Said the spider to the fly

So, I’m pretty gullible really. Easily flattered, I’m something of a pushover at times. Say a few kind words and the blinkers emerge to block out any sensible thought. Let me explain.

I went to a big expo at a large exhibition hall in London a few weeks ago. As I left, I was walking in determined fashion, thinking about getting back to the office and all that awaited me there. A young guy with a clipboard approached me. Survey radar failed me, and I stopped in my tracks.

He greeted me with a smile, asked me if I’d been at the expo and I duly answered him.

“Where does that accent come from … South Africa?” he lamely ventured.

I nodded and he proceeded with his spiel, everything moving ahead like clockwork for him.

“I love your accent, it’s just amazing. It’s one of my favourite accents … I could listen to you talking forever,” he gushed.

In the midst of my “Oh really?” responses, he continued to tell me just how wonderful my accent was. I was totally oblivious to the “reeling-me-in” motion he must have been gesturing in his mind.

He then went in for the clincher.

“We’re doing this amazing giveaway. We just need your mobile number; we don’t need your email address because we won’t email you, but if you give me your number you can win a makeover in a photographic studio, worth hundreds of pounds and it’ll cost you absolutely nothing. Your mobile number is?”

And I proceeded to give him my mobile number. Like a lamb to the slaughter. He wrote down my number, gave me my “winning” ticket and wished me everything of the best.

I walked away, wondering to myself why on earth I just entered a competition in which I had zero interest, why I gave him my number and why was I so stupid. Why didn’t I switch a few of the digits around on my mobile number, or better still, just say I wasn’t interested in being part of their promotion. What was I thinking? I did get the call a few weeks later, and managed to say that I was not at all interested in a studio makeover, thank you very much, but I am sure I haven’t heard the last of them yet.

It reminded me of a plot my older son hatched when he was about four years old. It was the foolproof method to catch a robber. He told us that we needed to get a banana, tie it to a piece of string and then hang the string from the curtain rail in our lounge. We then needed to write a note that read, “Robber, eat this banana” and clip the note to the curtain next to the banana. We would then hide behind the curtain and wait for the robber to come and eat the banana, and then we could jump out from behind the curtain and catch him.

It was such a sweet and simple, yet – as I thought – flawed plan. My experience of a few weeks ago makes me realise we could just have caught Mr Robber in that fashion. If only I didn’t like bananas so much …

Sunshine signing off for today!

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!

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!

Boys and Girls Come Out to Play

Relationships are always important to me. Never more so than now, having been through such a dark time, where I’ve so needed the support of my friends and family. And I have never leaned so heavily on my husband as I do now. He is a rock and such strength. What on earth did I do to deserve one such as him?

I’ve been reflecting on my history of relationships, and the journey that brought me to my husband. We have been married for nearly 27 years, and we’ve always enjoyed interesting, challenging and hugely fun times together. We laugh and we cry together, and we love each other’s company. 

Our giddy newly-wed years soon morphed into reality, as they always do. Suddenly there was bad breath, the five o’clock shadow, mussy hair, grumpy moods and dramatic sulks and door-slamming. And that’s only me. But we came through all of that and began, as M Scott Peck describes it in The Road Less Travelled, “the real work of love”.

When I was about 10, at home in Zambia on holiday from boarding school in Zimbabwe, we went to a friend’s birthday party. I can still imitate my friend’s mother’s laugh – ask me, and I’ll show you! We played games and we swam and it was loads of fun. However, a boy kept following me around and commenting on everything I did. 

I dived into the swimming pool and he said, “Wow, what style!” I hope his chat-up lines have improved since then. (At least he didn’t ask me if my dad was a thief. Why? “Because he must have stolen the stars and put them in your eyes.”) 

Anyway, he just didn’t leave me alone. He hung on my every word – which wouldn’t have been many in those days – and he watched me and commented on everything I did. I’d never had such attention from anyone before.  I quite liked it and I quite hated it. I was 10.

I don’t remember giving him my phone number, but he called me a few days later and asked if I could meet him in “town”. Dusty Mufulira didn’t have a hectically vibey CBD, so I wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind. And I was painfully shy. I said no.

