Tag Archives: language

Words I never realized were Australianisms until I left Australia

Advertising Tomato Sauce
“Advertising Tomato Sauce” by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m not surprised that some Italians have trouble with my accent — after all, Italian is all about the beautiful distinct vowels, and I’m not sure vowels even exist in Australian English. (Is a vague “uh” noise a vowel? Because in Australia, it is EVERY VOWEL.)

What throws me off is when I’m talking to another English speaker and they look at me oddly and I realize… pretty speccy (meaning, “quite impressive”) isn’t actually a standard English idiom.

So here’s a list of some other I-never-knew-they-were-Australianisms. With the disclaimer that probably a lot of these are also used in New Zealand… (But then, it’s my patriotic duty as an Australian to claim all of NZ’s best stuff as coming from Australia.)

  • Doona for duvet
  • Yummo! which is what you say to small children when trying to convince them they really do like the food they’ve been given
  • Op shop for charity shop/thrift store
  • Bottle shop is where you buy alcohol — what do other countries even call this? I’m guessing not “bottle shop” and definitely not the standard abbreviation, bottle-o.
  • Maccas for McDonalds
  • Gumboots for Wellington boots/rain boots
  • CBD for city centre/downtown
  • Arvo for afternoon — IN MY DEFENCE… I did realize it wasn’t standard English, but I had this idea that at least some British English dialects used it
  • Glad Wrap for clingfilm/Saran Wrap
  • Heaps for lots (“Thanks, that’s heaps” to the person dishing up your dinner)/very (“That’s heaps good”)
  • Classic! an exclamation meaning that something is particularly amusing
  • Tomato sauce for ketchup. To this day, I can never remember how to ask in Italian for tomato sauce on my burger because I know the Italian word is the same as the English but then I blank on what the word is in everyone else’s English
  • Bring-a-plate for bring-and-share/potluck
  • Rockmelon for cantaloupe
  • Singlet for… a sleeveless undershirt but I just remembered having a massive discussion recently about what those things are called in other Englishes and now I’m not brave enough to offer a translation
  • Texta for felt-tip pen
  • Milo is a chocolate malt drink. It isn’t actually an Australianism: it also exists in (I’ve been told) Ghana and Malaysia, but not Britain or America, oddly enough.
  • Cheers big ears… Honestly I’m not sure anyone really says this in Australia either
Fountain at Place des Jacobins, Lyon

Speaking French and buying wine in Lyon

I spent the last week in Lyon, France, for a work trip. To be honest, the most exciting part of it was that my hotel room was a lot quieter than my apartment (which is on 3 tram routes) and had airconditioning. “How was your conference?” people have asked me. “It was amazing,” I’ve replied. “I slept so well.”

In Lyon, I discovered that if you speak French to me, I will automatically reply with perfect Italian. Like, better, more fluent, Italian than I have ever used in Italy. I feel like I have discovered a brilliant language-learning strategy here. Pretty sure if I spent a month in France I could come back and write a novel in Italian.

The annoying thing is that I do have some French… At least, I studied French in highschool. To be fair, Australian highschool French is not much, and it was far and away my worst subject, but still. Well, and ok, by “worst subject”, I mean a language assistant once laughed at my accent. But still.

The thing is, in Italy if you’re not obviously fluent in Italian and you’re speaking to someone who does speak English, in my experience at least they’ll switch to English for you, without you asking. (Which is frustrating if you’re trying to practice!) Whereas in Lyon at least, people would often keep going in French, even with me. I went to a tea shop one afternoon and went through the stage of saying I wanted a black tea, and into the stage of indicating I quite liked Darjeeling tea even though I couldn’t remember any conjugations of plaisir, and was well into the oh my goodness when will we end this awful charade that the nonsense coming out of my mouth is French stage before I finally apologized for saying instead of oui for the 10th time because j’habite en Italie and the shop assistant finally offered to switch to English.

At least I got some French practice in.

Apart from the tea shop, my other French shopping experience was wine. In a foolishly generous mood I had texted a friend saying, “you want me to get you any food from France?”. I was thinking about chocolates or biscuits or a tin of pâté or something. The reply came back: “How about a bottle of wine, red or white, anything up to 20 euros and I’ll pay you back”.

