2 March 2015

Lost in Translation: our linguistically minded March Travel Linkup

I always joke that on my CV under skills that I can confidentally say I'm bi-lingual. I always wanted to speak Italian, the romance loving teenager that I was, but alas my Island home only considered Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin and Maori suitable languages for starry eyed teenagers. Ever the rebel, when told that we had to study a language I decided to study Japanese. With visions of holding protracted conversations about haiku over sushi, sadly it turns out that I was terrible at speaking, and even worse drawing the beautiful character alphabets, so that went out the window as soon as I could get away with it. I did however learn quite a few swear words from our exchange students, a favour swiftly returned with a few in English...

Nope, the two languages that I can speak are Kiwi-English and English-English. I can almost hear you begin to chortle at me, but considering that both of our countries speak the same language, you'd think it would be a little more straight forward. It's not. The British Isles have a plethora of wonderful brogues, but it takes a good while for your ear to adjust. A Cockney geezer sounds nothing like a Welsh rugby lad, Geordies sound nothing like Glaswegians, and Brummies have nothing much in common with Northerners, like.

I learned hard, and I learned quickly. Blokes don't appreciate being called 'bro', 'awesome' is a word Brits think should be left in the 70s and 'random' isn't really an appropriate word to scatter every where. They just look at you funny. I had to re-learn how to say my own name after being forced a hundred times to spell it out phonetically, E - M - M - A "Oooooh, I thought you said "Ima", turns out that Kia Ora isn't a greeting, but rather a brand of fruit juice and you shouldn't tell your colleauges that your weekend was spend ripping your pants whilst hiking in the forest (pants-British being undies, pants-Kiwi/US being trousers). Jaffa isn't a flavour over here, but a cruel name for impotent men, Lollies come on sticks out of the freezer (not in bags, those are sweets) and never tell an Italian foreign exchange student that you walk from the ground floor to the first on 'stiiirs', rather it should be 'stahirs', lest they return with a Kiwi iccent.

This in mind, just be aware that being an expat is tough in an English speaking country, let alone moving to somewhere that speaks an entirely new one.

But, my tale of travel woe doesn't involve a glamorously exotic location, conversations combining several languages or a comically inspired act of mime. Nope, it involves a Kiwi who thought she had finally cracked London place names. You know the usual suspects; Chissik (aka Chiswick), Lester Square (Leicester Square) and Suthik (aka Southwark) - forget Marylebone, no-one can even agree on the origins of the name, let alone how to pronounce it, though most roll with Mar-le-bone - I was down with those pretty quickly, feeling quietly cocky as I rode the tube through London on my daily commute.

Good Czech friends of ours had invited us out for a traditional dinner of Budvar and Svíčková (deliciously slow cooked beef, dumplings and jam - trust me, it's lovely) in their favourite taste of home drinking establishment, near West Hampstead station. It was after work one Saturday, and being a seasoned London traveller, I unfolded my tube map, hopped on the Jubilee Line and rode it through London.

10 minutes to 4 (as I'm proud of always being early) my friend called to see how I was getting on, and I proudly told her that I was out the front of the station. "Er, but I'm outside the station and I can't see you...?" Dumb. Ass. My Kiwi smarts had taken me all the way to West Ham. You know, cause those hilarious London geezers always shorten everything for ease of speaking. Not only was I in the wrong part of London, but it's a decidedly rough area and there was an acrimonious footy derby (a football game between two local teams) about to start. Sighing, I jumped back on the tube for my hour-long journey to where I should have been on the other side of the Jubilee Underground Line. Luckily, there was enough beer left when I eventually appeared to toast my second attempt at successful navigation...

Enlarge for annotations for all the confused tourists...
Five years on, and they still tease me, making sure to decidedly arrange drinks in "West Hamp-stead, you know, North London, right Em?" It just seems worse as we were all speaking the same language, well, kinda. Ironically Kelly, Rebecca and I are joined this month by our fellow antipodean guest host Sam who'll know exactly what we mean...

