Sweet As

It’s been hard for me to understand that here, I have the accent. I think of myself as having the most boring run-of-the-mill speech patterns possible, but it turns out that I can be imitated here, that I can be done, usually by flattening out every word ridiculously or by trying to imitate George W. Bush. (“But I don’t sound like that,” I’ve said, more than once.) Cultural imperialism being what it is, though, everyone knows my American slang, and I never get to explain anything. Although it’s true no one can say “whatever” with quite the same witheringly scornful eyeroll I can, and there was that one time I occasioned some mirth when I referred to a muesli bar as a granola bar, no one I know thinks I sound extraordinary. I must just sound like TV to them.

I, on the other hand, am constantly noticing differences between the way I talk and the way everyone else talks. Kiwi English is very British in a lot of ways (rubbish instead of garbage, trainers instead of sneakers, although they do say pants, not trousers), but that hasn’t really helped me because it’s not like I have had so much access to British colloquialism either, my frequent re-watchings of AbFab and The Office notwithstanding. That’s the thing that’s been hard to explain to people: how isolated, culturally, you can be as an American. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our Starbucked Friended CNNish world, easy to be ignorant of most other places, even those with whom we share a common former coloniser, or, you know, a language. I don’t mind feeling stupid though, when I don’t understand things, because I love how everyone talks here and I wish I could imitate them without sounding like a total idiot. I had had high hopes of adding another accent to my current arsenal but dude, I don’t know. I just may not be that good.

To wit:

Noooaaaaaiiiiuuuuooooo
This is how New Zealanders sound to my American ears when they say “no.” It usually has about five syllables and has to be heard to be believed. I have been practicing this one for a while but I don’t know if I will ever get it right. See also: “Hiillooooaaiiiiuuuoo!” which is what they say for “hello.”

Bid
This is what you sleep in at night. You put your hid on the pullow.

Righty-o
Say it on the phone when you’re telling someone you’ll get them that thing that they need for the person at that place! Say it when you’re discussing when to meet for drinks after work! Say it when you’re running out just for a minute to the dairy for Tim Tams! I absolutely love this. It’s weirdly old-fashioned, like saying “Pip pip!” or something, and it’s effortlessly…jaunty, I think, is the word I want. BREAKING NEWS: I just learned that this is also a Britishism. Well, huh. Righty-o then.

Sweet as
I had heard about this before I came here, and, then as now, the missing noun always infuriated me. “Sweet as WHAT?” I would bellow to myself, every time I was idly googling anything and everything to do with New Zealand. Yesterday when I was on the phone with the oddly chipper Telecom dude he said, in response to my revealing that we have at least three phone jacks in the house, “Good as gold!” And that was very satisfying, that simile, the modifier modifying an actual thing. But “sweet as” (make sure to pronounce, y’all Americans, the “as” as “ez”) still sounds really weird to me. So does “funny as” and “freaky as” and “hot as” and “stupid as” and “cool as” and “forlorn as” and “quiscient as” and all the other Adjectives As. My dream is to be able to pick this up and sound authentically Kiwi when I say it, but I fear I will end up saying “Dude, that chai tea latte was sweet as…a really sweet thing.” Or possibly that I will just end up sounding like I’m saying “sweet ass,” which, you know, is a completely different feel.

Have a feed
To me, having a feed is something a barn animal, if anything at all, does. Not here. Here a feed (I bet you anything it will be fush-n-chups or some sort of pie) is something people have. Occasionally they will have a feed and then have a sleep (in the bid, of course). Until arriving here I’ve always thought of feeding and sleeping as something you do, not something you have. And I’m not even sure I do sleeping, if that makes sense. Also, I might take a nap, but I wouldn’t have it. (Although someone could ask me later if I’d had a good one.) This might just be another Britishy thing, though…I also take looks, and things in general, instead of having them. I’d say “I’ll take that last cool Breaking Up Is Hard To Do shirt, thank you,” instead of “I’ll have that equally cool Strange Birds shirt, thank you.” Weirdly, though, and I just thought of this, I might order a sandwich by saying “I’ll have the veggie panino with extra pesto, please.” But I still wouldn’t have a feed. Although I’ve only been here a couple of months. I will get back to you on this.

Eh?
Just like Canadians! “Eh,” when coupled with the Kiwi thing of making almost every sentence sound like a question, is pretty great conversationally. “Come on, eh?” is one of my favorite things that people say ever, dating back to my college days of yore when for some reason we were all putting “eh” on the ends of our determinedly Californian sentences. It’s as if I’m running around the Claremont Colleges all over again in Tevas and a headlamp, getting ready to go down some storm tunnels, which is what I was doing in college while you were experimenting with drugs and sex and libertarianism. Except it’s like the whole country is saying it, which, I think you will agree, is excellent indeed. (Eh?) (I just had to put that there, although I know it’s a cheap trick stylistically.) (Eh?)

Knackered
Another thing they get, apparently, in the UK when they’re tired (apparently they also become “shattered” which I think is just a bit drama queeny, wouldn’t you say?), here in New Zealand it’s especially awesome because the short vowels make it sound like “naked.”

