51 Weird things about South Africa

It’s hard to spot your own weirdness after I lived in Germany for a year I noticed things about my country which I never did before. Things that Germans don’t do. Here’s my list of my own observations mixed with what I found online.

1.We call traffic lights robots

For some reason all South Africans call traffic lights, robots. We are aware that the traffic light isn’t R2-D2 calling them robots is just a thing.

2. You can shop at strange places

At the robots you can buy things like fruit, veggies, hats, sunglasses, beaded art etc…. Whilst you are sitting in your car hawkers dodge other cars and sell their products. If you are sitting inside of a public taxi at the taxi rank you will find that hawkers sell things like needles, bootleg CDs, snacks etc… whilst you are waiting for the taxi to fill up with passengers. The same goes for Golden Arrow buses standing at the bus depot. Sellers often sell sweets, chips, chocolates and earphones.

3. People drink at kid birthday parties

In my family this isn’t a thing. But, lots of my neighbours do this and it’s not frowned upon.

4. Cum Books

This is actually a Christian book store which sells the Bible and other religious books. CUM stands for Christian Publishing Company when you translate it from Afrikaans to English.

CUM Books provides a comprehensive service to Christian readers. This is one of the most popular Christian book shops in Cape Town, for those who are looking for literature to inspire, console and educate them on the Word of God.”

Goodness this is a terrible name I must say

5. Mexican food

Almost all of our Mexican food is Tex Mex. You won’t find lots of truly authentic Mexican food in South Africa. And our nachos is usually made with Doritos chips. At Spur you will even find nachos with chopped up lettuce as part of the toppings. It’s definitely strange.

6. Heating isn’t a thing

It actually does get cold in South Africa. Even my German professor said he ended up freezing in his hotel room when he visited Cape Town. He unfortunately got booked into a cheap hotel. It isn’t the norm for homes in the country to have heating or insulated windows. I loved the heating in Germany and the fact that my windows sealed closed when I shut them. In South Africa we just wing it with fireplaces, heaters and lots of blankets.

7. I put ice in my wine

Ice in white wine is seen as normal and if you go to any restaurant or bar you will get a glass of ice to put in your wine. It’s a normal thing.

8. Be prepared for big pours

If you are having a glass of wine be aware that in South Africa the glasses are poured way past the halfway mark. Even wine tastings come with big glasses of wine being poured. I had a Californian friend complain that she thought the wine estate was being pushy by pouring huge glasses and I laughed a little, then told her that it’s totally normal. Wine tastings are often like that over here. And if you’re going to a bar or restaurant it’s the same expect big glasses of wine.

9. Random window washers

When you’re driving keep an eye out for guys who just want to start washing your windscreen. They usually carry a bottle of soapy water and a squeegee. You have to pay them afterwards even though I will admit I think they spread dirt around instead of cleaning windscreens. Window washers are more popular in Joburg than Cape Town and are just trying to make a living. My sister usually gives them spare change and asks them nicely to not wash her windows.

https://www.jacarandafm.com/shows/workzone-elana-afrika-bredenkamp/hilarious-window-washing-situation-joburg-intersection-drives-man-insane/

Window washer in  Johannesburg
Image Credit: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Theana Breugem

10. Bunny chow

No bunnies are harmed when making this dish. It’s also not a bunny feed. Bunny chow is a half a loaf of bread which is hollowed out and stuffed with curry. It’s delicious and I still don’t know where the name came from.

Bunny Chow, Durban, South Africa
A Durban Bunny Chow – or, in this case, a quarter mutton bunny – served with sambals. This is an iconic Durban meal consisting of a section of a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with mutton curry and gravy. The sambals are grated carrot with chopped chilli. The meal is traditionally eaten with one’s fingers. Picture Credit: Jonathan Oberholster

11. Donkey and horse carts

You might spot horse driven/ donkey driven carts carrying around scrap metal. Imagine a bus street full of traffic with a cart in the pedestrian lane filled to the brim with scrap metal bits. The cart owners sell the metal to scrap (junk) yards in order to make a living.

Here’s a video I took of a baby donkey braying. The carts are in it too.

