Category Archives: language

The Zebra Conundrum Part 2: Notes on a Third Culture Kid’s Accent

language, Little Aussie

Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent“She’s been telling us all the names for this,” the daycare worker told me this morning, holding up a garden toy. “She said it’s a spade, and can also be called a shovel.” That’s my cunning little AusMerican, showing off a skill she’s worked out all on her own.

Last year, I wrote “The Zebra Conundrum,” a post where I talked about choosing whether to pronounce words my way (American) or the Australian way when talking to and reading with my 2 year old burgeoning talker. At that point, it still wasn’t clear what words she would pick up, with what pronunciation, or if she’d find it all terribly confusing. I was certainly finding it confusing.

When I’m speaking to Australians, I’m pretty good about changing my language from Yank to Aussie, but it feels odd to do so when speaking to my nearest and dearest. Like a fraud. Or, a even a betrayal.

Maybe that was a smidge dramatic.

Today, I have a 3 year old chatterbox, and the funniest thing has happened. Australians tell me that she has an American accent. Americans, on the other hand, hear an Australian accent. And, I can see where they’re both coming from.

At the gym creche, the Australian workers like to ask her to say “soccer” because they think it’s cute how she says “sock-ER,” not “SOCK-a.” Yet, I’m continually taken aback when she asks to eat a “to-mah-toe.” Yet, somehow, she requests a “buh-NAN-uh,” not “BAN-nan-uh.”

The other day, she ran up to this thing at the playground, and told me – Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent

…”I want to go on the roundabout…” It took me a moment to even remember which country calls it that.

It became clear to me that she’d picked up on the social nuances one day when we were out with a British friend of mine. Hushpuppy had chosen a doll, and she marched up to my friend and told her that the baby was wearing a (*insert nearly indiscernible pause*) “nappie,” despite the fact that I have only ever called them “diapers” at home. Somehow she knew that my friend, who speaks with a different accent than her mother, would know them as “nappies.”

When I wrote about the Zebra Conundrum, I was mostly concerned with how my word and pronunciation choices were going to impact her future language. What I didn’t give nearly enough credit to was TV. We like our ABC Kids in this home, and they show programs from Australia, England, and the U.S. I believe that, more than anything I’ve done or not done, that the mix of accents from The Wiggles, Peppa Pig, Curious George, and so forth, has impacted her fluidity in moving between accents. I don’t know how else you can explain the way she occasionally whips out the most British sounding “mummy!” just like our hero, Peppa Pig.

She also recently began childcare, and looking around her center, she’s surrounded by a lot of other Third Culture Kids, who will surely be leaving little linguistic stamps on each other, as their language develops together.

From before she was even born, everyone we know wondered how her accent would turn out. Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman? Or, Guy Ritchie era Madonna?

While it’s still a work in progress, it would seem that she’s sounding exactly as she ought to – one part her parents, one part her culture, and a big sprinkling of her own wits, desires, and charm.Notes on the accent of a Third Culture Kid

Mom in a Mum’s World: The Zebra Conundrum

expat issues, language

This book stresses me out:

photo 1 (7)

It’s Peppa Pig’s first sleepover, and in heavy rotation in Hushpuppy’s favorites. It gives me a little pit in my stomach every time because I can’t avoid naming the sleepover hosts, the Zebra family. And by the Zebra’s, of course, I mean the Zeb-ruhs. Or, do I mean the ZEE-bruhs? It’s so hard for me to decide.

Now that Hushpuppy is picking up an astounding number of new words, I am starting to find the Zebra Conundrum an unavoidable and daily minefield. There are numerous words that we Americans and Australians either pronounce differently or use different expressions, altogether. For instance, this week we were out and passed a BP station. Hushpuppy pointed at the building and asked, “that?”.

“Gas station,” I told her. “I mean, petrol station.”

Or, this: photo 2 (5)

Every time we get to J in Bananas in Pajamas (sorry, Pyjamas), I take a tiny inhale and deceitfully change “jelly” to “Jell-o.” I did the same with a book we borrowed from the library that talked about a “lady bird.” I changed it to “ladybug” every time.

When I’m speaking to Australians, I’m pretty good about changing my language from Yank to Aussie, but it feels odd to do so when speaking to my nearest and dearest. Like a fraud. Or, a even a betrayal.

