Casual Interactions, 2nd Edition – On Language

In the spirit of including some of the individuals we have been bumping into along this journey (an effort begun here), here are some additional casual interactions.  The first several are about language…

    • The check out person at Game (something like Target) who tried to get Meggan’s attention by speaking to her in Afrikaans to tell her the location of the baggage check (where we have to put bags we bring in while we are shopping) and realized once I got to the front of the line why Meggan didn’t heed her advice and had gone to the entire opposite end of the store; we don’t speak a lick of Afrikaans.
    • Another check-out person, maybe at Pick n’ Pay (grocery), who was stunned by our English. “You speak English so fluently,” she complimented us.  These two encounters are representative of a couple of things.  First, everybody speaks to us first in Afrikaans.  I suppose that means we look like we are local.  Second, although most people speak English, hardly anyone seems to speak English as a first language – as a result, most English speakers have heavy accents  Our English – our native language, fluent English – thus must sound a little different.  Accents differ depending on first language – those who speak one of the 9 African languages sound quite different from those whose first language is Afrikaans.  But English is the language most people have in common, a fact that has enabled us to get around fairly successfully.

  • At a restaurant, two women listened to me while I read something off the wall to Ben (an explanation of the origins of Peri Peri flavoring) and commented again on our English. I suppose American English is something that people do not hear much of in person here, though there is certainly plenty of it on television and the radio.  After a quick chat, Ben and I moved toward the door and I said, “So long.”  Sadie, who was sitting in a nearby booth, overheard them comment after Ben and I departed, “So long?  I wonder what that means.”  Which got me wondering – what does “so long” mean?  Sounds like a project for carlygoogles.
  • A little boy (maybe 7 years old) at the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein who spoke first to me in Afrikaans and then responded after I said that I spoke English, “The English shoot horses. Do you?”  I was befuddled.  He subsequently explained in broken English that his family previously had four horses, but didn’t have any anymore.  I am not sure if that is because the English shot them.  We interacted again later as he told me that “My sister is in love” and accompanied this declaration by miming the outline of a heart with his fingers.
  • A frantic woman at one of the local malls who came up to me and erupted in frustrated Afrikaans. I apologized and told her that I only spoke English.  She then erupted in frustrated English, “How do I get out of this place?!”  The malls here have multiple exits and no obvious way of keeping track of how to get back to the one you need.  I meekly asked where she had parked and made an attempt at assistance before she lost patience and went to someone else to erupt in frustrated Afrikaans again.  If you are wondering about all the Afrikaans, here is some data that may provide some context.   First, there are 11 official languages in the country – English, Afrikaans, and 9 African languages that connect to the various tribes present in different parts of the country.  Here in the Free State, the dominant first language (63%) is Sesotho, the language of the Sotho, the most populous tribal group in this region (and in the neighboring country of Lesotho); Afrikaans is the first language of 13% of the Free State population, including nearly all white Free Staters.  Thus, the odds here are that a black speaker’s first language will be Sesotho and a white speaker’s first language will be Afrikaans.  Many Blacks also speak Afrikaans, though few whites (as far as I can tell) speak Sesotho.  Nationally, the largest first language is isiZulu (23%), followed by isiXhosa (16%), Afrikaans (13.5%), and English (9.6%).
  • Mario, the safety and security man at the American consulate who gave me my required security briefing. He is a high volume FBPM (f-bombs per minute) producer and had all sorts of insights into life in South Africa, including: “Bloem? Oh good f’in luck with that.  You’ll see more f’in mullets there than you’ve seen in your f’in life.  Where’d you say you’re from?  Memphis?  Oh, f’in hell.  Good f’in luck.”  I felt very secure.
  • KeKe, a runner I met at the Parkrun 5k here in town because he was wearing a Western Kentucky Hilltoppers t-shirt. He had run track for WKU (where I thrice attended camp) for a year.  We shared a nice conversation, including his amusement at the impression the Americans he met had of life in Africa.  “I used to tell them I had a lion as a pet back home,” he laughed.  “And how amazing it was that they all had shoes in America.”  FYI, the Parkrun is a weekly 5k atop Naval Hill, the public game reserve in the heart of town five minutes from our home.  Also FYI, people here have shoes and don’t have pet lions.

3 thoughts on “Casual Interactions, 2nd Edition – On Language

  1. Love these interplays! The 7 year old boy and Mario stood out in your depictions! How cute that a kid would interact with a stranger!…..and Mario will certainly give great first impressions to first-time visitors! He makes us feel secure that y’all are secure! Truly love these personal experiences! Keep ’em coming, D! 😘😉❌⭕️


  2. Pingback: Casual Interactions, v3 + Day-to-Day Pictures | Kiels Abroad

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