“How was your weekend, eh?”

“Oh, mate, I’m just naked.

“Right now in the office? Dude. At least put a towel down, would you?”

Mate
This one is very difficult for me to understand. I don’t think we have mates in the States, you know? We have friends, and we have buddies, and we have acquaintainces, but I don’t think we have mates. (Except in sex advice columns, where they have mostly been precluded by partners). As a foreigner I can’t really tell you much more about being mates, but rest assured there are all sorts of rules when you’re talking about them. Obviously you’d call your friend for whom you just bought another round of Speight’s mate, but a dad might call his son mate, too, although (probably) not his daughter. And maybe the cop who pulled you over for speeding but is going to let you go will call you mate, as in “Keep it down to eighty, all right mate?” Men and women (I think) can be mates, but there is probably not any sex going on. I haven’t heard any women call each other mates. (Australasians, wherever you may be, care to comment on this one?)

Yip
“Hi, this is Chiara…see aitch eye ay are ay…and I’m calling to…”

“Yip?”

“Uh, I’m calling to ask about my package? I got a letter saying that a pack—“

“Yip.”

“…uh, a package was delivered? But the guy couldn’t get in? Because we’re access restricted? And so…”

“Yip, right. You can pick it up at the post shop any time after mid-day.”

“Okay, yip, great, yip, thanks, yip, bye!”

Yiss
Probably the thing I love most about New Zealand English, even more than watching Six In The City at sex o’clock, is how they say “yes.” Like noooaaaaaiiiiuuuuooooo, you just have to hear it to understand how cool it sounds. I was at a quiz night in a pub one night, and this very good team kept winning every round, and whenever they did they’d all go “yissss!” and it was the best thing ever. I actually say it a little now myself, although people make fun of me or accuse me of “taking the piss” when I do. I don’t care. It’s small and simple, but for some reason I just know that when I leave to go back next year it’s “yisssss!” that will always remind me of being here.

19 comments

  1. What a fabulous entry, Chiara. This belongs in a magazine or something. To me, this is the kind of thing you will look back on in 40 years and it will bring all of your memories back of your time in NZ. You are awesome.

  2. It is not good to giggle this much before bed. Now I’m all awake again, and it’s all your fault. ;)

  3. All true. Good work, mate. And ‘mate’ is multi-purpose – everywhere you wrote ‘dude’ in this entry, substitute ‘mate’ – the two words are interchangeable. I call my friends ‘mate’ and ‘mates’ and I’m a girl … and it’s similar in Australia too. You might get ‘au’ instead of ‘eh’ in some of the more rural areas too, which is my favourite :)

  4. haha, I loved this! They’re almost all things I say, and I’ve never even thought about before. Its funny, I just noticed right now that I type so different to how I speak, and I guess thats because I’m used to reading all these American websites and so I type how I read.

    The only thing I don’t say – I’ve never said “trainers” or “pants”! Pants sounds too much like underwear to me.

    I never realised I say “Yisss” or “sweet as” or “shattered” but I say them all the time! And I am shattered right now, TRULY SHATTERED as I have a cold and I only got an hours sleep last night and then a 9 hour day. So goodnight! x

  5. In Ghana we use the word “mate” to refer to the young man in the trotro (minibus) who collects the money. As in “Las-stop mate” when you want to get off, or “mate! where is my balance?” when he hasn’t given you your change. Interestingly, the driver is known as “master”.

    On the other hand, we use “Charley” to refer to your friend (only guys). As in “Hey Charley” when you are walking down the street and see someone you know. It is sometimes translated as “dude”, but since my professors use it too, it has slighly different usage. It is pronounced with very long vowels like chaalaaaay. It was very confusing because at first I thought that there were just a disproportionatly large number of people here named Charley.

  6. What a wonderful entry! I’ve been reading your blog for months, (I think I found you via Sundry?) and I just love it. I admire your bravery and zest for life. I’m envious of your travels! This entry though, I have enjoyed most of all. Thank you for sharing your world with us.

  7. Great info! I never would have picked up that meaning of “shattered.” I would have thought that everyone was emotionally devastated left and right.

    “Sweet as” reminds me of my left-hanging frustration when I moved from Texas to Minnesota for college. Up there, they say “come with” and then stop: “Wanna come with?” And I was forever hanging — Come withhhh . . . me? us? Finish the sentence, man!

  8. Yep, that’s a very good article on the New Zelunders. The Antipodean no, the one with very many syllables and vowels, is a thing Jeffloves about my accent. It’s a great wat of addin extra emphasis and meaning to one wee word.

  9. I’d have to say we’re not half as bad as Canadians with dropping the “Eh”.

    It’s probably most often used in place of “Pardon?” or to invoke a response – “That’s a pretty flower… eh?” and it also tends to have a different inflection to the Canadian version. Anyway, I find it amusing when I hear Canadians using “Eh” every second sentence, so it MUST be different :o)

    I’d have to say that “Come with…” is just stupid and annoying, and is only a VERY distant relative of our “Sweet as”. Unlike “Come with”, “Sweet as” isn’t just a lazy half-assed abbreviation, it’s a part of our culture and stands on its own. Nothing follows.

