Saturday, 25 August 2012

Say What? How to Understand an Australian

The Olympics truck has rolled on by (at least until the Paralympics). Games fever has passed. London 2012 is over and done with. Rio awaits in four years. It's a pretty good time to cool your jets, maybe give the other things in your life a fair suck of the sav, and make sure you don't get your knickers in a knot when doing so.

If you've no idea what I'm talking about it's thanks to the wonders of the Australian vernacular creeping into my lexicon. In other words 'Strine, as it's known in this neck of the woods, has taken hold of me in its rough, callused grip.

I've grown partial to using a bit of 'Strine over the years. From barking up the wrong tree to taking a bull by its horns, I'll slip in a couple of phrases here and there, even if I'm not fully aware I'm doing so.

But whether I'm acting like a bull in a china shop or talking all piss and wind, I feel duly obliged to open up the book on the Aussie language, share a few golden nuggets with you here on ISOALLO, and help you better understand an Australian in the process.

Photo credit: Carolina Ren (Flickr Creative Commons)

The language down under

The Aussie language surely testifies to their verbal inventiveness and happy go-lucky approach to life. There's nothing pretentious about an Australian's conversation (unless you live in the swankier parts of this city). They tell it as it is and they'll throw in a few colourful expressions or well aimed insults for good measure.

It can be both enlightening and also very unnerving. There's none of the beating around the bush you'll find in the UK or the slightly reserved approach of, say, the Nordic countries. In Australia, if you've got something to say, you say it. End of story.

The problem is that half the time you need a bloody dictionary to understand them. My father-in-law is a case in point.

When we spend the day together, I find myself either laughing out loud or scratching my head. I don't know where he gets these phrases from and I'm in awe of how he manages to innocently slip the most extraordinary phrase into a regular conversation without batting an eyelid.

I might as well be talking to a London Cockney. It's all apples and pears and how's your mother combined with a tip of the hat to the old cobbers from the outback at the turn of the century.

My wife recently told him that she'd bought a new company car, a Mazda 6 wagon. "Those things are gas guzzlers," he replied. "You should have got a Ford Focus. They run on the smell of an oily rag".

Think Crocodile Dundee meets Steve Irwin who marries Dame Edna Everage and you have the vocabulary of my father-in-law.

Shortening and rhyming

Australians may well be the laziest nation in the world when it comes to speaking to each other. Any words containing more than three syllables are chopped in half and an ‘O’ is usually added on the end.

For example, a service station becomes servo, a bottle shop becomes bottlo, employees of the ambulance service are better know as ambos, the afternoon is the arvo, a smoke break is a smoko, and a yob is a yobbo. Friends' names are also shortened. Think Stevo, Jonno, Davo. See, it's easy when you know how.

The Australian penchant for rhyming slang is not unlike its Cockney cousin and can probably be traced back to the convict origins. A large number of Aussie words and phrases supposedly date back to the country's pioneering past, having been coined by long-forgotten shearers, drovers, and other bush workers and lovers of sheep.

As a result, many colourful phrases address the partaking of alcohol, sexual activity and bodily functions - or all three. In fact, some of the more lively phrases are so similar to things I've heard said in England that I'm not even sure which comes from which and who said what. The similarities are often uncanny.

A couple of chestnuts

I wanted to share a few of my personal favourites with the caveat that these have come from the mouths of babes. Or my wife. And her father. God love 'em both.

Get your laughing gear around these:
  • It runs on the smell of an oily rag - that's a fairly efficient vehicle you've got there.
  • Cool your jets - slow down, be patient.
  • She'll be apples - it'll be alright, it'll be good in the end.
  • As mad as a cut snake - not a happy chappy, to be avoided at all costs.
  • Stone the crows - holy cow, bugger me.
  • Couldn't peel skin off a custard - not very good at doing something, try again.
  • Pissin' into the wind - wasting time doing something that can't easily be achieved.
  • As ugly as a bag of spanners - pretty ugly.
  • About as attractive as a box of frogs - even uglier, maybe avoid this one.
  • Don't come the raw prawn with me mate - don't try to hoodwink me, don't try to rip me off buddy-o.

