Klaus, our hypothetical foreigner, visits Cape Town for the first time. He has heard rumours that Capetonians are notoriously clique, but he is determined to have a good time and make some friends.

Klaus has conquered Table Mountain, has roasted himself to a crisp on Camps Bay beach and has enjoyed countless slices of biltong since his arrival. He decides it is time to get a taste of the local Cape and he hits the streets in different areas of the Mother City.

UCT linguistics student, Megan Maccallum, says that “everyone is born with a grammar set in their brain, but it is only through education and exposure that our ability to communicate forms and expand”. If one wishes to form relationships, it is not enough just being able to understand a language.

“Language is part of creating acceptance in a group,” says Professor Ana Deumert, Head of Linguistics at UCT, “and one has to associate themselves with a group of people.” One way of doing this is through the use of lingo, lay/medium register used in informal situations. People connect through the commonality of words. “Lingo is incredibly important as it gives people a sense of community and creates relationships,” she says.

Without a basic knowledge of lingo, misunderstandings and confusion occur. “Our identification is socially based because we don’t want to separate ourselves from society and our friends,” says Deumert. It is therefore important to understand different lingo in ones society. “When we understand the words people use, we have a clearer understanding of the individual, she says.”

After asking for directions Klaus already thinks the locals are crazy, referring him turn at a robot when they actually mean a set of traffic lights and saying they will be with him just now but making him wait for half an hour. This confusing start made him realise that he needed a manual – a guide on how to understand the locals in order to have a good time. Basically, Klaus needed to learn how to ‘speak the street’.

Venture out during the day:

South Africa is a wonderful place, but can be dangerous in places. As a general rule, do not go out alone at night, unless the area is busy with people. Avoid short cuts through darkened streets or when there is nobody around.
To avoid the ‘drunken lingo’, which can be confusing even to those who speak it, try making friends during the day or before happy hour.

Mind your belongings:

Keep your belongings in a bag which fits securely on your body. It is very easy for a mugger to you target you if your valuables are showy; rather keep them out of sight. If you keep your money, mobile and keys in your pockets, make sure they are deep or tight enough to avoid pick-pocketing hands from exploring places you would only want your hands to go.

Know your area – use your eyes:

Find landmarks to help orientate yourself. The most obvious one is Table Mountain. Glance at a map of Cape Town and take note of how the city is structured around the mountain. You should always be able to see it. If you cannot see the mountain, then you need to do one of the following:

a) go outside and look around
b) walk a little so that the building blocking your view no longer has such prominence
c) get back into O.R. Tambo Airport and get on the correct plane, this time to Cape Town
d) make an appointment to see (even if not too clearly) an optometrist
e) wipe the car’s windscreen
f) smoke slightly less of whatever it is you are smoking
g) turn around, stupid!

Use props:

Invest in a map book, if you are driving, or a guide book with detailed maps of the city. An English phrase book or dictionary will become your best friend. If you really want to be organised, carry a pen and notebook with you so people can draw directions and write down names of places for you.

Know your safe zones:

Try to avoid pubs with the word “tavern” in the name as well as those places advertising cheap Black Label, Crackling and Tassies.
If you find yourself surrounded by men with protruding paunches, thigh-revealing rugby shorts and long socks, then avoid using the words boer, Dutchman and Afrikaner.

Use your ears:

In different areas in Cape Town you will find different groups of people, each with their own way of speaking. Many words are used in a diversity of lingo groups, but there are certain words which are unique to specific groups, hence specific areas. By identifying these words, you will be able to tell where in the city you are or by whom you are surrounded.

“Pumpkin-pants” / “Sugar-pop” – no need to turn around and look at who said this, it will inevitably be a blonde young lady in high heels and a short skirt.

“Those toys are useless, bru, lets bomb a panel with those new skinnies” – you will be surrounded by graffiti artists, possibly in a subway or dark alley (you obviously didn’t think much of the previous recommendations re: venturing out during the day).

“Gooi me a gwaai” – now don’t freak out here, you are merely being asked for a loose cigarette.

“That goof was amazing” – you are now on the beach, if you didn’t already realise this from the sand and waves, and the person who said this meant they enjoyed their swim.

“Let’s grab a frosty and then jam it up” – you will now be in a club where it is normal to get a beer and proceed to the dance floor.

“O.M.G. That is like so O.T.T.” – ask yourself how you got here, because you will be surrounded by middle-class high school girls.

“Jy’s suiker” – you are being accused of lying … run!

If people use one of the following words to describe themselves, then it is not worth starting a conversation as they are very drunk:

off the trolley

Use the following greetings:

Howzit (hows-it) / Howzit goin’ (shortening of how is it going)
Ahoi (a-hoiy)
Wazup (shortening of what is up)
Sup (even shorter shortening of what is up)
Hoe lyk ‘it (hoo-lake-ut)
Hey, China (to be avoided if the person is of Asian origin)
Howzit Bru/Bra/Bro
Awe (a-wear)
Paraphrase what you think others have said to you to check you are both on the same page.

Often we think people have said one thing when they actually mean something completely different. This can cause unnecessary awkwardness and possibly even stress. By summarising and repeating what they have just said to you, it is possible to avoid this confusion. They can then either correct you, if you got the wrong end of the stick, or agree with what you have just paraphrased.

The wonderful thing about paraphrasing is that the other person will hardly realise what you are trying to do. Just be aware of how often you use this technique, as it can become obvious if you use it every time someone says something.

Use the following to show your new friend you are listening, thereby encouraging the conversation:

(Note – you don’t necessarily have to know what they mean, just say them confidently and periodically)

Is it?
No! (said in place of “I don’t believe it!”)

Use the following words in parting:

Totsiens (taught-see-ns)

If, after having spent some time in Cape Town using this guide, you still don’t understand what some people might be saying, ask them to speak English! It is very possible that they could be conversing in one of the other 11 official languages, and then there is the factor of different lingo in those languages. Good Luck!

If, however, you are South African and you rank in the same understanding as Klaus, shame on you … get out and explore some new social circles.