Friday, August 08, 2008

Down Under Lingo, Part 1

I’m writing this and the next two posts from Australia, one for each week I’m here. Since this blog is about how we use language, I may as well write about my observations of Aussie Speak.

My impression of Australians now that I’ve walked the streets of both Sydney and Melbourne is no different from the impression I’ve gotten of them throughout my previous world travels. They’re a lot like Americans. They’re as friendly toward us as we are toward them. They eat burgers and pizza like we do, and live on take-out food. They’re beginning to struggle with the same obesity problems as Americans. They share a common history in warfare over the past century: World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Iraqi War. They have a shameful past, as we do; their treatment of Aboriginals roughly equates to our treatment of Native Americans. They’re big fans of American cinema—and extremely proud of their contributions to it (e.g., Peter Weir, Russell Crowe, and Cate Blanchett). They’re put off by snobs, as are most Americans. True, the average Sydney citizen is a lot more laid back than the New Yorker, but they love sports, albeit different ones (cricket and rugby). Their attitude toward vacation has got ours beat—they do take off more time. While they do have their own slang, I would not go so far as saying that they more resemble the English than the Americans. Playwright George Bernard Shaw is credited with proclaiming, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language,” but I definitely do not get that feeling here in Australia. So while our languages are a bit different, our attitudes are basically the same.

Nevertheless, an American might still emerge puzzled from a conversation with an Aussie. Here’s one I had with a hotel clerk while checking into my room:

Clerk: You’re American, eh?
Me: Yeah.
Clerk: See any roos [kangaroos] since you’ve been Down Under? [Australia]
Me: Excuse me?
Clerk: You’re not likely to see them as much as you’d like in Oz [Australia] unless you’re in the outback [back country]. Me oldies [parents] live there. Those roos come on their property all the time. Once one came running up on me so suddenly, I didn’t make it to the loo. [toilet]
Me: So is this your full-time job?
Clerk: For now. Beats being a dole-bludger [a career welfare recipient]
Me: So you like it?
Clerk: For now. But in a few weeks, I’ll be starting uni. [the university]
Me: May I have the keys to my room? I need to use the roo.
Clerk: (laughs) That’s loo, mate.

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