Child’s ply

Posted by on September 15, 2010

We continue our musings about Australian English with a guest post from Fida Slayman. Fida is a freelance writer, journalist and English language teacher. You can contact her on this address.

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“Everyone here calls me Mike,” my father declared as we were waiting at Melbourne airport for our connecting flight to Adelaide. My family and I were travelling from San Francisco, where we had been living for the past five years.  Now, thanks to a relative who sponsored our visa, we were to call Australia home.

“They’re all saying it,” my father continued. “Thanks Mike, excuse me Mike, hello Mike.” Even as an 11-year-old, I knew it was very strange that anyone should call my dad – an ageing Middle Eastern man with only a passing acquaintance with English – the ostensibly white English name of Mike. It was only when my Australian uncle came to pick us up from Adelaide airport, bellowing ‘G’day mate, so glad you made it!’ that I realised no one was actually saying Mike.

Such confusion was to follow me for the next few months, as I settled into school and tried my best to fit in with the rest of my classmates. For a while, I was the class freak show. Kids would give me books and ask me to read them aloud, just so they could listen to my American accent. Soon enough, I surmised that if I didn’t open my mouth very much when I spoke, and if I tried to replace each ‘ay’ sound with an ‘eye’, I would eventually sound Australian. My sentences inevitably came across as something like ‘sry Mis bt I din bring meh humwuk in te-DYE.’ Everyone wondered what they put in the water in America.

I was amazed by the lack of worries Australians seemed to have, as evidenced by the amount of times they proclaimed as much. “Could you open the door please?” “No worries.” “Can I go to the bathroom?” “No worries.” “Thanks for lending me your pencil.” “No worries.” For an expression so freely thrown around, it caused me to stop and think quite a few times. Does opening a door have the potential to cause someone worry? Were Australians the sort of people who would consider worrying about opening a door?

Other terms seemed to slip into my vocabulary without me noticing. I’m not exactly sure when I started coming out with phrases like ‘Are yous coming to the park after school?’ or “What are yous doing tomorrow?’ but I do remember being shocked when a teacher reprimanded me for my lazy grammar. I nodded and apologised, too embarrassed to ask her exactly what I had got wrong.

Other terms also, I learned fairly quickly. We Australians, for example, didn’t go to the bathroom, we went to the toi-lit, when kids were sick or just plain angry, we usually spewed, that in the summer we got stung by mozzies and in the winter we had to use a brollie, and that the 6th grade teacher Mr Hughes was so unattractive he could never get a root.

Twenty-five years later, I’m as comfortable with Australian English as two blowies at a barbie, yet still can’t get myself out of the habit of saying ‘Cheers, Mike.”

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Comments (2)
  • Very nicely written. Anyway what a brollie?

    Posted by Lau on 24th September, 2010
  • G’day Mate! I have also been attempting to wrap my head around Australian English. My Canadian accent get laughed at lot at school. Your article inspires me to keep trying to sound like a north Queenslander!

    Posted by Brian on 7th October, 2010
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