I feel very fortunate to have just experienced South Africa, one of my new favorite places on earth. As secretary for the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), I attended our semi-annual meeting in Cape Town. In addition to the meetings, I got to travel beforehand with the owners of Buchanan PR in Philly, HMA PR in Phoenix and DVL PR & Advertising in Nashville and their spouses. These agency owners, Anne Buchanan, Scott Hanson and John Van Mol, are all founding members of PRGN, which celebrated its 20thanniversary while in Cape Town with a community service project (but that’s a topic for another blog post).
As communicators, we were naturally curious about the language and wanted to be able to have at least brief interactions with the locals in their native tongue as we traveled. We soon learned from the kind driver, Emanuel, who transported us to our safari in Pilanesberg National Park that there are 11 languages in South Africa (of which he spoke 9), and it all depends on where you are and where people are from as to which language to speak. Try mastering that in 10 days!
Anne Buchanan with our new friends Lynne and Sheila from Zimbawbe
Emanuel was kind enough to help us get started… To say “hello” in Setsuana you say “dumela-maa” to a woman, “dumela-ra” to a man, “dumela-borra” to a group of men, and so on. You can see how this could get complicated quickly! He proceeded to teach us “hello” and “thank you” in Xhosa, Afrikaans and Zulu, too.
No matter how hard we tried, we seemed to pronounce things wrong and tell the waiter we were going on a stroll instead of saying thank you. Yet despite our difficulties pronouncing the languages, it never failed that the locals we interacted with truly appreciated our efforts, and we were able to communicate through gestures, facial expressions and some good old-fashioned English. And I cannot express to you how kind the people were. You could see it in their faces and feel it in their gestures, and I believe my traveling companions and I each left South Africa richer from the experience of communicating with the locals – or at least trying to!