So you have finally been invited to a braai. Well done integrating yourself with the locals. If you have heard the word bantered around so much that you are sure there is more significance to a braai than just a meal off the grill, then know you are absolutely correct. There is a whole world and lifestyle behind the concept of a braai. Best you know what it is before you rock up and hear, "shame, poor guy just didn't know..."
What To Bring
Besides yourself and whoever else you can drag along to act as your defense team, you need to bring whatever you are drinking. This is supposed to be beer, of course. Good choices are Castle, Black Label or Windhoek. You are not supposed to bring less than a six-pack, but two six-packs is even better because inevitably, some poor soul is going to only bring six and end up drinking eight. You can also bring whiskey, but only if you plan on leaving the rest of the bottle behind when you leave. Girls are allowed to have girly drinks, preferably ones that match their dress or toenails, but this is not an option for men. You are supposed to drink, because it will make your hosts feel more comfortable. If you insist that you that you won't drive drunk, they will tell you that you can stay. Or they will tell you your car can stay and you can get a cab.
You must also bring meat for the braai. Under no circumstances should this ever include hot dogs or hamburgers. It doesn't matter if your father was a butcher and you are using his special hamburger recipe. People will point and laugh. Actually, South Africans are more polite than that; they will just laugh. Meat that you are allowed to bring includes:
- Boerewors. It doesn't make any difference if it comes from the butcher or the Spar. And you should always pick up the corresponding rolls (don't say buns).
- Steak. These should be marinated beforehand or at the latest, when you arrive.
- Pork Ribs. This is a good option if you know there will be children around.
- Flattened Chicken (or pieces thereof). But you can only include this if you are not going to arrive late.
- You can also bring lamb chops, pork chops, espetadas and other skewered meats, but it is best to stick to the basics until you get the hang of it.
Your host may have also asked you to bring a salad. This could include, but is not limited to green salads, potato salads, pasta salads, beetroot salads, or carrot salads. The list goes on. Bring enough for six to eight people most. People only eat the salads to be polite anyhow.
What To Wear
Guys should wear shorts and t-shirt in summer and jeans with a jersey (sweater) in winter. Only flip-flops or takkies (tennis shoes) are acceptable footwear. If it is very hot, you can expect to walk around barefoot or even have a swim.
Ladies should wear basically the same, expect sun/tennis dresses are also acceptable. These must be worn with flat sandals however as no one in their right mind would wear heels to a braai.
If the braai is also the rugby-watching venue, then it is best to wear your team's shirt. If you don't have a team, you have to support the host's team. Make secret calls to other Americans who have been in South Africa longer to find out who you are supposed to support and what colours you are allowed to wear. If worse comes to worse, you can always wear the Springbok colours (green and yellow, in case you didn't know). In fact, if you don't own a South African rugby or soccer shirt, it is best if you run out and get one now.
When To Arrive
If your host invited you for 2:00 pm, then it is acceptable to arrive anywhere between 2:3o and 4:00pm. You are only going to eat at 5:00pm at the earliest anyhow. Whatever you do, don't arrive at or before 2:00pm because if your host wanted you there then, he would have told you to arrive at 12:00pm. That, by the way is the time given to the people who generally arrive 4 hours late. Not everyone can arrive late though because the host is unable to light the braai by himself. This can only happen one beer after the first guest arrives.
What Is Expected of You
When you arrive, you need to put your beers in the fridge. You offer a beer to the host and then offer your help with anything. Usually this will involve carrying something outside. It could be a bag of chips, or an ashtray or a bag of ice for the more convenient beverage storage outside. If you have meat that needs to be marinated, it is supposed to happen now. Then greet anyone already there, including all dogs, cats and children that come to say hello.
Once you have completed the carrying and greeting tasks, your job is to stand around and drink beers, occasionally snacking on chips. You are only supposed to sit if your host seems to want to. Unless you are a girl. Then you can sit when you like because your job was making the salad and painting your toenails to match your drink.
It is up to the host to decide when the braai is lit and to handle the braai. If you are a guy, you are supposed to watch your host working. If you are a girl, then you need to make excuses to go to the kitchen or bathroom so that the guys can tell you to bring a beer for them on the way back. You can also help by bringing salads to the table just as the meat is coming off the braai.
This entire experience should last from roughly 2:30pm until nearly 7:30 or 8:00pm. Your sole occupation will be slowly preparing food and swiftly getting drunk and talking about how terrible the government is, how terrible the neighbouring governments are, any upcoming holidays in the bush or to the coast and rugby. Unless there is a game on, then the conversation goes in reverse.
When To Leave
You can't consider leaving until everyone has finished at least one beer after the meal. To leave any earlier would just be rude. After that people will slowly trickle out. Because this is your first braai, you should leave when the first person starts making the rumblings to do so. That is simply because everyone else will need time to ask the host who you are. Of course if you weren't smart enough to bring light beers or even a spare stash of non-alcoholic ones, then you need to leave when your cab arrives. This is always a better idea than driving home. Unless you really want to have a jail story to tell at the next braai. And if you have any luck, as you get home and reflect on your first braai, its only Saturday night.
By the way, South Africans say "wee-ber" instead of "web-ber". Don't point it out, but go ahead and laugh in your head. All American expats do.