Cultural Moments

We have friends who hail from a variety of countries around the world. More and more I’ve been struck by the differences in our cultures, despite sharing the same first language – English. Even more, I’ve been struck by how often we Australians have done incomprehensible things to English language, which must make it almost impossible to understand us at times.

Years ago, I was part of a group escorting a group of US TV program makers in a remote area. Our senses of humour were quite disparate. It took a few days for us all to ‘connect’ properly. Once we began communicating we learnt a few things.

Apparently Australians speak very quickly, (despite what we might think), and we were insulting each other so frequently that our visitors were a bit concerned. After a few chats, they realised that all was not as it seemed. We were insulting each other because we liked each other. This is not done in all English speaking cultures.

My sister lives in the UK. A while back she was relating a story about her job at the local council. She’d been dealing with an issue on the phone, when the caller paused midstream and said to her “Are you from the Antipodes dear?” My sister paused briefly and then replied. “If you mean Australia, well, then, yes I am.” Her accent had given her away. (Just a note: We Australians do not refer to ourselves as being ‘from the Antipodes’- ever.) We all got the giggles when she told us.

A few years ago, a friend from New Zealand was telling me she’d walked into a deli (delicatessen – a place where all kinds of food is sold) and asked for a ‘pottle’ of chips. The service person gave her a completely blank look and it took some time to explain that a pottle of chips is what we’d call a ‘bucket of chips.’

I was chatting with a Romanian friend years ago. Someone had said “He’s got kangaroos in his top paddock,” to her, and she was wondering what they’d meant. After a friend (who incidentally hailed from Finland but had been in Australia for years) and I explained that it meant that they were implying that the person was a bit crazy, she laughed and said “In Romania, we say ‘bubbles in the head.'” My friend and I then sat down and created a dictionary of Australian slang for our Romanian friend. We discovered that most of our colloquialisms seem to relate to ‘states of mind’ or bodily functions.

It’s not surprising that we have issues communicating at times. Or times when our simplest statements don’t make sense to those from other cultures, causing inadvertent offense. Even our spellings of the same words can be different. I can usually tell where an author comes from by their spellings of different words, or by the way they write their numbers. (One hundred and one vs One hundred one.)

We’re comfortable with the way our culture uses language, but often uncomfortable with the way a different culture uses it. We can misunderstand points of view, or alienate each other accidentally as a result. It’s a tricky road to walk, however it’s enriching, when we take the time to appreciate ‘the local lingo’ and the place where the other person is coming from.

As an Australian who married an ex-New Zealander (he’s had the operation) I have a bit of a unique perspective, so I’ll leave you with this link on How to Speak New Zuland. which is all about accent 🙂


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