Sabona! Greetings from the bottom of the world

One of the greatest thrills of international travel is observing customs and human quirks that are foreign to the observer. If you can’t travel internationally, however, people watching at the mall provides you with similar rewards. Recently, I’ve found myself absorbed with greeting rituals. From dap, to a simple handshake, the ubiquitous Black nod or White folk’s tight-lipped half smile as they pass one another in the park, it’s all totally fascinating to me.

A few days ago I found myself in the midst of an awkward greeting ritual during my early days in the country. I passed a fashionably dressed man in a stairwell. We made eye contact. I smiled.

“Sabona”, he said in a creamy baritone.

“‘Sup”, I replied awkwardly.

We gave glimpsed at one another in confusion and then carried on our way. Ah. At least we had spoken and were cordial. But it was in that moment that it struck me: EYE am an immigrant. I’m the kid everyone else is going to have to show how to use the water fountain or explain that you don’t have to pay for re-fills at McDonald’s to!

Time constraints won’t allow me to write about the experience at length, so here’s a quick vlog on the delightful subject of greeting folk in the capital city and the literal translation of “sabona”.


3 thoughts on “Sabona! Greetings from the bottom of the world

  1. Interesting. When I flew to SA last year, it was one of the first words I learnt. Kept being repeated at the start of the announcements on the plane, and upon arrival in Jo’burg too. I actually thought it meant welcome, so it’s good to learn what the meaning is. Thanks for this post.


    1. You’re welcome! I still haven’t confirmed what the appropriate response is, but according to the book of phrases I purchased, it’s “sabona/sawubona” in return.

      Hope you enjoyed your stay in SA!


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