Monday, August 15, 2011

The Top 5 Best Phrases in Kiwi English

“I can speak American, British, Kiwi, Aussie, Canadian, and a tiny bit of Spanish.” –a seasonal worker at Mt. Ruapehu orientation

Living in a lodge or town full of seasonal workers is an interesting experience for many reasons. For one, it often feels like a college dorm because the average age of seasonal workers is somewhere between 20 and 25, and the most common night-time activity is drinking followed by loud talking, dancing, and sometimes running or pranking co-workers.

But because we are from all over the world--Taiwan, China, Chile, Argentina, Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, South Africa, America, and Canada—it is also a multilingual place. Many people have come to New Zealand to learn English, which can cause for some really long and strenuous Spanglish conversations or blank looks. And the fact is, even native English speakers have trouble understanding each other at times. American English is different from British English, and Kiwi English is different still.

Language is such a flowing and changing entity in each country that almost all words were borrowed and changed from some other country, so when I decided to make a list of my top five favourite Kiwi phrases I was not concerned with their country of origin. I only care that they are spoken constantly in New Zealand.

What I love about comparing different forms of language is how much it can tell you about a culture. Language is often such a clear reflection of the attitude and the pride of a society as much as their art, music, and food tell stories about who they are. In New Zealand, the slang is friendly and relaxed. It often sounds direct and unflowery, but also inviting.

So here we go, my top five favourite Kiwi phrases are:

#5 Nicknames. I’ve found that Kiwis (and Australians) shorten anything. Breakfast becomes brekkie, hot chocolate chockie, McDonald’s is Mackey’s. Even cities and towns are not exempt: Franz Josef Glacier is Franz, Palmerston North is Palmy, Ohakune is simply Kune, and Wellington is Welly. This form of abbreviation or nicknames makes every concept and place seem more familiar, more fun, or more like home.

#4 Hey/ey, bro and babe. Hey in the US is a way to say hello, but in New Zealand most people add ey or hey to the end of their sentences. After a few weeks of being in New Zealand, I purposely picked this up. It makes me feel some kind of solidarity with other people. Like because we are all humans, they will obviously understand what I am about to say. “The weather was awful last night, ey?”  “The new girl seems really cool, hey?” Some Aussies and Kiwis I’ve met also add bro or babe to the end of sentences, and I think it has the same effect. “Thanks, bro,” sounds familiar and friendly, just as “It’s alright, babe” sounds slightly sweeter than the phrase by itself. That one word addition changes my statements into conversation-starters and to my foreign ear, makes the conversation sound much more relaxed, like I am part of the community.

#3 Cheers—this one word says it all. Thank you, take care, goodbye all with a friendly familiarity that we lack in America. I really wish this word could catch on in my home country.

#2 Good on ya. This phrase sounded so awkward to me before I entered the country. It is said as a form of encouragement, congratulations or thanks. For example: “I got incredibly pissed last night” “Good on ya, mate” or “Here is the rent payment I owe you,” “Good on ya.” This phrase is sometimes said so casually and quickly that my German friend, Alex, who is still honing his English and learning all of the Kiwi phrases thought that our landlord had a queer fascination with onions. “Why is he always saying good onion?” he asked me one night. Good on ya, Alex.

#1 Sweet as. This is the most famous Kiwi phrase, but what I love about it is the form: any adjective can be followed by the word “as” for extra emphasis, for ex: funny as, hard as, cold as, hot as, cool as, anything as! We already do this a bit in America but we feel the need to explain more: “Cool as shit,” or “Hot as hell.” In the Kiwi tradition of shortening everything, they’ve simplified the statement to all you need to know. Cool as, bro.

Runners up: 
Shattered as a way to say really tired or exhausted
Crook, is another word here for sick
Guttered to mean really disappointed or sad
Knock off, meaning leave, for ex: “You can knock off work early today; we’re not that busy.”
The different names for vegetables: Kiwis say capsicum for bell peppers, and aubergine for eggplant
Shot, my Aussie friend Kat says that this is her favourite way to say thank you. It still sounds odd to me, but it is a way some people say cheers or thanks here, for ex: a bus driver might say, “Aw, it’s raining, so I can drop you right at your front door, so you don’t have to walk from the bus stop.” “Aw, shot.”

If you stay in a country long enough, no matter where you are from, you will start picking up their phrases. When I first arrived in New Zealand, I fell in love with saying “sweet as” or “cool as,” but it wasn’t until I had lived here for a few months before I felt comfortable saying it in front of other Kiwis. Was I allowed to say their phrase? Was I using it correctly? But once I got up the nerve to use the phrases I liked, I realized how they natural they sounded and that my using them was just another form of praising this new culture.

The Kiwis and travellers I’ve met have started telling me the American expressions they like too, which is fun to hear. My English friend, Sophie, loved the expression, “That’s so cute,” that many Americans say to compliment a piece of clothing or an object. Some of my Kiwi co-workers think it’s funny that I say, “yo” to start conversations, that my boyfriend Abe says “dude” all the time, and that we both end a lot of conversations with, “awesome.” “What an American, surfer thing to say!” they all exclaim.

This is one conversation that every traveller I’ve met enjoys having because some differences are so strange or subtle that they are really fun to discover. If any readers have favourite phrases from around the world, please share them with me. I never get tired of learning about language.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Joy of Hitchhiking

There is a thrill to hitchhiking: the thrill of the unknown. When that car slows down on the side of the road, nothing is set. I don’t know who is in the car, where they are from, where they are going, or even where I’ll end up. Sometimes it takes jumping in and out of 2 or 3 cars to get to my destination for the day, and some drivers have tried to convince me to join them wherever they were going.

