Afrikaans in English

There’s little that should surprise me in this heaving world city that is London. But hearing a Middle Eastern man testing out his Afrikaans on me in central London certainly made me smile.

I bought myself a new handbag last week. Carrying around a postage-stamp-sized bag just so I don’t have to take my Oyster card (London Transport travel card) out of my bag to ‘tap in’ every time I travel on the bus or the tube (the card reader can read my card through my bag), had long since lost its novelty. I needed to carry a bag that could hold more than my Oyster card, glasses, cell phone and one pound.

So I went to our local shopping centre and found a bag I wished to buy. The vendor told me the price and duly closed the sale. As he handed me my change (which I could now fit into the new handbag), he looked at me sideways and said, “South African?”

I assume he recognised my nationality from my accent. Not from the cheapness of my purchase. I smiled and nodded.

“Buy a donkey!” he said.

He then stepped back and beamed with pride like he’d just performed a magic trick.

I nodded and smiled my super impressed-ness to him, decided against saying something back to him in Afrikaans because that would have just been awkward, and walked away, smiling.

For my non-South African friends, baie dankie, which can, to an English ear, sound like buy a donkey means thank you very much. It was a very sweet interaction.

Travelling home on the bus the other day, I eavesdropped in Afrikaans. The guy sitting next to me had a long and detailed catch-up, in Afrikaans, with his friend on the other side of the aisle. I think I might have leaned over to listen more closely to what they were saying and I might have asked them to repeat a few words that I hadn’t heard properly. Apart from that I think they were oblivious to my nosiness.

One asked the other how his wife was and when his baby was due. (I’ve heard many a South African say the other one asked the other one, but that’s a story for another day.) He replied that the baby was due on Sunday, and his friend said,

“Ag, foeitog.”

It’s not the kind of expression you can translate easily. It could mean oh dear, how unfortunate or alas. In this context, I would say it means “Ah, shame” or “Ah, cute”. But you would never hear any men speak like that to each other in English. Some words just cannot be translated.

Shame is a word that is used in an interesting way in southern Africa. I could look at your new baby and say, “Ah, shame.”

Before you rush off to the paediatrician for a full assessment, you would need to know that what I’m really saying is, “Your baby is really cute/gorgeous/pretty/bonny/handsome/so small/so chubby/looks just like you/clearly the child of the milkman”. You can choose. But know that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your little one.

The appropriate response would be for you to smile and say, “Buy a donkey”.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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All Things Bright and New to Me

As I stood in the shower this morning, I thought about the fact that I just pressed a button and a torrent of hot water jetted instantly out of the shower rose. “Power showers”, as they are known here in the UK, were such a novelty for us when we first got to London.

I then thought about everything else in our day-to-day lives that fascinated me when I first arrived here. Two months after we arrived here, I emailed my family a list of things that were different from what I knew. I had another look at the list today, and thought I would post it here.

Please note that this is my perspective and my opinion; some of these things might be familiar to those who live in South Africa, and perhaps not everything I have seen is typical of London. These are purely my observations of things that I found different.

Interesting, as I read through it, I realised how inured I have become to most of the items on the list. I found myself thinking, “Oh, right – that was new to us back then”.

