Unlike when we moved to Beijing, we haven’t had to deal with a language barrier here in Canberra, other than chuckling at the fact that Australians, like Americans, refer to the UK as ‘England’, making it sound like the quaint chocolate box fairy land that I presume they think it is.
There are, however, a few entries I’d like to add to the UK-Australia dictionary, if there were such a thing. One is ‘pain au chocolat’, which in Australia appears to be called ‘chocolate croissant’. When I ask for a ‘pain au chocolat’ in my best GCSE French accent, and the cafe staff repeating my order says ‘chocolate croissant’ with an Aussie twang, I feel like a right posh git. Worse, Jared likes to call it ‘cake’ – as in ‘I’ll just grab that cake for ya’. Every time that happens a little piece of me dies.
Another word for the dictionary is ‘bungalow’. I used it in our first few months here in this little speech I used on anyone who asked how we were settling in:
‘It’s really strange for us to be living in a bungalow, because we’ve always lived in flats. In fact, we’ve been amazed that most of the houses in Canberra are bungalows!’
Of course, I was using the word ‘bungalow’ to mean a one-storey house, but as someone eventually told me after I’d been met with several slightly affronted looks, ‘bungalow’ in Australia means ‘granny annex’.
A rather special entry to add to the dictionary, which I became aware of through my toddler, is that the song ‘Hokey Cokey’ is in Australia sung as ‘Hokey Pokey’. At first I thought I was going deaf, then I thought it was just a quirk of that particular playgroup leader. But several more playgroups and swimming classes and singalong CDs later, I have finally come to accept that the song I’d gotten to know in the UK through countless birthday parties and preteen discos had, across the seas, morphed into what sounds a little like the title of a bad porn film.
One last thing to add, perhaps in the Editor’s Note, is the differences in transaction with the person behind the counter at any shop or cafe. In the UK, all that’s required of you is to mumble, ‘Can I just have this please…’ and if you’re lucky you won’t even need to make eye contact. It’s even simpler in Japan, where the customer is god, and the staff chirp out set phrases from a manual. You can get through the whole transaction without uttering a single word, or if a response is required you need only give a sullen nod.
But in Australia, you’re expected to have an actual conversation. When you approach the counter, the cashier makes direct eye contact with you, smiles winningly and asks how you are. And here’s the painful bit – after you’ve replied in a mild panic that you’re doing good/great/fantastic, thanks, you then have to ask them how they are. Only then can you make your purchase, by which point the few extra seconds of conversation have left you more than a little exhausted. And when it’s over the phone with someone you can’t even see, and all you want to do is complain about a missing item in a delivery or change a hospital appointment, it becomes faintly absurd.
However, when in Rome and all that. The Aussies are wonderfully obliging when handling your request, beaming widely and declaring that it’s ‘too easy’. For me it might be a while yet before matching their swagger becomes ‘too easy’, but I’ll soldier on.