It’s the Little Things

HEY! Hamilton Columnist

It’s always the little things in life, the small stuff that will catch you out. Just when you think you have a handle on things, it’s the tiny details that always seem to trip you up. And so it is with the English language, or as I like call it here, “American.”

Whether it’s trying to figure out the difference between ‘color’ and ‘colour’ or if you should refer to an aluminum can or an aluminium one, you always have to be thinking ahead. The toughest one of late has been the transition from centre to center and from theatre to theater, and yes, I still had to give that some thought as I wrote it.

The first time I went to Germany, I went prepared – language lessons, research, reading, asking questions. I was ready for a different culture, different words and a different sensibility. The first time I came to America, I wasn’t so focused. I thought I knew it all. I had grown up watching American TV shows from I Love Lucy through to The Sopranos. Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 played on Australian radios every Sunday night. I’d had my tenth birthday at McDonald’s, and I’d worn Levis all through my teens. I knew America. Bring it on.

Yeah, it was a theory. Ignorance is bliss, as may be arrogance, for neither of them did me any good. The five minutes I spent in an elaborate game of charades after asking for a serviette (napkin) at Bob Evans should have given me a clue. But no.

I used to watch old cowboy films and was always perplexed why anyone would eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It just seemed really odd, but they were cowboys, so the ropin’ and shootin’ was going to make up for it. You see where I grew up, a biscuit was something more like an Oreo or Graham Cracker. With gravy? No, not so nice.

And there was Richie Cunningham on Happy Days tucking into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Ewww! For what we called jelly, you call Jello. A Jif and Jello sandwich? Enjoy that thought. Oh, speaking of Jif, Jif was a bathroom cleaner; that sure made for an interesting conversation at Kroger the first time.

My local grocery store growing up was called Coles, the department store named Myer. I had arrived on the other side of the planet, and suddenly my world was upside down!

You say ban-nah-nah. I say bah-nar-nar.

I realized (and please note the ‘z’ folks) that after a little time, that while I may not be in Kansas anymore, I was certainly not in Oz. The America that I thought I knew, I really knew nothing about at all. I needed to be schooled. Not just in language but in weight, dates and temperature.

It’s taken a while and I’m still learning. The ‘zed’ in the spelling of my name is now a ‘zee.’ Writing dates backwards, month/day instead of day/month, still does my head in, and I am pretty sure it will take me as long as everyone else to learn my Social Security Number – ten years.

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Ian MacKenzie-Thurley is the new Executive Director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Previously he has worked in artistic, programming and administrative roles that include productions at the Sydney Opera House, the 2012 London Olympics Cultural Olympiad and also as a producing Artistic Director.


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One thought on “It’s the Little Things”

  1. I recognise many of the colourful things you describe Ian. I always sing the “ABC” song with ♫♪… “X, Y, Zed”… ♫♪. BBQ in Australia is a tool for cooking, not a food group. Took me a while for this to sink in. Not to mention filling your tank with Gas (Petrol in Australia, short for Petroleum). The trunk of a car is “boot” in Australia and I still convert “lane ends in 1500 feet” to this is around 450 metres. To be “pissed” in Australian is to have had too many alcoholic beverages. Thongs in Australia are called “flip flops” in the USA. A fanny pack is “bum bag” in Australia, the term “fanny” can be quite rude in Australia. Shrimp are small prawns in Australia. I’m off to put another prawn on the barbie. 🙂 Please familliarise yourself with more fabulous Australian terms.

    1. Arvo: afternoon

    2. Barbie: barbeque

    3. Bogan: redneck, an uncultured person. According to the Australian show Bogan Hunters, a real bogan sports a flanno (flannel shirt), a mullet, missing teeth, homemade tattoos (preferably of the Australian Flag or the Southern Cross), and has an excess of Australia paraphernalia. This “species of local wildlife” can be found by following their easily distinguishable tracks from burnouts or the smell of marijuana.

    4. Bottle-O: bottle shop, liquor store

    5. Chockers: very full

    6. Esky: cooler, insulated food and drink container

    7. Fair Dinkum: true, real, genuine

    8. Grommet: young surfer

    9. Mozzie: mosquito

    10. Pash: a long passionate kiss. A pash rash is red irritated skin as the result of a heavy make-out session with someone with a beard.

    11. Ripper: really great

    12. Roo: kangaroo. A baby roo, still in the pouch, is known as a Joey

    13. Root: sexual intercourse. This one can get really get foreigners in trouble. There are numerous stories about Americans coming to Australia telling people how they love to “root for their team.” If you come to Australia, you would want to use the word “barrack” instead. On the same note, a “wombat” is someone who eats roots and leaves.

    14. Servo: gas station. In Australia, a gas station is called a petrol station. If you ask for gas, don’t be surprised if someone farts.

    15. She’ll be right: everything will be all right

    16. Sickie: sick day. If you take a day off work when you are not actually sick it’s called chucking a sickie.

    17. Slab: 24-pack of beer

    18. Sook: to sulk. If someone calls you a sook, it is because they think you are whinging

    19. Stubbie holder: koozie or cooler. A stubbie holder is a polystyrene insulated holder for a stubbie, which is a 375ml bottle of beer.

    20. Sweet as: sweet, awesome. Aussies will often put ‘as’ at the end of adjectives to give it emphasis. Other examples include lazy as, lovely as, fast as and common as.

    21. Ta: thank you

    22. Togs: swim suit

    23. Tradie: a tradesman. Most of the tradies have nicknames too, including brickie (bricklayer), truckie (truckdriver), sparky (electrician), garbo (garbage collector) and chippie (carpenter).

    24. Ute: Utility vehicle, pickup truck

    25. Whinge: whine

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