Hitchhiking is like an adventure sport: the adrenaline, the small sense of danger, and the journey. My German friend Alex used to joke that if I was with him, he’d always get picked up. I was magic, he said. I suspect my only magic was being female, but I like to imagine I’d do well if it was a sport.

The first time I hitchhiked, it was out of need. I was living and working in Franz Josef Glacier, a town of 350 people, two tourist gift shops, a dairy (tiny NZ grocery stores that are closer in size to a 7/11), and a movie theatre that shows one film on loop about the glacier. When the weather started to get colder, my British friend, Sophie, (who loves adventure but who is even shyer than I am) and I found ourselves without a car but with a need for warmer clothes. We realized hitchhiking to the nearest town with a warehouse (similar to Walmart), Greymouth, might be our only option.

Since Grey is three hours drive, we knew we could not take the bus. We only had one day off from work. But our co-workers assured us that many people drive from Franz to Grey in one day. We would have no problem getting picked up, they said, because there is only one road from Franz to Grey—the winding two-lane State Highway Six—and it’s filled with trucks, campervans, and buses travelling through New Zealand.

I was nervous walking out to the road with Sophie, but we had already decided we were hitchhiking. There was nothing else to do, so I stuck out my thumb. Less than a minute later, a car full of Kiwis screeched to a stop in front of us. And five cars, two artists, one father, two guys that wanted a date, one invitation to stay the night in a woman’s spare bedroom, a night trip to see the glacier, and nine hours later, we made it safely to Grey and back, exhilarated.

I like hitchhiking, and that surprises even me. When I first arrived in this country my only experience with hitchhiking was from movies where people got abducted or robbed. I thought that anyone who would dare try hitchhiking was either crazy or stupid. But in a small country full of immigrants and travellers, hitchhiking seems like a normal form of transport. I hitchhike to the supermarket if the nearest food store is too far to walk, and why shouldn’t I?

I like hitchhiking for all of its possibilities. It allows me to meet to people outside of those in my daily life and throws me into a conversation with them because of the social contract we all live by. No one can get a free ride from someone and not at least ask them how they are or who they are, and the answers I get are always surprising and never dull. Need inspiration? Crave human connection? Come to New Zealand and stick your thumb out.

I no longer have any trepidation about hitchhiking in New Zealand; it left me that first day. The only anxiety a hitchhiker ever has in New Zealand is that the conversation will die. And that is something a hitchhiker never wants to happen because in my experience, the type of people who pick up hitchhikers all fall into two categories:

  • People who relate to hitchhikers—either they hitchhiked themselves or they have kids and view helping you as aiding one of their own.
  • People who are lonely—a really nice Czech girl picked me up once in a fancy rental car, and just as I was wondering why she had cared to stop for me when so many other people in nice cars passed me by she admitted she hadn’t been able to get a radio signal for the last 50 km, and she was so bored she was scared she’d fall asleep at the wheel.

When being picked up by either type of person, it is the hitchhiker’s responsibility to fill the car with conversation. Share your story, and listen to theirs. Since many hitchhikers in New Zealand are foreigners backpacking through the country, many people I’ve met wanted to pick me up to see what I thought of their country—how did it compare to my own? A few times I had nothing in common with the driver who picked me up. A few times I rode with a person who asked me if I was stuck working for those Indians in a way that I knew meant racism. And it’s those days when I arrive at my new noisy hostel, and think man, hitchhiking is hard work. And maybe the next day, I decide to take the bus.

Often though, hitchhiking forms friendships, relays wisdom, or at least provides that simple human need for good conversation. I’ve met locals who tell me what they like about living in New Zealand, details about the country’s history, industries, weather, cultures, some who offered me a free place to stay or a job. I’ve met other travellers who shared tips about the best places to visit, hiking trails, or stories about their homelands. Most of the people I’ve met will share whatever they have to give.

When I return to the United States I think I will miss the community of hitchhikers and all of the people who pick us up. But I cannot imagine hitchhiking in the U.S., especially if I am living in a large city like Washington, DC. So when I return, I will try to find another way to connect with travellers and foreigners living in the United States. I want to give back to people the way so many Kiwis went out of their way to share themselves and anything they had with me in New Zealand.

Monday, August 1, 2011

To Those of You Who Want To Travel

The response to one of my last posts, Distance Makes the Patriotism Grow Stronger, was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Thank you all for reading about my journey and for sharing so much personal feedback. It made me remember how surprised I was when I told my co-workers and friends in Washington, DC that I was quitting my job and moving to New Zealand the response was mostly envious. 

People all around me sighed and confessed how much they would love to up and leave and travel the world. How did you decide to do it? How did you save the money? They all asked.

It was simple. I wanted to do something different; I was restless. And so I wandered through the travel sections at bookstores and did a bit of internet surfing. I worked hard to put away slightly more money for most months out of a year (not even every month!), and then I went. 

There is no magic to it. You only need a little money if you can get a work permit, and it is very easy for Americans to get work permits in many countries. I quit my job as many of the other travellers I’ve met did. But I’ve also met people who liked the jobs they left, so they asked their employers for a leave of absence or for a promise of employment when they returned if positions were available. You do not have to give up everything. I’ve met people who sublet their apartment or house, so they could return to it later and who are going back to a job or a school they love. 

If you want to travel, do not wait. Form a plan, talk to people and read about it, and go. You will never regret trying to do something you love.