Before coming to Australia I have been warned that I may find it difficult to understand the language due to the accent. However, I was surprised to find that I had no troubles understanding anyone who I have met. After meeting dozens of international students at the university halls, the first truly Australian person I have met was a nineteen years old boy at a local photography school. The first thing that I have noticed was his accent: a little posh and quite sweet. My impression was that actually Australian people sound somewhat British in a soft and sweet way. Therefore, I have decided it was safe to disregard the warning I was given before my arrival.
Few weeks later, I was traveling on one of the Sydney light rail trains. As I was about to get off at my stop I was approached by a man I did not know. He began talking to me and I could not comprehend a word he was saying. I have apologized and explained that I could not understand. He just patiently repeated what he had said before. We stood on the platform for quite a few minutes, the man trying to express himself clearly enough for me to understand and me – completely puzzled. The man was not discouraged and eventually I have managed to figure out that what he was saying was: “I am not from here, I am from Canberra, and we have underground passages instead of stairs to get off the platform”. As I have finally understood him, the man just wandered off and I still don’t know why was it a message of such crucial importance that it was worth wasting five minutes of his time to communicate it to me. At that time I have realized that the “broad” Australian accent was not a myth, but I was lucky enough to encounter it in the city very rarely.
However, accent did not turn out to be the biggest obstacle on my way to understanding Australians. Most of the misunderstandings I have experienced were actually due to the use of local phrases and expressions. Even though most of the time I can understand my Australian friends perfectly fine, there are certain sentences that I could just not comprehend. It took me a few days to figure out that “heaps” actually just means a lot, that “pants” are just trousers not a pair of underwear, and it’s fine to talk in public about “thongs” because they are just flip-flops. I did not understand why everyone kept asking me “how are you going?” when I was clearly not going anywhere, and why they were asking me if I was “keen” to do something. Interestingly, the lack of understanding was mutual. I have been criticized for saying “hovering” instead of “vacuuming”, since Hover is a brand name not a generic name. And yet I have been laughed at for saying “a plaster” instead of “a band-aid”, because it is a generic name not a brand name…. Typically in this situation I would just say “rubbish”, but Australians fail to understand that I mean “that’s too bad”.
In general, I feel like everyday communication is a type of puzzle based on loose associations. It’s fun to try and figure out what do these strange phrases mean and how to use them. I have worked out a few expression that are my favorites and I attempt to use them correctly. I particularly like a phrase “How do you like them apples?” because it’s meaning is so very elusive. I was told it is used in an arguments to ridicule your conversation partner after providing them with a surprising or disappointing information. I find this definition to be quite vague and I just try and watch out for when people actually use it. I suppose the equivalent I can think of would be a little ironic “How do you like that?”. It is not the only expression that refers to apples, Australians says that “someone will be apples” meaning that they will be alright. Another expression I like is “cat’s pyjamas” meaning something great. It’s one of the expression which meaning I could not guess. I don’t think cat wear pyjamas, and even if they did why would it be so great? I love how completely random this phrase is. In general I find that a lot of Australian phrases arise from the fact that they like to shorten their words or stick them together. Those phrases I can often understand. But my favorites seem to be completely random and strange and they have no equivalent in any of the languages I know. I think that’s what makes them so much fun.
Hopefully, next time my Australian friends decide to test my understanding of Australian phrases to have a laugh, I will be able to identify at least some of them.