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Get ready to juggle between English, French and Pidgin when you visit Cameroon. Pidgin is the middle ground and might just be the one that’ll win you lots of friends. Here’s a list of 21 essential phrases you’ll need in Cameroon.
Bonjour (bong-zhoor) – Good morning, good day, hi
Bonjour will start many a conversation for you, no matter what time of day. It’s the easiest word in French, and one you’ve probably heard before.
Comment allez-vous? (coman-talay-vu) – How are you?
Feeling confident? Why not go ahead and get more friendly by asking how they’re doing. Take note: if it’s the first time you’re meeting someone, then this third person plural address shows respect. If you’re addressing a group, the same applies – easy.
Merci (mer-si) – Thank you
Accompanied by a smile, ‘thank you’ is very gracious. Most people will still understand you in the Francophone part of the country if you say it in English.
Oui (wi) / non (nong) – Yes / No
Sometimes all you need to offer is a yes or no.
S’il vous plait (seal-vu-pleh) – Please
You’ll need this when you need a favour or want to ask for directions, information or to excuse yourself.
Au revoir (o-re-vuah) / bye-bye (bai-bai) – Bye
Saying goodbye with a wave of the hand shouldn’t be news; even babies wave goodbye!
Wusai toilet dey? (wusai-toilet-day) – Where is the bathroom?
Get your feet wet with a few Pidgin phrases. You could still just say ‘Wusai toilet?’ or ‘Where toilet?’ Pidgin is very fluid, and English-speaking Cameroonians love to hear it rolling down foreign tongues.
A want go market (A-wang-go-market) – I want to go to the market
Replace ‘market’ with any place you like and you’ve got yourself sorted, whether you’re using a taxi or bike, or travelling to another town.
A di hungry (a-di-hongri) / a want chop (a-want-chop) / faim dey me (feng-day-mi) – I’m hungry
There you go. If you starve yourself, it won’t be for want of a phrase to ask for food.
A beg for water (a-beg-for-wata) – Can I have some water, please?
There are many ways to ask for water, but this is quite efficient.
Dis chop fine (dis-chop-fain) – The food is delicious; I like it
If you love what you’re served, your hosts would appreciate a compliment.
Gimmie apple (gimi-apple) – Give me an apple
Replace ‘apple’ with anything you want. Gimmie beer. Gimmie salt. Gimmie orange.
Na how much? (na-hau-moch) – How much is this?
Point, pick or choose and repeat this and they’ll hit you with the price.
E dear (i-dieh) / e over dear (e-ova-dieh) – It’s too expensive
Bargaining is just the way Cameroonian markets work. Unless you’re in a supermarket, where prices are standard, you’ll have to bargain your way through life.
You want kill me? (you-want-kill-mi) – The price is way over the top
This can be used when the item is overpriced.
You over fine (you-ova-fain) – You’re beautiful
Who knows? You might get to that point, or you might be travelling with a significant other. Just let them know in Pidgin, as it sounds better.
We go charge (wi-go-charge) – Let’s go grab a drink
It could mean either of two things around beer, depending on how the ‘go’ is stressed: a promise that’ll you’ll grab a drink later, or you should go for a drink immediately. Whatever time it happens, there are few things that please Cameroonians as much as beer.
Ashia (ashi-ya) – Sorry
This word carries more meaning than we can explain; it’s Cameroonian empathy bundled into five letters. There’s still a way to make it sound sarcastic, though, when you clearly don’t mean it.
A don die (a-dong-dai) – I’m finished / It’s very funny
One of the trickiest things about Pidgin English is its double, sometimes opposite meanings. In a bad situation, this phrase means you’re in trouble. If someone is cracking you up, the same phrase describes it.
Ma mammy ye (ma-mammi-ye) – Mamma Mia
At the first sign of trouble we call our mums, but it could also be joy or other emotions that are driving you home.
Smoke! (smoke) – Too good
It can feel so good and look so good that you lack words to describe it. This one is not very common, so you’ll get extra points for explaining it to locals who haven’t caught up on the trend yet.