20 quirky things Batswana do that make us quintessentially Batswana

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1. Is it?

“Is it” is widely used as a universal question tag. You’ll very seldom hear people using questions tags like – Does it? Does he? Doesn’t he? Don’t we? Do we? etc. It’s all about “is it?” which has somehow become a one-size-fits-all question tag. For instance;

I really like this dress! — Is it?
I’m going to Madikwe this weekend. — Is it?
I would like a glass of water. — Is it?

Ok, maybe there’s an element of exaggeration in there, but that’s basically the gist of it.


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2. Sorry!

It seems we’re a very apologetic nation, and will even apologise for things that are in no way, shape or form our fault. For instance, if someone falls and hurts themselves; the first thing a lot of Batswana will say is sorry (which sounds more like soriii!).


3. Cold or Flu?

Nobody has a cold in Botswana. Most people talk of being down with the flu! In fact, you’ll very seldom hear anyone say they have a cold.


4. Stay or Live?

You’ll almost never hear anyone saying they live somewhere! Everyone stays somewhere, regardless of the length of their stay. It doesn’t matter that they’ve only ever lived where they live, it’s always “I stay at…”.


5. Driving Lingo

In the event satellite navigation manufacturers plan to introduce their devises to Botswana, or you are new to driving in Botswana and are given directions, here are a couple of things worth knowing.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the UK the circular junction in the road, where traffic travels in one direction around a central island is called a “roundabout”. In Botswana we refer to them as “circles”. If you hear Batswana speaking of robots, they’re referring to traffic lights.


6. Batswana’s love of acronyms

Batswana have a huge affinity for acronyms. You’ll observe that a lot of companies are very rarely referred to by their full names. Sometimes Batswana also shorten or re-name places and people. For instance;

Botswana Telecommunications Corporation = BTC
Botswana Power Corporation = BPC
Botswana National Development Bank = NDB
First National Bank = FNB
University of Botswana = UB
Botswana Bureau of Standards = BOBS
Botswana Training Authority = BOTA
Botswana 50th Anniversary = BOT50 (although everyone pronounced it Bots50)

Limkokwing University = Limko
The name “Mpho” becomes “Posta”
People called Tshepo are sometimes referred to as “Trust” (English for Tshepo)

Even the Vice President, Hon. Mokgweetsi Masisi is often affectionately referred to as “Sisi Boy”.


7. Companies Names

A lot of establishments use “Botswana” somewhere in their name. Many of these companies only operate within Botswana, but just to make it abundantly clear it’s a business in Botswana, Botswana just has to be included in the name. If you want to be easily found in the telephone directory, you might want to have a company name that doesn’t start with the letter B.

You will also find company names can be a twist on certain words. Swana will be taken from Botswana – i.e. Debswana. In the north, popular words such as Okavango and Delta will be modified.


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8. Botswana is a Toyota country

Maybe because it’s widely known to be more affordable, the parts are easy to source locally and Toyota models are cheaper to run than most cars. Only now have Batswana started buying alternatives such as Jeeps, Land Rovers, Ford, etc. In any case, there are still a lot of white cars.


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9. Do not criticise, attack or complain about Botswana

Much like Brits with the UK; many Batswana have a love-hate relationship with Botswana, and will regularly moan and criticise their country and countrymen. BUT the minute a ‘outsider’ makes similar observations; many Batswana will not tolerate it. We know Botswana’s faults, and we love it warts and all, so for someone who isn’t Motswana to moan and hold them up against the glare of the sun is TABOO.

You therefore have to gauge your audience and tread very, very carefully or you will receive the “If it’s so bad, what are you doing here? Go back to where you came from?” comments or something along those lines.

The subject that will almost definitely trigger a negative response is language. If there’s a discussion thread on social media and someone has commented in Setswana, asking them to comment in English can garner a negative response. To be fair, many Batswana speak excellent English and yet still choose to comment in Setswana. However, some Batswana are not confident with their English and people can get a little precious about Setswana, which isn’t dissimilar to Brits with English.


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10. We love hugs

Yes, Batswana are big huggers. It’s not unusual to meet someone for the first time and the introduction will be followed by a hug!


11. Batswana can be tactile

We don’t shy away from touching others in the same way as some other cultures, especially in the West. By touching I don’t mean being slimy or having ‘grabby, wandering hands’; it’s more like being ready with the hugs, a little touch on the knee or slapping hands during a hearty laugh. In some cultures this may be viewed as being ‘flirty’ or maybe even being over familiar, but in Botswana it’s usually very innocent.


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12. There’s no hurry in Africa, especially in Botswana

There’s no sense of urgency in Botswana and going into places where you are likely to find long queues (bank, supermarket, post office) can be extremely frustrating. While the queues grow longer and longer, the assistants take their sweet time and tend to be very laboured in their actions. While this is slowly improving, it is still a problem in most industries.

