Contiki Culture Hubs: South African culture edition
Welcome to Contiki’s culture hub for all things sunny and wild in South African culture! Preparing a presentation to convince all your friends to travel to this glorious part of the world? You’ve come to the right place. This little dip into South African culture will give you all the wanderlust you need.
From the rich and insanely diverse cultures that run through the country and make each corner unique, to the classic food scene you’ll never get bored here. Travel to the coast for a spot of kayaking (with penguins!) or travel to the bush for your chance to spot some of this planet’s most majestic creatures: lions and elephants. The people are friendly, the animals roam freely; honestly, what’s not to love about South Africa?
Trying to become more knowledgeable before your trip and impress the locals? We’ve got some interesting facts right here, just for you! Language quirks, surprising drinking cultures, and much more, read on here and then get booking to ensure the most perfect trip to South Africa!
South Africa, home of…
- 11 official languages: That’s right, 11! South Africa’s national languages include English and Afrikaans (which are the ones most people know of), as well as several indigenous languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, siSwati isiNdebele, isiXhosa, and isiZulu. Many of these are traditional languages and include clicks within it – such as isiXhosa which you can actually hear spoken by the inhabitants of Wakanda in Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther.
- Influential Men: Did you know that the first heart transplant happened in South Africa? Yes! It was surgeon Christiaan Barnard who pioneered and accomplished it, hailing from South Africa himself. Nelson Mandela, respected historic and political figure, as well as Nobel Peace Prize winner, was also from South Africa, though you probably already knew that. But you know who else? Elon Musk!
- The Big 5 and the Little 5: Safari enthusiasts gather because South Africa is THE place to spot many fantastic beasts. The Big 5 is a popular term used by all game-drive-goers to designate the five most popular and exciting animals to see: elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and African buffalos. Considered the ‘megafauna’ of the savannah, The Big 5 contrasts the lesser known Little 5: elephant shrews, ant elephants, rhinoceros beetles, leopard tortoises, and buffalo weavers. They may be small, but they’re still mighty.
Smiles and social life
This often surprising factoid about South African culture is just how extremely friendly South Africans are. No matter where you go you’ll be greeted with a smile, whether you’re just buying a coffee, ordering lunch, or entering a building.
When on a walk, a hike, or a run it’s common to give people a wave and a smile while passing them on the road – and you should 100% expect small talk wherever you go! More than being friendly, South Africans hate awkward silences (it’s these kinds of universal discomforts that bring us all together) so they’ll often strike up conversations in the elevator, during a queue at the supermarket, and while browsing through shops.
If you were worried about making friends while travelling through South Africa, worry no more, the locals will make friends with you!
Speaking of being social, food plays a big part in the social lives of South African locals. Particularly Braai. This localised version of BBQ includes lip-smacking icons like boerewors – a thin sausage – and biltong – dried meat which is a fan favourite. Grilled alongside other veg and hearty sides, get together with friends and family for an afternoon of Braai. Traditionally Braai is enjoyed with one or two cans of beer, typically Windheok being the nation’s favourite brew.
Are you looking for something a little fancier? Try Bobotie, a dish of minced meat, rice, dried fruit, various spices, and topped with a beautiful golden layer of egg. Have you heard of Bunny Chow? Adorable name, and an even cuter dish, Bunny Chow is curry served in a bread bowl to make things extra hearty and cosy!
- Tip your car guard: If you’re renting a car during your travels you’ll be parking in different places and many parking lots are accompanied by car guards. These people will watch over the cars in the parking lot while you’re gone, and they’ll also help you in lots of other ways, like helping you load groceries into the trunk for example. Tipping with small change – we recommend 5 rand – is common courtesy, and the same goes for the petrol attendants who help fill your car up.
- Pack a torch and a power bank: power cuts are a daily part of South African life, due to Load Shedding, and most places will go at least 4 hours a day without electricity. Most places have backup generators so you generally won’t even notice the shift, but it’s a good idea to pack these bits just in case.
- Go on a safari: known as game drives by South Africans, you absolutely MUST make your way to Kruger National Park or Addo Elephant Park for a drive through some gorgeous savannahs and a chance to spot some even more gorgeous wildlife. You can also take a night drive to spot some of the more elusive nocturnal species.
