When in doubt, discuss fireplaces
So I’m starting to fret about the language thing.
You’d think the language thing would be easy, considering both Australia and England share the same mother tongue, but I’ve had experience in this area in the past with work and the differences are astounding. The thing is, being low in number, Australians are forced to understand other English-speaking cultures and to negotiate the differences in speech and manner. This gesture is rarely reciprocated. Ask an American where the nearest toilet is and they’ll either recoil in horror at your foul language, or stare at you nonplussed as if they’ve never heard of such a thing.
The other problem I know we’ll encounter is that we will instantly become more Australian as soon as the wheels on our plane retract. It happens to me every time I go overseas. In Australia, people often ask me if I’m English (or South African, horror of horrors), because my Australian accent isn’t particularly strong. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m half English. But I know from attending meetings with publishers and agents in both the UK and the US, that as soon as I open my mouth on foreign soil I will suddenly be truly Awstraylian. Mate. Cobber. Etc.
I decide to call a girlfriend who’s spent ten years living in London and now has a real Londoner’s accent, though this is probably about to turn all mid-Atlantic now that she’s living in New York. When I get onto her, I relate my 11.30pm wig out and end with, ‘How can I make myself better understood so I don’t end up in Manchester?’ (in my head, Manchester is very scary indeed).
She ignores the Manchester bit and doesn’t waste any time getting down to business (see? She’s gone all New York already). ‘It’s all about shortening your vowels and tidying everything up. Think clear and crisp. To keep it simple, mainly watch your “os”, your “as” and your “rs”,’ she rattles off quickly, making me think she’s given this advice a number of times before, or at least thought about it a lot. ‘When you say your “os”, make sure your mouth is actually forming an “o” and shorten your “as” – Aussies are all about the long “as”. Your “rs” shouldn’t be as strong. It’s more like an “uh”.
I grab a pen and paper and start taking notes. ‘Okay, so give me some sentences as examples,’ I say when I’ve written this all down.
‘Right,’ she takes a moment to think about it. ‘How about this – you are the daughter of a shopper. Repeat.’
I repeat the sentence.
‘Now say it using “uh” instead of “er”.’
‘You are the daughtuh of a shoppuh.’ Huh, I think, as the sounds come out of my mouth. Listen to that. It does sound quite like an English accent. Not to mention that it’s true. I am the daughter of a shopper!
‘Now try this one – in Cairns, all the sharks are in the water.’
Again, I repeat the sentence, though this time, I actually wince at how painfully Australian I sound. ‘What now? Do I need to shorten the “as”?’ I start, then realise I’ve just stated the obvious. ‘Wait, don’t answer that.’ I try again, shorting my ‘as’ and softening my ‘rs’.
‘See? You’ve got it already. But, look, I wouldn’t fret too much. They’ll be able to understand you most of the time. It’s really only an issue the further North you go. We once pulled the car over next to a farmer on the side of the road in Scotland to ask for directions and I’m sure he gave us brilliant directions, because he went on and on for some time and there was a whole lot of gesturing. But his directions were useless seeing as we couldn’t understand a bloody word he said.’
I suddenly have visions of myself blathering on for days about some topic or another, with no-one being able to figure out a word that’s passed my lips. ‘Thanks. I feel so much better now. Any last tips before I finally try to get some sleep?’
‘Sure. When in doubt as to what someone’s talking about, just bring up the topic of fireplaces. They can go on about them forever. They’re obsessed.’
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