Likewise, not many people are sticklers for time. If you go to an event set for 2pm, don’t be surprised if it starts closer to say 4pm! The good thing is that this is very rare with official events.


13. Customer Service can leave a lot to be desired

I see so many flashes of pure brilliance as far as customer service delivery in Botswana is concerned, that it makes my heart smile. Where customer service is the norm in the developed world, it’s still only a fledgling sector in Botswana. I put the blame squarely at the door of business owners, who I strongly believe do not place importance on customer service training.

I often observe with despair, sullen customer service agents, the lack of interest, the obvious disenchantment (no doubt due to their poor wages – a story for another day), no attempt at engaging the customer, no offer of a smile and outright rudeness in some instances, to name but a few.

A lot of companies also don’t seem to recognise the importance of communication and customer retention. Customers are often left in the dark and unfairly find themselves having to chase unresponsive service providers. In recent years however, the tide has started to turn in the consumer’s favour.

With advances in modern technology for once unhappy customers will often take to the Botswana Facebook Page “Name & Shame”, to name and shame those guilty of shoddy service. Fortunately, this is going some way to improving service provision in Botswana.

More and more companies seem to be doing something to enhance the customer experience because I’m starting to see it and hear about other people’s positive experiences in Botswana. In Gaborone, Spar (Riverwalk Mall), Rail Park Mall, Portugalia Restaurant (Game City), President Hotel (Main Mall), Mug & Bean (Riverwalk Mall), Simply Asia (Riverwalk Mall), Nandos and Bull & Bush are some of the places that give me hope for excellent service delivery in Botswana.


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14. Batswana Hate the Cold

We are always moaning about the weather; when it’s summer, we want the winter, and when it’s the winter we want the summer. But overall, I think Batswana in general cope better with hot weather than cold weather. If you wake up to cloudy weather, you’ll see a lot of Batswana warmly wrapped up in their winter woolies, even knowing that it’s likely to become scorching hot as the day progresses! A bit like the shorts and t-shirts coming out in good ol’ Blighty at the slightest hint of sun 😉


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15. Batswana are meat lovers

We love meat and as such love BBQs, known in this neck of the woods as a braai. To most Batswana, a meal is not complete without meat. We particularly love our very own Botswana beef and I have to say, it is the best beef I have ever tasted… but I know, I’m biased.


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16. Batswana are football lovers

We love football more than any other sport, specifically Batswana men. Groups of men can often be seen hanging around, especially in the Main Mall in Gaborone, discussing football. The national football team, The Zebras, never gets far in any competition, but we live in hope and never give up the dream of some day making it big.

The most popular teams supported in Botswana are – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.


17. Batswana can be blunt and don’t hold back!

Women can often be heard chiding each over excessive weight gain or a hairstyle that’s long lost its lustre; where women from different walks of life may end up in fisticuffs over such a slight. It might smart, but Batswana know not to object too much. They know their friends might lurch on and rib them mercilessly and incessantly, if they know they are bothered by something they said. People mostly learn to take it on the chin and laugh along with everybody else.


18. Batswana are largely passive

Batswana can, with all due respect, be docile and not as vocal or confrontational as their South African cousins over the border. Batswana would rather have a hearty moan and debate in private rather than protesting loudly and publicly for fear of the rocking the boat. So people will often resign themselves to the status quo rather than coming out with their protestation lest they are viewed as rubble-rousers.


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19. Batswana love to party

Partying is like a national pastime and we will party with the best of them. Batswana can raise the roof until the sun rises, or even over the course of a few days, especially over the festive season. Batswana can also drink and will drink most under the table! They also love to dance, men and women alike. The good thing is Batswana are jovial and fun; they don’t get violent and ruin the fun. Although sometimes they will party long and hard, even if it means keeping the neighbours up… but they won’t mind if you join the fun 😉


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20. Batswana are very rarely for twisting

If they have a strong feeling about something, they dig their heels in. So they have a penchant for debating amongst themselves to passionately put their point across, whether substantiated or not.


What are some of the things that you feel define Batswana that YourBotswana has left out? Please feel free to share your views with us.

1 year ago

56 Comments

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  11. Wow I just love how spot on you are about the things that define Batswana. Another is “go tla siama” as in “all shall be well”.
    This is a response you get whenever you share any dire news with friends or in most instances a total stranger will pour out their life’s troubles to you…and all you can say is .. ” go tla siama”!

  12. Haha absolutely loved reading this!! Another one is how everyone puts their 2cents when in a “combi” the discussions are epic and hilarious and EVERYONE has something to say hahahaha

  13. 1. When a guy may like a girl, he might offer to “walk her halfway”

    2. Often times, people are comfortable picking their nose in public. If you’ve sat through a government meeting, you will definitely witness a few “pickers” in action. If you’re lucky, you may also get to hear the sound of throat hacking/scratching.