As a tourist my worst slip up was when I obliviously asked the Berlin bus driver for 'Zwei tickets, bitte' despite practising 'Zwei Busfahrschein, bitte' for an entire day, or were threatened by a Parisian waiter brandishing a knife because we didn't speak French...

What's yours?


  1. I'm so impressed that you've managed to master the infamous London tube station names (despite your little West Ham hiccup...at least you'll never make that mistake again!!). The age-old pants/trousers debate seems to be a common one. With my Aussie colleague and I it's the confusion between flip flops and thongs. That caused a lot of merriment the first time it came up!

    Polly xx
    Follow Your Sunshine

  2. Yes, even when you believe you know English you have all the London stops that you can't pronounce. I still can't say many of them. And the the slang and expressions. It took me a while to learn that going for tea is not the famous 5 o'clock but dinner. Donkeys years means it's taking too long. If you're telling porkies means you are lying. The last one was the starter for 10 ,which I use all the time and it means a first tentative or a draft in business context. No silly Lilly, the meeting still starts at 9h they are just asking you for a draft of the material ahahhh
    Oh final one. I can't push... It sounds like puxe in Portuguese which is pull!

  3. Lol! I can't quite believe we are all speaking the same language. I'm finding it really interesting to read how ex-pats have adapted to English slang. The funny thing is regional British people don't even understand each other half the time!

    Lots of love,
    SilverSpoon London

  4. Laughed my way through this post!!! I can relate to so, so many of these situations. Wiping the tears away ...

  5. I'm Canadian, so I learned French at an early age. A few years ago, husband and I were in Costa Rica, and I really wanted to try to use as much Spanish as I knew (not much). But somehow, despite repeating "La cuenta por favor" over and over in my head before the waiter came, it came out "La cuenta, s'il vous plait". Old habits, I guess. French coming out of my mouth when I meant Spanish happened a few times that trip. I guess my brain only has room for one secondary language?

  6. Hahaha! This is definitely something that would happen to me. Just today I was going to meet a friend in Surrey and I KNOW how to get to Surrey, but for some reason I walked to the wrong tube station, tapped my pass, and got on the platform before I realized what I'd done. LOL. Needless to say, I was pretty late meeting her....

  7. They do shorten everythings!!! Those Brits. In Yorkshire they just leave letters out and hope you know what they are saying.

  8. Ugh I would have been so annoyed with myself and hungry!!

  9. Haha - was nodding my head and giggling at every one of these, oh the trouble the Kiwi accent gets us into! I'm still clinging onto awesome but my pronunciation of my name is now a lot closer to JAssica... and I almost never try Jessi for fear of getting Jacey, Lucy or a plain confused look on someone's face!

  10. My father-in-law always jokes that our kids are bi-lingual - English and American English! I can completely relate to the pronunciation issues though. Most Americans can't understand the whole dropping of syllables in some English places names. It's not like we are speaking French - what you see in English is supposed to be what you say!

  11. Haha! To be fair West Ham technically is in West Ham/pstead ;) xx

  12. Oooh...that could have been dangerous!! Funny though. We do that a lot in the UK!

  13. Hehehe, I have a habit of telling my husband we're going to Cannon Street when we're actually going to Canning Town. Confuses the hell out of him, but it just falls out of my mouth! I might join this travel link up! Fun! :) (Also, try ordering a Becks beer with a kiwi accent. Murder, I tell you!)

  14. I'll never get why those letters are there if they arent pronounced...this isnt French people!
    P.S. I didnt know you studied Japanese!

  15. Well, I've pretty well mastered it - I still occasionally find myself going the wrong way on the Circle Line - hey, it happens! We should stage a blogger coup and decided which way pant should be seen once & for all!

  16. It's funny becase us Kiwis grew up with a lot of the sayings & nursery rhymes, but we never questioned the meaning or the origian...!
    I've never heard of a starter for 10!?

  17. Isn't is hilarious? The amount of people who can't understand Brummies or Geordies!

  18. Haven't there been some amazing, amazing stories!? (5 years is a long time to be teased though... ;D)


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