12. Ja/Nee

Afrikaans is my second language and it’s both of my parents’ first language. So I grew up with this term ja means yes and nee is no. Ja/nee is literally translated to yes/no.

What ja/nee means in South Africa
Image credit: bolodomatoic.com

13. Everyone is family

In most South African cultures any older women is an aunty and an older man is an uncle. Most Black people will address any older women as mama(mother), a younger women is sisi(sister) . It’s not that everyone is literally family. It is an ingrained sign of respect.

14. Car guards are all over

Official car guards and informal ones. I actually spotted a car guard in an underground parking at Blue Route Mall this past Thursday. I was shocked. You should always carry some spare change to tip the car guards.

15. The vuvuzela is still a thing

People love blowing the vuvuzela at soccer matches. It’s loud and proudly South African. The vuvuzela was officially banned in Europe way back in 2010. Read more here:https://www.reuters.com/article/us-vuvuzela-soccer-idUSTRE6805FM20100901

Jeniffer Garnier’s character Alison in the movie “Yes” waking up her husband with a Vuvuzela

16. Some people get really dressed up for sports events

Passionate fans get creative and dress up to show their support. This happens mostly at soccer and rugby matches.

Soccer fans at Cape Town Stadium
Soccer fans at Cape Town Stadium

17. South African’s love bakkies

In the USA a bakkie is a pickup-truck. Over here you will see lots of bakkies on the roads. Maybe it’s because there are stretches of roads with lots of potholes. It could also be because there’s more space in a bakkie. The US and SA share loving bakkies as these vehicles are mega popular.

https://www.news24.com/wheels/news/sa_vehicle_sales/revealed-this-is-the-bakkie-that-south-africans-love-most-20210117-4

Bakkie meme
People love bakkies in SA

18. Potholes

Speaking of which we do have a pothole issue on certain roads. Cape Town’s roads (where I’m from) are pretty good. On my way to Joburg last year I found out that I’m lucky. I took a wrong turn and ended up on an extremely bumpy road somewhere in the rural Free State. There were goats crossing the road and I was bouncing in my seat. It was an extremely bumpy ride.

Pothole memes only in South Africa ha ha ha
Suid-Afrika is South Africa

19. KFC all over

Just like car guards you will find KFC’s all over the place. There’s even a couple who got engaged at a KFC need I say more.

https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/south-africa/2019-11-13-watch-i-wanted-her-to-feel-special-and-loved-kfc-couple-open-up-on-sas-tastiest-love-story/

20. Taxis make there own rules

Taxi drivers usually don’t obey the rules of the road. Despite this the informal taxi industry is huge. My brother, aunt, uncle and lots of my cousins are taxi owners. Even now with the pandemic mitigation measures taxi drivers simply refused to follow loading rules and are now driving passengers with a full taxi instead of leaving some seats empty.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-25/full-taxis-are-a-south-african-reality-even-virus-can-t-change

Meme on taxi drivers South Africa

21. Shame

In South Africa the word โ€œshameโ€ is used in different situations. It’s a term of endearment so if you see a cute baby or puppy you’d say ” Agh shame that babe is so cute” It’s also used to express sympathy like ” Oh shame I’m sorry you’re having a bad day”

22. Personal space isn’t a thing

Now with Covid this has changed. Before though people would stand right behind my in shopping queues or sit almost on my lap in taxis. It’s one of the things I hate about my country honestly.

23. Sorry

Sorry normally replaces excuse me. Instead of saying excuse me when trying to pass by someone you’d say sorry, if you need someone to repeat something they have said it’s “Sorry I didn’t get that” If you do happen to knock into someone saying sorry is also normal. And both people immediately say sorry even if the other person was the one being bumped. It’s a whole lot of sorries.

24. Below 16 degrees is super cold

We are spoilt with lots of great weather and as soon as the temperature dips we start complaining.

25. South Africa has 3 capital cities

Yes we have 3 capital cities. We don’t find this confusing at all. Cape Town is where Parliament sits, it’s the legislative capital. The high court is in Bloemfontien, making it the judicial capital. And the executive branch, where the president is in Pretoria it’s the executive capital. It makes perfect sense now right?

