weird things south africa
It goes with literally everything.

Home » Phil Maloney: 22 More Weird Things About South Africa

Phil Maloney: 22 More Weird Things About South Africa

Last year, I wrote a post called 24 Weird Things About South Africa… writes Phil Maloney who lived for a few years as a Canadian expat in SA. It exploded, with the original post going viral, and then subsequent reposts of it on other pages also going viral. There were, of course, several people who […]

weird things south africa
It goes with literally everything.

Last year, I wrote a post called 24 Weird Things About South Africawrites Phil Maloney who lived for a few years as a Canadian expat in SA. It exploded, with the original post going viral, and then subsequent reposts of it on other pages also going viral.

There were, of course, several people who got really defensive and said the post, me, and everything I’ve ever done in my life are all complete and total rubbish (as if I didn’t already KNOW that!). But the vast majority of South Africans love to laugh at themselves, and that’s just one of the many things I adore about the country. Anyway, time for a follow up. Without further adieu, here are 22 MORE Weird Things About South Africa:

1) Biltong.

The product itself (dried, cured meat) isn’t so weird, I guess. But I’m surprised the hospitals don’t see more cases of biltong overdoses than they currently do (according to my completely made up estimate, roughly 37856 South Africans have overdosed on the stuff in the time it took you to read this completely fake statistic). Biltong serves as an appetizer, a meal, a salad/pizza topping, and dessert, and every self-respecting South African keeps a handful of emergency biltong in their pockets. Just in case.

It goes with literally everything.

2) Directions.

I dare you to try to ask a South African for an address so you can punch it into Google maps and be on your way. It won’t happen. Even though you beg, exhort, PLEAD with them to just give you a simple address, instead, you’ll end up with something like this: “OK, head South. At the big pothole, take a right (not the 3 medium-sized potholes you’ll see before the big one). You know the Engen right on the corner where the guy sells licence disc holders? Keep going past that. About 3 minutes after you see the leaking water main on the right hand side of the road, take a left. You’ll know it’s the right one because there’s a tree there. It’s a great spot to stop and have some biltong. Anyway, keep going and….” Every. Single. Time.

3) Confusing Family Relationships.

Everybody is an Auntie or an Uncle. It doesn’t matter if your kids have just met somebody for the first time. Say hello to Uncle Jaco and Auntie Martha.

4) Hadedas.

Some birds chirp. Some warble. Others call or sing. The hadeda defies our mortal comprehension of how a bird should sound. Imagine, if you will, 278 pigs being murdered simultaneously by the sheer auditory pandemonium of an entire 7th grade band class trying out their instruments on the first day whilst being chased by countless angry raccoons. That’s what a hadeda sounds like.

If you’re a South African, you’re not looking at this picture. You’re HEARING it.

5) Monkey Gland Sauce.

It took me roughly 2 years to work up the courage to order this in a restaurant. I was happily surprised/strangely disappointed that it has nothing to do with monkeys nor glands. Whoever came up with the name for this delicious condiment should be fired immediately.

6) Sharp.

In South Africa, the word “sharp” roughly translates into “ok, cool.” As in, “Did you bring enough biltong to help us survive this 15 minute car ride?” “Yes.” “Sharp.” But it sounds more like “shap.” And if the person is REALLY in enthusiastic agreement, you’ll get an emphatic, “Shap Shap.”

7) Load Shedding.

Many people in South Africa pre-pay for electricity. So we already own it. But if that means you assume you’ll have constant access to what you’ve already paid for and own, let me introduce you to Eskom. In order to avoid a total meltdown of the grid, Eskom, the state-owned power company that sometimes supplies enough electricity to keep up with demand, “sheds” power from pre-selected areas. It happens so frequently that there are apps to help people figure out when they’ll be braaing in the dark.


8) Ons gaans nou braai!

Speaking of braais- which is simply a much better version of North American barbeques- I’d be remiss if I didn’t add them to this list. Not because the act of braaing itself is weird- it’s not. But if you get invited to a braai for 6pm, have dinner first. You won’t be eating until at least midnight. Oh, and ladies, if you meet a handsome South African at the bar and he asks you to come back to his place at 1am for a braai, don’t get your hopes up for any hanky panky. He REALLY means he wants to grill some meat. No euphemisms involved whatsoever.

9) Eish!

This delightful phrase is uttered to express that something has gone utterly pear shaped. And may God have mercy on your soul if a clerk in a store says this to you- you’re about the enter a completely new dimension of customer service hell.

