Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Do you speak English, mate?

It's been almost a year since I moved to Australia, but I'm still being surprised almost every week by some cute Australian abbreviation for the long and boring English word. A few examples:
a postie - postman
a tradie - tradesman
a bikie - a member of a motorcycle gang
the ambos - ambulance personnel
a kindy - kindergarten
the crims - criminals
a journo - journalist
a doco - documentary
a sickie - sick leave
a fisho - seafood shop
a rego - car registration
a compo - compensation
a uni - university
a footie - football game
a garbo - garbage man - in our city, the garbage truck is operated by one man who drives the truck and picks up garbage using a remote arm - very XXI century
a schoolie - student on a final school break after graduating from high school
a truckie - truck driver
a ute - pick-up truck, for some strange reason it is cool to have one with low suspension, aluminium rims, two exhaust pipes, and dark windows.... are they prized by crims for easy loot loading?

Some other differences between everyday Australian and American English that may trip you out:
to chuck out - throw away
a rubbish bin - waste basket
a cash out - cash back
a bashing - beating
the thongs - flip-flops (for American readers: thongs are called g-strings in Oz, and they may draw a blank if you mention flip-flops)
relief teacher - substitute teacher
super - 401k
a council - town or county government

All over the town you can see signs that may make most American visitors smile:
Dick Smith - a chain of electronics shops.
LJ Hooker - a chain of real estate agents.

The word "mate" is used where "man" or "sir" would be used in the States.
The word "cheers" is used where "thanks" or "bye" would be used in the States.
The "shopping mall" is more commonly known as "shopping centre".

Australians write "kind regards" in e-mails where Americans would put "best regards".
I haven't heard anyone say bullsh#t, but sh#t is heard quite often.
I almost never hear "bless you" when someone sneezes, and almost never hear politicians referring to God. It may be related to the low importance of religion in general. Australian Roman Catholic Churches, new or old, are miniatures of their American counterparts.

The pronunciation may be peculiar : Super is often pronounced and written as "supa", doctor is often pronounced "docta". Strangely, I did not see a single "nite" or hear "wanna", "gonna", "gotta" or "ain't".

Some other general (subjective, subject to change, and not to be taken dead serious) observations:

Australians are very punctual and it's contagious as demonstrated by the fact that most Poles living in Australia tend to be punctual. That doesn't mean that things get done quickly. Although new laws are introduced very swiftly compared to the US.

Bureaucracy is alive and well. Things often get done slowly and costly, maybe after a number of failed attempts, but surely - they DO get done. Australians love filling forms. They must do. How else to explain these hundreds of pages that I had to go through to rent a house, open a bank account, register with Centrelink, buy a car, sign up the child for school, keep the child at school, and last but not least do taxes? On the other hand, medical forms are minuscule in Australia compared to the US.

Australia surprises me sometimes by giving for free things I expect to pay for elsewhere, and for paying for things I expect to be free. For example, my child went with the school choir to sing in a shopping centre. In the States, the school would get some donation from the shopping centre for that. In Australia, parents paid for the bus. Children and parents at my daughter's elementary school must buy tickets to go to the official end of school year event. On the other hand there are great free libraries with CDs, DVDs, computer games, and books and movies in foreign languages. At work, I have to buy and wear company polo shirts to come to office in jeans, but I get free breakfast everyday, and beer, wine, and snacks every Friday afternoon. There are free council events including movies in the park and various classes. You are never too far away from a free public park with playgrounds, toilets, and barbecues.

Australians love challenge and a chance to beat the odds. Sailing solo around the world? An Australian girl can do it. Getting in and out of the parking garage without a scratch? The designers and builders put a lot of effort into making the spaces and corners as tight as possible. Most Australians pass, the paint and grooves on the concrete walls are the fault of the tourists, probably Americans. Parking in your own garage? Again, the designers and builders made sure that in many homes you need a 4 wheel drive to get up the driveway, and then when you get to the top you either stop in place or turn 90 degrees to park. Trying to get on the motorway? You turned right to go right or you went straight to go straight? Wrong decision mate, you will have at least 3 kilometres to rethink that and try your luck at getting back on the motorway in the right direction.

Many Australians speak softly. In my first work meeting in Australia I was confused for a while, because I didn't notice that it started. The person chairing the meeting spoke so quietly that I thought it was a private conversation.

Australians love America, except those who don't. But most do. I think. Julia likes Barack very much.

Australians make great mainstream TV shows and movies about life (that includes sex): Satisfaction, The Slap, and about controversial subjects: Go Back to Where You Came From.

Australians have high quality public radio and television without irritating fund-raising drives.

Australians have a sense of humour. The public TV made a comedy about the current prime minister: At Home With Julia.

On a more serious note. I noticed that Australians are able to take with a smile various misfortunes: floods, fires, being robed, being demoted, being bitten by a jelly fish, spraining an ankle, long commute, expensive living, low quality housing and so on.

The sight of multiple families having a picnic, preparing a hot meal on a barbie in a park, sometimes right by the beach is a very Australian scene for me. Another is people, not just children, sometimes walking barefoot in shopping centres or in the city, but you can see that in New Zealand too, so what do I know?

Cheers mate!

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