In another delightful burst of whimsy, CLIVE WILLIAMS shares his experience of talking like an American…
AN Australian female meeting an American male for the first time and him saying: “Hi, I’m Randy” might cause her to blush, given its raunchy Australian meaning (Australian “randy” translates to American “horny”)
I’ve spent a few years working in the US and learned to speak American English and adopt American syntax to avoid blank expressions from my American interlocutors.
For example, most Americans have no idea what a fortnight is, so it’s better just to say two weeks. Most Americans are paid weekly or monthly, unlike Australian employees who are often paid fortnightly – which may account for its common usage here and not in the US.
Words that are spelt the same can have different meanings as well. “Your flight will be taking off momentarily” might cause alarm in Australia and rapid checking to see if it’s a crash-prone Boeing 737 MAX. In Australia, “momentarily” means “for a short period of time”. In America it means “soon”, so Americans would no doubt be pleased to know their flight was taking off “momentarily”.
American black people can understandably be touchy about perceived racism. I once innocently asked a black waitress for a white coffee – most Americans have no idea what a flat white is. It raised her temperature alarmingly. I should have asked for a coffee with cream.
In Australia, the entrée dish comes before the main meal. In America, the main course is the entrée dish and the dish before that is the appetiser, which is odd because in French, entrée means “beginning”. And in America a biscuit is a cookie, and a scone is a biscuit!
Australians are far more exposed to American English from TV shows and movies than Americans are to Australian English. Many Americans are surprised to discover that Australians can speak English, and often think Australia is somewhere near Germany.
At the start of my first army posting to the US military in Arizona, I was required to take an English language test to determine whether I could communicate effectively with my American colleagues.
While Australians can usually converse reasonably well with Americans, Americans may have no clue what New Zealanders are saying. I recall being at Auckland airport when passengers on a flight to the US were called to the “chicken counter”. There were blank looks from the Americans, but of course the Kiwi passengers speedily lined up at the check-in counter. Presumably, the Americans headed for KFC.
In due course we will be able to travel to the US again, so I thought I would provide a helpful word conversion list to aid the first-time Australian traveller:
Australian to American
Anti- = Counter- (as in anti-clockwise)
Bathroom = Room containing a bath and/or shower but not necessarily a toilet
Biscuit = Cookie
Bonnet = Hood (of a car)
Boot = Trunk (of a car)
Bottle Shop = Off licence
Chemist = Drugstore (usually supermarket size)
Chips = French fries
Crisps = Chips
Drawing Pin = Thumbtack
Dressing Gown = Bathrobe
Flat/Unit = Apartment
Full Stop = Period
Grill = Broil
Holiday = Vacation
Indicator = Turn signal (of a car)
Job = Mission (as in completing the job)
Jumper = Sweater
Lavatory = Bathroom
Lift = Elevator
Mobile (phone) = Cell (phone)
Pavement = Sidewalk
People = Folks
Petrol = Gas
Post = Mail
Postcode = Zip
Randy = Horny
Rubbish = Garbage
Scone = Biscuit
Soft Drink = Soda
“Sorry” = “Excuse me” (when you bump into someone)
Spanner = Wrench
Sweets = Candy
Trainers = Sneakers
Trousers = Pants
Vest = Undershirt
Wardrobe = Closet
Clive Williams is a Canberra columnist