Divided by a common language; or, being an Australian in the US

by Anna Blanch on July 14, 2009

There are times when i feel like i’m the party trick, or when people find me impossible to understand, or just exotic, or something to laugh at! It isn’t just the “way” I talk it is often what i say… (when this comes from my friends it is amusing, when it comes from complete stranges, not so much!).

Marks instead of Grades
Post instead of Mail
Mobile instead of Cell
Footpath instead of Pavement
Uni instead of College
College instead of Dorm
Manual instead of Stick

I don’t know how many times i’ve jokingly called somone a “whinger” or a “sook” only to have to pull out a dictionary to convince them that it is an actual word.

After living here for two years my own colloquialisms sound a little foreign to me – I wouldn’t use “chips” (meaning fries) here because they have “fries” and not “chips.” I rarely think to say “mobile” either, because here you have a “cell.” At first i rejected the moulding and changing of my language feeling like it was a direct affront to my identity, but slowly i realised that it was more important to be understood and sometimes that means i have to adjust. It is like i can now compartmentalise in my brain and recognise that i am fundamentally speaking a different dialect. Which also means that when I am in Australia I don’t find myself using the Texan colloquialisms – the context is the thing, my friends.

Libby Gruner wrote an insightful post about her time teaching in Oxford this summer. It made me smile – because many of my experiences have been similar here in the US (except, completely opposite). She marvels at the different pronunciation of Magdalen and Cherwell…let me tell you, it took some getting used to to be able to pronounce Mexia (for those outside of Texas it is pronounced Ma-hay-a) and Palestine (steen, not sty-en).

This summer i had the distinct privilege of taking a German reading class (in Texas) with a Scottish-born professor. Her insight into the differences in our speech patterns and dialect helped this brain of mine to adjust to a new language. It was remarkable to acknowledge that even the way i may sounds in my mouth is different – hence the accent.

One of the things that i will need to prepare myself for in advance of Scotland is a different set of reactions to my accent. Here in Texas it is roundly loved – If i had a nice tall glass of ice tea for every time someone told me they liked my accent, or to keep talking, i would be drowning in the horrid stuff.
Tangent – in that regard i will never be Texan, I like my Tea hot, and i don’t like ice in every beverage (and i don’t think things that don’t contain a nip of the good stuff actually deserve to be called beverages…. /end Tangent

In St Andrews there are not many Australians, so in that regard i will still be somewhat of an oddity, but I’m a member of the Commonwealth and there are Australians everywhere in the UK ….. and thus not so exotic! I do look look forward to the favour of writing in the all the colour of my own language again….
I’m sure there will still be moments where i see the person across from me have a curtain of confusion fall across their face as i speak….when i have to question what exactly it is that i have said that has confused them. Aah… the joys of speaking the same language and not understanding each other at all.
UPDATE:
My friend NL sent me this message:
Loved the blog…but it’s y’all in singular and “all y’all” in plural. Ha… it is a definite counterpoint to my experience as a Texas in Australia for 3 years. Interestingly enough, I still find myself using some Aussie terms today… car park, sunnies, and brekkie come to mind. We shall miss your lovely ways with a phrase my friend.

I shall miss you too….But NL reminded me of the way we Aussies love to shorten everything! Brekkie, sunnies, swimmers, arvo….

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  • Terri

    Too funny, but here in the US we can be divided by the so-called common language going from state to state. And of course it works the same way for Americans traveling to the Land Down Under. i had an acquaintance in high school that was a foreign exchange student to Australia. She regaled a group of us with her embarrassing tale of being taken to dinner on her arrival and making the terrible faux pas of asking for a napkin, which caused her tablemates to gasp in horror. Of course, she had no way of knowing that this innocent word for something to wipe your face with after eating actually refers to a feminine hygiene product in Australia. Yikes. Language is a minefield.

  • http://funsuckerchronicles.blogspot.com/ The Funsucker

    I can totally relate except that I was a Californian living in Texas. I'm telling you they have a language all their own! My hubby is from Texas and some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth barely passes for English!

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  • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree
  • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree

    Thanks for dropping by! They really do don't they! I learned to enjoy Texas immensely and to appreciate their language and their ways, but i totally understand where you are coming from. I guess we all just have to laugh a little! do you still live there?
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