The Meaning of “Now” in South Africa

By Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

Learning the meaning of "just now" over tea on a previous trip to South Africa

In addition to the popular phrases “howzit?” (short for “how’s it going?”), “pleasure” (in place of “you’re welcome”), and “ach, shame” (which can emphasize just about anything from appreciation for an adorably cute dog to disappointment over your cricket team losing to acting as a general conversation filler), you’ll hear a lot of “just now” while traveling or living in South Africa.

“Just now” takes some getting used to for us Americans. The first time I finally understood the meaning of “just now” went something like this:

I was making tea and asked my husband’s five year-old cousin if he’d like some. “Just now” he said. So I quickly made some tea, brought him a cup, and couldn’t figure out why he so was surprised to see me and so disinterested in his cup of tea. “I wanted it ‘Just now’,” he said. “Right,” I replied. “And I just brought it to you….” Fortunately, his mother intervened and informed me that “just now” doesn’t mean “right now”, nor does it mean “just a moment ago”. It actually means “perhaps in a bit” or “I’m not really interested but I’m going to put you off gently” or “yeah, that’s a nice idea – let’s leave it at that”. It’s a very non-committal phrase.

Okay, so what about “now”? As I soon found out, “now” also has its vagaries. “Now” doesn’t necessarily mean “at this moment” (although it’s typically a little more definite than “just now”). If I had to guess based on my experience so far, “now” still puts the action at least five minutes into the future and possibly much longer depending on what else comes up in the meantime.

Fortunately, though, there’s a perfect phrase for my personality and that’s “now, now, now.” I can be a bit “now, now, now” when I’m at work in the States and it’s been a real effort for me to try to tone it down to the level of “now” or even “just now” when working with my colleagues in South Africa. So far, I don’t think I’m succeeding but I’m not sure I want to be either. I’m already one month into my Kiva Fellowship and there’s a lot I’d like to accomplish before I hit the road again. So if ever there was a perfect time for “now, now, now”, this might be it.

Alexis Ditkowsky (KF14) works with Women’s Development Businesses in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Check out WDB’s lending team and stay tuned for new loans on their lending page.

Previous posts by Alexis Ditkowsky:
Update from the Field: Videos, Epic Commutes + Going Beyond Microfinance
Last Week in the Field: “Christmas”, Trekking, Adversity + Good Company
Next Steps for Kiva’s Partner in South Africa
First Borrower Visit (Take 350+)
A Hand-Delivered Kiva Fellow
Drawings from Training and Greetings from Boston

Working on the concept of "just now" over the weekend in Sodwana Bay

About the author

Alexis Ditkowsky