Durban has many cultures and subcultures, from Zulus and Indians to surfers and hipsters, and this has led to a strange concoction of quirks in the language. While the more generic South African lekker for ‘good’ and howzit for ‘how are you?’ is popular, you also get very specific Durbanisms. Be prepared to add ‘but’ and ‘and all’ to the end of sentences, or use surfer language like bru and kiff (all pronounced in slow sentences). Also, you may start using Afrikaans words like vaai (go), jasis (gosh), and klap (hit) between dala (mess), choon (talk), and posie (home). Exclamation is also popular with expressions like eina! (ouch), whatkind?! (what’s happening/why did you do that?!) and haibo! (expression of shock). Before you know it you’ll be chooning like a real Durbanite, ou and all.
If you stay in Durban long enough, you’ll find that your palate will begin to change and you’ll often crave a little spice in your food. Durban has one of the largest Indian populations outside of India and the spicy flavours have permeated the local cuisine. Spice markets in the city have a range of spices, varying from mixtures like ‘mother-in-law hellfire’ to ‘exterminator’. Locals always seem to be reaching for the salt or chili powder, whether it’s for their pineapples or bunny chows.
We’re not exactly sure if it’s the sea, the sand or the air, but seaside towns tend to take it a bit easier. If you’re coming from a fast-paced city, you instantly slow down in Durban. Durbanites are usually laid back; they don’t rush, they have long conversations in the sun and they’re not used to driving very far to get anywhere. Flip-flops, T-shirts and sun-dried hair are the order of the day, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself taking a nap in the sun on the beach after a long lunch with friends.
Durban might be steadily growing but it’s still a relatively small city, and you can usually get where you need to be within 15 minutes. Traffic is also barely a blimp on the radar in comparison to other cities, so you don’t waste too much time stuck behind another car. This sense of distance can be confusing and has led many Durbanites to use the language of ‘now-now’ and ‘just now’, which means arriving any time between the next five minutes to the next few hours. Whether it’s the lack of traffic, the sun or the beautiful beaches, your sense of time can become quite distorted in Durban.
Durban is on the east coast of Africa so it’s the first place to get the sun (over the Indian Ocean). This means early and bright mornings that get joggers, workers, mothers and municipal workers all starting the day fresh and early. In fact, if you get to the beach early enough, you’ll make it in time to join the surfers and joggers to see the sun rise out of the sea – you can even catch a sunrise yoga class on the beach. This may mean less lie-ins, but it also means most of the city is getting a good start to the day and that means more positive energy all round.
As a result of early mornings, you also tend to turn in earlier. While Durban’s nightlight is growing, places tend to close early and most Durbanites are tucked away in bed by 10pm on a weeknight. While this may leave you with seemingly less of a social life, it does tend to keep you healthier and ready to take on each day. It also means you earn your late nights over the weekend – if you can stay awake that is!
Durban is sunny most of the time, even in winter, and temperatures don’t drop below 18 °C (64 °F). And with a tepid ocean and the added benefit of a warm Mozambique current, the city tends to attract tourists from all over the country. All this warm weather means even the most housebound person is tempted to venture outside and, pretty soon, you’ll be an outdoorsy person – going for hikes, walks on the beach, and maybe even early-morning runs. You just can’t help becoming an outdoor person in Durban!
The downside to all the warm weather is that you lose your resistance to the cold. When you travel to colder climates or get a cold, you’re completely unable to bear it and you begin to unpack blankets and woolen clothes, lug out heaters and pull out hot water bottles. You spend all winter indoors and wonder how the crazy tourists are swimming in the ocean when its 18 °C (64 °F) outside.
Durban is a tropical city, meaning you get a range of delicious produce during any season. The city stays green all year and provides fruit like papayas, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, guavas, lemons, litchis and watermelons in great abundance. In fact, during each season, traffic intersections are filled with salesmen selling seasonal fruit – from bunches of litchis and grapes to packets of lemons and mangoes – for low prices. If you know where to shop, fruit and vegetables tend to be much cheaper in Durban.
The thing about Durban is that you tend to get paid less than bigger cities, but your cost of living drops too. Walk into a local supermarket and get a litre of oil for much cheaper than a store in, say, Johannesburg or Cape Town. Aside for a general lower cost of living, in terms of rent or food, the city is filled with hidden bargain places, from second-hand stores to flea markets; the trick is to know where to find them. When you leave Durban, you immediately feel the price pinch of the same things in other cities.