Moving countries always comes with its fair share of trying to work out local slang.
Fortunately, Zimbabweans are reasonably normal on this front and I haven’t had too many moments of wondering what was going on.
There was the time I offered some friends a “slice” only to get blank stares in return. After several translation attempts, I was informed that I was offering them “fridge cake,” which sounded quite unappealing to me given it starts with the word “fridge.”
There was also the time I asked a friend to put on the “jug”.
“The what?” came the reply.
I pointed it out. “You call a kettle a jug!?”
“No,” I replied quite honestly. “I call a jug a jug. That’s a jug.”
The reality is I lost that debate before it even started, since I’m remarkably outnumbered here. But I gave it a good shot anyway.
There’s also the classic “supper” versus “tea” debate. I haven’t even tried to argue that one. Zimbabweans are quite fond of their tea. Afternoon tea, with something to eat, and civilized conversation seated on a veranda overlooking a garden is almost a weekly occurrence for me now.
The idea that something as sacred as tea could be used to mean “supper” (or “dinner” as some of you might say), although quite common in NZ, is taken with disbelief here.
There’s also togs versus “swimming costume”, jandals versus “slops”, and whanau versus family, or puku versus “tummy”, all of which I’ve managed to handle.
But I have to confess one fairly common Southern African stumbling block is still tripping me up eleven months after arrival, and that’s the habit people have of talking about time using three seemingly innocuous words: now, now now and just now.
I first hit up against the terms when I saw my friend Claire at school. We had just finished drop off and were about 2 minutes away from seeing each other in gym class.
“See you soon,” I said.
She laughed, like that was utterly rediculous, and replied “yeah, in like 2 minutes!”
I got into the car wondering what had just happened.
Later, she explained that “soon” meant “later”…and to say “soon” I should actually say “just now”. Except, not too long afterward someone else used the words differently…then someone else..then someone else.
“Everyone uses them differently!” I whined to another friend who had just said “just now”.
Kim began the process of explaining. “Actually, you know what? It’s too hard,” she said as she broke off the explanation.
“I think this one is genetic” I said.
She looked at me. “Yeah, you have to be born into this one.”
And with a gentle pat on the shoulder as she took her leave, she threw back in a singsong voice “sucks to be you!”