But, I always wonder if I’m doing Hushpuppy a disservice by not familiarizing her with the words that her colleagues and teachers will certainly say when she gets to school. Will they laugh or even scold her the first time “ZEE-bruh” rolls off of her sweet and unsuspecting lips? I was asking Partner-in-Crime his opinion the other day and his suggestion was that she’ll learn the Aussie way from exposure, and that there’s no need to change our way of speaking. “She’ll be bilingual!,” he said.

I suppose that makes sense to me. Children who grow up actually bilingual learn both languages without much trouble. I’m no expert in child language development, but it seems like the same principle ought to apply here.

So, I think I’ve decided on continuing to use the words and pronunciations that are comfortable for me – my “mother tongue,” if you will, and trust that Hushpuppy will sort it all out without too many problems. So, at home, jelly is still going to be the stuff we spread on peanut butter sandwiches and Peppa is going to continue to visit the ZEE-bruh family … and, for the record, Zebra is going to start with a zee, instead of a zed.

Seychelles Mama

10 Australian Expressions I Can’t Live Without

10 Australian Expressions I Can't Live Without

I love it when I find a word or phrase that fills a need and says something that nothing else in the language does. I adore the Southernism, “y’all” for this very reason. It may be a bit of a joke on Southern dialect to people outside the region, but there’s no other word in English that means “you” in the plural, so I love it and will continue to use it with no apologies.

Recently, I’ve noticed that there are a few Australian terms (some of them are British/Aussie) that have become essential in my vocabulary. They fill a linguistic void for me. I’ve been keeping notes when one pops out of my mouth, and this is a list of 10 Australian expressions that slip off my tongue with ease.10 Australian Expressions I Can't Live Without


1. Cheeky

This is such a favorite, especially now that I have a kid. I use it all the time regarding mine and other people’s children. It describes something that’s a little bit naughty, kind of sly, but in a good natured or funny way. I use it a lot for children, but it can be used in many different scenarios. One I hear a lot is, “do you want to go get a cheeky coffee?,” meaning “do you want to slip away for a bit for a coffee and a quick chat, even if there might be other things we should/could be doing.”

2. It’s a dog’s breakfast

I love this one for how descriptive it is. It means that a situation is a mess. For instance, you might call a project at work “a dog’s breakfast” if it goes completely off the rails, maybe due to someone’s incompetence or extenuating circumstances. I’ve also heard it used to refer to something visual like a piece of art that’s particularly ugly.

3. Budgie smugglers

…speaking of things that are descriptive. Maybe it’s a little juvenile, but I get such a kick out of this phrase. First thing you need to know, if you aren’t familiar with the term, is that “budgies” are a little bird that we in the States would call a parakeet. Budgie smugglers are men’s Speedo style swim trunks. I’ve created a visual, just in case any further explanation is required, with the help of our former Prime Minister, who loves his short shorts.

Also, can I just mention how much I love that this is the first result that comes up when you put in “Tony Abbott b…”

4. Feral children

This is another one that’s become useful since having a baby. It’s just what it sounds like – wild, untamed kids, particularly yours or those you encounter out and about. “My kid is feral today. I need a drink.”

5. Chuffed

This is an awesome way of saying that you’re really happy about something. It’s almost onomatopoeic, such a round and puffy word, you can’t help but get a little grin when you say it.

6. Spit the dummy

I actually never knew what this mean until I had Hushpuppy. A dummy is what we Americans call a pacifier, and during Hushpuppy’s short-lived interest in paccies/binkies/dummies, I saw first-hand where the expression came from. If she didn’t want it, she’d spit it out in a fit of disgust. So, the expression “spit the dummy” is just that – a fit of anger or annoyance, losing your temper. “Randall spit the dummy when he heard they were thinking about pay cuts.”

7. Fortnight

Before moving here, a fortnight was something I’d only encountered in Jane Austen novels, as in “we’ll be in the country visiting the Collingsworth estate for a fortnight.” Everyone was always going visiting for a fortnight. Turns out that a fortnight is fourteen “nights,” or more succinctly, two weeks. It’s common here to be billed for something forthnightly or to set up an appointment for a fortnight from now.

