The Way We Talk and What We Miss

There are a lot of differences in the way people talk in South Africa vs back in America.

Before we left America, people would speculate on if our kids would pick up the South African accent.  Of course, we’ve only been here for almost 4 months so it is a little early to answer that question definitively, however, I can say that we all have already changed the way we talk.  There have been enough changes that my friend Jen asks me almost weekly what new phrases the kids are saying.

For example, anytime Natalie sees a diaper she calls it a nappy.  Hayden and Natalie now say that they have to go to the toilet instead of saying potty or bathroom. In fact, if we are out and don’t know where a bathroom is we have to ask “Where is the toilet?” which felt really rude to me at first for some reason! Natalie further clarifies the bathroom talk by saying she has to “wee in the toilet” rather than “pee in the potty.”

Both kids have started calling the yard a garden and a trashcan is now a dust bin. One new thing is that Hayden has started using the word “must” frequently.  Here, people will tell you that you “must do something just now” and it is not a bossy expression, it is just how people communicate with each other. Hayden has picked up on this and will often ask, “What must we do now?” or “Where must we go?”

Often, when addressing his teacher, he and his classmates will say “teacher” instead of Miss Smith (not her real name). I read this is a respect-of-title thing, whereas in the states we would always address by the last name (which here is called a surname, and yes Hayden says that too) or even by the first name in a preschool setting.

Probably the biggest one for me is that I no longer throw the word “really” into a conversation. Instead I replace it with the phrase “is it” (technically spelled izit here) or the word shame.

Example: Brant: I am out of beer.  Jennifer: Is it? Oh shame!

Responding with ‘is it’ came so naturally that I actually had to ask a friend what I said before I said ‘is it’ and she is the one that pointed out that we used the word ‘really.’

Another thing that takes getting used to is the frequent flip flop between telling time in military time or on a 12-hour clock.  When you schedule an appointment or hear the time being told it is often described as being “half past 10” or “quarter past 7.”  But telling time can become very strange. My friend Athena posted on Facebook awhile back where she heard the radio announcer say it was “1 past 20 to 10” and wouldn’t it be more efficient to say 9:41? Her post cracked me up because I remember hearing the same thing in the car it and having to look at my clock to see if I understood correctly. Another friend was commenting that he didn’t think many people here understand the concept of noon, which baffled him because they clearly understood the concept of afternoon.

If your South African friends phone number is 1223444566, they would give it to you like this: 1, double 2, 3, triple 4, 5, double 6.  It drives me crazy and I always have to tell people to slow down when they do that to me.  Shame, my friend Jen has jumped on this bandwagon.  😉  Oh and all phone numbers are 10 digits- I guess similar to area codes back in the states but less regional because you have to give it every time.

I think one of the hardest things to get used to is that there isn’t a store here where you can go and buy everything in one trip. Each grocery store has a slightly different selection and it is virtually impossible to complete your shopping at one place.  At first I thought it was because I cook with American recipes and many of the ingredients are different (you won’t find a can of black beans or re-fried beans. Other items are called something different, for example, cilantro is called coriander here). But I’ve spoken to South Africans who agree that you must make multiple stops to mark off all items on the list.  They adjust by going every few day to the shops and getting what they need. Food is less preserved here so it does go bad more quickly.  I am a once-a-week grocery shopper. I absolutely hate going more than that because it takes me at least 3 hours each week to get a weeks worth of food (and I end up going for an item here or there throughout the week anyway), but I get the bulk of it done in one day. Trying to find comparable ingredients is challenging, and the stores are set up a little differently so items are not where I would assume they should be.  When I come across an American brand I recognize I grab 3 or 4 impulsively   I think it just feels like home. My mom has helped with this by sending a few food care packages. ❤

The looks that I get because my shopping cart is full crack me up. People just don’t do that here and so other shoppers will point at my cart and look at me funny.  I’ve also gotten funny looks when I asked for ground turkey (nobody eats turkey and they don’t have ground chicken either), celery salt, and onion powder. The cashiers always want to ask me about America (my accent plus my full cart gives me away). 

