South African greetings can be diverse
South Africa has eleven different languages – so even though someone might say they are a South African, it doesn’t necessarily mean they speak English as their home language. South Africans also have a lot of local slang interspersed in their daily speech, which involves combining English with Afrikaans and many of the local African languages.
Greeting a South African for the first time
When you meet a South African for the first time, it is customary to address them by their title and their last name, unless they have been introduced by their first name. Usually a handshake with eye contact and a smile are regarded as a friendly or good greeting. People who know each other well, might greet each other with a hug or a kiss on one or both cheeks. South Africans like to take their time when greeting people and often exchange general social discussion after the initial greeting and it is normal to enquire after someone’s health and well-being – and if you know them well – you can extend this to their family.
10 different South African greetings
- Howzit – this is probably the most informal way you can say hello to a South African, and is best reserved for someone you know well. It roughly translates into “Hello, how are you?” and is usually accompanied by either a handshake, a wave or even a ‘high-five’.
- Sawubona – This is how you would greet a single person if you want to say hello in isiZulu. It translates into “greetings” and is usually accompanied by a friendly handshake. Occasionally a woman might just nod her head and not extend her hand, so it is best to wait for a woman to extend her hand first.
- Unjani – This usually follows the first greeting of Sawubona in Zulu and means “How are you?”
- Heita – this is a friendly slang greeting that is used by South Africans, and translates into “Hello”
- Aweh – Another slang greeting, this is used more as an acknowledgement of a person when greeting them
- Molo – This greeting is used by the Xhosa and is a first-person singular greeting that translates into “How are you doing”
- Thobela – This is a formal greeting in Pedi and translates into “How are you”
- Dumela – this greeting means “Hello” in the Sotho language
- Hoe gaan dit? – This is an Afrikaans greeting and means “How are things going/How are you?”
- Sharp Fede – This greeting is mainly used in the South African townships and means “Hello, how are you?”
Wherever you are in the world, when you greet a South African, you are sure to find they make an effort to respond to your greeting and are likely to respond well to warmth and politeness.
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