10) Ja-Nee.

OK, come on Saffas. Now you’re just messing with us. When we ask you something, is it yes? Is it no? We’ll never know, because you hit us with both in one breath.

11) Shopping at the robots.

In my last list, I mentioned that traffic lights are called robots in South Africa. But what I didn’t mention is that you can do all your shopping at them. Fruit and vegetables, clothing, kites, luggage, sjamboks, art, and a multitude of other items can be bought from the hawkers dodging moving vehicles, who in turn, are trying to dodge the moving hawkers.

12) Drinking at kids’ birthday parties.

No complaints here, but it’s definitely shocking if you’re new to South Africa. Thanks Tony and Kate for introducing me to this beloved tradition (and fueling my competitive spirit, leading to over-the-top parties).

13) Cum Books.

I mean, surely someone had to have thought this through…

Big shout out to the Nut Factory for opening RIGHT next door.

14) Nachos.

Or, not-chos. Cause when you order these in South Africa, more often than not, you’ll get flavoured Doritos covered with melted cheese. WHY??????

15) Speeding tickets.

In most parts of the world, being pulled over for speeding results in a speeding ticket. Finish and klaar. In South Africa, the moment the officer greets you is the beginning of a negotiation. And if you have a buffalo handy, it often turns out you weren’t actually speeding after all.

16) Swearing.

With 11 official languages in South Africa, opportunity abounds for creative worsmithery. And Saffas are all over it. There has been more than one occasion where I’ve asked, after overhearing an expletive-laden phone conversation, what the caller was so angry about. And the response? “Ja, nee. I was just organizing with my grandma where we’re going to meet for lunch after church on Sunday.”

17) Winter heating (or lack thereof).

If you’re not from South Africa, you’d never imagine that it gets cold here. But it does. And the houses don’t have any insulation whatsoever. So when it’s 5°C outside, it’s also 5°C inside, and everybody huddles around hilariously dangerous propane heaters, covered in blankets, dreaming about summer. And when you ask a South African why they don’t just build houses with insulation, the answer is always a shrug and “It’s only for a couple of months.”

The Basotho blankets from Aranda are a necessity. Read about their super cool history here.

18) Ice in wine.

So you know that thing pretty much the whole world does where they put wine in their wine glass and absolutely nothing else? Not South Africans. Apparently white wine and ice go together like pap and wors.

19) Yellow line driving.

In another post, I already established that driving in South Africa is super duper extra. Motorists in South Africa never drive the speed limit. They either drive insanely fast, or mind-numbingly slow. And if it’s the latter and they see there are cars behind them, instead of simply speeding up, they’ll move ever so slightly across the yellow line onto the shoulder and expect you to pass, even if that means you need to be halfway across the centre line, hoping oncoming traffic makes room for you. And should you not be brave enough to risk a head on collision, you’ll need to deal with an overly aggressive Hilux right up your backside, whose driver lets you know in no uncertain terms that you absolutely should have entered the danger zone to pass the slower vehicle.

20) Fine, and you?

This one has always tripped me up. A global standard greeting consists of one party asking how the other person is doing, to which that person answers the question and then asks how the first person is. Then the conversation either ends or goes onto another topic. But in South Africa, the following is common:

South African: Good morning! How are you?

Me: I’m great thanks! How about you?

South African: Fine, and you?

I…I just told you. Like, mere seconds ago. And if you start a conversation, but rudely forget to ask how the person is that day, they’ll invariably reply to whatever it is you just said with, “Fine, and you?” It’s tempting to keep replying back the same way to see who will give up repeating the question first, but I’ve always been afraid to, lest we get stuck in a never-ending, inescapable loop.

21) “That side.“

Earlier in this list, I pointed out the overly complex directions that South Africans love to give. The flip side of this is when you’re looking for something nearby (a store, an ATM, an entrance, etc), and you know you’re close, but you’re not entirely sure where to go. And if you’re stupid enough to ask for directions at this point, you’ll get nothing more than a helpful, “That side,” accompanied with a nondescript and completely indecipherable hand gesture. Thanks, I guess?

22) Time.

It’s irrelevant. If you feel the need to be punctual, by all means do so. But don’t get all worked up when others are late to meetings, braais, funerals, etc. If a South African shows up 10 minutes past the appointed time, that’s probably the earliest they’ve ever been late. Just use the extra time to enjoy the scenery.

OK, so what did I miss? Tell me in the comments!

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