A little while back my parents were living in Amsterdam. I was pretty awestruck by the idea of moving to a country where you don’t speak the language- and Dutch isn’t too straight forward to learn. I figured I wouldn’t have to worry about as much of that moving to Australia- after all, it’s all English. Except that it’s not, quite.
I’ve been conscious, particularly over the last few days, that people either don’t understand the words I’m using (which to be fair sometimes happens in the UK) or they don’t understand the way I’m saying it. And the same is the case in reverse. The bus announcements really threw me off to begin with- I could read the names of the roads that were listed on the screen but they didn’t seem to correspond with the sounds the announcer was making. Which was all the more baffling because ostensibly we speak the same language. The pronunciations are so different. For example read out loud: ‘Elouera’ (a local road name). I was reading it as ‘ell-oo-air-ah’. But actually its pronounced ‘eh-lowe-rah’. Bourke street is pronounced Burke street. Girrahween sounds more like ‘Girra-win’ (I was merrily asking for ‘gee-rah-ween’).
At work, where you want to look professional and normal (as much as that is possible for me) I’ve had to ask what a duty warden is (its a fire drill warden). I wanted a ‘book chair’ which turns out to be a ‘document holder’ (which to be honest makes perfect sense and now I feel like a wally- which is probably a super rude word here or something!).People here also shorten EVERY word that they possibly can. I’ve just about stopped shuddering at the sight of ‘eggs benny’ and ‘avo’ on menus (eggs benedict and avocado). And am getting accustomed to seeing colleagues asking to move meetings to ‘this arvo’ (this afternoon). However, I was baffled to hear news presenters on the TV referring to the commissioner as ‘the comish’! The COMISH- like s/he’s our buddy! I have no doubt the prime minister is the ‘primie’, the queen is probably ‘her madge’… argh! It just feels so odd (and I’m pretty used to that), and I am aware that I sound like a pretentious twonk saying all this- but its that strange sense of dislocation that comes from thinking you understand and can communicate and finding that either what you are saying cannot be understood/is misunderstood or you cannot, for the life of you, understand what the hell the other person is saying- despite the fact it is ALL English.
My friends form home very kindly bought me a guide to Aussie English and culture and it is clear from these experiences that I need to go back to the basics. Although, after several weeks of getting the bus I am now sorted with ‘How’re you going?’ as a greeting! #babysteps