He called back and asked if he and his friend could come and visit me at my house. I said yes and went into panic mode. Half an hour later, the two boys arrived at our gate, on their bicycles. I did what any 10-year old girl would do: I ran and hid under my bed.

My sister welcomed them at the gate and did what any older sister would do in such a situation: she told them I was hiding under my bed.

Not only did she tell them that, but she brought them into the bedroom, pretending not to notice me cowering under my bed. They spoke as if I wasn’t there, and my suitor told my sister – in a stage whisper – that it was a pity I wasn’t there, as he had some biltong* for me. They then left the room.

I loved biltong. And I was 10. So I ran out from my hiding place and went to find them in the lounge. I was so. disappointed to discover I had fallen for his decoy: he had no biltong.

Tempted as I was, I didn’t retreat to the safety of the floor under my bed, but stayed with them and began, kind of, to enjoy the overwhelming attention of a boy. And we did what youngsters of that age always did: we drew pictures and played Monopoly.

I think I saw him a few times more those holidays, and we maintained a short relationship-by-correspondence for a while when we went back to our respective boarding schools. After while there were months of silence, and I discovered he had moved his attentions elsewhere. I was unphased. His friend, however, continued to write to me and send me drawings for some time thereafter.

I was at an all-girls boarding school. When it came the time for our leavers’ dance at the end of my junior school career, the boys from our brother school (an all-boys boarding school nearby) were bussed in to keep us company. I can remember standing against the wall, all knock-kneed and awkward in my first long dress, waiting for – yet dreading –  some boy to come and ask me to dance. Ballroom Blitz, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, You’re So Vain, Cum on Feel the Noize, Crocodile Rock and Shambala all blasted from the DJ’s turntable. I danced with a pimply-faced adolescent boy in Oxford bags, but I’ve no doubt our teachers watched and laughed at the gangly and self-conscious antics in the school hall that night.

And then I began my high school years. I have memories of cameo moments with boys: my first kiss (YUCK!); many school dances with boys I was glad to be there with, other boys I wasn’t so glad to be with but they had cool friends; leaving a school dance with a boy whose VW beetle wouldn’t start and I had to push start it in my long dress and everything; a partner at another school dance opening a bottle of champagne in my general direction and soaking the front of my dress.

I had boyfriends who hooted for me at my front gate, boys who drove past my house at midnight and hooted (prompting my Dad to ban them from our house) and boys who would call me from the security fence phone at their boarding school and speak to me for hours.

All of those brief, embarrassing and heart-breaking relationships have prepared me, I guess, for the best. I am married to the kindest, most wonderful man in the world and I’m blessed out of my socks.

Sunshine signing off for today.

*Biltong is dried, spiced meat. Kind of like beef jerky, but South African. And better 🙂

It’s Only Words

The pen is mightier than the sword, so we’re told. But the pen would be pretty ineffective without words. Words and language. We use them to encourage, to destroy, to belittle, to praise, to teach, to instruct, to entertain, to sing, to praise, to mobilise, to raise awareness. Sometimes we use them wrongly and miss the mark. Other times they just make us laugh. Let’s laugh today.

Firstly, I make myself laugh with words I use wrongly. I think of words past and present that I have got quite wrong:

  1. When I was little and living in Zambia, I used to run outside when I heard my Dad’s car rolling into our driveway at home. I was always excited to see him and tell him what I’d been doing and show him new things I’d learnt. Like how to put a record on the gramophone player, all by myself. Or how I’d learnt to read my new school book. My Dad would come inside, greet everyone and take his seat in the lounge and exhale. He’d ask me to use my new-found skill and switch on the radio. He’d tell me to look for the ivory button with SW1 written over it, and then I had to push the button down and wait for the dulcet tones of newsreaders sharing information worldwide. I remember hearing their words booming through the fabric-lined speakers on our gramophone player. Topical in those days were issues in what I thought was the Serviette Union. I always imagined a nation filled with napkins, and I couldn’t work out what they could possibly be squabbling about. Who’s laying the table?
  2. My sister and I were bathing together one night, when we were very little. My Dad came to tell us to hurry up because we were going to the pantomime that night. I don’t remember which one of us said this, but my Dad overheard one of us saying, “We have to hurry because we’re going to the pant-of-Daddy’s.”
  3. When I’d pour myself a glass of orange and water (we weren’t allowed fizzy drinks), my Mom would always caution me, as I thought, not to fill the glass “to the broom”. I used to wonder what the broom had to do with the glass and the juice, until I discovered brim was probably the correct word.
  4. My enthusiasm was sometimes tempered by my Mom’s saying, “Don’t go at it like a bulletagate.” I never knew what a bulletagate was, until I heard the expression “bull at a gate”.
  5. One of my husband’s favourite albums, when we were students, was Cher’s “I Paralyse”. The first time I heard him mention it, I thought he said it was called “Five Barrel Eyes”. He’s never allowed me to forget that!
  6. More recently, we’ve discovered a fabulous singer/songwriter here in London, called Rumer. One of her recent hits is a song called “Aretha”. Do yourself a favour and check her out here – she’s really quite special. I had heard this song on the radio for months, and I thought the opening line was, “I’ve got a reason, in the morning.” I didn’t really think beyond that. When we saw her live, I realised the line was in fact, “I’ve got Aretha, in the morning. High on my headphones and walking to school.” Go figure.

And, of course, there are things other people say that make me laugh. Here’s a smidgen of these:

  1. My husband and I travelled on the bus the other day. We sat upstairs, alongside a lone other commuter, who was engrossed in a mobile phone conversation. That meant there were just three of us upstairs. My husband and I eavesdropped her conversation so unbelievably, we were discussing it when we got off the bus. I said a few words to my husband every now and then, to stop myself from asking the woman what she had just said, or what she meant. I guess we need to get a life, yeah? This is what we overheard:  “I fort I would call ‘er and conversate wif ‘er, yeah? She’s bear shy, yeah? So I AKSED what she meant when she said that, yeah? And I don’t know much, but I know, yeah? And if the cap fits on my big head, if it’s not too big or cockeyed on my head, then I’m gonna wear it, yeah?”
  2. I spilled some salad dressing on my cardigan last night. Not being much of a domestic goddess, and not having any stain remover at hand, I Googled possible solutions and, quite honestly, I am none the wiser and my cardigan still bears a stain.  “Many people prefer things stain removal alone is not engaged in, and use the services of dry cleaners. Other mistresses, by contrast, prefer to do everything yourself, believing that it accurately to your stuff no one will treat. Whatever it was, useful tips to remove fat and oil stains may be the way, if you suddenly spot a need to withdraw immediately.”
  3. Before my husband and I were married, we were gathered together at my family home with all of my siblings. We decided to play Trivial Pursuit, which, in our family, is as much about asking the questions correctly as it is about getting the answers right. And all the chirps and banter in between. My family is merciless. (No comments, I know what you’re thinking!) It came to my husband to read out a question: “For which feature film was Duelling Banjos the theme tune?” My family, to a man, collapsed in a hysterically laughing heap. You know when you look at a word and it looks well forrin? Well, my husband had looked at the song title and pronounced it: “Dew-elling Ban-Joss”. Needless to say, he has never been allowed to forget that slip of the tongue. He needed the movie title in more ways than one: Deliverance.

I’d love to hear about your funny words, misheard and mis-pronounced. Words keep us connected in so many ways, but they also tear us apart and crack us up. I’d love to hear your examples of the latter.

“Talk in everlasting words, and dedicate them all to me. And I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me. You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say, It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”    (Words, The Bee Gees)

Sunshine signing off for today!

My African Christmas

Today is both the shortest and the longest day of the year, depending on which side of the equator you call home. While I am falling in love with the snow and the wintry charm of short days in London, I try to imagine South African sunshine lasting into long, balmy evenings. Please take up your gingerbread latte or chilled white wine, and join me on a journey through our Saffa Christmas.

