“South African-isms”

Darren and his dog
South African Rugby
Fresh food
Kids and Dog

“South African-isms”

A guide to understanding The South African culture

by Caitlin

My South African husband, Darren, has many adorable quirks.  I thought they were unique to him…until I met his friends and traveled repeatedly to South Africa!  I will share with you here the top ten “South Africanisms” that I have observed – they will come in handy if you are heading on safari!

“Just Now”

When a South African says they will do something/see you/be back “just now” or “now now”, they DO NOT mean now.  They mean some time in the future/eventually/in a little while. Do not be fooled 🙂


Anyone who has watched Invictus knows that rugby is central to culture and life in South Africa.  I dare say even more central than football is to Americans or soccer is to Europeans.  Do not ask a South African how their rugby team is doing unless you have a couple of hours to spare….I will say that rugby is a gentleman’s sport – both the players and fans have a sense of decorum and sportsmanship.


South Africans take astrology and their sun signs very seriously.  My husband begged me to keep our first born in 3 days longer to come out a cancer…the impatient boy is a gemini!  In all seriousness, even the most high-level businessmen consider their counterpart and colleague’s sun signs when forming relationships and doing deals.

Herbs and farm to table cuisine

Using herbs in cooking and as medicine, along with fresh local food, is not a fad or new concept  in South Africa – it is just the way it has always been. South Africa is home to amazing surgeons and medical advancement, but South Africans also focus heavily on herbal remedies and other alternative medicine. They do not know any other way than having  fresh local food, which is why dining there is such a treat. As  Darren says, “a tomato tastes like a tomato” in South Africa.

Warmth and hospitality

I have not witnessed hospitality that parallels that in South Africa anywhere (except maybe New Zealand).  Friends (or even acquaintances) insist on picking you up at the airport and hosting you at their home.  Those in the service industry are warm and truly care about their job and making guests comfortable – it is innate to their natures. We had one client who visited a safari camp with a pair of trendy ripped  jeans in their bag. The staff saw the jeans and took it upon themselves to sew up all of those holes for the guest:)  The only incident of hospitality gone wrong!


The Braai is the South African term for grill.  South African men pride themselves on their braai area, braai skills and braai etiquette.  We have a friend in Johannesburg who is a builder.  When recently designing his own home, the braai area was the first to be designed and built – the kitchen could wait!  There are many rules of conduct  while at the braai, as well as a hierarchy for doing the braaiing – you will have to ask Darren for the playbook!


Here in New England, many old- school-yankees actually shun pools in favor of the ocean.  Not South Africans!  Pools are necessities, as  well as baths (“pronounced  “boths”) and steam rooms. They also like their aromatherapy….I  was always a shower girl but have grown to love a soak in some lavender oil.  I am still not bending on a pool though!


Growing up in a coffee (and Diet Coke!) culture, the phrase “put the kettle on” was foreign to me. I now understand that is is actually impolite not to offer to put the kettle on for tea when a South African (or British – South Africans are generally of British or Dutch descent) friends come over.  We go through mass quantities of milk, sugar and honey in our home – not because of the babies, because of the tea!


South Africans love their dogs – they are treated more as children than animals. When I met Darren, he had three labs and they all slept in bed with us!! I had to put a stop to that, but am happy to see that the love of dogs has been passed down to our boys. Our remaining lab, Napa, is a friend, trampoline and means of transportation for our one year old (she has also put on the “toddler 10 lbs” from table scraps!).

Diet Fads

South Africans love to try the latest and greatest diet fad – paleo, fasting, keto, colon cleansing, etc.   I find it ironic because they have the best fresh, whole, local food at their finger-tips!  I have also found that not all South Africans exercise, but those who do tend to run marathons and literally run up mountains (complete with packs on their backs). Many, including my husband, have those thick rugby player thighs (ironic, because Darren was born and spent his first years in England!).  It will be interesting if our boys inherit the thighs or whether the legs are a product of actually living in South Africa!