the things they say
Part of the fun of being in another culture is hearing how the locals choose to use the English language—particular phrases, strange wordings, funny sayings. In Uganda, Western influence has largely been British (Uganda itself was not granted independence until 1962), with some American as well, and so the final result is a fantastic and sometimes humorous mix of everything.
These are a few of the common words and phrases I’ve been hearing for the past five weeks. Whether or not their usage will rub off on me remains to be seen.
While “well done” might not strike you as a foreign use of the English language, its overuse in Uganda is rather noticeable. If you are making dinner and are greeted by someone at the door, they will immediately throw in, “Well done!” If you are sitting at the table drawing…well done. If you’re on a walk with the kids….well done. If you’re walking by yourself and the speaker has no idea what you’ve been doing….still, well done. Everything is well done.
Again, “welcome back” earns a place on this list through sheer overuse. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone to Kampala and back or if you’ve just walked across the path. When you reappear, you will be welcomed back. In fact, it’d not even necessary for you to have passed that way before. You’ll still be welcomed back as if this was your original starting point.
“I’ll give you a push.”
After a meeting with several teachers at the primary school regarding my debate lessons, Auntie Rebinah stood and walked with me to the door as we finished our conversation. “Here,” she said, “I will give you a push.” I’m not sure I successfully hid my blank American confusion. I later discovered that “giving someone a push” means to walk them halfway to their destination—in Auntie Rabinah’s case, walking me to the edge of the school grounds before turning and going back herself. Well, at least there’s no real pushing involved.
“It is finished.”
“Are there any carrots today?” “No. They are finished.” Um, okay. The carrots aren’t actually “finished” or “completed.” They’re gone. Close, but not quite.
This one just makes me laugh. There is a particular way that the Ugandans use the word “sorry.” It stands on its own—not “I’m sorry,” just “sorry.” And it is said in a certain tone of voice that can’t properly translate into a blog post. Makes me smile every time I hear it.
“Send my greetings.”
While “greetings” sounds ridiculously old-fashioned to my American ears, it is a fundamental part of life here. You must always “greet” the people you come in contact with. If you see an individual, you must send your greetings to their family and they will probably send theirs to yours. If you don’t greet, you’re just plain rude.
“We picked him.”
Rather than meaning that you have “selected him,” what you are actually saying is that you “picked him up.”
For example, you are going to Entebbe to pick Uncle Geoff from the airport, or driving into town to pick the goat from the farm.
“Did your exams go well?” “Somehow.” This lovely little world is another overused component of the Ugandan person’s English vocabulary. It doesn’t mean that “through some means, help, or way of doing things, I did well on the exams.” It just means….sort of. Which really doesn’t make sense to me. But no one says “sort of.” Everyone says “somehow.”
I have no doubt this list will continue to grow over the next five weeks. By the time August rolls around, I’m sure I will be just about fluent in Ugandan English. And hey…send my greetings to your family!