- Flash cash or use your phone when walking: while South Africa is mostly safe, and travelling with a group will boosts that safety, there’s no need to put yourself in any unnecessary danger and invite criminals to target you. Plus, cash isn’t really used much in South African culture so there’s no need for you to carry it in the first place.
- Just visit the national parks: sure they’re stunning, but the coasts and cities are just as amazing! Visit Cape Town for trendy bars and cafés – the thrift scene here is unmatched – and take a day trip to all the vineyards, beaches, and hiking trails.
- Forget mosquito repellant: especially if you’re visiting in summer, the mosquitoes here can be absolutely brutal! So don’t forget to pack your mosquito repellent and absolutely abuse it to ensure a comfortable night out in the bush.
Fancy a glass of wine?
It may come as a surprise that South African culture is so big on wine, but where there’s sunsets spent on the coast and warm weather, there must be wine.
The most famous grape produced in this country is the chenin blanc, which was originally only used to produce brandy and whiskey – until South Africa decided that was ludicrous and it should be used for wine too!
If you’re travelling the world in 80 bottles of wine you must visit South Africa and explore the world’s longest wine route, making stops in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, cities which each have over 100 wine farms. Visit for a luscious little wine tasting accompanied by indulgences such as charcuterie boards, chocolates, and cheesecakes!
Who knew South Africa was so French?
Image source:Ashim D’Silva / unsplash
Now now, right now, now
Huh? Allow us to clear it up.
According to our Trip Manager Melissa, South Africans love the phrase ‘now’, but it has many uses and can sometimes be a little confusing. But, depending on the usage, you may be able to tell how enthusiastic someone’s being! So all this confusion has its perks.
Take this scenario. You ask your South African friend if they can help you buy your parents a birthday present (because does anyone know what to get them?) If your friend replies: “sure, I’ll help you now,” that means that they will help you soon, in a couple of minutes. If their reply is something like “sure, I’ll help you now now,” you may think that means they’ll help you even sooner! Woohoo! But no, ‘now now’ actually means that you won’t be getting help until much later in the day. If their answer is “sure, I’ll help right now,” you should expect your friend to immediately aid you in your quest – they will literally do it in the now that is right now.
See? Not at all confusing once properly explained!
Strong like a lion, swift like a Springbok
National sports are not to be trifled with in many countries, and in South African culture it’s rugby that holds the highest status and honour. The sport was brought over by the Brits in the 19th century, and was introduced by soldiers, settlers, and missionaries to the people of local rural cities and townships. In the 20th century rugby became so popular in South Africa that it was made the country’s national sport.
The national men’s team are called the Springboks, named after a particularly elegant and slender type of gazelle, which has a pale golden coat. The golden colour found its way on the official team kit, along with a deep green, and white shorts. As a result, the players of the Springboks are often referred to as ‘the boys in the green and gold’ – quite a fitting name for how much money and glory they’re bathing in! South Africa’s rugby team is not one to be underestimated at all: they’ve won 3 world cups which is the same amount as the famous New Zealand All Blacks, and they frequently place in the top 3 during such tournaments.
Rugby is watched all over the country in many households, and on important match days you won’t be surprised to see many people walking around sporting their Springbok jerseys.
Additionally, the 2010 Football Men’s World Cup was hosted in South Africa – the first and only world cup to be held in Africa – and it was HUGE! Sadly, the South African team didn’t win, but we did get Shakira’s hit song Waka Waka out of it so all’s well that ends well.
If you want to make the most of your time in South Africa and really assimilate with all the different cultures, then you’ll need to pick up some nifty slang. This way, they’ll know you belong!
- Lekker: a word South Africans use to describe anything that’s nice. Whether it’s good food, a wicked party, you’re in a good mood, or you’re describing one of your friends, you can use the word ‘lekker’ and locals will immediately know you mean wonderful things!
- Jol: a South African word for parties, raves, and festivals, but it can also be used if you had a good time hanging out with your friends
- Haibo: this is a phrase used to express shock or disbelief. Haibo! This article’s already over?