Australians like to talk, so do I. But, being British, I use a different language and style. I’m learning to love this country’s way of communicating, as I discover the playful opportunities of difference. Honestly, who can resist fooling folk with a prudish demeanour, before stepping into the outrageous?
Theatre, journalism, conversation, comedy and debate — each method explores our individual quirks. And, because Britain is revered down under, our idiosyncracies are usually considered endearing. I think the same can be said for the Aussie way.
They tell you how it is
Australians are direct. They tell you what they’re thinking, often when you least expect it. Hierarchy doesn’t matter — father-in-law, boss, apprentice — everyone’s up front about what’s going on in their head at that very moment.
This is illustrated perfectly in a common conversation opening. ‘Look…’ people will say, as a means of introducing their line of thought.
To begin with I didn’t get this. In the UK it’s condescending to open a conversation with ‘Look’. People do it to patronise and lead a conversation. For Australians it simply means, ‘Listen, I have something to say’.
They want that good feeling
An Australian struggles to start or end a conversation quickly. They’re keen to warm you up, make you feel at ease, and finish on a positive. You walk into a cafe, shop or office and the first thing somebody will say is ‘How are you?’.
Feel-good phrases crop up often in conversation, ’How good is this coffee?’ or ‘Good on you’. And when you’ve agreed on something, like a day to meet or the milk you want to buy, they’ll say ‘Too easy’, with a smile.
They look for humour
Irreverence is littered throughout Australian language. The places I’m most surprised to come across this is in communications from the police or listening to ABC, the national broadcasting corporation. These are institutions I’ve always known to use formal language.
A recent police campaign led with, ‘Blitz On Seat Belts!’ Well, it’s honest. But I’m not sure about the likelihood of long-term behaviour change.
I was watching a piece of political commentary about gender the other morning, on the breakfast news. One guest referred to a group of women as a ‘bunch of nuns’. I held my breath and waited for the recoil. Instead friendly banter ensued, with laughter about the likelihood Australia will have a permanent-enough government for real change. This was spoken kindly, as a way of bringing people together and avoiding ending the discussion with conflict.
They’re harmlessly derogatory
It takes some getting used to, but Australians affectionately call themselves an ocka, bogan or wog – simultaneously derogatory and affectionate terms for describing a person’s traits. It wouldn’t be appropriate to call somebody else one of these, but folk from down under have an innate knack for laughing at themselves.
Why say the whole word when you can get away with half?
Let’s spend Chrissie on the beach with Ando and fam. I’ll wear the bathers I picked up at Salvos, we can fire up the barbie and make chook and avo sangas.
They value closeness
As soon as your name is tweaked, you’re in. Jimmy, Matty, Timmy, Pippo.
Damn, should have put that on my immigration documents. Would have made things easier.
In my experience, Australians are authentic. They rarely lie.
Brits call young round vegetables petit pois. The Aussies call them baby peas.
Brits pronounce ‘Route’ and ‘Elgin’ in a peculiar way. Aussies say them how language dictates — Rowt and El–gin.
Brits find subjects like money and political allegiance difficult to talk about. Australians share how much they earn, pay for their mortgage and which way they vote unreservedly.
There’s one expression that, for me, sums up all of the above. It’s honest, humorous, harmless, truthful, endearing, and it makes me smile — ‘He’s got kangaroos loose in the top paddock’. I don’t believe it gets better than that.