We call this guy "Neil". Long story
  1. We saw a fox in our car park the other evening.
  2. We have heaters in both of our bathrooms, and even in our kitchen. (And in the lounge and bedrooms, of course.)
  3. We have power showers in our bathrooms: you turn on a power switch on the bathroom wall, and then press the “on” button on the shower, and out comes hot water, instantly.
  4. At Tesco (supermarket) you pack your own groceries into bags. And you get “green points” (like extra loyalty points) on your Tesco card if you bring and re-use your own bags.
  5. The shopping trolleys at our local Tesco have a sign on them that reads: “These trolleys are programmed to stop automatically when pushed beyond the red zone.” The perimeter of the shopping centre (i.e. the car park) is colour-coded, with the red zone being the outermost zone. If you push a trolley over that line, it will literally stop. We discovered through experience, and wondered why the trolley stopped suddenly, jarringly, and would not budge a further inch.
  6. [I did see a shopping trolley on top of the bus stop a few months ago – not sure how it got beyond not only the “red zone” but how it was lifted to such a height. I think drunkenness might give you extra powers and imagination.]
  7. Despite commonly held beliefs, Londoners can be pretty friendly and helpful.
  8. It seems to be OK to swear on television (not on the news though).
  9. It’s a crime to beg. [The crime is “Begging and summoning alms.”]
  10. You can get arrested, or at least a warning, for peeing in public.
  11. Some buses won’t stop at the bus stop you’re standing at unless you flag them down.
  12. If you’re travelling on the bus, you need to ring the bell for it to stop at the next bus stop. Unless someone flags it down from the bus stop or a passenger rings the bell, it will not stop.
  13. Some bus drivers will wait for you if they see you running for the bus.
  14. At some shops you can scan and pay for your purchases yourself – i.e. no cashier involved.
  15. Sometimes it costs you 30p to spend a penny [go to a public rest room].
  16. You can buy booze on Sundays and you can buy wine and beer and spirits in the supermarkets. [In South Africa you cannot buy alcohol in a supermarket on a Sunday.]
  17. Wherever you go in London, you will encounter people from a huge variety of nationalities. It is truly a multicultural society, quite remarkable. I thought we lived and worked in a multi-cultural world in Cape Town, but honestly – we know nothing compared to a city like London.
  18. You can’t buy green (Sunlight-type) soap, and the local mayonnaise generally tastes junk. You can’t buy margarine in the UK – it is an illegal product. And you can’t buy cane spirit in the UK because it destroys your memory.
  19. What was I saying?
  20. You can get about 80 channels on Freeview television. But a TV licence costs about ZAR1,500 a year [£145.50].
  21. On weather reports on TV and the radio, they use terms like “bright”, “breezy” and “dull”.
  22. You can get free daily newspapers (Metro and the London Evening Standard) at the tube stations – with the result that most commuters are up on the latest news, like “has Simon Cowell shaved his hands?”
  23. We have mobile phones, from which we send texts. (Not cell phones, nor sms’s.)

I continue to notice new things, as you know, and I usually blog about them. I’ll never be a Londoner, but I can now make my way around a city that initially felt so wildly “forrin” to me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Minding My Language

Yesterday I travelled by train to an area south west of London. A young woman boarded the train a few stops after mine, and immediately made a call on her cell phone. I don’t think she needed the phone, she could have just shouted. Then she made a second call, and said this: “Hiya! You all right, love? Guess who died?”

I can’t imagine what response she got on the other end of the line. (I couldn’t hear because the callee didn’t shout.) The caller then said, “Only Doris, off Gavin and Stacey.”

I gathered she was a big fan of this romantic comedy that has now finished its run on BBC, and was sad that this dear actress had passed away. I did, however, find her method of sharing the news quite fascinating.

So that made me think that it was time for another post of talking forrin. If you’re new to my blog, this is something I write about from time to time: sharing new words and expressions that I hear here in the UK and words that I know from a lifetime in Zimbabwe and South Africa, that I know mean nothing over here.

Here are a few links to previous such posts: English as she is spokeSo this is where I learnt to speak funnyThis blog’s seriously going southDoes this make sense? I doubt; I’ll be there now now; Blogging is not pants;  Is that your new wife? Shame

I’ll start with English expressions I’ve heard:

