How to Speak Like an Aussie: Lesson 1

Friends and family that are back in the US have been asking me the same question: how are you doing?

It’s funny, because that phrase isn’t even really commonplace in Australia. You’re much more likely to be asked “how you going?” It, of course, means the same thing, and is not so far off. If you ask someone how they’re doing (or even, how it’s going), they get the gist and you’ll get the answer.

It’s these small adjustments to your ear that make living somewhere new begin to make sense. Words will vary by culture, as we know from every British-based movie that ever made it big in the States. In Australia, they have their own onslaught of vocabulary that even being with an Australian for 3+ years couldn’t prepare me for. Like learning any foreign language, you just have to jump in and figure it out.

Last Friday night out, I had another lesson in foreign terms. We went locally, stealing a ride lapped up in his dad’s two-seater so as to avoid taking the train.

By any means necessary, no matter what city, avoid taking the train.

The location was a hotel bar–an exceedingly commonplace and popular style of venue in Australia, I’m finding, that I’m also still trying to understand.

Still, there were a few things nice about this outing:
1. I got to wear my new satin jogging pants with very Australian-themed snakeskin stripe;
2. we got to sit outside since it’s summertime down under; &
3. pitchers of beer were only $16AUD… nothing short of a steal.

We enjoyed a pitcher together of XPA – a style of pale ale that, to my delight, is currently all the rage in Australia, presumably to catch up with the IPA frenzy that America has been in the thick of for some 5 years now. About 2 and a half “scooners” later, it was time for a refresh.

scooner” is a term for a size of a drink, slightly smaller than a pint. And so begins the lesson.

After enjoying our first choice of beer, I pranced inside to browse what other XPA options there were (in my all-black outfit that already made me stand out amongst a sea of other girls in white sun dresses) and landed on the not-so-familiar brew made by Pioneer. I asked for a pitcher of it. To the bartender’s credit, she was quick to translate my meaning and equally glad to throw the correction in my face: “you mean a JUG?!”

Luckily she got the picture (or should I say…..) but the silent scorn and the brewing embarrassment served to be a lesson in and of itself: learn the damn lingo.

It takes time, practice, and experience to do so. It seems a given for people to feel comfortable in other countries that speak the same language but, as mentioned before, you really don’t know what you’re in for until you’re up to your knees in it.

Take the term “capsicum” for example. To my loyal readers, you’ll remember the disastrous date I had with capsaicin. Through that experience I learned about the chemical within that gives all peppers their names, a name that I also learned is preserved in Australia. Here, they’re not peppers, they’re capsicums.

That particular name strikes me as odd given how long it is. Aussies love a good snappy nickname. Their gas stations, known as “service stations,” are referred to, in short, as “servos.

Similarly, liquor stores here are bottle shops… shortened to bottle-o.

Want something to dip your fries in? Well, ketchup, because you’re gonna have to ask for tomato sauce (or t-sauce) to go with your chips.

To our credit, America, this one’s not a short name.

While we’re on the topic of tomatos, this gives me the perfect opportunity to say: the phrase “tomayto, tomahto” has never been truer. Folks, they really say tom-AH-to. And while we’re in the grocery aisle, there are some herbs to address. Basil is known here as bah-sil, and oregano is spoken as or-eg-AH-no.

These aren’t really differences in terms, I realize. It’s just a difference in accents. Still, there are plenty of words that truly have to shift to be properly understood.

As someone who’s here learning to drive a stick-shift for the first time, I had to train my brain not only to use a third peddle, shift with my left hand, and stay on the left side of the road. There’s also the translation of truck to “ute”–ute being short for “coupe utility.” This is a great depiction of Australians: fancy, yet somehow ever so slightly unrefined.

It’s important to remember that the Queen reigns here. After some time, it becomes  very clear to see just how far we are from Great Britain. Still there are some instances to cash in on your many years of watching our favorite Brits on screen.

An elevator is simply a lift. Have groceries to put in the back of your car? Pop the boot. Move over french fries, under the Queen’s rule, a side of fried potatoes are chips.

I’m told true potato chips are called crisps, even though, to my spiteful delight, the grocery store aisle for these worldly delicacies is still labeled chips. The ones that come in a bag are more likely to be called crisps.

This rule, in my month or so of being here, seems to be one that’s malleable. The one place you can get away with asking for a side of fries in as McDonald’s. A fitting place for terms to remain American.

The good news is that when you want to buy a snack in a bag, then chips/crisps, whatever what you wanna call them, are still just as delicious here. Just like I tried the flavors in every country I visited in Europe, (jamón, found in Spain, having won the gold) I love seeing what combinations the locals prefer having seasoned on their fried potatoes slivers.

No word yet on the variations of McDonald’s McFlurries, or if they’re much better at the ice cream machine upkeep here than they are at home.

Servos, bottle-os, All of these short little snaps make acquainting to a new place somewhat exciting… but also embarrassing when you ask for a pitcher. It’s like stamping an American flag on my forehead.

I don’t intend on removing that stamp. Maybe I’ll just get bangs to cover it up, or fold it up and put it in my pocket. I’m happy to learn key words to get the right size of beer I want. As for tomatoes and basil… well, I’m sure they’ll be okay to hear those words with a little American edge to it.


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