    “Mate” is an interesting phenomenon through Australasia. It does tend to be more of a masculine term – hence the use in beer commercials and the like. Girls do refer to hanging out with their “mates” (direct replacement for “friends”) – although they might not call them “mate” as much as guys would. Most often follows “G’day”, which isn’t typically thought of as “Good day”, rather “Hello” :o)

    Knackered of course comes from our background with sheep. Enough said.

    Australia has a more Americanised culture and language than NZ, while we are still very British. A lot of Kiwis head to London for their big OE, and it’s not that long ago that our TV presenters were still speaking the queen’s english all prim and proper like. Australians also have a cunning knack of abbreviating EVERYTHING. I am still getting over the time I heard an Australian friend call a tennis ball a “tenno”. LAZY BASTARD! :oD

  10. P.S. I don’t mean any offence at all, but I’m surprised you’ve had trouble explaining that Americans can be culturally isolated. I would have thought that was one of the most common stereotypes – particularly in this part of the world? We often hear such gems as “are you a part of Australia” or “New Zealand is next to Finland, right?”. I’ve even personally been told by an American that being a Kiwi was THE SAME THING as being British. I was *this close* to calling him a Canadian :oD

  11. Okay, I had a response to JJ all nicely written out and everything, about how it’s absolutely true that Americans are culturally isolated, and how I’m humbled by my workmates’ knowledge of American politics today as we’re talking about the midterm elections, and also how I haven’t been able to quite articulate the weird sense of being at home wherever you go in the world because of Starbucks and McDonald’s and so on and so forth, which…somehow…almost heightens the isolation, if that even makes sense, which maybe it did in the original comment, but I don’t know if it does now. And THEN I said something about wearing sunnies every arvo this weekend in Melbourne but that was mostly because I love the word “arvo,” which is an abbreviation for “afternoon.” And then I asked if anyone had any other ideas about American cultural isolation. I may have mentioned the stupidity I felt when I didn’t know what Corry or Neighbours were, either. Okay. I think that was it.

  12. It must be very easy to fall into that trap when there are traces of home everywhere you travel. There’s literally no need in the US to know about the outside world – although I do struggle to comprehend how anybody could happily exist like that.

    I remember seeing a documentary – I think “7 Up”? – where they revisit the same people every seven years to see how their lives have changed. One of the subjects was a guy living in a small town in the US, who enjoyed hunting and fishing. He said he knew nothing about the rest of the world, but didn’t ever see himself leaving the town – let alone the country – because everything he needed and wanted in life was right there. That image has stuck with me to this day, and honestly I felt sorry for the kid.

    Of course he may well live a fantastic life and be happy ever after, but I can’t help but think that there’s so much out there to see and do. So many places to visit and experience.

    I’ve seen American tourists visiting England, and they pack up their suitcases with American food because they’ve heard rumours that British food is terrible?!? What do they really think they’re going to find over there? Bizarre.

    Anyway, I love that you’ve come over here and are doing the kiwi thing! I hope when you go back, you encourage more people to see a little of the world around them. I’ve been over twice, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of America one day too :o)

  13. Hey, JJ! I didn’t know you hung out here!

    I was gonna say, I wouldn’t feel too sorry for that dude in his small village. Some people just have no desire to travel :)

  14. Hey Jemzz, I probably found Chiara’s blog through yours :o)
    I can almost understand not having a desire to travel, but I feel like that guy would have a completely different perspective on life if he took the time to check out how the rest of us do things. I’m not Mister Adventurous myself, so I doubt I’ll be trekking in Nepal any time soon, but I’d like to think that when I get the chance I’ll be able to check out the Italian countryside, travel on Route 66 and buy a cheap house in Bulgaria. Or something. Maybe that’s just me though!

  15. Brilliant, Darling.

    I’d be careful with the cultural isolation steretypes, though. I’ve met people here in Germany who don’t even kow where the other major cities in Germany are located, and they have a *lot* less area to cover…

    Of course, they’re all, like, multilingual…

  16. JJ – I’m driving on Route 66 in Feb with Izzy. Whiplash tour!!!

    Right, back on topic.

  17. Ah, sweet as. I love that. Brings so many memories back of friends in Aus and NZ. I’ve been living in London for 5 years now and I miss them so much.

    On the weekend I went to Holland to visit my family. I met a woman who moved from NZ when she was 18, 32 years ago, and until last year had never gone back. She speaks perfect, accentless dutch, but when she spoke English to me, it was with a HUGE NZ accent, and peppered with “Eh?”s. Just like talking with my best mate Fee.

  18. Lov-er-ly entry! So funny! I would now like you to visit South Africa and write a similar entry — I think they also sleep in bids, some might be bick sleepers, and yis, yis, the lend looks luvly in all the photos I’ve seen.

  19. i love the way that this lets me see the country i’ve lived in forever in an entirely new (and often hilarious) light. but just one thing – you forgot ‘bro’.