Er… What do we call that again?

Life as a foreigner

Ever been caught in the lovely dilemma of colloquialism abroad, how your kasi lingo makes no sense to someone who doesn’t come from the same neighbourhood as you.That one odd word, which leave people wondering what on earth is she talking about but smile to avoid awkwardness.As we know every nation has certain words that are uniquely theirs. I know when I step into a room full of South Africans and say “heita” I’ll get various responses, acknowledging my greeting. When one talks of a braai we know that ziyawa. How stokvels are a great way of saving money and going to “a society” is a perfect way of keeping in touch with family and friends.

Language is a beautiful thing but it gets tricky the moment you step out of your bubble. English is known to be a universal language and we assume that everyone understands it. Now imagine yourself in another country full of people from different parts of the world and they speak English. “Hi guys, do you know where I can buy coke?” Most South Africans would be able to direct me to the nearest spaza shop or vending machine and even suggest available flavours. We all know that there’s icoke ye Fanta Orange. Such can be lost in meaning, only a few would pick up what we’re talking about. Anyway that’s the dilemma of being a foreigner amongst foreigners who speak your language, glorious English.

I remember my first time at the supermarket trying to figure out the English names for common things we use. Colgate, Handy Andy, Sunlight, Sta-Soft, Knorrox. Did I not go aisle to aisle and not finding what I’m looking for. Listen, I come from eKasi and I automatically think that the dishwashing liquid soap is green. I know I won’t find sunlight in this part of the world but at least I’ll spot a green dishwashing liquid soap. Oh lord, I looked for this green liquid and I couldn’t find it. Everything was written in Chinese and one thing most Chinese brands fail on is branding. You’d find a dishwashing liquid soap bottle with some sexy male picture on it and they won’t even be holding a dish or glass to indicate for dishes. No! this sexy man will be seducing you, hands on his face modelling. So yah the green substance was non-existent until an odd yellow liquid soap that looked like the cheap brands back home caught my eye. Oh flip dishwashing liquid soap, there – it hit me I’m not at home.


The toilet in my flat was pretty disgusting I needed Domestos/Jik and Handy Andy. Cool, bleach, I still remember that word, got it. Here comes Handy Andy. Jesus, what do we call it. This was the funniest dumb moment of my life, I left the supermarket without finding it. I asked Mr Google Handy Andy I only saw the brand and not the English word for this substance. Devastated by this, I couldn’t sleep that evening because how on earth do I forget what the Handy Andy is. Text to mom; “mama I was buying some cleaning supplies for my flat and I can’t seem to find Handy Andy. Konje what is it nge English.” Mama burst in laughter, her voice note still haunts me. She couldn’t help it, my little sister joined in the party. Okay, do these two understand my frustration. I felt like an idiot because I kept googling the right words but it wasn’t clicking because I’m expecting to find Handy Andy. When my mom said google cleaning detergents available in China you’ll find a brand similar to Handy Andy. Yah dumb me, how was google supposed to know cleaning thing, liquid white cleaning thing, substance cleaning liquid white. How – kanjani and remember I need a VPN to access google so I was using terms that SA Google search would easily identify and point me in the right direction. Now my phone location was somewhere in the world and probably don’t have the white cleaning thingie. Yah it took me months to recover from that.

I sometimes find myself talking about thingie majigie and I swear people think I don’t know English. But you know being South African we integrate several languages in one sentence and it makes perfect sense. So daai ding over there, that removes stains sommer nou makes no sense to non South Africans. And yes my students know the famous exclamations, haaibo, iyo, vele, ja, nix.

Life as a foreigner and language, it does get crazy but I know those I’ve met have adapted to using konje, vele, vandag, daar, kanti, akeri.

Oh thank God Colgate is Colgate, how was I gonna find toothpaste, who even uses that word.

With love
Still a foreigner

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