At the Dunedin airport nearly two months ago, Theresa and her boyfriend waited for me at the terminal gate. Taking my first strides onto New Zealand soil, I was comforted by the knowledge that the people of this island country spoke English.

I admire other study abroad students who venture into foreign countries where English can only be found on the lips of school children riding down the street, two to a rusty bicycle, hurling mild insults at American tourists as they fly past. Then maybe a trite more English between the Americans, already pissed off on account of having found themselves lost in the city labyrinth, confirm with each other how unruly and horrible these little brats can be in said foreign country. And the culture gap widens. Now, that might be exaggerated. I’m sure you could also find English at the local McDonald’s (since this substandard establishment has infiltrated every country to speak of) on styrofoam coffee cups warning you that the liquid inside is “HOT!”

Despite that, I like to think that I’m culturally open-minded. (But, I know I’m not above stereotypes.)

One day, when I’m up for really opening my mind, I’ll pitch myself into some place known to be mostly devoid of English, see what happens, and hopefully smile to myself after it’s over. I would not however, choose to live this English-less scenario for six months, not when I have to pass 12 credits of class to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and preferably not by myself.

Theresa appeared out of nowhere, utterly surprising me out of my travel-frayed wits. “Lauren! You walked right past us, loser!”
“Ha ha, yeah, I was trying to look for you.” After 30 hours of traveling, two layovers, a stopover, and four flights, my contact lenses had dried up my eyes, blurring my vision. “Thank goodness you found me.”
Standing beside her was, I assumed, the boyfriend. “This is Brodie.” Assumption confirmed.
Then, Brodie began asking me questions. I strained my ears to try to discern what was coming out of his mouth. I stared at him.
“Whoa, whoa, wait a second. Sorry. I didn’t understand a word you just said.” I was tempted to follow with, “Speak English, please?” but I didn’t want to come off as a conceited Yankee.
Theresa started laughing. “Oh you’re just like me when I first got here! I couldn’t understand the accent at all.”

The Accent. I had known about this insidious language concept, but hadn’t really thought about its implications until that moment. Even when having conversations back home with people who obviously spoke with the same American, Midwestern accent as me, I was often replying “What?” “Come again?” because I was slow to catch how they were pronouncing various words. And now, my hard-of-hearing + Kiwi accent? Bugger.

Brodie spoke extra slow for my sake, “Don’t be all hard out, you’ll get it sussed soon.”

WHAT?! What the heck language are you speaking? Not only was there an accent, but different vocabulary as well. This wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. Ah, but ‘piece of cake’? What about colloquialisms? Slang? Were there different Kiwi dialects?! I was bewildered.

Fortunately, I was in luck. In the following two weeks, Theresa volunteered all of her gathered linguistic knowledge from her year already spent abroad and filled me in on many of the jargon discrepancies between American English and Kiwi English. Comparably, of course there are much harder cultural hurdles to leap than idioms and accents, but overall learning to integrate with Kiwi culture has been pretty smooth. With Theresa initially by my side I probably, at most, saved some face and at best came across as a seasoned traveler and less of an ignorant tourist. It was still plain to see though that I was an American (which is another cultural chronicle.)

Since my arrival, I’ve been collecting various words and expressions used in the Kiwi vernacular. Some are quite similar to their American counterparts, a few strike me as silly, and one or two make me laugh. Here’s my list:

American – Kiwi
hood (car) – bonnet
trunk – boot
cooler – chilly bin
dinner – tea
line – queue (“stand in the queue”)
appointment – booking
shopping cart – trolley
receipt – docket
band-aid – plaster
period (of a sentence) – full stop
Jell-O – jelly
jelly – jam
fries – chips
chips – chips
rapids – falls
waterfall – falls
swim suit – togs (“I need to buy a new pair of togs.”)
vacation home – bach
second-hand store – op shop
whining – winging (“Quit your winging!”)
figured out/set up – sussed (“Is you schedule all sussed?”)
dead – flat (“The battery just went flat.”)