Wednesday, 19 June 2013

An introduction to South Africa for foreigners - Part 2 - Our crazy customs

An introduction to South Africa for foreigners - Part 2 - Our crazy customs
19 June 2013

Right, so in Part 1, I explained some of our wacky and weird language anomalies.  And believe you me, without properly studying and learning these words and phrases, you might well and truly be lost in sunny South Africa.  So a word of advice would be to scoot right off Part 2 and refer back to Part 1 first, if you haven’t done so already.  I promise you, you will be in no man’s land without it.  Because otherwise, whilst speaking to people and identifying that technically they might be speaking English, albeit it with a truly SAfrican accent, you will not understand their lingo (language combo) at all.  They might as well be engaging you in Greek.

Apart from which, all things considered, I only touched on some of the most basic language idiosyncrasies and there are in actual fact many, many more.  And without proper understanding of the basics, you might as well get back on that bus, plain, boat, car, horse, bicycle or toddle off on your own two legs to wherever you came from.  You’ll be a goner.  Basic Mandarin might even be easier.

And so given the understanding that you have a firm grasp on our sayings and unique phrases, I’ll get right down to our “Crazy Customs”:

We like to have a braai at the drop of a hat.  It is a meal used in celebration, in commiseration, occasionally in conspiration and sometimes even in consternation too.  We invite friends and family over for this occasion.  Or just have one on our lonesome at home.  Apart from the customary meat portion of the braai, as well as the occasional veggie like mielies, and starch in the form of a porridge (I know it’s kinda weird) we are known to indulge in another rather foreign braai accompaniment.  A delicacy known as “roosterbrood”.  And in essence, “roosterbrood” is a toasted sarmie, done over the coals.  However, there are certain ingredients that simply have to be added in order to qualify your grilled toast as “roosterbrood”.  You have to have onions, tomatoes and cheese, as well as salt and pepper too.  Don’t even bother trying to do roosterbrood in the oven at home.  It will sadly not have the same smokey flavour or criss-cross patterns, courtesy of the traditional braai grid that is used.  

We are one of the most forgiving nations on the planet.  And though we have had a rather unsavoury past, in which we were known for our radical racist tendencies, we have done a remarkable about turn.  All cultures are now embraced.  And unlike our embarrassing past, we are trying to right the former wrongs.  And have done so remarkably well.  All members of the rainbow nation, now use the same beaches, the same schools, the same public spaces, the same shops, etc.  No one is discriminated against.  From being governed by an all-white minority, we are now governed by a more accurate demographic representation of our country.  Our government might be predominantly black, but there are also people in positions of power who are white, coloured, Indian, etc. 

In few other countries in the world, will a convicted felon be revered the same way that we love and revere our former president, Nelson Mandela.  A man who was incarcerated for 27 long years.  He is without a doubt, one of the most loved people in our country.  Actually, on the planet.  He inspires passion, empathy, forgiveness, unity and love for all, across former racial divides.  And amazingly, he achieved this status, by practicing that which he was preaching.  He embraced all fellow South Africans, irrespective of their colour, religion and culture.  He forgave those who robbed him of 27 years on the outside.  Instead of harboring hatred and a feeling of being done in, he chose to move in.  To not dwell on the past, and that which could not be undone and changed.  He unified us and made us all proud to belong to our unique rainbow nation.  He truly is the father of our nation.  We all love and adore our Tata Madiba.

In South Africa, it is not uncommon for us to offer strange delectable treats to our guests.  Treats which may be regarded by others as strange, but are absolutely loved by us.  An offering of milk tart and koeksisters, is to be regarded as a high honour in deed.  The equivalent of the slaughtering of the fatted calf.  Because by sharing your edible bounty, you are diminishing your portion of the culinary delights.  Then we are also known for dipping or dunking rusks in our coffee.  Rusks are a particularly dry, chunky type of biscuit/bread.  And once dipped in coffee, tea or even Milo, it becomes heavenly.  A very traditional thing to do.  And one that is perhaps not so customary across the rest of the world.

Now, I don’t subscribe to this one myself, but many, many people delight in a dish called Offal or Afval (in Afrikaans).  Personally I find this rather nasty, though some might disagree.  Because basically, Afval is in essence tripe.  The guts and intestines of animals, prepared in a meal.  For some this is delicious.  A rare and special treat.  As for myself, I prefer not to dish up a bowl of stew with the odd eyeball floating around.  And so, when you are offered this “delicacy” (please note that I use the term “delicacy” rather loosely), my advice would be to claim that you’re a vegetarian.  Unless you are inclined to indulge.  Alternatively, you can pretend to have a terrible stomach bug (being offered the insides of animals’ stomach does rather have that effect on some).  But personally, I’d go with faking my own death.  Super effective if you really put your all into it and ham your acting up a bit.  Dramatic clutching of the chest is encouraged for believability value alone.

