Thanks to a little research before my trip, I learned that Kiwis (New Zealanders) do NOT like to be told that you can’t tell the difference between their accent and an Aussie (Australian) accent; so I set out from the start to make sure I learned the difference. This was a little more difficult than I thought thanks to two major complications: 1) I was traveling with 36 Aussies, and 2) our tour guide, as well as several of the people I met at hotels and around New Zealand were transplants from Australia. Eventually I picked up that the short “i” vowel sound for a Kiwi is like ours, while the same sound for an Aussie is pronounced like a long “e”; so a Kiwi would listen to me but an Aussie would “leesin”.
Another challenge was the things we had in common that were called by different names over there. For example I came across a courgette and tomato frittata. It only took a bite to recognize courgette as zucchini. They call sausage “bangers”, bell peppers “capsicums”, lobster “crayfish”, french fries are “chips”, a soda is a “fizzy”, and sweet potato “kumara”. American bacon is “streaky bacon”, which is especially funny when you see a Wendy’s commercial for the Streaky Baconator. Another important point to remember is that kiwifruit is always called kiwifruit and not just kiwi (which refers to the bird, or the people as a nation).
The morning I joined the tour, I went to hand in my hotel room key and was asked by the clerk, “Are you still going to have a brekky?” My response, after blinking at him a few times, was a brilliant, “….OH, breakfast!” I wish I could have taken a picture of the clerk’s face. He clearly thought I had issues. The other puzzling phrase they used was “turn to custard” which in context I would tell it was akin to something “going south”, meaning it got all messed up or didn’t work out (I happen to like custard so it wasn’t a natural connection for me). I learned “chuffed” meant pleased, “flash” meant looks really good or expensive, and hair cut short over your brow is “fringe” (do not call them bangs, although why it’s ok to call sausage bangers but it’s not ok to call your fringe bangs is beyond me). “Good on ya” is well done. “Gum boots” or “gummies” are rain boots/galoshes. “Greasies” are fish and chips. A “lolly” isn’t just a lollypop, but any sweet/candy. Fast food is “take away” and food trucks are called “pie carts”even if they don’t serve pie. If I asked them how they liked their meal they would answer “It’s beautiful” or “The food is gorgeous.”
To put the shoe on the other foot, my travel companions got a kick out of MY accent. One admitted she was trying to keep me talking because she loved hearing it. I was especially teased when I mentioned herbal tea, as Americans (other than Martha Stewart) pronounce it the French way with a silent “h” and over there they pronounce the “h”. When I referred to my sweater they giggled (they call it a jumper), and they laughed out loud when I referred to petrol as gas.
By the end of the trip I found myself constantly saying “lovely”, saying “yeah” with an Aussie accent (thanks to my traveling companions), and asking for a “cuppa” (cup of tea) with every meal. I think New Zealand is a fantastic place for Americans to travel because the language is familiar enough to function easily, but different enough to have some fun with it and make it a genuine travel experience.