  1. To get the hump: this means to go into a sulk, to get upset or fed up about something. I watched a quiz show the other day on the telly (as television is fondly known over here). When asked how she’d like to spend her prospective winnings, a contestant said she’d like to travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids and to ride a camel. (The programme was clearly filmed before the current events in Egypt.) Her adversary, who’d not been doing as well as he’d hoped, then said to her, “Well, love, sorry but you won’t be able to ride a camel.” “Why?” she asked. “Because I’ve got the hump,” he said.
  2. Flower. This is a term of endearment, used particularly in the north east of England, around Newcastle. A Geordie term, if you like. I travelled up to Newcastle for a conference last year, and I absolutely loved the city – it was such a beautiful surprise, and I’d love to travel there again when I can spend more than two days there. I am also mad about the Geordie accent. I went into a little newsagent in central Newcastle, and the shop owner said to me, “Can I help you, flower?” I immediately adored the expression and wanted to put her words and her accent into bottles and buy a dozen.
  3. Thick: this means dim or unintelligent. It is often accompanied by putting your tongue between your bottom teeth and your bottom lip and making monkey-type noises.
  4. Go on! This expression crosses the cultures, for me. Its use as I’ve heard it in England is quite different from its use by my Dad. In England, if someone is trying to persuade you to do something, and you’re hesitating and not quite sure whether or not you want to do it, and then decide you will, you’ll say, “Ok, go on!” By contrast, I grew up with my Dad saying this to me every time I’ve told him something that I find amazing.  “Hey Dad, the Springboks have just won the World Cup! Again!” He would say, “Go on!” which, in a slightly patronising way, means, “You don’t say?” or “Well, I never” or “Knock me over with a feather”.
  5. Gutted. This expression means cut up or distressed or extremely disappointed by something. So, for example, if your house burnt down and you lost all your possessions in the fire, you could well be completely gutted.
  6. Knickers in a knot. If you get yourself into an unnecessary panic about something, you could be getting your knickers in a knot.
  7. Faff: this verb means to waste time doing unimportant things while you’re supposed to be doing something important. It could take the form of procrastination, or it could be fiddling about doing things when you’re supposed to be going out. You can either faff or faff about. Either is annoying.
  8. All over the shop: this means everywhere or disorganised. For example, “He was trying to explain to me what happened, but his mind was all over the shop and I couldn’t follow what he was saying.” The equivalent expression I would use is all over the show.
  9. Argy bargy: argument, disagreement, fighting. For example, a sports commentator might say, if there is a potential fight on the field, “Ah, now there’s a bit of argy bargy going on there.”

And on to some of my words and sayings from Saffa:

  1. Naartjie (pronounced narchy): this is the term I would use for tangerine, Clementine, mandarin. It refers to any orange citrus fruit (apart from an orange) that has an easily-removable skin and is easily divided into segments (which I call skyfies, pronounced skayfies).
  2. Chaff (pronounced charf): this word also has a dual meaning, and is no longer really in common use. It can mean to chat up someone, or it can mean to stretch the truth. So, for example, a guy might meet a girl and, if he fancies her, he might chaff her. When I was at junior school, I remember reading our school magazine during one of my holidays. It was quite an honour to have your story or poem featured in the magazine, and I always read others’ writing with interest. I remember reading a story written by a girl who was a year younger than me, which would have made her about nine. It was a fantastic tale, that I was struggling to believe, but I persevered with it because, hey, it had been featured in the magazine. When I got to the end of her story, she had written “Chaff chaff.” (Which meant she had made up the entire story.) I was horrified.
  3. Ja (pronounced ya): this means yes.
  4. Is it? This is an expression of interest or surprise. Is that so? For example, someone might say to you, “There are terrible riots happening on the streets of Cairo right now.” You might respond by saying, “Is it?”
  5. Hanguva: this means very or a lot. For example, in London lately, it’s been hanguva cold.
  6. Stroppy: this means difficult, aggressive, uncooperative. For example, actor Russell Crowe sometimes gets stroppy with the paparazzi.
  7. Koppie: this means a small hill. There is a koppie in the middle of a park near where we live, and if you walk to the top of it, you get a great view over south east London.
  8. Dof: this means dim, or not very intelligent. (See thick above.) For example, if you can’t find something or don’t understand something, you might say, “Sorry for being dof, but I don’t know what you mean.” So it usually refers to a temporary state of mind, rather like having a brunette moment.

I hope this has expanded your vocabulary horizons somewhat, and I’d love to know some of the interesting words and expressions that you use at your ends of the stick. I won’t get the hump if you don’t, but I’d be hanguva interested to learn more words. Thanks for reading, flowers.

Sunshine signing off for today!