I know nothing about French wine. (Actually, any wine.) So then I was asking every French person I know for wine recommendations, and not getting very far. Who knew I knew so many French beer drinkers? Eventually I triangulated what information I had and put myself at the mercy of the guy in the wine shop — who didn’t seem to understand when I said I was looking for a wine quite different to Piedmontese wines, possibly because he didn’t believe that Italian wine could really be called that.

But I wasn’t too worried, since I had a backup plan. A colleague had pointed out that the conference organizers were giving out a free bottle of wine to all attendees.
“So you can tell your friend you have a wine that was recommended by French people,” she said. “You can even say you saw other French people with this wine.”
“And I’ll say it cost me 19 euros,” I added. “Turn a profit.”

I really did buy a 20 euro bottle of wine, I swear.

The Alps from a plane window

Sometimes travel days are their own stories.

Hello from Baltimore!

I’ve been here since Saturday night, for a work junket conference, and I will write something about the place, I promise! But for now, I have enough to say just about the trip over here…

Let’s start with a moment of triumph that will make sense to everyone who’s ever had to get by in a language they’re less-than-fluent in. Normally, when I check in for a flight in Italy, what happens is I say “Buongiorno”, hand over my non-Italian passport, and the person working at the desk replies, “And what is your final destination today ma’am?” But on Saturday, something different happened, for the first time ever: the check-in guy asked if it were ok to speak Italian, I said, “ok”, and off we went.

That sounds like the dumbest moment of triumph when I write it down (and there’s no shortage of Italian people who have done business transactions in English while in Australia!) But considering how often I’ve encountered Italian customer service people who switch to English because of my Australian accent, I’m going to assume I said buongiorno really really well that day.

After that minor ego-boost of a start to the day, the flight looked like it might be a disaster. It was a day time transatlantic flight, I was surrounded by a group of early-20s guys going on a trip to Miami, and American Airlines seemed to think it was ok to put us all on a plane without any personal entertainment systems to keep these early-20s guys occupied. (90’s time warp!) The main screen was showing The Good Dinosaur, to which they said various things that helped me expand my vocabulary of Italian swear words.

But American Airlines had one secret weapon: a 60-ish Italian guy working in the cabin crew, who managed to charm every single Italian person on the flight. He had the kids giving him hi-5s, the adults chuckling at his commentary on the American food on board, and the guys around me absolutely entranced — by doing card tricks and cup-and-ball tricks and making napkins appear from their ears. I wish I had thought to get a photo of these guys, wide-eyed and leaning out of their seats to see which card would appear. It was brilliant.

Landing in Miami, passport control was barely-contained madness. The US now has automatic passport reading machines. Like the rest of the world! Except, unlike the rest of the world, everyone — US citizens, too — has to go through the machine and then line up to talk to a person like they’ve always had to. No-one I spoke to had an explanation of how this was going to make Immigration run faster.

Also slightly inexplicable: when I finally did get to an Immigration officer, he and I ended up having a great old chat about a documentary he’d watched about the physics of light and general relativity — never mind the hundreds of people waiting in line behind me. What was confusing though is that I’ve never ever encountered a friendly Immigration officer anywhere in the world, especially not in the US, which made me suspicious the whole thing was an attempt to poke holes in my claim I was going to a physics conference. Never in my life have I so nervously said, “Yeah, general relativity is really fascinating, isn’t it?”

William St, Perth

Australia: you fluent, then?

An observation that I present without comment (ok, I present it with amusement actually, because this cracks me up every time): everyone I talk to here, when I tell them that I live in Italy, replies with some variant on “Oh wow! You must be fluent in Italian then!”

Which I invariably respond to with awkward laughter because, well, fluent is not a word I’d use to describe my Italian usage. Unintentionally hilarious would be a better fit. Or maybe, vocabulary of a 4 year old.

The one exception  was when I went for a haircut yesterday, and the hairdresser said, “No way! You marry an Italian or something?” But she was herself from Naples so I think this falls under the heading of Italians Who Can’t Believe An Australian Would Move To Their Country, which should maybe be the subject of another post.

Home made candied peel

On language skills and dried fruit.

When I first moved to Italy, it used to really bother me that I couldn’t understand the conversations I was overhearing around me. What are all these people talking about? I’m missing out on so much!

