How long do you need to stay in New Zealand before you can begin to understand what they’re saying? A week? A month? Maybe for never?
By the way, I’m not talking about the Maori. That’s relatively easy to pick up; it’s the other language, the one spoken by the white pigs who came here in recent centuries and buggered up their perfect lifestyle.
The key to eventually having a basic grasp of their language so you can undertake simple tasks such as asking what the specials are at a cafe or seeking travel directions is that no vowel is safe in Kiwi speak.
Somehow, over time, their vowel movements have become very, very sloppy. All vowels are tortured to breaking point or beyond. It’s like Kiwis are being deliberately obtuse or maybe they just prefer to be secretive and aloof; that their bizarre vowel movements are their form of Cockney slang so that foreign white pigs from across the dutch — sorry, the ditch (I’ve been here over a week and I’m slowly getting there) — never really get to understand what they’re saying.
The first great step to breaking down this barrier is to understand that in Kiwi, no vowel is safe, especially the short ones.
So here are the basic rules:
- Short “a” becomes short “i” or “e”. Well, why wouldn’t it when you think about it? Hence we talk of the national cricket side, the Blick Cips. Income tex. Stuff like thet.
- Short “i” becomes “u”. Well, why wouldn’t ut when you think about ut? Hence we talk about buying some fush and chups. Starting to make sense when you thunk about it, right? So, how are you going so far? What is meant when a Kiwi says: “Do I look fit in thus?” Anyway, on with the basics.
- Short “e” becomes … oh, who are we trying to kud here. This particular vowel movement is very, very sloppy. Sometimes, it becomes a short “i”. As in: “I once had six sux times in the one day.” Does “get” become “git”? You bit it does! But here’s the cetch, see. You’d think “bet” therefore becomes “bit”. But sometimes it almost takes a “u” and becomes “but”. And sometimes – and this may depend on the ear of the beholder – it sounds almost like it should, as if they’re trying their bust to learn proper English.
In this introductory lesson, I’m not even going to start with the long vowels. This is where the Kiwis get really cunning: some of these they use normally, just to add to the confusion.
Anyway, I never sid Kiwi is easy to puck up end thet’s a fect. Lussen up and I’ll give you another lisson shortly.
Guv me a sign!
Travelling around NZ by car is almost as difficult as getting your head around Kiwi speak.
The first thing to know is that going from A to B always takes much longer than the kilometres to be travelled would suggest. Roundabouts and crawling through quaint little villages account for some of this, but the main reason is the sign pictured here.
Just around about every corner you encounter “temporary” reduced speed zones — 30 kph, 50 kph, 80 kph. You do get to travel at 100 now and then but that’s rather, ah, temporary.
So here’s what happens when you brake and try to do the right thing and obey these “temporary” speed limits.
You end up with half-a-dozen cars and trucks up your arse, because you’re quite possibly the only motorist in the country obeying the speed restrictions, either because you like doing the safe or right thing, or the thought of a fine on top of the cost of fuel here would completely spoil your holiday.
For local people, the word “temporary” is there for them to think very, very “temporarily” about that sign before ignoring it completely.
Maybe that’s not quite true. Talking to locals through an interpreter over recent days, I now know that these “temporary” signs can be rather permanent. So if they can’t see any sign of work being done, they proceed at their normal speed.
If there are workers on the road, they will reluctantly slow down temporarily — to 100 kph.
Another really weird sign in the Land of the Trembling Buildings is the “No exit” one you encounter on many side roads. In Oz, we have “no through road” or similar, but at least you’re bloody allowed to turn around and get out of it!
I wondered what I would have encountered if, out of curiosity, I had ventured down one of these “no exit” roads and laneways.
Cars jammed up everywhere, with skeletons inside? Clearly I wouldn’t be writing this now if I’d gone down that path.
Another sign is “no line markings ahead”. This is to warn motorists that there are always line markings ahead. Kiwis are very funny folk.