    3. Adding negatives into sentences.
    I.e. “Are you NOT cold? Instead of “are you cold?” ; “are you NOT hungry? Instead of “are you hungry?”

    4. Demands versus asking.
    I.e. Mpha Madi. Give me your X . Buy for me this.

    5. General lack of empathy and compassion for animals compared to western countries. Dogs, cats, goats, donkey, etc. are commonly abused. Cows are generally treated the best.

  14. You forgot a couple:

    Now, now. Used to describe something that might happen in the next hour to one week. As opposed to now, which could represent from tomorrow to infinity.

    Kwa: Maun is kwa from Gaborone, but is also kwa from Chobe.

    Hitch-hiking: The preferred method of travel for most Peace Corps, Don’t stick your thumb out, instead hold your arm out, palm down, and move it up and down.

    Hand shaking: Took me a year to not grasp the other persons arm with my free hand and expecting the same in return.

    Montana Mike RPCV 89-91

  15. Wow! I just loved reading this. 😊 You paint a beautiful picture of Botswana and si graciously point out flaws that need to be worked on. Big ups!
    My favorite thing about Botswana is how we love to greet each other. Even perfect strangers. Which some can confuse for flirting or seeking an opportunity to beg /ask for money.
    2.Batswana don’t need to be invited to your wedding,party or funeral. We are a huge family 😊
    And also very big on gate crushing.
    3. We pay Bogadi….A lot of it. Sometimes people shy away from marrying because of that. But somehow it unites two different families and cultures. Very much a huge part of us.

  16. “Dumelang” is one HUGE deal… Batswana love to exange greetings. I made a mistake 2 weeks ago by walking past a couple of people standing outside their car by phase 2…Ijooo…the guy penalised me for it, I had to apilogize. I could hear him complain about it 50m away.

  17. This was a lovely read, and quite true too. What I would have also included (under ‘driving lingo’) is how we don’t use street names to give directions, even though our streets actually have names (hahahaha). We’d rather say, ‘take 1st left then 2nd right, go over the hump and turn left by the red tuckshop. Go straight til you see a truck parked on your left- then take immediate left. You’ll see a big tree- call when you are by that tree, I’ll come out’. Ok, to be fair, we may include the plot number too.

  18. please exscuse typos coz just banged this out fast.

    Having lived in UK and States.. everything is accurate… Unfortunately it makes dating out of ones race tricky.
    1. Obsession with witchcraft even upon having a nightmare…
    2. Increase in theft and its sometimes hard to trust friends… especially when they go years without paying back. So if you help a friend out dont do it expecting money back in a lump some.ha ha
    3, Laughter is a lot of peoples medicine.
    4.Sarcasm too.
    5. 1 Motswana ..many Batswana who speak Setswana. Not Botswanians. especially for non Batswana who have lived in the country for long and cannot be bothered to grasp this basic.
    6. Education is liked. Results get posted on walls…yes.Shame is a motivation to try to do well in school. Our government does a good job with scholarships both nationally and internationally.
    7. Babies are a mark of honor. You will be pressured to have a baby sooner than later.
    8. Not everything stems from bad intentions. People are usually very good to one another.
    9. Staff at most of the above mentioned places are very good to customers whom they trust or simply like..mood depending..
    10. There are good people and bad people. The girls who know they are pretty and overuse their blessings..there are plenty here..are called the b word for example. Gossip is unstoppable. Anybody can smile in your face and talk behind your back… A lot of people are linked through mutual friends due to the small population.
    11. Newspapers will make u smh if u are seeking real good news.Mostly tabloid material.
    12.People have started learning how to sue each other. lol
    13.People dont support local musicians as much as they should.
    14. People smile with their eyes too..Most smiles are genuine here.
    15. People broke out of prison a few days ago.
    16. Batswana like to assist due to genuine good will..not when they suspect reciprocation, foul play or bad intentions.
    17. Capital punishment is not going anywhere..murders equals hanging despite all efforts by certain organisations.
    18. Few people have had the opportunity to visit our tourist attractions due to overpricing…supply and demand things. A pound or a dollar is stronger ..
    19.There are about 3 to 4 cattle per capita. I once had our beef in a five star restaurant just outside London. Its similar to beef from Argentina. Farming is big here.
    20. Nandos and Senn food products are liked. ,,Along with Texan corned beef from Namibia. Ultramel custard from SA..Robertsons spices and stock cubes. |Partyin in SA..Mauritius,Lesotho,Yim and Mozambique is liked by many.
    21. People love Bushiri and TB Joshua along with gospel, hip hop and house music.

    1. Wow Sadi, thank you for taking the time to put together such a long response. I’m not sure about some of them being Botswana-isms, but thanks none-the-less.

  19. I’m very pleased that Bua Space has been helping companies improve their service levels. I think it’ll (slowly!) force them to think more about their customers!

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