8. Just quietly

Between you and me. “Just quietly, I didn’t think the wine they served was as good as they kept saying it was.”

9. Keen

Keen means that you really want to do something. At first I mostly used it when talking to Aussies, but I find it very useful and notice it slipping in all the time. “Can we invite Marsha to the movie? She’s really keen to see it.”

10. Losing the plot

I use this phrase all the time. It’s so great. It means that you or someone has gone a bit nutty or lost track of what’s important in a situation. “Why did he do that? Has he lost the plot?”  The first page of a Google search for “lost the plot” comes up with articles  titled “Has Paula Abdul completely lost the plot?” and the one to the right. The idea of Angela Merkel actually saying “lost the plot” seriously slays me.

All these phrases have become natural to me, and I find them endlessly useful. American friends, next time we talk, you’ll no doubt hear at least one of these gems sneak into our conversation.

Day 19: Notes on My Accent

expat blog challege, language

Prompt: My accent

I have a lot of conversations that go like this:

“Where are you from?”
“The States.”
“What part.”
“I grew up in Atlanta.”
“… Atlanta?. … You don’t have a Southern accent.”

True story. I don’t. I was born in Phoenix and didn’t move to Georgia until I was 9, so my accent was well established by then. Aside from a few phases I picked up living in the South – y’all and hey (instead of hi) come to mind – there’s hardly more than a hint of the South in the way I speak. We lived in the Atlanta metro suburbs, and not too many people I knew spoke with strong Southern accents, either, as many were fairly recent transplants to the South. In fact, my high school, was one of the most demographically diverse in the region. When I went to college an hour north of Atlanta, I encountered far more deep Southern accents, and I think I developed more of a lilt to my way of speaking then. My mom lives in Northeast Georgia now, so I suppose that’s my home base, and when I return, I notice a definite creeping in of just a touch of a Southern accent, probably so slight that only I would notice it, but I just get a bit sloooower, and a wee bit more “weeelll aaaalll-riiiit, y’all.”

I always say that I have a “neutral accent.” It’s sort of mid-western, not really overly influenced by any particular region. That is to say, I felt that I didn’t have an accent. Ha! We Americans always think about Australians in terms of their great accents; but, guess what, I live in Australia now, and it turns out that I’m the one with the accent. Who knew?!
I learned a big lesson about how much our accents define us to other people when I worked in a call center for, like, 4 minutes (OK, three months). As part of our training, we spent time listening in to real calls with our headphones plugged into those of someone working in the call center. One day, I got paired up with an Indian girl – and when I say that she was Indian, I mean she was from India, but had clearly been in Australia far longer than I had. During the time I sat with her, you can’t believe how many people started off the conversation by interrogating her about where she was located. They didn’t want to be speaking to someone in an Indian call center, who (I’m projecting) they assumed would not give them adequate service or know the language well enough. It just so happened that we were in the absolute middle of Sydney, we were literally looking out the window at Town Hall, and it also just so happened that she’d worked in this call center for ages and knew how to get pretty much anything done. Callers were in far better hands with her than with  a lot of us working there.
When I made it onto the phones, I baffled people. They’d call up a company in Australia and get someone with, not only not an Australian accent, but also not an accent that seemed to fit any predefined notion they had about what call center workers sound like. I also sometimes got the “where are you located?” When I said Sydney, it sometimes stopped the conversation for a second. I wondered if they were pondering if the company had moved its call center to North America.
Turns out it’s a big world full of stories, and things aren’t always what we expect on first encounter
People, including us, are often curious to know how Hushpuppy’s accent is going to turn out. I have my American accent, Partner-in-Crime speaks with sort of a hybrid from his European roots and the second half of his life spent in the U.S., and she is growing up in Australia.
I took this video of her the other day, and I think you can see how she’s developed her own accent.
Well, makes sense to her, anyway!

How to Be as Laid Back as an Aussie in 9 Easy Phrases


Expat Blog Awards 2013 Contest Entry
I feel like all I’ve been doing here lately is linking you to other places, but alas, here I am doing it once more. This one is completely expat related, however, and it’s a blog contest entry for this blog, so if you wouldn’t mind, head over to Expat Blog and read my contest entry, “How to Be as Laid Back as an Aussie in 9 Easy Phrases.”