And then I went back to Australia for Christmas, where I understood everything going on around me, and I realized the truth. Most of what you overhear, you don’t want to overhear. Those 2 weeks in Perth, I swear about 90% of conversations I overheard were either people making loud phone calls on the bus to reschedule their colonoscopies to work around their urologist’s appointment, or bros telling their gym buddies about the new Paleo-kins diet they were on where you’re only allowed to eat spinach, bacon and protein powder and maaate you just have to try the spinach-bacon protein shakes I make, I’ve been slamming them down, every meal, they’re amazing.

These days, my Italian language skills have improved and while I’m far from fluent, I’m starting to think the level I’m at is somehow optimal. I can usually understand what I hear if I actively listen, but I can still tune out conversations on the bus just by not paying attention — even if someone says something outrageous, I’m not going to pick it up unless I’m listening for it. And my spoken Italian is rubbish, but I’m starting to think that’s for the best… 3 stories to illustrate:

  1. The other night, I’m on the tram, it must have been around 11pm so it’s quiet but not empty. Everyone is minding their own business; two guys get on. One is very obviously drunk, the other is his loyal friend who is really hoping to get him home as quickly as possible, hopefully without too much drama. I make the mistake of listening in. The drunk guy is discussing his girlfriend, who’s dumped him earlier today. How could she?! But whatever, she was no good anyway, he was about to dump her. But how could she?! It’s all her fault anyway. But how could she duuuump meeee? At which point, I’m very glad that a) it was his stop and his friend made him get off, and b) I couldn’t think how to say “Maybe she dumped you because you’re a tedious drunk,” because that would have been mean and probably gotten me into a fistfight.
  2. A few weeks ago, I was cycling to work and pulled up behind another cyclist at a red light. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice something moving. It’s a spider. On seat of his trousers. I did consider trying to say “hey, there’s a spider on your butt!” but I decided against it because it didn’t look like a dangerous spider, and I could just imagine the follow up, “No, really, it’s a very dark coloured spider and you’re wearing light beige trousers and it’s moving around so it was visible in my peripheral vision, I really truly wasn’t checking out your butt while waiting at a red light, really…” So awkward! Not to mention, the only Italian I could think of was less like “butt” and more like “arse” and he’d probably just think I was yelling obscenities at him.
  3. Yesterday, I was at the supermarket buying grapes. This one’s a longer story, because on the face of it, there’s no good reason for me not to have asked one of the other customers, “do you reckon any of these are seedless?” But I was worried they might ask why I was after seedless grapes, and then we’d be in the realm of things that are hard to explain even in your mother tongue.

So the story with the grapes is this. Saturday, I was feeling especially crafty, so I decided to make my own mixed peel (candied peel, if you’re American). Turns out, it’s really easy, I used this recipe and it worked splendidly:

This might end up in a Christmas cake, if I don't eat it all first.

This might end up in a Christmas cake, if I don’t eat it all first.

In this case, success is followed by hubris. What else could I preserve? Glace cherries sprung to mind, but of course I’ve missed the cherry season by several months (next year!). Why not… raisins? So there I was, buying grapes, and refusing to ask for help finding seedless ones because I didn’t want to have to explain, “well I made my own mixed peel even though you can buy it, so now I’m thinking I’ll make my own raisins even though you can buy them and I swear I’m not that sort of person normally.” (It didn’t help that a lot of the how-to-dry-raisins instructions I found on the internet were on Mormon lifestyle blogs. I made sure to buy beer and coffee along with the grapes, to preserve my own self-image.)

Turns out the kilogram of grapes I bought were not seedless. But hubris is followed by madness, so I sat down with my kilo of grapes, and a knife, and I cut every single grape in half and pulled out the seeds. Every. Single. Grape. About halfway through, I checked in with myself:

Self, what will you do if this all fails and you don’t end up with anything resembling raisins and you’ve wasted all this effort?

Well, what else would I be doing on a Sunday night?

So now I have 2 trays of grape halves in a very low oven, maybe they will form something resembling raisins, or at least something close enough that I can soak them in booze and put them in a Christmas cake.

Ugly, but quite tasty.

Come on ugly grape ducklings, you can turn into beautiful raisin swans!

Maybe I should spend my Sunday nights on Italian language learning, instead.