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Things South Africans do that other people don’t understand

By December 13, 2016October 3rd, 2023South African Expats

Things South Africans do that other people don’t understand

December 13, 2016

South Africans are a unique bunch, and even if you’ve been living abroad for a while, there may be some habits you find hard to shake.

Here are a few of the things that are uniquely South African

Things us saffas do…

A salad can be anything

If you visit other countries, and especially European countries, there are rules for making salad. It usually consists of specific greens, the odd tomato, olive, crouton and feta. But if you’re a South African you know that anything can go into a salad. As a meat-loving nation, it’s not beyond us to put any type of carnivorous treat into our greens. And, of course, we can’t just have one salad. There should at least be a leafy salad, sweet carrot salad, spicy bean salad, potato salad and beetroot salad. That’s the only way a Sunday lunch goes down.

Now and now-now

The word “now” has a unique meaning in a South African context… especially with some repetition. In fact, the repetition changes the meaning from “immediately” to “sometime in the near future”. Although we’re quite accustomed to this colloquial usage of the word “now”, it’s not something people abroad will necessarily understand.

Keep left, pass right

The custom of keeping left and passing right is so ingrained in our psyches, that we even apply this rule when going up and down staircases or walking through corridors. Although this “rule” stems from the rules of the road, it may be strange for South Africans landing on foreign shores who suddenly have to keep right and pass left on the streets and in shopping malls.

Dip ‘n Ouma

Coffee is a treat worldwide, but most nations pride themselves on enjoying the beverage unfettered and strong. Not like South Africans who really feel dismayed when our sweet coffee with loads of milk can’t be accompanied by a rusk. Indeed, dipping rusks in coffee is a must before work and bedtime. In fact, anytime of day!

Eating animal feed

One thing European nations in particular may find strange is South Africans love of mealies. We love basting those babies with a bit of butter and braaiing them on the grill. But for foreigners who see maize as animal feed this could be a strange experience. Not to say that they won’t warm to the idea of eating warm, sweet, grilled corn once they get a taste for it.

Saturday sports and Sunday dinners

The weekends have a defined format in South African life. Saturdays are most definitely booked for sports and braais, while Sundays are mostly retained for attending church and having enormous family meals in the afternoons. Though there certainly are countries which follow a similar trend, you’ll notice stark differences if you’re moving to a country which has a decidedly different culture.

What are the indoors?

South Africans love the outdoors. We’re still a bit skeptical about central cooling and heating and like to keep the windows open. But in other countries which are more crowded or colder, most people stay indoors throughout the year. This could be daunting for those of us who like to soak up the sun outside.

What are time zones?

Although, by the world timezone map, South Africa essentially traverses two different time zones, we’ve decided to keep it simple and have one timezone across the country. Additionally, we don’t believe in changing our clocks according to the seasons. For expats moving to countries spanning several time zones and those using daylight savings time, it can be hard to adjust if you’re not used to it.

Map of the world's timezones

Drinking from the tap

If you’re visiting a foreign country or moving abroad, you should be aware that drinking tap water is not necessarily acceptable or safe in other countries. South Africa is lucky to be one of the countries with the highest quality of tap water, and most of us are used to sticking a glass under the tap to freshen our parched throats. Before doing the same abroad, first make sure it’s safe to do so.

Barefoot brigade

Many doctors and scientists believe that walking barefoot is very good for our bodies. And South African children are, of course, some of the lucky ones who can go barefoot at many schools during their pre- and primary school years. But this habit of walking barefoot is not something your foreign neighbours will necessarily understand. In some countries it’s even illegal to walk barefoot (such as Qatar) and some European nations frown on the idea of going shoeless.

Code of conduct

South Africa is still very much used to the idea of respecting elders and of men holding doors for women. But if you’re moving abroad, you should be aware that other nations may not have the same idea about respect. You may find that in some countries, children treat adults as their peers, and men and women are either completely equal, or women don’t get the same level of respect at all. It could take some getting used to.

Code mixing

Code mixing, or language mixing, is not something which is limited to South Africa, but if you’re moving to a country which has one predominant language, you may get some strange stares in the first few months as you continue speaking “South African”. We’re used to the idea of saying “lekker” and “eish” in our English sentences, but be aware that foreigners will have no clue what you’re talking about.

What other things are uniquely South African to you?

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