How to Be as Laid Back as an Aussie in 9 Easy Phrases

Normally, I don’t ask for comments, as that seems a little bit dirty, but this contest happens to be based on gathering comments, and seeing as how it’s worth actual money and some kind of fancy e-ribbon thing, I’ll go ahead and do a little pandering. If you like this blog or like me, it would be awesome if you could leave a comment of 10 words or more. Or, click one of the little boxes for sharing or liking on Facebook or Twitter. I think that does something to help me, too.

Make sure to comment over there, not here. You can comment here, too, because you double like me, but mostly comment over there.

Yech, I do feel a little dirty. I promise you lots of actual non-pandery, original content soon.

In the meantime, how about a very Aussie picture of the Hushpuppy in a Santa suit?


New Zealand Part 3: Wellington

language, New Zealand

Part 1 and 2 are here and here.

Our first stop on the North Island was the capital city of Wellington.

Getting off the ship, we had to dodge the cruise photographers who were eager to take our photo with a homeless teenager in a pageboy wig. “What are you?” we asked. The vagrant looked at us with an expression that may have either said, “Are you people slow?” or “I hate my life,” or some combination of both, and informed that he was, in fact, a hobbit.

Ah, of course – Wellington is home of Peter Jackson and LOTR territory. We found many opportunities to buy grotesque hobbit-inspired paraphernalia in Wellington, which we valiantly managed to resist for the entirety of the day.

Our first stop in Wellington was Te Papa, the national museum. We stopped at the information desk to get our bearings, and an unbelievably personable young gent told us what to see and where. An Australian woman from the cruise found her way into the conversation, and when our museum friend suggested that we go to level 6, she was delighted and said, “WHERE?!?”

“Seeex,” our friend said. The Australian howled. She knew perfectly well what he meant, but it was her national duty to give the Kiwi a hard time. “Taking the piss” is a favorite Australian pastime, rivaled only by making fun of New Zealand.

This would be a good place for me to take a side trip to talk about the fabulously charming Kiwi accent. Before coming to Australia, I would not have been able to tell the difference between New Zealand and Australian accents, which seems absurd to me now. The Kiwi accent is completely unique. Australians like to joke about Kiwis ordering “fush and chups” (fish and chips). I had no problem understanding the accent, but did have to rescue Partner-in-Crime a couple of times – like when we were in a bottle shop and the hostess suggested we try a “bleeend” (sounds like “bleed” with an “n”). After she repeated it twice, I could tell P-i-C was lost, and I had to translate “blend.” I was in love with the accent and wanted to talk like a Kiwi for the entire trip, and a week or two once we got home.

Here’s a skit from a comedy show that will show you exactly what I’m talking about – just a beeet of fun.

Back on the track – Wellington, and Te Papa … Once we figured out where to go (“up the leeeft to seeex”), we spent a couple hours touring the museum. I spent the most time with the Maori exhibit and a large section on phases of immigration to New Zealand. P-i-C’s interest was caught by a section about the complexities of the treaty that was signed between the Europeans and the Maori people.
The exhibit that has stayed in my mind the most is a room that was designed as a modern day interpretation of a Maori meeting house. It was so clever and beautiful.

After Te Papa, we wandered off in search of a free Wi-fi signal to check emails, and ended up setting ourselves up on a lawn not far from Wellington’s many Occupiers.

Finishing our occupation, our next destination was the old-fashioned cable car that takes you up a scenic route, ending at the Botanical Garden. Nothing in the world was going to keep the 12-year old boy inside P-i-C off that cable car, and I too found it a charming way to travel. At the end, we were rewarded with the best view of the city we could ask for.

From the Botanical Gardens, we were on a mission. We wanted to make it to the Parliament for the last tour of the day we could take before having to head back to the ship. If we walked briskly, we figured that we could just make it. Thankfully, the fastest route was through the gardens, and from what I could see at lightening speed, they were quite amazing. I made P-i-C stop ever so briefly and begrudgingly so that I could take one photo of the rose garden but it did no justice, so I have no photographic evidence.
Racing to the front entrance of the government executive building (AKA “The Beehive,” AKA “possibly the ugliest building I’ve ever seen”), we learned that the tour was booked out. The security guards reluctantly let us, along with about half a dozen other dejected cruisers, into the foyer to peruse the gift shop, and some kindly volunteers showed us a DVD about the history of the building. Frankly, I would have been happier wandering the Botanical Garden at a leisurely pace, but the downside of cruising is how little time you have to cram your adventures into.

