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.
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…