Yes it is and has been a bit hot here but then again it is “Lekker by the Sea”
    Try and get to MAMA AFRICA in Long Street (Which is a version of Lafayette) for some Down to Earth African foods. I’m sure you lot have done the Mountain and Lion’s head ??
    Take care and have a “Lekker” time here in SA

    1. That is an excellent tip Robert, thank you – I *love* to eat local and that sounds like a place we need to try! We’ve been working on boat prep projects but will get a rental car to do some exploring next week…Mama Africa going on the list.

      1. Hi Behan,
        You’re going to REALLY enjoy, also try and get into the city early during the day and make a plan to visit the Green-Market Square Flea Market say before lunch and then amble down the road to Mama Afrika in Long Street for lunch (Which has super old world buildings to view and photograph)
        Word of warning: Crowded areas within the city can be spoilt with Pick-Pockets getting into your personal belongings. If you’re being hassled by any Vendor/Hawker always use the
        NEE DANKIE (NEA DONKEY) they immediately think you’re a “Local” and leave you alone.
        Take care

  5. Hello Behan – I have a few more for you:
    – “just now” is an undisclosed amount of time. Don’t be fooled when your goods arrive “just now”!
    – “Ag” – oh man, is an addition to many words, like: It’s windy today, ag shame!
    – Izit? Added to a phrase, means “is it”
    – “Babelaas” – means hangover
    See you at the club!

    1. Love those Toby! Being here around I could have used babelaas after that New Year’s Even party at FBYC. See you around the docks!

  6. Ha! You’ve got us sussed 🙂 Be sure to pay a visit to Cape Point Vineyards, the Thursday food market has exceptional food and the most incredible views. Enjoy the rest of your travels

  7. Glad you are enjoying Cape Town despite our two week heat wave followed by a week of strong winds. It’s such a multi cultural place.
    The term “shame” in the South African context is fairly difficult to translate, “Ag Shame!” – would be “what a pity”.
    Food wise, the above tips are great. For something uniquely Capetonian – ask around to find a good and proper “Steak Masala Gatsby” Ask them to cut it 4 times and it will feed your family.
    South Africans are also total sport-nuts – doing it and watching it.

    1. Not just sports nuts – but getting *outside* (for sports!), which I love! thanks for the tip on Steak Masala Gatsby. I’m on it. 🙂

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