If you fancy having a gander at a few more, visit this website here.

Have you heard any interesting Australian phrases or slang? Any unique and strange ways of saying something where you are in the world?

Do share below.

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Monday, 13 August 2012

London, You Did Me Proud

London, you did me proud.

Over the past fortnight, you've put on a show to rival any other. You've organised yourself near perfectly, created history through extraordinary sporting achievements, and laid a legacy for British sports through a rejuvenated suburb of East London that will be enjoyed for decades to come.

You had me at the opening ceremony.

When you wheeled out the Great Ormond Street Hospital children, and the NHS nurses and doctors danced across the stage, I felt a surge of pride. The poignancy of the soldiers in the poppy fields, the humour of Mr Bean and our skydiving Majesty, the modern multicultural relationship taking shape beneath a British soundtrack to die for. The ceremony was inspired, eccentric, and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.

Photo credit: Paul Brennan (Flickr Creative Commons)

Our greatest team

I thought I'd fallen out of love with the UK.

In Australia, I'm often reminded of Britain's bad weather, bad manners, bad attitudes. The bad customer service, bad hygiene, bad housing, bad food. But, above all else, I'm reminded of how bad we are at sports - we invent sports but can't play them, we're poor losers and arrogant winners, we're a country of anoraks and book readers, not athletes or outgoing people.

London, you reminded me how wrong these naysayers are. You performed an Olympic personal best and you did so with grace and good manners.

The athletic performances were inspirational and Our Greatest Team shone. From Jess Ennis to Mo Farah, the rowing team to the velodrome, I sat glued to my TV in the small hours of the morning cheering you all on and on and on.

You left me with memories of Wiggo camply enthroned on a gold chair, rain-soaked marathon runners sprinting down the Mall, the garish pink and blue of the hockey field, the beach sand of Horse Guards Parade, and Mary Poppins descending out of the London night sky.

The trains didn't break, the security didn't fail, the rain didn't always fall.

A shift in mood  
London, you showed me a positive, welcoming British people.

Britain has been rife with recession, unemployment, and the widespread rioting of last year. The country has been a shadow of its former self and an uncertain place in which to live.

Watching the Olympics has been something of a revelation. I learned a lot about my home country and countrymen over the past few weeks.

Not only was it superb to see the London skyline as a backdrop for those Olympic events strategically placed around the Capital, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people filling the arenas and lining London's streets.

The positivity of the British was apparent throughout the Games. Sure, chest beaters and told-you-so's were rife, but I sensed a growing confidence and pride as the two weeks unfolded. I felt a shift in the national mood and saw an abundance of support and enthusiasm for the Games.

Each time I discovered a friend had attended an Olympic event, I smiled. The same reaction every time I read a positive comment about the organisation of the Games or the lively atmosphere at the Park or the friendliness of the volunteers in purple.

I also learned a lot about the country I now live in over the past few weeks.

The narrative of Australia’s participation at the Olympics was the polar reverse to the UK's, focusing on negativity and blame. The media, the Government, even the athletes searched desperately for somewhere to lay responsibility for their poor performance at the Games. Team GB and London rarely escaped their vitriol.

It disappointed me and was a wake-up call of sorts.

Looking forward not back

The media often remind us that this Games cost the UK more than $9 billion but I can't help feeling that, as government stimulus packages go, economic turnarounds have been built on less.

The Games may have temporarily distracted Britain from its troubled times but why not believe it can serve as a reminder of what's possible when the Brits put their minds to something?

Some may question whether the Olympics put the 'Great' back into Britain but it certainly put pride and self-confidence into the British people. London 2012 was a magnificent showcase of Britishness, a feast of union flag-waving patriotism, and I shall miss it now that it's gone.

London, you pulled it off and you did it so well. You beat expectations and you delivered one of the, if not the, best Games ever.

You reminded me of the things I love about Britain and British culture. Happy and glorious.

London, you made me quite proud.

Did you enjoy the Games? Did you sense a change in British attitudes over the course of the Olympics? What were the highlights (and lowlights) for you?

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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Kookiest Things in Expat Life

A few posts ago, I wrote about a tree in my backyard. A unique and unusual Australian tree that I grew fond of over time.

