it’s an Aussie thing
Aussies don’t really have an accent – we are almost accent neutral. Well, at least that was what I always thought. I stress that I add a small caveat to that – the closer you are to a city, the gentler your accent and the further you get away from the cities, the stronger the accent becomes. So, as someone who has grown up in cities and never spent any amount of time in the Aussie outback, I have always considered myself to be very well spoken. To me, this has also meant that I can be more adaptable and easily adopt the necessary accents from other countries to ensure that I can generally be understood wherever I go.
That was until I actually started travelling
This is one of the things I love most about travelling! It is the fact that it opens your eyes to things you would have never been aware of if you just stayed at home, one of those things being the fact that not only do Aussies have accents, but they are completely cringe-worthy when you hear them anywhere outside of Australia! Even for those of us who consider ourselves well-spoken city dwellers!
I remember when I was first travelling in the US many years ago and I had to phone a company to order something. It was the strangest phone call ever; I knew that I was speaking English, I knew that there was a very high likelihood that the person on the other end of the phone was speaking English, given it is an English-speaking country. But what I discovered as the call progressed was that I was apparently speaking in Pidgin – the lady on the other end of the phone had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I could understand her every word, but she could not pick up anything I was saying. So I started to really roll my r’s, I started saying ‘yeah’ and ‘like’ a lot and I made sure to drop in the odd “aloominum’ and ‘carmel’ into the conversation. After a while, she began to pick up the odd word here or there and we were able to make progress.
This was something I was unprepared for given that, as mentioned, this is an English speaking country. Then, I noticed another strange thing start to happen… the American accent started to sound normal. I turned on the TV one day and there was an Australian program on and when I heard the twang and that ocker voice ringing out with phrases like ‘mate’, ‘this arvo’, ‘esky’ and it really did sound bad. It was as though Paul Hogan had walked into the lounge room with his big machete and was butchering the English language right in front of me.I suddenly felt like maybe my accent wasn’t as neutral as I once thought!
an aussie in Dubai…
Fast forward many years and here I am in Dubai, working in one of the biggest companies in the UAE. An Aussie in a company full of diversity; people from all over the globe , a mix of cultures, nationalities and of course, accents.
And so I innocently start working with my new team, chatting away and getting to know them. Unfortunately I think that after all these years, I have completely forgotten the lessons learned through all my travels, and the fact that Australians really do speak differently to the rest of the world- and I don’t know they understand 50% of what I say!
The team I am working in is primarily people of Indian descent, and if you have ever worked with someone from the sub-continent, you will know what I mean when I say that they will generally not come out and say directly what they think, especially if they don’t know you. Quite a contrast right off the bat to Australians who tend to be a little bit more upfront and straight to the point. If you have read my blog post top 4 tips – surviving the Dubai workplace you will see a couple of stories of issues I had when I first started with getting people to be a bit more assertive when asking for things!
I’m still not quite used to the whole name issue thing either, having never worked with so many people from the sub-continent before. Just yesterday, I was trying to organise a meeting with one of the Project Managers whose name is Pradeep. So I click into the Outlook address book, innocently thinking “I’ll just put in Pradeep, I mean how many of them can there be?” Back in the company I was working for in Australia before I left, had you put in that name, you probably would have been lucky to get one entry. The Outlook thinking icon comes up and I’m wondering whether the connection is down given it’s taking a while when all of a sudden the list comes up. There are literally HUNDREDS of Pradeeps. I have a little chuckle at myself for being so dumb, and I think “I’ll just pop in his surname then”. And yep, you guessed it.. it narrows the list down to about 65 names. How is it possible that there are SO many people in the one organisation that have the exact same name? So I have to trawl through the list and look at all the little photos of each Pradeep – it now makes complete sense to me why it is mandatory to have your picture on your Outlook profile and not just your name!
So I am in a meeting the other day, chatting with this lovely Indian colleague, and she is recounting a story from a meeting she had earlier in the day. She keeps referring to this person she has spoken to as Shahmin. As she’s talking, I’m trying to work out who on earth she is talking about given that there are at least two people in our immediate area called similar names. After a while it dawns on me who she is talking about and I cut her off in mid-sentence, much to her complete surprise, with a cry of “oh… you mean CharMAINE”, in the worst, heaviest, ocker Aussie accent you have ever heard. It takes her a moment to understand what I am saying and we jostle back and forth a bit more until we mutually agree on how to pronounce this reasonably simple name.
oh no.. does no-one understand me?
And then it dawns on me… this could be why I felt like I was receiving a lot of quizzical looks, funny awkward laughs that mean someone doesn’t really understand what you are saying, and vacant smiles when talking to my team. Even the odd snicker – which is quite strange coming from a group of primarily sub-continent people, who are so polite. I distinctly remember the snicker conversation – I was chatting with my colleague about what we were doing on the weekend and I mentioned we were going to the beach. I made a comment, something similar to “looking forward to chucking my thongs on” and he had a little snicker before politely questioning why I would need more than one thong. Sigh – of course ‘thongs’ in Australia are ‘flip flops’ to the rest of the world and it only took me a second to realise my error, and that this nice family man probably had an image of me strolling down the white sands of one of the Dubai beaches wearing nothing but a g-string bikini. It makes sense to me now why he was so interested what beach we were going to.
And that was not an isolated incident. I remember mentioning to someone that “you look spiffy – got a job interview?” as one of my standard jokes when I said good morning. He was of course immediately offended and asked me why I would assume he was applying for other jobs and what was I trying to say? Or I remember collapsing into my chair one morning after walking in from the 45 degree heat and declaring to my little pod of people that “I’m stuffed!”, to which I got polite questions about whether or not I’d had a large breakfast. Or another time when someone asked me where we were living and I had to explain to them that we had been “shoved out in woop woop” and were therefore in the process of trying to move closer into the city. He, also very politely, if someone was bothering me and then enquired where ‘woop woop’ might be as he hadn’t heard of it in Dubai – was it a new estate perhaps? They like to ask about my kids and I remember mentioning that the Chubs is “such a huge sook” to someone… with this one she didn’t even bother trying to work it out. She just said “what on earth is a sook?
And they are so sweet. They want to know more about Australian culture. Many people I meet seem quite fascinated by Australia and Australians and I think our reputation as being relaxed, fun and laid-back proceeds us. Even as recently as today, I was asked in a team activity we were doing whether ‘mate’ is really a term we use a lot, to which I had to answer unequivocally ‘YES’. She then asked what the female equivalent might be, to which I had to explain that it really depends on what type of female you are – if you are cool, fun, hip and ‘one of the boys’, you would probably just be referred to as ‘mate’ as well. However, if you are “prissy, uptight, posh, skanky or dodgy”, you might be referred to as something else like “chick” or “sheila”. I think she regretted asking the question to be honest.
The list goes on.
So it’s all good learning and part of why you come to work somewhere different. But what it has led me to conclude is that no matter how continental you think you are, how much you travel or how far you move from Australia, when you are an Australian, you really are an Aussie and you cannot deny that little bit of bogan that lies in all of us. The conversation I have just had with Lovely Hubby in writing this post is a golden example of taking the Aussie out of Australia, but never taking the Aussie out of the Australian.
I asked him what he thinks the term ‘being white-anted’ means, and I am greeted with the perfect Aussie answer of “what, you mean when some dude’s f*&in’ cuttin’ your grass? I tell you, that can really make you lose your sh*t man!:
I need say no more – to all the Aussies out there, I salute you!
Have a fabulous weekend all!