We took a long walk back, passing the old government building, which is the largest wooden building in the Southern Hemisphere. 

I liked it from this angle, which I thought was very New Zealand: Maori meets European:
I got a good laugh on the bus back to the cruise ship. We were docked next to the stadium where the All Blacks rugby team plays, and our driver had fun razzing the Aussies about New Zealand’s recent world championship. Not having a dog in that fight, I enjoyed seeing the Kiwis get one up on Australia, for a change. 
Our time in Wellington was quite short, but I feel we managed a nice sampler. Over the next few days, we had a few more stops on the North Island to complete our tour. More adventures to come. Mercifully, no more hobbits.

Photo 11: Something Blue

language, Sydney

Today’s photo prompt, something blue, was too easy (in Australian parlance). I’ll take any excuse to stroll 15 minutes down the block to the bluest spot I know:

Unrelated to the photo, I got a good laugh out of this post I just saw on Twitter:
You Know You’re Australian When: You can translate ‘Dazza & Shazza played Acca Dacca on the way to Maccas.’

I believe that I’ve arrived because I can translate!
(If you’re not Australian, let me assist: “Darren and Sharon played AC/DC on the way to McDonald’s.”)

My Afternoon Zee Party

expat issues, language, little things

A conversation at work yesterday went something like this …

Me: The name you need is Liza.

Co-worker: Can you spell that?

Me: L-I-Z-A

Co-worker: L-I-T-A?

Me: Z-A

Co-worker: G-A?

Me: Z. For Zoo. Z-A.

Co-worker: Z for … …? L-I-…T-A?

Me: Zoo. Z-A.

Co-worker: … G-A?

Me: … … …

(lightbulb moment, as I remember where I am)

… Zed!
Zed! For Zoo!

(At this point, co-worker was so confused, he said, “So, L-I-TZed-A …? … But, we got there soon after).

I’ve never actually used “zed” before yesterday, despite how common it is here.

I think that makes me the star of the zedbutante ball!

Australia 2.0

expat issues, language

Following nearly a year of unemployment while I searched for my dream job (maybe you remember me whinging here), I eventually buckled down and got a non-dream job, which I’ve been at for six weeks, now. In many ways, the job is quite outside of my wheelhouse … it involves talking on the phone all day, dealing with cranky people, and being part of a huge company with corporate micro-management and excessive use of acronyms.

But, overall, it is a nice company to work for, provides an incredible level of compensation by American standards, and best of all, gives me the chance to leave the house everyday with a sense of purpose. I am simply not a self-motivated enough person for long stretches of free time to serve me well.

The job has also involved an extensive 7-week full-time training period (one more week to go!). During this time, I’ve been in a little room with seven other new recruits and a few trainers. Despite having done a lot of travelling and touristy things, this has honestly been the best education I’ve yet gotten about Australian culture.

A few highlights of my ongoing education:

Social Studies:  Our group is like a little microcosm of Sydney. There is me – ink hardly dry on my visa. Then, there are three Australians who are first generation from China, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. They all have to have one foot in each culture, making them quite individual and interestingly complex. And, finally four “true blue Aussies,” with longer family backgrounds in Oz, round out the crew. Sydney is such a diverse city that our little United Colors of Benneton group seems to me to hold up a mirror to the cultural makeup of the larger metropolis.

English 101: I have learned a whole range of new Aussie slang, and am beginning to suspect that you can apply the “shorten and add “y” or “o”” rule to pretty much any word in order to Aussify it. For awhile, I was coming home with a new one everyday. (“Guess what “dezo” means!” “Guess what polly means!” “Guess what devo means!” …)

English 102: Previously, I believed that there was no equivalent to the Southern word, “y’all” – a plural form of “you.” Well, turns out that there’s a word in Aussie slang … “yous.” Pronounced yooz, it means the same thing as y’all. And, like the much maligned y’all, yous is considered a bit of a bogan-y (read: redneck-y) thing to say. When asked about yous, my posh city friends turned up their noses and said that you would only say it if you were “from the Western suburbs” (read: Alabama/Mississippi/Arkansas … or whatever state/country neighbors yours that you consider to be less educated and/or intelligent). As a Southerner, I think I’m predisposed to have an appreciation for yous.


