“Sorry!” and other things we say in Uganda…

I had only been living in Uganda for about a day when the strangest thing happened. I dropped something in the kitchen in front of my Dutch roommates, and they both said, “Sorry!”

Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I've picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!
Uganda has been my home now for nine months. I’ve picked up some interesting verbal habits since arriving!

It was my fault I dropped it. I was just clumsy. They weren’t in my way. They didn’t cause me to drop it. But still, they said, “Sorry!”

I chalked it up to being a Dutch thing, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that it’s a Uganda thing. And while I found it so strange, so unnecessary, so ridiculous… I find myself saying it all the time now. It’s one of the many words or phrases that we expats have picked up since living in Uganda.

Did you stub your toe? “Sorry!”

Had a bad day? “Sorry!”

Trip and fall? “Sorry! Sorry!” (some situations warrant two)

Here are a few more things you might catch an expat saying when they return to the U.S. after living in Uganda:

“Now now”

Although the very definition of “now” suggests that it means, well… now, here in Uganda there is something you say when you want something even quicker. “Now now.”

The other day I called for a boda. The conversation went like this:

“Hello Frank! I need picked up and taken to Italian Supermarket. Can you come now?”

Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come "now now!"
Call for a boda and he will ask if he should come “now now!”

“Yes. Now now?”

“Now now.”

“OK I am on my way!”

I guess “now now” has a greater sense of urgency than just “now.” So you must be very clear here about when you want something. Do you want it “now,” or do you want it “now now?”

“You are welcome!”

The first time we went to Friday Market, I approached someone’s shop and said hello. The lady said to me, “You are welcome!” I froze. Was she being smart? Did she say that because I was supposed to say, “Thank you” for something, but I hadn’t?

It took me weeks to realize that when you enter a store or even someone’s home here, they will say, “You are welcome!” It is not a response to “Thank you,” like it is in the U.S., it literally means, “You are welcome here, please come in!”

“It is paining me.”

One day I asked our house help how she was doing. “Terrible,” she said. “My tooth is paining me.” In other words, she had a toothache.

I’ve yet to hear anyone here say that something hurts. It’s always “paining” them.

“I won you!”

My elementary teacher friends hear this all the time on the playground at school. “I beat you!” or even, “I won!” aren’t phrases often muttered from children. Instead, if you win a game or are victorious in a race, children say, “I won you!”

“Just put it in the boot.”

The trunk. The back. I’ve never once heard of the storage portion of the car referred to as “the boot” until I moved to Uganda. I’m not even sure how it makes any sense. It doesn’t look like a boot. I don’t see people carrying boots in the backs of their cars. But nonetheless, here it is called “the boot.”

“Hello! How are you doing today?”

Clearly that’s a phrase we all know in America, but how often do we say it to strangers? In Uganda, it’s pretty much flat out rude not to ask how someone’s day is going. I was taught early on here to always ask how cashiers are doing, shop owners, support staff at school, and others I encounter. 1965021_10203543500770823_1566835692986534743_n

What a friendly concept though! I can only imagine some of the strange looks I might get when I return to the U.S. in June and ask the cashier at Target how her day is going. But honestly, I love it! I think being here has made me an overall friendlier person to strangers.

I might say some strange things when I get back to the US in 25 days, but it’s all part of the experience. I’m glad to know that my experience will continue long after I get back to the states. My friends and family will just have to adjust to my constant replies of “sorry” and wanting something “now now.”

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One thought on ““Sorry!” and other things we say in Uganda…

  1. just read this “now now!” and i have been laughing all the way, some of those differences were caused by Indians and others by the British! Indians being the first traders in Kampala spread the gospel of vocabularies like “now now” while words like “boot” and when to say sorry is a British thing. Uganda was a British colony and so the first English teachers here were from there!

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