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.
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.”
This is what you sleep in at night. You put your hid on the pullow.
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.
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.
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?)
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?”
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?)
“Hi, this is Chiara…see aitch eye ay are ay…and I’m calling to…”
“Uh, I’m calling to ask about my package? I got a letter saying that a pack—“
“…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!”
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.