My husband and I were both born in Zimbabwe; he to Scottish parents and me to South African parents. His family’s Celtic Christmas in Africa was always festive and loud, with lashings of alcohol, sword-dancing and tearful renditions of “My Ain Folk”. Ours usually involved a journey from Zambia or Zimbabwe to my parents’ home town of Cape Town, and loads of cousins and relatives and beaches and food. Together, we developed a Christmas tradition that merged the best of what we both knew and loved: booze and beaches. Not exclusively. Walk with me…

In our early married years, we would use every free moment, every spare dollar, to go and see a movie. Christmas Eve was the perfect opportunity to do just that, so that is something that we have done almost every year since we got married: a Christmas Eve movie. We took a break when our boys were small but roped them in as soon as they were old enough to sit through and enjoy a movie. It doesn’t have to be a Christmas movie, a feel-good movie will do, so “Love, Actually”, “The Holiday” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” have featured in our ritual on the night before Christmas.

Our drive home from the movie would always include a drive along Adderley Street – the high street through the centre of Cape Town – to see the Christmas lights (illuminations). These always incorporated nativity scenes alongside scenes of Africa. We would go home and sit by the decorated Christmas tree and, sometimes, sing Christmas carols together. We would all retire to bed, and – one by one – each of us would sneak back to the lounge to put Christmas gifts under the tree.

When our boys were small, we would put empty pillowcases at the ends of their beds, and Father Christmas would fill them during the night. Then he would have a mince pie and a cold drink (or a beer) that had been left for him next to the Christmas tree. He would usually leave a lovely letter for the boys too.

On Christmas morning, we would wake with the sparrows and launch into the excitement of wishing each other Merry Christmas and giving each other gifts. With paper and boxes all around, we would have coffee and mince pies for breakfast before either going to church, or preparing for the day ahead.

We always gathered together as family, and would alternate hosting the festivities at our various homes, although we always shared the catering. At our home, we made one long table that extended from one end of our dining room/lounge area to the wide-open French doors on to the swimming pool area on the other. The table would be set for around 20 people or more, depending on which brothers and sisters were in town. We would decorate the table with Christmas crackers and tinsel and bowls of nuts and chocolates along the length of the table. My sister-in-law made beautiful decorative little Christmas trees that would add creative charm to the table.

Everyone would arrive at around noon and share gifts with each other.  Some would have a cup of tea or coffee; others preferred cold drinks, wine or beer. Each person would add their contribution to the meal on to the sideboard, where the bowls of salads would line up under cover from the summer-time flies. Lunch would begin at around 2.30pm with the turkey and ham having been carved, and everyone helping themselves to the meat and salads. Yes, salads – the best thing for mid-summer!

With each person seated at the table, we would put on our paper hats from the Christmas crackers and open the bottles of champagne. With bubbles flowing freely, we would toast Christmas, each other and absent friends before beginning the meal. It was always loud, loads of laughter, the telling of lame Christmas-cracker jokes, the sharing of memories of Christmases gone by, more champagne and more and more and more food. Christmas pudding would make an appearance at the right time – usually flaming and filled with silver coins. I’m the only person in my family who likes Christmas pudding, but my boys always had some just for the coins!

After totally over-indulging at the table, we would all get up, find a comfy seat in which to settle and snooze, go out and laze on the lawn or a garden chair next to the pool, or go and find a bed to sleep off the meal for an hour or so. The afternoon usually flowed into an evening spent outdoors in the creeping, cooling darkness of the setting sun, splashes in the pool, cold drinks a-plenty and an endless supply of food if anyone had room for more.

Sometimes the teenagers of the family would head off to the beach for a while for a refreshing dip in the ocean. The beaches were always busy but always worth it to splash in the crashing, cooling waves of the beautiful Cape Town coastline.

At some stage, a number of us would gather in the kitchen to wash the dishes and put the food away, always accompanied by laughter and hilarity. The food would be shared out to go home again, although someone invariably ended up with lashings of turkey that would appear in various guises in meals for the next week or so! Noisy, laughter-filled farewells would take place in our driveway, as cars pulled away at the end of a perfect day.

Replete with food, love, family, laughter and sunshine, we would retire to our beds and snore before our heads hit the pillow. Although Christmas in Africa is slightly different from the northern hemisphere experience, the love, unique traditions, shared memories and joy at the significance of the celebration, transcend time and geography.

