Join our Marketing Intern, Robin Müller, as he shares fond memories of one of the planet’s most vibrant, diverse cultures. 

At the southern tip of the world’s largest continent lies a country I call home, South Africa. It isn’t where I was born, but after growing up and spending my life here I still consider myself South African.

Then again, with 11 official languages and a population so diverse that we’re referred to as the Rainbow Nation, what does being South African even mean? That’s a tricky question, but one I feel qualified to tackle.

It all comes down to two important pillars of culture.

The language

11 languages, yet we all understand each other. English is the most widespread, but listen to two South Africans speak and you’ll hear traces of other tongues enriching the conversation. Not only will you hear a soup of borrowed words and phrases, two neighbors might be chatting in entirely different accents.

You’ll also hear words and phrases that only make sense here. ‘Robots’ are traffic lights, ‘naartjie’ are mandarin oranges, ‘babbelas’ is a hangover. ‘Howzit’ means ‘how are you doing,’ used as a greeting. ‘Chow’ means to eat, ‘now now’ means later, and ‘shebeens’ are unlicensed bars. I still call traffic lights ‘robots,’ to the amusement of my international friends.

One of my favourite quirks is how English speakers approve of something by saying, ‘it’s lekker.’ Afrikaans speakers will say, ‘dit is nice.’ ‘Lekker’ is the Afrikaans word for ‘nice;’ the two communities simply swapped words.

If you fall, drop something, or you’re just having a generally off day and someone sees this, they’ll always say they’re sorry. It doesn’t matter if they can’t change it or played no part in it. Compassion is rooted deep into South African culture.

We always ask ‘how are you keeping,’ not to just friends and family but anyone we greet. You always start a conversation asking how someone is doing, from the janitor to the CEO. 

Traditions around food

South Africans don’t agree on much at the best of times, but one aspect that unites a vast majority of the population is braai, known to the rest of the world as barbeque.

The most common braai will have ‘pap’, a coarsely ground maize meal that is readily available throughout the country, and ‘boerewors’, ground beef sausage seasoned with coriander seeds, nutmeg and cloves. The iconic braai is so important to South Africa, that they dubbed the National Heritage Day, 24 September, National Braai Day.

Top left: ‘pap’ and bottom left: ‘boerewors’

There are a few honourable mentions, almost as important as a braai; meals I miss the most when thinking about home. There’s bunny chow, a traditional South African Indian dish where half a loaf of toasted bread is hollowed out and filled with curry. The best version is found in Durban.

If you’re in a township in South Africa, a must-try meal is a kota. That’s a quarter loaf stuffed with polony, atchar, slap chips (not firm French fries), cheese, egg and a Russian sausage. If that doesn’t sound inviting enough, depending on your location, you can pick one up for under one euro.

Sharing culture, building community

The diversity of South Africa makes it extremely difficult to summarize in only a few hundred words. The love and compassion shared by the people of the Rainbow Nation has to be experienced to be believed.

I’ve loved sharing these two elements of culture, food and language, which make us what we are. Do you have some South African insights of your own to share? Or has this blog inspired you to showcase your own culture? Get in touch with us on social media, we can’t wait to hear from you.

In the meantime, learn more about this fascinating culture and discover even more reasons to visit South Africa.

Did you enjoy this post? You might also enjoy reading "Culture: Russian traditions and Pancake Week."

Author: Robin Müller

Robin is a marketing intern at SPEAK. He has an ambitious goal of visiting a new country every year (sadly is 3 behind).

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