Unlike many countries in the world, South African children don uniforms when they go to school.  The colours favoured are normally variations of blue, green and a particularly unflattering shade of burgundy.  It’s true.  However some unfortunate schools have been blessed with beige and brown uniforms and I must commiserate with the poor pupils who have to wear these.  Girls tend to wear pinafores, dresses or skirts.  Boys wear grey slacks or shorts, depending on the weather.  Blazers are normally compulsory and ties too.  

So here's the thing, with loading and transporting goods - African ladies have a huge capacity to carry heavy and large objects, balanced on their heads.  It is a rather strange phenomenon.  One even I find hard to explain, and I've been exposed to it for every single one of my forty years on earth.  Picture this - quick dash to the shops to buy milk, bread, oil, and perhaps some samp or maize meal, maybe even some meat and a pocket of potatoes.  Rather than carry your groceries in the conventional (and I suppose boring manner) in your hands, you simply hoof it onto your head (admittedly it does look way more cool).  Thereby leaving both hands unencumbered and swinging free.  And somehow or other, they don't make this look like a difficult feat at all.  Their necks don't look stiff or abnormally elongated.  Nor do they look squished and squashed from years of overload. They don't appear to be concentrating too hard when they are doing this either, and judging from looks alone, they look perfectly comfortable and relaxed.  Strange but true. 

SAfricans are passionate about their sport.  You have but nooo idea.  In fact, it turns them into raving lunatics, their passions run so deep.  However, depending on their ethnic, language and cultural orientation, certain individuals tend to gravitate towards certain sports.  We are famous for our rugby and cricket.  But sadly, passionate though lots of us are about our soccer (you might know it as football), we don’t really excel in this field.  We have a proud history of producing exceptional swimmers, cyclists and athletes too.  And have many, many races, to honour these sporting codes.  Most noticeably the Comrades Marathon, and the Cape Argus Cycle Race too.

However, we have a strange habit of giving our national teams unique African names or nicknames rather.  Our national soccer team is called Bafana Bafana (they’re good enough to say twice).  Our national rugby team is called the Amabokkebokke, though many know them as the Springbokke too.  We also take huge pride in our paraplegic team, who goes by the moniker of Amacrokkecrokke – making reference to them being in wheelchairs, with their walkers and crutches.  And though this might appear derogatory from the outside, it is said with no malice and emphasises the fact that we have an amazing sense of humour as a nation and don’t take ourselves too seriously.  They delight in this title and chose it for themselves.

When a young Zulu man wants to marry a girl, he must first get permission from the girl’s father and pay “lobola” for her.  This is a custom, whereby the prospective husband compensates the father for the loss of his daughter, by “paying” for her in cattle.  And let me just tell you, that this is expensive.  Depending on the social status of the girl and her family, “lobola” could be up to 20 cattle!  Ironically, sometimes these girls are not even aware of the fact that a suitor has approached her father and made arrangements to marry her. 

Some of our traditional African cultures, makes allowances for the fact that polygamy is allowed.  Why, our very own president, Jacob Zuma, has been married six times.  Though it is true that he divorced one wife and another committed suicide, he is currently married to four ladies at the same time.  I would imagine that they perhaps have a roster of sorts?  He also has in excess of twenty children and I saw a fabulous Zapiro cartoon, depicting the little car stickers that families put on their cards, indicating the composition of their families.  Well, can you just imagine the Zuma equivalent!

Occasionally, foreigners may be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen zombies roaming the land.  Ghosts.  The un-dead.  What they are in actual fact seeing are young boys who have just undergone the circumcision ritual, turning them into men.  Before this ritual, young boys are seen as just that – boys.  But this ritual changes all of that, and is possibly the single most important custom in the Xhosa culture.  Young boys are gathered up, and spend a length of time, living in a hut, away from tempting women folk, whilst healing from their circumcision wound.  The actual circumcision is done by a traditional healer/elder/medicine man, and these poor boys are not given any anaesthetic at all.  Their heads are shaved, their whole bodies are smeared with a white chalk like substance and they are covered in loin cloths or blankets.  During this rite of passage, they are taught their many responsibilities and the customs in their culture.  They stay in these huts, roaming around for weeks at a time, and appear almost ethereal and ghost like when one sees them.