Math: Since I work with databases, I have to enter dates all day long. Perhaps the hardest part about adjusting to this job has been getting comfortable with the way that dates are notated here.

In the U.S., we say “November 25, 2010” and write “11/25/10.”

Here, they say “25 November 2010” and write “25/11/10.”

Now, if you think about it, this makes a lot more sense because it moves from the smallest unit (day) to the largest (year) in order. Whereas, we Americans mix it all up. But, when you’ve said and written dates in this manner for your entire life, it is muy difficult to adjust on the fly. I keep getting confused.

Psychology: Another interesting way of looking at numbers is the Australian way of reading double or triple numbers in a series.

For example, if an American had an account numbered 255888, we would say, “Two, five, five, eight, eight, eight.

An Australian would say, “Two, double five, triple eight.

The amazing thing about this is that it showcases that we literally see numbers differently. In order to say “double 5,” you have to first put the fives together in your mind. My mind sees “five and then another five,” whereas the Australian mind sees “double five.”

Cultural Exchange: At times, I’ve been the “token American,” and have tried my best to answer such questions as:

-“Why don’t Americans hang their wet clothes out on the line?”
-“What is jelly and why would you ever eat it with peanut butter?”
-“Why do Americans have such huge drinks.”
-“You mean that some people in America don’t have health coverage?”
-“Why does university cost so much in America?”
-“What are grits?”
-“How is Target different in the U.S.?”
-“Do you eat a lot of hot dogs?”

I should add that all of these questions have been asked with a genuine sense of questioning, not in a patronizing way. Everyone in my little group has been so welcoming, and the few Australians I’ve spoken to on the phone so far who have pointed out my American accent have done so with friendly intentions.

After next week, my training is over, and I’ll be spending my all of my days on the phone with all sorts of Australians. No doubt, the cultural education has just begun.

It’s The Little Things: #11 – Adorable Words

language, little things

Oh, I’m going to get in trouble for this one!

It’s the Little Things

#11 – Adorable Words

I am a serious, serious language stickler. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a healthy amount of playing around with language. Like Shakespeare! Heck, I do it all the time in this blog.

I also have a very big ick-factor for things with an imposed cuteness. Cats upside down in trees saying “hang in there!,” for instance. Or couples who insist on taking Eskimo-nose pictures together every time a camera is nearby. Can’t deal.

And thusly, I have an aversion to the part of Australian slang that I have deemed “adorable words.” Australians have a tendency to abbreviate a lot of words by adding an “ie” (sometimes written as “y”), or an “o” to the end of the first syllables of regular words. It is hard for me to explain just how prevalent this is in Australian language. As Jack Donaghy once said, “A lot to very.”

Let me give some examples with a few photos that I took this arvo (afternoon).

These are my sunnies: Photobucket

This is my lippiePhotobucket

This is my brekkiePhotobucket

If I weren’t feeling well, I might take a sickie.
If I got a new car, I’d have to make sure to have a current rego.
If I wanted a vacation, I might go to Melbs or Brissie.

Here’s the thing: I would have so much respect for this mode of speech if there was a legitimate linguistic origin story behind it; but I have asked around and googled away, and found no inclination that this comes from some cultural ancestor. Most people I ask say, “Australians just like to shorten words.” But, that logic doesn’t work out half the time. It takes just as many syllables to say “lipstick,” “breakfast,” “sick day,” and “Brisbane.”

Now, I’m alone in cringing at these cutesie words. I’ve never met anyone else bothered by them, so blame it on my personal crankiness and Grandmother tendencies. Truthfully, they’re very hard to avoid slipping into speech, as hard as I try, which is maybe why they have caught on so thoroughly in the culture – like a catchy pop song that you really want to hate, but can’t. Yes, these words are just like “Single Ladies.”

To conclude, I’ll show you my favorite:


(I always think that the trash vants to be alone.)

Also, if you’re interested in Australian language, there is an excellent page at the National Museum of Australia’s website full of Aussie linguistics.