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Delight and Things

a little peek at what delights me

I was chatting to a friend the other day who has a cousin who did a university exchange to the USA. Apparently, while there, she had been told numerous times that her English was really good, which clearly confused her, as she was from Australia, and grew up speaking English – so she’d hope her English was good. It kept happening and she became curious. She started asking people what they thought the official language of Australia was, and her two most common answers were Spanish or Portuguese. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some countries I’m ignorant about, definitely, but usually I’m pretty good with the English speaking ones. And also, for every person that assumed this Aussie spoke Spanish at home I’m sure there were four others that knew she spoke English. But still, it’s a bit shocking, seeing as Australia’s fairly big on the world stage.

So the seven and a half months I spent traveling prior to coming to Australia where spent in actual Spanish speaking countries. I was definitely daunted by this fact when I started my travels, but I used it as an opportunity to learn some of the language and eventually came to appreciate the laughter and good-natured teasing that came along with me learning it. At the beginning, I was hesitant to say much more than the basics, inserting lots of “por favor’s” and “gracias’s” and “lo siento’s” along the way. By the end of my time in Central and South America, I had read a novel in Spanish, and willingly started a conversation with any bus driver, market seller, or shopkeeper in order to use it and improve it.

I genuinely enjoyed the challenge of learning to speak a new language, but don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of frustrated moments, and I honestly found conversing was exhausting. Rather than having a casual chat, during every conversation, no matter how small, I had to be totally focused. I had to listen carefully (especially to those rapid fire Latin Americans!!), then translate what was said, process it, and form a response first in English in my head, then Spanish. And all in the time it takes to take a new breath. Then I had to say it right without stumbling over rolled r’s.

So I have to say I was excited when I got off the plane in Brisbane on July 15 to be able to take a mental break. Australia is not a Spanish speaking country. Traveling in this country was going to be easy compared to what I’d just done! But I didn’t really consider that for some people here, I still spoke a bit of a foreign language – English with an accent. Or “good” English, as perhaps some more ignorant people might say – although I’ve yet to come across any Australian who didn’t know Canada speaks English. In fact, half of them ask me whether or not I speak French as well. So kudos to Aussies for knowing the official languages of Canada!

So here I am in Australia, and yes, we are all speaking English, but sometimes when I say things, people either look at me like I’ve just spoken in Russian or they respond with something that is completely unrelated, simply having guessed at what came out of my mouth. For the most part, people understand me and simply giggle slightly when I say ‘tomayto’ not ‘tomaahto’, but there are a select few who need me to repeat every second sentence.

I’ve found that the one word that stumps most people is ‘water’. Like when I’m at a pub or a bar or even someone’s home and I ask for a glass of water. Not that crazy a request, but it generally results in mass confusion and I have to get my boyfriend to explain. So, fairly quickly, I learned how to pronounce water in Australian…. ‘wuaahdeh’. And it works like a charm – whenever I ask for it, I get exactly what I want, with no baffled looks and no repetition. As time goes on I continue to find words like this, or terms, that I have begun to say in an effort to be understood. (Some may say this is assimilation, and perhaps it is, but sometimes I hate being pegged as a foreigner and having to have a conversation about it when all I want to do is pay for something or order a coffee or post a letter!)

Generally speaking, Australians love to shorten words – some well known ones are mozzie (a mosquito), barbie (the barbeque), blowie (a blowfly), footy (AFL football), uni (university), sunnies (sunglasses)… the list goes on. Then there are some terms that are different, and although not elongated, just much longer. I laughed when I saw street signs saying “overtaking lane” vs the Canadian “passing lane” – the Canadian version is much shorter. And on a playground we went on the “slippery dip”, not the “slide” – really? what kid can say slippery dip more easily than slide? Then when it comes to money, they have no short term for their coins – they’re referred to as # cent pieces or # cent coins (or dollar coins, 2 dollar pieces, etc.) where as in Canada we have the penny, dime, nickel, quarter, loonie, and toonie (1c, 5c, 10c, 25c, $1, $2). Seems every language has their shortcuts.

And although we all speak English, our countries have different expressions and sayings. One of my favourites is ‘a bit puffed’ for ‘tired’, it sounds so much happier, somehow. I’ve adopted the expression “far out!” when I’m particularly exasperated by things (for example, I’ve stubbed my toe for the third time that day) in replace of the F word when I’m trying to watch my language. And I’ve pretty much replaced the boring old “lots” with the Aussie “heaps” – to the point where my sister tells me to come back to Canada whenever I tell her “I miss you heaps” or “we’ve got heaps of lettuce growing”. I also am highly addicted to using the word ‘reckon’ in place of ‘think’. For example, “I reckon we need to stop for petrol in the next town” or “What do you reckon, should we buy an ice cream while we’re there?” Then – there are some words that are the same that have different meanings. For example, the term “rubber” is commonly used to refer to an eraser… not so in Canada, where it refers to a condom (which is sometimes called a ‘franger’ in Aus). The first time I heard the term it was used casually in conversation by a child – “Mom, do you have a rubber I can use?” and I nearly choked on my drink.

Here’s a few other words/terms I had to learn (most easily sorted out by context):

chook – a chicken

snag – a hot dog sausage

stubby – beer in a glass bottle

whinge – complain

pissed – drunk / on the piss – drinking

“my shout” – i’ll pay

crook – to be sick

sand shoes – running shoes

bikkie/biscuit – cookie

sauce – ketchup

trackies – sweat pants

chewie – chewing gum

dunny – outhouse

smoko –  coffee break

icy pole – popsicle

yakka – hard work

in good nick – in good condition

stickybeak – a nosy person

flash – fancy

And if you’re interested in trying to decipher what it is that I say on a daily basis, take a look here and here. It was kind of interesting taking a look at terms that might confuse other people while I simply think they’re normal – made me realize that people might not know what I’m talking about when I start referring to hydro poles, toques, and washrooms. And if you’re keen to check out more Australianisms, take a look here and here.


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