South Africans are passionate about their music, their literature, their arts.  Artist, musicians and writers are saluted and celebrated.  They preserve our heritage and capture our history for us.  In music, in words and in pictures.  We have many, many festivals, paying tribute to their talent.  Affording them opportunities to delight us all.

We have a culture where many, many people – some fairly affluent, and some not so much, have domestic help.  In other words, we have people in our homes, to help keep things tidy, neat and flowing smoothly.  Some have domestic help on a permanent basis, who work for them five times a week.  Some have live-in domestic help, where they actually house their domestic workers.  And still others only have part time domestic help.  Perhaps once or twice a week.  Or even a fortnight.  They do tasks like laundry, dishes, and basic cleaning.  Domestic workers are protected by basic conditions of employment so that they are not exploited and in many cases, they truly become a part of the family.  And quite often, these relationships benefit both parties immensely.  It creates employment, and helps to reduce crime.  And in turn, employees are rewarded with loyal service and fantastic help.

I do believe that we are one of the few countries in the world, where drive-through shopping is a very common practice.  Whilst sitting in the comfort of your car at a robot (traffic light for foreigners), you are able to purchase a cell phone charger, clothing celebrating our national and provincial sporting codes, art works, toys, windshield protectors, bead work creations, Big Issue magazines, etc.  You never even have to leave the confines of your car!  Amazing!

So the thing with breasts is this – they are not necessarily always covered up.  Some cultures, actively encourage them being proudly displayed.  So if nudity is not really your thing, best you brace yourself, cause some of us, just let them swing…

Our traditional musical instrument, is not the guitar.  Nor is it the drums.  Or the flute.  Or the trumpet either.  Not the bagpipes like the Irish.  Not the maracas like many South American countries.  The sitar like the East.  No.  Our traditional instrument, is actually not all that traditional at all.  Or really an instrument.  Or that old for that matter.  It is the Vuvuzela.  A plastic tube that is able to accurately mimic the sound of a cow in labour.  Or a large breed of donkey too.  Possibly even a horse.  And no, I’m not joking.  Not even a little bit.

We rejoice in our love of alcohol.  Most particularly our award winning wines, made on magnificent wine farms.  Though we make cracking good hard tack liquor too.  And as for our beer!  Never mind the ones you can get over the counter at bottle stores, pubs and clubs, there are also traditionally brewed concoctions.  You even have old tannies (elderly ladies) making home-made ginger beer.  And occasionally these pack quite a punch too.  And then there’s also “Witblitz” – a truly evil white spirit.  So powerful, it is able to make grown men forget their own names.  And the very existence of their wives and children too.

In contrast to many other countries, we celebrate Christmas in the very heat of summer.  The hottest time of the year.  Occasionally Christmas lunches are even served cold, instead of the conventional hot dishes.  Swimming normally takes place as well, and men are known to sit around the table without a shirt, to help them to cool down.  Depending on the company, women are encouraged to keep their shirts on…..  Children are visited, not by Santa Clause, but by Father Christmas instead.  A much loved man.

Our country is so diverse.  Her people so unique.  An incredible melting pot.  But I must warn foreigners, that South Africa in particular, has a charming allure.  Once you’ve stepped on her soil, she’ll attach herself to your heart and your soul.  And even if you leave, you’ll never quite feel whole again.  A bit of you will always remain behind in the Rainbow Nation.  Embedded and entrenched deep within.

Such is her magic.  She’ll lure you right back with her siren song (luckily one not sounding like a vuvuzela at all).

Perhaps it will be the smell of a braai.  A long forgotten memory of biltong and witblitz.  The laughing vendors at our robots.  Our talented artists and musicians.  Our prolific sporting skills.  The breasts on display…..

A Braaier, braaing some meat whilst drinking a beer - it's like a national sport

Breasts - it's not all that wow, even men have nipples after all

Meat on the braai
Biltong! Yummy!

Smiley, happy children, proudly waving our flag

Local is lekker and we are all truly proudly South African

Some "ghosts" - these young boys, are now becoming men

Street vendor selling his wares

During the Fifa World Cup hosted in SA in 2010, you could buy flags at every single stop

Young men

Jacob Zuma with all of his wives - Mama number 4, on the right looks none too happy.  Perhaps it's her night?

That Zapiro - sooo funny!

1 comment:

  1. ├Łour have hit the nail on the head with part some and two! I was crying laughing! Thank you! Linz