26. Watching two matches at once

Sometimes there will be a national rugby match and a soccer match playing at the same time. People will literally switch between the two or like my Dad will listen to the ruby playing on the radio and watch the cricket/soccer match on tv.

27. Funny can mean strange

I have said my lip feels funny whilst experiencing an allergic reaction. I have also tasted bad milk and have said ” This milk tastes funny” It’s not funny ha ha it means strange.

28. People toyi-toyi

This is a form of dancing at protests. Singing and dancing at protests are normal, no matter how serious the issue at hand is. The video explains it way better than I can.

29. People love walking around bare foot

I’ve heard that it’s a Afrikaaner thing. People living in coastal cities do it too. There are restaurants in Observatory, Cape Town with signs saying no shoes no service. In other countries I’ve visited so far walking bare foot isn’t a thing. Over in my country it’s a definite thing, no matter how hot the pavement gets some people walk around with no shoes.

30. Orania exists

Orania is semi-autonomous. All the residents there are white. Only Afrikaners are allowed to live there. This is done to preserve Afrikaaner culture. The truth is that all the documentaries I have seen about the place show the old apartheid flag and monuments honouring people involved in implementing Apartheid. I will probably never visit it even though it’s in the Northern Cape. I’m a Coloured women in other words I’m Black and wouldn’t be allowed there if I told the residents this.

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/oct/24/an-indictment-of-south-africa-whites-only-town-orania-is-booming

Orania, Northern Cape, South Africa
Image credit: karoo-southafrica.com

31. People often do things for you

Car windshields are washed while we wait for our petrol (gas) to be pumped by a friendly attendant. At shops (stores) our purchases are scanned and packed while we stand at the till and pay. In Germany I absolutely hated having to pack my own groceries.

32. Our Christmas is in summer

Ok so this isn’t that weird. What I do find weird is that all the shops, malls etc. use fake snow, snowflakes and winter themed decorations to get people in the festive spirit. It’s strange to see fake snow when it’s 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) outside.

33. People are friendly

It’s not strange for someone to hug you after meeting you just once. If you’re on public transport or standing in a queue it’s normal for strangers to talk to each other and people smile a lot. This is not the norm in every country, especially not in Germany.

34. Now now, just now

Now now is faster than just now. Both are undefined and super vague.

35. Commenting on braaing

A BBQ is a braai in South Africa. And there will always be people commenting that someone is braaing when they smell it. It’s a South African thing to make the comment. In Germany when people BBQ no one comments about it.

36. Animals crossing roads

Animals crossing the road have the right of way that means that a herd of cows are allowed to cross the street. You just have to wait.

A caracal in the road close to Cape Point Image Credit: Luke Nelson

37. Cheers

It can mean cheers, when you’re toasting a drink. It can also mean hello and goodbye. I think we might have gotten this from the UK.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

38. Polygamy is sometimes legal

Customary law allows for customary marriages, which makes provision for men to marry more than one wife “In order for a customary marriage to be valid, the requirements of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act must be complied with.  This means that the customs of the particular group where customary marriages have been legal for hundreds of years, must be legally carried out in terms of custom.  There is usually a customary ceremony and payment of lobola.  Each group has a different custom.  In terms of the Act, a marriage which is a valid marriage at Customary Law, and existing at the commencement of the Act in 1998, is recognised as a marriage”

Source: https://www.michaelkrawitz.co.za/can-man-one-wife-south-africa/

39. No kissing under 16

It is illegal for children under 16 to kiss each other. You have to be 16 to be able to kiss.

40. After the robot turns green drive

You have to drive immediately after the robot turns green. Now obviously there are time you won’t be able to do that, like when a pedestrian is crossing the road. Just be prepared to be honked at.

41. Happy names

Lucky, patience, perseverance these are all names in South Africa. They are all happy and I’m guessing over here but, I think it’s because traditional Black names all have meanings to them. My boyfriend’s name is Nkululeko which means freedom. His name is very popular in South Africa. Naming your child after positive english words is definitely a thing in my country.

