‘Hello’ – It’s a small word that can mean the start of great things. A little show of acknowledgement and respect that can make or break your interactions on a South African safari.
This simple utterance is your gateway to getting to know your hosts, discovering local points of view and finding out more about your surroundings. The greatest friendships start with a simple, “hello”.
Here’s how to get the conversation started in South Africa.
Breaking the Language Barrier
South Africa has eleven official languages to its name, and over 20 other languages to its credit, but everyone understands a smile and the classic ‘hello’ or ‘hi’.
If you want to impress your hosts, learn some of these local greetings. They’ll also help you to respond appropriately when someone greets you first. It’s good manners 101, so read on:
Sawubona and Sanbonani
Most people in South Africa are familiar with this isiZulu word and its Swazi equivalent, ‘Sanbonani’. You can respond with the same word. Often Zulu people may follow this with ‘Unjani‘ which means ‘how are you?”. In response you would say ‘ngiyaphila unjani wena?’.
Sawubona is so commonplace in Zulu strongholds like KwaZulu Natal that it’s a borderline slang term.
You’ll come across this Xhosa greeting when you travel to the Northern and Western Cape Provinces, and ‘unjani wena‘ is also the Xhosa expression for ‘How are you?’. If you want to respond, say, ‘Ndiphilile enkosi, unjani wena?’
Xhosa and Zulu have many similarities as they both belong to the Nguni family of languages. Xhosa is widely spoken in Cape Town and the rest of the Western Cape.
This is a common greeting in Mpumalanga and belongs to the Tswana people who predominate in this province. “Dumela‘, is also widely understood and used by all races.
Afrikaans doesn’t really have an exact equivalent of ‘hello’. The norms are ‘Goeie more/middag/naand‘ which mean ‘good morning/afternoon/evening. Afrikaners also use the term, ‘Hoe gaan dit?’ (how are you) instead of hello.
Most people in South Africa understand Afrikaans greetings regardless of race, colour or creed.
Slang and Colloquial Terms
Apart from the official greetings, you’ll also come across a host of colloquial ones. Shoulder bumps and high fives are common among friends in some areas, elaborate handshakes with numerous movements are also part of some exclusive brotherhoods. You might come across the greeting, ‘Sharp Fede‘ which means ‘hello, how are you?’ during a township tour.
‘Howzit‘ is a general greeting used by all races, all over the country. It started out as “how are you” but now it’s just another way to say “hello”. You can respond with the greeting of your choice, no one will mind, but one that you might hear in return is ‘Lekker bru‘, implying that all is amazing, awesome or just great.
Likewise; ‘Heita‘ and ‘Aweh‘ are common in some circles, with no official response required.
It’s important to remember that no South African is likely to laugh at you for mispronouncing a word in their language. They’ll appreciate the effort, so it’s worth trying.
When in doubt – smile and wave!
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