So on this winter solstice, my heart and my thoughts bask in the long day of Cape Town sun and my body shivers and freezes in the bitter cold short day of London. Technology keeps the two hemispheres together, the shrinking world makes contact with my precious family so easy, and I realise that straddling two worlds can be both tender and heartening. And I’m okay with that.

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

English as she is spoke

The thing about accents is that you only notice them when they differ from your own. At home in Cape Town I never notice my own accent but here in London, it’s another story all together. I’m well forrin and can’t hide it.

I heard the tail-end of a discussion on a TV talk show this morning. One of the guests said, “When I speak to someone with an accent, I start talking with that accent. I can’t help it.”  And everyone laughed. There is also the tendency to speak louder and more slowly when you speak to someone with an accent other than your own, or someone whose first language is not the same as yours.

So that was my prompt: I thought it was time to talk a little more forrin and share some more of my language idiosyncrasies with you. It’s funny, I never notice them at home and yet here, in London, they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Is that a well-known expression?

Here goes with the Saffa-isms:

  1. Chips! This is an expression that has a number of uses. You can use it to ask someone to move out of your way (not really polite); you can use it to alert someone to a possible danger, such as “Chips! Open manhole ahead” or worse, “Chips, the teacher’s coming.”
  2. Long teeth. This is a direct translation from the Afrikaans. If you do something with long teeth it means you do it with extreme reluctance, dragging your feet, not wanting to do it at all.
  3. Swak (pronounced swuck). This is an Afrikaans word which literally translated means weak. Its use in English has a slightly stronger meaning and I’m not sure that I can do it justice: mean, horrible, nasty, unfair. For example, “My cell phone got stolen last night.” “Ah, no, bru. That’s so swak.”
  4. Whinge. This is in common use in England and in SA, and it means to complain, or to whine, but with an extra truckload of annoying-ness.
  5. Land with your bum in the butter. I’m not sure where this saying originates, but it means to be lucky, to have things go your way.
  6. When I was a child, if something irked my Cape Town-born and bred mom, she would say she could spit blood. That was quite a frightening thought for me. She would also say, as she rolled her eyes, “Oh, heavens to betsy!”
  7. Gedoente. Again, this is an Afrikaans word (don’t know how to explain its pronunciation) and it means (usually unnecessary) fuss. Or, in the words of a client that I worked with in a PR consultancy, it’s a major bloody marchpast.

And here are a few of the English expressions I notice here. I wasn’t familiar with them, but am now growing to love them:

  1. Anorak. This one fascinates me. The word, which means hooded raincoat or parka, has evolved into slang usage, and it means fan, fanatic, aficionado, knowledgeable one on a particular (unusual) topic, and perhaps in an obsessive way. So you could be a train anorak or a Star Trek anorak (Trekkie).
  2. In bits. I heard this expression on the news last night. The reporter was covering the story about the guy whose wife was murdered in South Africa last month, while they were on honeymoon. The taxi driver, convicted of the murder, implicated the husband by saying he’d been paid by him to murder his wife and make it look like a car-jacking. The reporter said the husband, at his home in England, was in bits. It means upset. It’s often associated with crying. In this context, the expression strikes me as the exact opposite of hyperbole.
  3. Winding me up. This means teasing me, having me on. The local radio station we listen to runs many competitions, including one where you have to identify three mystery voices. The jackpot grows with each wrong guess and it continues to grow until all three voices have been correctly identified. Earlier this year, a listener won £100,000 when he did just that. His reaction? “You’re joking! You’re winding me up! You must be winding me up!” I must say, that was my favourite kind of reaction!
  4. Lovely. This is not a new word to me, but I love its constant presence in conversation here. Lovely to meet you, lovely to hear from you, lovely to see you, lovely to chat to you, etc etc. When I had one of my first job interviews in London last year, the interviewer shook my hand at the end of the hour and said, “Lovely to meet you.” I walked on air as I made my way home. “She liked me, and I’m sure I’m going to get the job,” I thought. Not so much. I realised, when I got the no, that she would have said that to everyone. I was in bits. (Not really!)

This is an ongoing project, learning new expressions and discovering the forrin-ness here of the ones I use. If you have any suggestions or contributions, it would be lovely to hear them! And I do mean lovely.

Sunshine signing off for today!