This week, I'm writing about a few other bizarre things I've recently come across in this expat life. Those strange, eccentric behaviours that made me whip my head around and go "WTF?"

The whacky, the weird, the downright odd.

So here are three of the kookiest things I've seen in Australia.

Photo credit: Alex Carmichal (Flickr Creative Commons)

The barefoot supermarket bogan

The first time I saw a barefoot bogan, I did a double-take. 

It was the middle of a Sydney winter - not too cold but chilly enough that I wore jeans, jacket and boots. The bogan stood next to me in the supermarket aisle dressed in a scruffy vest, dirty board shorts, and not a lot else.

I've found that living near the beach results in a more laidback approach to life. Beach dwellers are carefree and relaxed, ditching the formality that comes with life in most urban centres, preferring the simple pleasures of a surfboard or pair of thongs beneath their feet.

The downside to this informality is an abundance of beachside bogans - an unusual breed, generally lacking in taste, style or decency, considerably lower on the evolutionary scale than your average Homo Sapien, and comparable to the renowned British 'chav'.

Grabbing a bag of mixed veg from the freezer, the bogan's naked and soiled feet scuffed across the floor, coming dangerously close to invading my own personal foot space. I stared in a kind of awe, but mainly disgust, at these feet - how they could cope with the cold? At one point, I wondered whether the man was in fact a local tramp, but clearly he was a banker or salesman, plumber or carpenter. Boganism in these parts doesn't discriminate.

This barefoot supermarket bogan seemed as happy as a pig in the proverbial. I pictured a similar scene in the UK and the audible shock and horror from the blue rinsed old ladies that would inevitably follow.

Dogs on utes

If I'm driving somewhere in the neighbourhood, I'll often spot a ute in the traffic, obligatory tradie at the wheel, rangy old mutt in the open flatbed at the rear of the truck sizing me up.

It's ordinary to see these cars fly past, dog bracing itself in the back, ears flattened, and a look of either sheer terror or open excitement on its face. I just haven't figured out which.

I flit between the camp that loudly declares this as being an inhumane way to treat a pet animal and the camp that wonders if the dog isn't loving every minute of it's open-top adventure.

I'm not even certain it's legal but, as with most things here, you treat each day with an open mind and learn to expect the unexpected.

If you happen to pass through the central business district of Sydney, buzzing with activity as office workers go about their day macchiatos and cappuccinos at the ready, sun-worshipping tourists crowding the streets, I dare you not to stare at the mutts and mongrels riding around like carnival queens on the back of their master's vehicles.

It's nothing less than plain weird.

Saint Nick at the bowlo

In July, a large part of the planet is sweltering at the peak of summer. Here in Australia, it's mid-winter, even if the average temperature rivals those of Europe. So it's generally warm and it's the middle of the year. In other words, it's as far removed from Christmas as it could possibly be.

It's therefore bizarre to see Santa Claus bowling at the local lawn bowls club.

My wife pointed him out to me matter-of-factly. It was perfectly obvious to her that someone would dress up in heavy red robes and a flowing white beard in the middle of July. Apparently, I was witnessing Christmas in July, an annual Christmas-themed celebration that occurs in, well, July. Let me explain.

In the southern hemisphere, winter falls in July. The mornings and nights get colder, and the days grow shorter. Given that Christmas Day is often stinking hot, falling in the middle of summer, Australians celebrate a second Christmas with more of a wintry feel. The old man dressed in his unusual get-up is considered quite normal Down Under and Saint Nick can be spotted at special events and in shopping malls, clubs and bowlos across the land.

All this to say, in my six years here, I've seen Santa on a surfboard in December and now I've seen him on a lawn bowls green in July.

I've also seen thong-throwing competitions at beach parties, an obsession with local petrol prices on the nightly news, too many drivers who can't drive around roundabouts, and an absolute (and understandable) adoration of the meat pie.

What are the kookiest things you've seen in expat life? What are the things where you live that might make others whip their heads around and go "huh"?

Share your kooky examples below.

Here are some other wonderfully whacky things about Australia and Australians, recently published in the Sydney Morning Herald - We're a weird mob: Australians' bizarre behaviour.

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