Shit we all say

I recently wrote two complementary posts on Shit Londoners Say and Shit Kiwis Say. If you think I’m just blaspheming gratuitously, you should go here and then come back, but I will probably still have a potty mouth on your return. While writing both these posts, I kept almost sliding into ranty digression (you all know by now that’s how I roll), but since they were supposed to be light and listy, I’ve reserved that for a whole fresh bout of griping here and now, yippee!!

I have always found the little idiosyncrasies of local language fascinating, especially after studying other languages, and ever more so in observing our increasingly integrated and connected world. Through the marvels of technology, we supposedly hear and know all about each other before we’ve ever crossed borders. I knew more about London than I did about Timaru before I’d ever left the Land of the Long White Cloud. Granted I studied English literature, so I might have had a wee head start (I highly doubt there’s a course at Oxford on James K Baxter), but even without this, there’s enough television and advertising for even the lowest common denominator to know more about London than any un-traveled Londoner does about NZ.

So I don’t expect anyone to have an-depth understanding of our history and culture, and I’m not too surprised when each new person exclaims at me the three things they know about NZ (incidentally, these are Lord of the Rings! All Blacks!! and Flight of the Conchords!!!). But what I always find odd is that the ability to understand different terms for things doesn’t often go both ways.

If you say you’re going to the ‘cinema’ I wouldn’t waste my breath to tell you that I go to the ‘movies’, but when I said I was going to the ‘dairy’, my (Oz and Brit) workmates didn’t know what I was talking about. I could understand this, since it’s apparently an exclusive kiwi-ism, except that I’d specifically said “I’ll go to the dairy next door for some milk and a sandwich.” There’s only one place that matches ‘next door’, ‘milk’, and ‘sandwich’, and so it seems like they are belligerently misunderstanding. I’ve had the same thing occur when I said, pointing, “crap, my jandal’s broken” and an ozzie intentionally played dumb. It also occurs at cafes when I accidentally slip and ask for ‘trim’ milk. I know that here it’s ‘skim’ or the Americanised ‘skinny’, but if I’m referencing a type of milk I think it’s pretty obvious what we’re all talking about honey.

It really makes me wonder where the attitudes of both sides come from. GB and NZ are islands of roughly the same size, and if you exclude the larger cities, of a roughly similar demographical makeup, yet NZ is a great deal more isolated geographically. But somehow it feels like GB is more isolated ideologically. Australia is not quite but nearly as isolated, and has just as many exclusive terms that only they use, and yet many don’t seem to see our presumably shared viewpoint or be able to let a kiwi-ism lie. It must ALWAYS be commented on.

So does NZ look out at the world more than others? We are known as keen travelers, and if you’re in your mid-twenties and not tied to babies and mortgages, it’s pretty much compulsory to go live abroad for two years. They don’t actually revoke your citizenship, but people will look at you funny. And no one likes that, so everyone goes to London, thanks to the motherland myth. So perhaps this makes us more attuned to the rest of the world, because we want to be in it.

Or are we just so used to being such wee players in the world that we listen to everyone else and adjust our speech to suit? If this is so, should we expect others to do the same, or should we be more like them – more staunch, more proud of our unique terms, and not bend to the language of others?

I know that when I’m around English people my accent drops a bit – becomes more refined, clearer – less lazy vowels and more English terms. Even more so around other foreigners, who may also have to contend with a second language and be less familiar with the Anzac inability to either open or close the mouth fully. I’m not trying to imitate anybody, I just want to be understood.

I think this is why Kiwis come home and are harrassed for sounding English – it’s not that we’ve gone posh, or forgotten our roots, we’re just so sick of people commenting on how we pronounce something, instead of what we’re actually saying.

But luckily, I also know that when I hang out with a bunch of Kiwis over here it all comes flooding back – the accent, the colloquialisms, the rapid rate, the ‘wharepaku’ and ‘kai’ and ‘kia ora’, the ‘eh’s, and the always-present upward lilt that speaks of and out of a nation of people who naturally question what they say.

1 thought on “Shit we all say

  1. Anonymous

    ooh, I love that one! Love all of it, and the last line in particular, about the upward lilt at the end of our sentences, the questioning that comes from being small and isolated. I remember studying NZ literature in the late 80s and reading lots of early writing about finding an identity separate from the Motherland, establishing a literature and language of HERE. I say “eh” all the time. I’ll stick out a mile when I come visit you.


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