Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lost in English Translation

I don't know... I can't think straight today. I got in at some ungodly hour of the morning, actually it was only 1 am and I do remember, not that long ago, that 1 am was the start of many a great night out. I went to PINK's concert last night. UNREAL! UNREAL! UNREAL! I will come down from Planet Unreal at some point today, but seriously, what an amazing show. You just gotta admire a girl that can swing sixty odd feet in the air, hanging by one leg, and still manage to belt out her songs!

Okay, all that has absolutely nothing to do with today's post. Except that hearing Pink's accent last night did start me wishing that we were back in the USA. I sometimes find myself watching American sitcoms just to hear that accent. How is it possible to love two countries with equal passion? My eldest son was born there, so the USA will always have a special place in my heart. We lived in Denver for almost three years, working and traveling around, and I am blessed to have some amazing friends living there.

But, and here's what I wanted to post on today, I learnt that English is not always English. At the time we had just moved from Hong Kong, where we had more than a few communication frustrations, and I was breathing a sigh of relief upon arriving in the US. I wouldn't have to request an English speaker when going shopping or use sign language to direct a taxi driver. And I wouldn't have to barter in my broken Cantonese at the wet markets. I am Australian, they are American, but we all speak English... right?

But I was wrong. Often, very wrong. Okay, not about the wet markets, but I quickly learnt that our car had a trunk and not a boot, a hood and not a bonnet. A lovely Mexican working in KFC taught me that a biscuit is not a sweet food, but a dough like thing that went well with chicken. The word I was looking for was cookie. A lady in the LAX airport introduced me to the phrase, "Sit your fanny down!" while screaming at her runaway kids. The word 'fanny' has quite a different meaning over here. Let's just say that you wouldn't yell for your kids to sit down on it.
And my own mother (who came to visit) reinforced the concept that Australians and Americans are referring to very different items of clothing when they say the word 'thong'. I never could return to footwear department of Target after my mother yelled across the store, 'Gosh Tab, aren't these thongs just adorable!" "Flip flops, Mum. They are flip flops!"

And some of this vocabulary made it's way back to Australia with me when I returned. I still go searching all over the house yelling, um, asking, "Where's my damn cell phone?" when the term we use here is mobile. I still pack a diaper bag for my son, even though my mother loves to correct me. "It's a nappy bag, Tabitha! A N-A-P-P-Y B-A-G!"
Yeah, yeah.
I'm just grateful my son never had a pacifier. I would never hear the end of that one.
"A D-U-M-M-Y, Tabitha. It's a dummy!"
So, some words can not be escaped from, even though my accent has now washed and I can once again say 'G'day mate' without raising an eyebrow from my fellow Aussies. Actually, no one here says G'day mate, do they? Nor do we chuck another 'sanga' on the barbie. Although we definitely have BBQ's and heaps of sausages... now I'm hungry.
My point to all this? Nothing really. Just missin' the USA and wishing I could hitch a lift back to my other home with PINK.
So here's to PINK and all the Americans I love. You know who you are! :)
Oh, and I promise to get back to writing about books, bubs and... writing first thing next post. Promise!


  1. But Tabitha, this WAS about writing! Words are so important, and if we explore other cultures (or even eras) when we write it is SO important to get the words other people use right! Thanks for this post! If I ever have an Australian character in one of my books, I'll know where to go! :)

  2. I once knew a Texan (with almost no Southern accent!) who went to an international school and ended up being the unofficial translator between someone from Brooklyn and someone from London. All native "English" speakers, of course!

    Rest assured that while you are missing the States, my husband and I are missing Oz!

  3. Love it! I think words are so fascinating. Even withing a country, depending on where you live, words can be different. When I lived in Wisconsin, everybody called drinking fountains bubblers. What do you call them in Australia?

  4. Thanks Suzanne. Feel free to come asking if you do ever write about an Australian. We are a strange lot!
    ckhb- missing OZ???? Where you down here?
    Katie- that's funny. We call them bubblers too. And I think I remember the kids in Denver calling them bubblers as well. I did get some strange looks though when I told the kids I was teaching over there to put their jumpers on! They had no idea what I was talking about. My teaching partner corrected me. The word I was looking for was 'jackets'.

  5. Nice to meet you Tabitha! Thanks for stopping by my space of the blogosphere! Your post is very entertaining! I look forward to getting to know more about you.

  6. My husband lived in Australia for two years and we use all kinds of lingo from there. Great post! I'm new to your blog, so I can't wait to nose around a bit. :)

  7. Hey Jody. Welcome. Glad you were entertained. I try my best :)
    Elana, nice to have you visit. And I am so glad that other people are using Aussie lingo half way around the world. Nice. Very Nice. Hope you enjoyed nosing around :)