Americans love Australian accents. I donâ€™t think I really notice them anymore except when I cannot understand them, and then I am more annoyed than charmed.
Just a few short years ago though, I can remember being absolutely enchanted with even the ugliest Australian accents. And yes, there is such a thing. I think most Americans donâ€™t realize this because they are mesmerized by the tip of the iceberg and they donâ€™t always see whatâ€™s underneath.
I see whatâ€™s underneath.
I think the best way to describe the accent-loving phenomenon is to compare it to hearing a kid swear.
For example, youâ€™re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and you overhear the tiny kid in front of you say to her mother in the most matter-of-fact tone, â€œMommy, I have to shit, please. How much longer?â€ She canâ€™t be more than three years old. She has a curly ponytail sprouting from the top of her head and a stuffed hippopotamus in a gentle chokehold. You suppress your laughter with a smile, and look around see if anyone else heard it. A quick glance to your left and right tells you that everyone in earshot is tuned in to the situation. Itâ€™s kinda funny, right?
The intrigue and humor here comes from the novelty. It would be far less cute and much more disturbing if the smelly old man behind you said basically the same thing to his crusty old wife. The dialogue and its profanity are only entertaining because of the novelty the child brings to it.
But like I mentioned, novelty is only the tip of the iceberg.
So while the rest of the grocery store patrons have been suppressing giggles and exchanging glances, mommy dearest has fixed a deathly glare upon her child. Her demeanor mirrors that of a cat that has been woken from its slumber by the unwelcome touch of a human hand. Eyes narrowed, her expression cold, Mommy is ready to use her claws at the slightest sign of movement.
â€œI hate this stupid store!â€ the child pouts.
Mommy responds with a quiet but menacing hiss, â€œThatâ€™s enough, Hannah.â€
Hannah launches a tiny fist into her motherâ€™s thigh.
A lioness-like Mommy bends down, grips the child by the elbow – releasing the stuffed hippo onto the floor – and pulls her in close to whisper something that you canâ€™t hear. The little girlâ€™s face shrivels into an evil scowl. Suddenly, with unexpected volume, the demon child shrieks and emphatically calls her a mother a stupid bitch. Thatâ€™s when you notice the crusty snot around her nose and the red Kool-Aid mustache that might also be a rash. She kicks the stuffed hippopotamus across the floor, and you see that itâ€™s missing an eyeball. Then the little rotten kid yanks on the bottom of her Kool-Aid splotched dress and pulls it up to her sticky chin so that you can see the bloated training diaper sheâ€™s wearing underneath.
Thatâ€™s when you look away. Thatâ€™s when the novelty of the potty-mouthed kiddo disappears and suddenly, when put into context, her foul language actually becomes more offensive than if that smelly old man behind said it to his crusty old wife.
And this transformation happened in just a few minutes whilst standing in line at the grocery store. The good news is that it probably wonâ€™t scar you for life. If you saw this exact kid again, you might be wary and you definitely wouldnâ€™t find it very funny if she swore, but at another time in another place with a different kiddo, you might still have a laugh. I equate this to going on a 3-week Australian vacation. I imagine this is also the case for Australians visiting America.
At some point during your trip, the accentual charm will momentarily waiver â€“ probably when accent collides with slang and communication breaks down completely. Like when youâ€™re out for lunch and you order lemonade and the server brings you Solo, which is Sprite, because Australian lemonade is actually a fizzy drink while American lemonade is actually lemon flavored juice in Australia which is actually a weird cordial drink. It will take 10 minutes of back and forth to figure the whole thing out, and by then youâ€™ll end up drinking your unwanted Sprite just to keep the peace. These breakdowns will be a reoccurring theme, probably in the form of getting directions, deciphering signage, ordering meals, paying for things etc, but by the time youâ€™re back in Florida, youâ€™ll be watching Outback Steakhouse commercials and reminiscing about the good times.
But what about when you actually live in Australia as a permanent resident and the Australian accent has become the daily norm for a long-term stretch? At that point, you become the stupid bitch mom who lives with the swearing demon toddler day in and day out. She probably laughed the first time her kid saw a pile of dog poop at the dog park and called it shit instead of dooty. But when she had to go to a parent-teacher conference because her kid called the kindergarten teacher a cunt, that novel cuteness was gone forever. So the tourists in line at the grocery store still laugh, but for permanent resident stupid bitch mom, the offense is far more serious.
And thatâ€™s kind of what happened to me with the Australian accent. But this is not only a microcosmic example of my experience with the Australian accent. This pretty much covers the full gamut of Australian linguistics â€“ which I will attempt to share with you in small, friendly doses in the future.
My grievances come in the form of spelling, grammar, diction, pronunciation and even written communication. And Iâ€™m not just talking about â€˜aluminumâ€™ vs â€˜aluminiumâ€™ or saying â€˜toh-mah-tohâ€™ instead of â€˜toh-may-tohâ€™ (even though they say â€˜poh-tay-tohâ€™ instead of â€˜poh-tah-tohâ€™, which is maddeningly inconsistent).
Iâ€™m talking about some really twisted shit that only an American writer would detect after years of over-exposure to the Australian language. Iâ€™m talking about â€˜capsicumâ€™ vs â€˜capsicanâ€™, general displacement of the letter R and the everyday misuse of â€˜boughtâ€™ and â€˜broughtâ€™ (which actually causes me physical discomfort). Iâ€™m talking about singular and plural pronoun use â€“ when to use â€˜weâ€™ vs â€˜Iâ€™ and â€˜meâ€™ vs â€˜usâ€™ â€“ things so simple that I bet most Australians and Americans alike donâ€™t even know where Iâ€™m going with this. But thereâ€™s a point â€“ I promise you this â€“ and if I donâ€™t get all of this off of my chest in the next few weeks, Iâ€™m going to cut someoneâ€™s tongue out of their mouth and eat it with my poached eggs because thatâ€™s the closest and most satisfying alternative Iâ€™m going to find in lieu of streaky American bacon.
But I digress.
The point is that there is a time and place to be charmed by Australian accents, and those factors are not defined by always and anywhere.
Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s so important to fall in love with the Australian accent and let it wash over you while the tides are friendly. Because I do remember that feeling of enchantment, and itâ€™s wonderful. But itâ€™s also fleeting, so be aware.
During my first trip to Australia as an exchange student, I thought every Australian man sounded like the guy who used to narrate the Outback Steakhouse TV commercials – sexy and rugged. By transitive property, I then mistook every Australian man for actually being sexy and rugged. Until one day, after Iâ€™d already exchanged phone numbers with Outback Jack, and then a racist comment followed by a glimpse of a missing tooth suddenly made me realize that the carefree, rough-around-the-edges Australian bloke Iâ€™d just met at the beach was actually one of the Angry Boys and not the guy from the Outback Steakhouse commercial. Life changed after that.
Even so, I went on to be mesmerized by Bogan vs Normal, East Coast vs West Coast, Australian vs New Zealander vs English vs South African. It was all very exciting for a long time.
But now Iâ€™m a permanent resident with an Aussie husband and Iâ€™m ready to eat peopleâ€™s tongues for breakfast.
So enjoy it while you can. Thatâ€™s all Iâ€™m saying â€¦ for now.