My biggest communication issues in the days and months after I initially arrived in Oz (that's Australian for Australia) centered around ordering a sandwhich. I spent a lot of time exploring the CBD (Central Business District that's Aussie for Downtown) of Melbourne and each day I'd pop into one of the many cafes or sandwhich bars that populate the streets. Most of these places have all sorts of sandwhich ingredients all chopped up in trays behind a glass counter--think Subway style. They'd be busy and packed with a lunch time business crowd. Everyone is in a hurry to get his or her lunch and get back to work. There wouldn't be any obvious menu on the wall like you'd find at Subway, just a list of ingredients and some vague pricing. So I'd step up to the counter and the conversation would go like this:
Me: Hi, I'd like to get a ham sandwhich please.
Sandwhich Lady (hereafter SL): What type of bread would you like?
Me (with a furrowed brow searching for a list of bread somewhere and not finding it): Um, what kind of bread do you have?
SL: We've got bread rolls, foccacias, turkish bread, or white, wholemeal or rye sliced bread.
Me (thinking, OMG what did she just say? What's a foccacia? Ahh someone help!!): I'll have the white bread? (I say almost as a question because I'm not sure that's the right choice, but it's the only one I recognised in the list besides rye and I didn't like rye).
SL (goes and picks up the white bread grabs two slices and puts them down on the bench--that's Aussie for counter--and then says...) Would you like maragine on that? (Only marg-a-RIN as we'd say it in America comes out like marg-a-REEN)
Me (What did she say? What did she say? She looks a bit impatient. I'm holding up the line. What did she say?) I'm sorry, what did you say?
SL: Would you like marg-a-REEN on that?
Me (staring blankly, beginning to break a sweat, telling myself this is only lunch it's not rocket science. You can do this, you just have to break the code--why is is so loud in here?): I'm sorry what?
SL (picking up a tub of margarine and a knife and using hand gestures to indicate that she means spreading the margarine on the bread and repeats herself again slowly ennunciating the whole thing like she's talking to a non-English speaker which I must clearly be at this point) Would_you_like_marg-a-REEN_on_that?
Me (Oh marg-a-REEN means marg-a-RIN! But wait a minute, why would I want margarine on a ham sandwhich???): Um, no thank you. Do you have mayonaise?
SL (gets mayonaise and begins to spread it on the bread grabs some ham and puts that on the bread as well): Do you want salad on that?
Me (Salad? Salad? What salad? Just when I thought we were finally communicating): I'm sorry, salad?
SL: Tomato (only she says it to-mah-to), Lettuce anything else?
Me: Oh yes, I'll have tomato (only I say it to-may-to) and lettuce.
SL (looking past me at the long line that is waiting behind me): Anything else?
Me (too afraid to take up more of her time and ask too many questions): No that's fine thanks.
SL: Would you like salt and pepper (only she says pep-AH)
Me: Oh, yes salt and pepper (only I say pep-ER) is fine.
She finally cuts my sandwhich in half and tells me how much it will be. I fumble through my purse (that's Australian for wallet) and try to come up with the correct amount. All the while the line behind me gets longer and longer.
My friends, I wish I could say this was a one-off experience, but I think it took me an entire year of living in Australia before I actually got the sandwhich I wanted and I didn't get there on my own. The Handsome Australian had to sit down and give me a 10 minute tutorial on how to do it. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Learn the Lingo
CBD (Central Business District)=Downtown