I also miss being able to (at any hour of the day or night) go to a single store and purchase milk, a screwdriver, applesauce, potting soil, Tic-Tacs, and an Almond Joy.  Here, stores close pretty early on the weeknights (7 or 8 at the very latest), and on the weekends they close between 2-4pm.

An odd thing that I miss are window screens. Most of the houses do not have heat or air conditioning.  They say if your house faces north you have the best setup because the breeze and sun works with you to keep your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. I think our house technically faces south, which is pretty much the same thing as facing north. We have been pretty comfortable using just fans and open windows/ doors to keep the house cool. However, there are no window screens or sliding screen doors to keep the bugs out. At night I’ve been attacked by a mosquito or two.  We know several people that have problems with flies. As soon as it gets dark and the lights are on inside the bugs begin invading. The design of the windows makes it hard to create some sort of screen. There are apparently these things you can plug into the wall to repel the mosquitoes but I have not purchased one yet.

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A builder came to my house a month or so ago to repair a place on the roof and was complaining to me about how they are having to start nailing down roof tiles because strong winds blow them off. He was mad because they never used to have to do that and only one or two would blow off all year.  I would have never even considered most of them were not secured properly.

The biggest thing I miss is Daylights Savings Time. It is summer here and the sun is up before 5 am and sets by 7. I miss it being light until after 9pm.

Two weeks ago we finished planting our vegetable garden and are already seeing some sprouts. Hooray! We planted lettuce, red chard, tomato, cucumber, peppers, squash, zucchini, corn, and okra.

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School is winding down for the kids. Their last day is December 4th. Hayden begins kindergarten January 15th. He had his gymnastics awards on Friday and he has concert next Thursday evening. Natalie will be in a Nativity play for her school next week as well.

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Last week I played in another tennis tournament and came in second this time. I won a bottle of champagne and it was fun!

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Today I am cooking a Thanksgiving turkey. The grocery stores by us have started stocking frozen turkeys around this time because there are so many Americans. They look curiously at you when you buy one and tell you that they have no idea how to prepare it. We are having a Thanksgiving/ Brants birthday celebration tonight.  It feels different cooking all of this heavy food when it is 90 degrees outside.  Friends are bringing their family favorites to complete the meal.  I’ll be sure to post lots of pictures later so that you can see we are keeping the American traditions alive!


Love from South Africa! xoxoxoxo

This entry was posted in Adjusting, cooking, Expat- General, Food in South Africa, Frustrations, relocation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Way We Talk and What We Miss

  1. Tabitha says:

    Happy Birthday to Brant! Congrats to you and Hayden! Do they run school on quarters there? Or divide up when kids start grade levels based on their birthdays and do mid year promotions? I heard they used to do that in the U.S. but it is something which changed over time. I think the U.S. may be one of few places that uses two names for coriander. The green portions are called cilantro here but all the other parts are ground coriander or coriander seed. We may be the weirdos on that. Shopping in small loads is apparently common most places but here. Perhaps elsewhere people are in closer proximity to what they need? In thinking about your windows, I wonder, would you be able to have a pull down screen that connected to velcro or something on the sides of the windows so you could block out the mosquitos? Something along that line might be effective. What do you think?

    Thanks for the update!

    • jennifer says:

      I also thought up the Velcro thing for the screens but I was told they don’t even have the material, although I didn’t check for myself. His school is in trimesters and runs from January to December. You start grade 0 the year you turn 6.

  2. E says:

    Ha! I LOVE the new terms you guys are picking up! I cannot wait to hear Natalini say “wee in the toilet!” Congrats to you and Hayden for being awesome and winning awards! I am so excited to come see your home and garden and the way you have been living. It was great to talk to you and Brant today, hopefully I will have my video working next time so we can see each other 🙂 Thank you for these awesome blogs, Dusty and I enjoy them so much! xoxo

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