A Broad Abroad Update: In Which I Learn How to Ask for a Napkin by Amanda Pistor

Amanda’s  first post about  life as an American in Australia can be found here

I had lunch the other day with two other American expat women, and I finally got my napkin dilemma solved. A paper napkin is a serviette; a cloth napkin is a napkin. That doesn’t really make sense to me, especially considering that Aussie slang has familiar abbreviations for almost everything. McDonald’s is Macca’s. Salvation Army is the Salvos. Brisbane is Brizzie. Breakfast is brekkie.  And so on, and so on.

They say, “How you going?” instead of asking how it’s going or how you’re doing. The first time someone asked me how I was going, I smiled politely and thought to myself, well, when I leave this liquor store (known as a bottle shop here), I’m going by car.

And they use “no worries” like it’s going out of style. They use it to mean everything from “okay” to “roger that” to “not a problem.” All of those are similar, but I get the feeling we just use more individual words in America. I may start saying “cheers” instead of “thanks,” because I like how it sounds. Feel free to judge me. I promise to stop just short of the Madonna method of moving to a country and adopting their accent. (Lady, you’re from Detroit. You don’t have a British accent.)

They’re totally on to me here, too. When I open my mouth to speak, Aussies know within seconds that I’m not from around here. This is not an assumption I automatically make when I speak to someone who has a foreign-sounding accent back home. That hypothetical person is just as likely to be from Boston as Mumbai, in my experience.

Most Aussies are friendly, and they’re interested in someone who has clearly traveled a long way to get here. I guess I don’t have an accent that’s immediately recognizable as being from a particular country or region. I’m only a little embarrassed to report that every time someone asks me where I’m from, I say Texas rather than America or The States. Then I immediately wonder if they know where/what Texas is. (I can’t help but respond that way, plus I would feel like a douche if I said, “I’m from America.”) Someone asked me at an electronics store if Texas was close to Montreal. Well, it’s in the same hemisphere? They always ask how long I’ll be here, too, which I try not to take as an insult. I’ll be leaving your country as soon as I can, darlin’.

I’ve been here almost two months, and I still haven’t attempted to drive. Perth has a great public transit system, so that’s how I get around when my husband is at work. When he gets home, he has to drive Miss Daisy. I am really afraid to side-swipe a car or suddenly forget left from right. I was 15 and in driver’s ed when I learned left from right. It’s true. And it was my sister (12 at the time) who told me that the way to use a blinker was “up for right, and down for left. It goes the same direction as the wheel.” She’s always had more common sense than I have.

The weather is turning colder here; we actually had to switch to heat from air-con (their word for air conditioning, which always makes me chuckle because it brings to mind Nic Cage’s iconic performance in Con-Air). Think of me while those of you in the top half of the world are lying around a pool.

Who IS Amanda Pistor?  Click here to find out.


  1. Learning to speak Aussie is a wild ride! If you’re not from Brizzie, BrisVegas is an acceptable variation as Brizzie is used as an affectionate term by those from there. FYI, there’s also a Texas in Queensland… As the weather gets chilly, you’ll soon be able to get out your uggies & flannie 😉

  2. shannonhumphreys says:

    Ha ha ha! I’ve gone the Madonna route! Not on purpose, mind you, but I tend to pick up other people’s accents while talking to them anyway, and almost everyone I’ve talked to for the past 6 years has been English so… I sort of flit back and forth between a mangled Essex accent and a North (New) Jersey accent. People tend to guess I’m Irish for some reason. I blame the freckles and the fact that my accent is unrecognisably mangled. They’re pretty much just throwing darts at the wall hoping they hit on the right one. The only thing that’s obvious is that English is my first language. What’s even more disturbing is that after a year and a half here, I’m pretty sure my 4 year old is always going to have a bit of a Yankee twang to his accent.

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