42. We have 11 official languages

Most countries have one or two official languages we have 11. English is widely spoken. South Africans can general speak at least 2 of the national languages.

43. Loadshedding

From time to time we have power cuts in South Africa. Our electricity supplier Eskom didn’t upgrade the grid, it’s also involved in many corrupt deals. For now when the lights are out we light candles and roll with it.

44. It’s tomato sauce

In the USA it’s ketchup here it’s tomato sauce.

45. Jelly is jam

We don’t call jelly, jelly it’s jam over here. Jelly is a dessert.

Image credit: Pick n Pay

46. The Gatsby

It’s a sandwich, a bread roll filled with slap chips (soft fries) and a selection of fillings and sauces. In 1976 the Gatsby was created in Cape Town. Rashaad Pandy wanted to quickly feed the workers helping him clear the plot his take-away store was located on. He filled a large roll with chips , polony sausage and atchar. It is all he had left in his shop. “Froggy”, one of the workers, declared the sandwich a “Gatsby smash”. The name stuck and Pandy offered the sandwich in his take-away store. To me it’s not weird but, the name has nothing to do with the Great Gatsby despite what Wikipedia says.

47. Skilpadjies

Literally translated to little turtle, this braai (bbq) it has nothing to do with little turtles. It is lamb’s liver wrapped up in fat (caul fat). The liver is usually minced up and spices are added, salt, dhanya (coriander), onion and Worcestershire sauce as well. It can be wrapped up in bacon or braaied as is. As you can see there’s a pattern in South Africa of randomly naming food even if the name doesn’t seem to make sense. In this case skilpadjies are named for their shape not for what’s inside of them.

Image Credit: @vdHeeverPhoto

48. It’s takkies

Sneakers are called takkies in South Africa. Again I don’t know why it’s takkies it just is.

49. Some people extract their front teeth for fun

I’m not joking. Some Coloured people living in Cape Town do this. It’s a fashion statement, amongst other things and because I’m Coloured with dentures many people think I had my teeth pulled for fun. It is genuinely a thing that I will never understand. It’s something even I find strange that being said I’m not judging I might think it’s unusual however, I still strongly believe that people should be able to do what they want to as long as it doesn’t harm others. You can read more about it here in my previous post:https://nikkidiscovers.com/2018/07/22/the-passion-gap-why-some-capetonians-remove-their-front-teeth/

50. Tok tokkie

Tok tokkie is the CANSA association’s mascot and I had him visit my primary (grade) school as a kid. His a beetle who teaches kids to stay out of the sun, not to smoke or drink and to maintain a healthy balanced life style, in order to prevent cancer. Overall it’s a good message even if I’m not totally on board with it since it’s not only lifestyle choice which cause cancer. The weird part for me is that the mascot is a massive yellow beetle. He could’ve been a bottle of sunscreen instead, I’m not a fan of a huge beetle dancing and singing around.

Image credit:https://northernnatalnews.co.za/

51. Our Brands are not Political correct

I don’t even know what to say just look at the image below. My goodness I was shocked.

Do you have any more to add to this list? If you do please let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading and let me know what you think. I love hearing from my readers.

7 Comments

  1. I for one would never complain when served an extra full glass of wine. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Fun to read about your culture. I know very little about SA, so I found this quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my post. I agree with you on the wine part ๐Ÿ˜‚ But, it can be a shock for some people one glass is technically two.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. carmen says:

    It’s interesting to learn the customs of other countries. In North America “funny” can also mean strange, depending on the context.

    โค๏ธcarmen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting I didn’t know that. Thank you for your comment Carmen and I hope you have a lovely Easter ๐Ÿฃ

      Liked by 1 person

      1. carmen says:

        Happy Easter! โค๏ธ

        Like

  3. jasonlikestotravel says:

    Interesting to see which of these we share and which of these are really weird to me. They’re definitely only things you tend to notice are weird when you’ve lived somewhere else.
    The extra wine seems like one of the SA perks ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    1. More wine is not a thing to complain about yes ๐Ÿ˜‚ Before I left SA these things weren’t noticable to me at all. I totally agree with you. Thank for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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