There comes a time in every Afrikaans woman’s life when she is called ‘tannie‘ for the first time. Believe me, it is a horrifying and defining moment.


Although I love my mother-tongue, Afrikaans, I feel that it can do without the two words “tannie” and “oom”. For those of you who do not understand Afrikaans, “tannie” is an informal term for older women or it is a term for your aunt. “Oom” is just the masculine version of “tannie.”

The first time I was called ‘tannie’ I was fifteen – fifteen! I was in the toys section (I don’t exactly remember why), and a little girl asked me to hand her a doll that she couldn’t reach, and yes, she addressed me as ‘tannie’.

I can’t be mad

Although it can be seen as a bit low-class calling someone ‘tannie’ or ‘oom’ is actually a way to show respect in our culture. It’s a language thing – we don’t have the neutral ‘you’ like English, so you would rather call someone on their title, which can be ‘professor’, ‘doctor’, ‘sir/madam’, or said term.

So, bearing that in mind, I can’t really be that mad when someone addresses me as ‘tannie’. Also, I’m nearing thirty at an alarming rate, so I’ll have to get used to the ‘tannie’ term.

A story

My dad used to send me to the shop near our house to buy lottery tickets. He doesn’t buy it enough for it to be considered a problem, it’s just enough for him to lose some money, but I digress.

The other day I had to go to the shop near our house to buy lottery tickets for my dad (he doesn’t have a gambling problem, don’t worry). The guy behind the counter looked like he was still in school (probably was, or was supposed to be in school) and was very nice. While he was waiting for the tickets to be processed, he kindly asked: “Vir watter rugbyspan skree tannie?” (Tannie, which rugby team do you support?)

At this point, I was probably twenty-one or thereabout, so I looked behind me and there was no ‘tannie’ there. That’s when I realized this guy was talking to me. For a moment I wanted to say “Dude, I’m twenty-one; I’m not your tannie!” I didn’t say that; jeez, the guy was just trying to make conversation. Instead, I said, “This ‘tannie’ doesn’t watch rugby.”

It got me thinking; at what point in your life do you start feeling old? Is it when you get married, strike thirty, have kids, or when that first grey hair appears?

For me, I feel very old when my body is sore and I can’t sit down without making some kind of sound, like “Ouch, my back!” (Karate will do that to you.)

Older and wiser, I guess.



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