Who knew American vernacular was so different from Australian slang? Okay, all of us did, to some extent, but stay with me on this, you may be as surprised as I was.

I’ve watched American TV for thirty years. They speak American on Quincy, Bonanza, Big Bang Theory and CSI, don’t they?

We’ve spent months in the USA. If you haven’t, give it a go. It’s great; wonderful scenery, friendly folk, world-class museums and national parks. I even love the food and drink since we discovered Tex Mex, barbecue and American IPA. So everyone we talk to in Walmart, park rangers, scary customs men, the bar keeps – they all talk the local talk, right?

Which makes writing dialogue for Americans a piece of cake for me, or so I thought until I tried.
Meet Me At The Hanging Tree – coming soon to an ebook store near you – stars Val Harding and Stella Scoulas. They’re best friends from New York who come to Australia on holiday and, well, without dropping too many spoilers, let’s say they get themselves into quite a pickle.

You saw the way I slipped ‘holiday’ in there, right? I thought you would. We all know Americans go on vacation. And we all know they walk on the sidewalk, not the pavement. The entree is the main course, not the starter – no jokes about American appetites, please. Capsicums are bell peppers, coriander is cilantro and don’t for goodness sake call Jack Daniels bourbon. I did in one chapter but I think I got away with it. Jack is Whiskey (don’t forget the ‘e’). While I’m at it, don’t call folks from south of the Mason-Dixon Line Yankees. I did that once in Charlotte NC and barely got out with my life.

The Meet Me stories are told mostly from Val and Stella’s point of view. They’d sound like true blue, dinky-di Aussies who watch too much crap TV if it wasn’t for my US critiquing buddies from Scribophile. Stand up and wave Robin, Sarah, Arthur, Randolph, Gary, Deb, Cody, Nicole.
Thanks to you guys, Val calls Stella on her cell. Before you stepped in, she gave her a ring on her mobile.

Val keeps her cell in her purse, by the way. I kid you not. The purse is the bag. What you might think is a purse, fellow Aussies, is the wallet or coin purse.

Did I mention there’s a bit of mayhem in Meet Me At The Hanging Tree? Tim and Sean – who do their best to win Val and Stella over to our side – stash their ‘ute in the car park to front up to their mates in hospital. Val and Stella leave their pickup in the parking lot to go see friends in the hospital.

And to get into the car park – sorry, parking lot – which has an asphalt base, Americans don’t do bitumen, I’m told – Val signals her intention by operating the turn indicator. I think that’s right. I‘m still a bit confused. It might be the blinker, but definitely not if we’re referring to those things racehorses get strapped around their heads. Those are called blinders. I found that out from meet Me Under Brooklyn Bridge – book two – in which Stella takes the lead. In that one I also, foolishly, had her seek sanctuary under her doona. Total error. Doona is pure Aussie. Ikea invented it for an Australian advertising campaign. It must be true, Urban Dictionary says so. Stella has swapped her doona for a quilt, poor girl.

If you’re discussing the length of the journey to the hospital don’t use carton intervals. You know, ‘that’d be at least a three carton trip’ as in the passengers would consume at least 72 lagers. No, in America it’s a case of beer.

And if the planning session arcs up – except it won’t because Americans don’t use that expression – you won’t get into a slanging match. That one bamboozled US reviewers completely. They don’t do rows unless they’re in a dinghy on the East River or forming ranks on the parade ground. When New York ladies have a verbal donnybrook it’s a fight. Just a fight. I wonder if Americans do donnybrooks? That’s an Irish expression, isn’t it? Don’t expect to be backed up by your offsider, either, that’s another Aussie-only concept.

Yeah, and it’s PMS, not PMT, the lounge is the sofa, not the room – which would be the living room – and the goods lift is the freight elevator. Just today, I learned it’s the operating room, not the operating theatre and stuff is bundled up and wrapped in packages, not parcels. (Thanks Sarah!)

And there I have to take a break, I urgently need to consult the oracle, Mr Google, on beanies. It seems what we call a beanie might just be a knit cap where the Stars and Stripes flaps in the breeze. You’ll find out in Meet Me Under Brooklyn Bridge, maybe, if I can work it out, perhaps I’ll give them baseball caps.


4 thoughts to ““What’s that, mate?” American as a foreign language

  • Sandy

    I love this! I currently writing an American MC, and even though I’ve lived there, even though my partner, mother, some friends, and some family are American, I have to keep this in check. All the time. It’s almost like having half of another language up my sleeve.

    • T.J.

      LOL. I’ve heard of the families where, say, one parent is Italian and one Australian and the toddlers speak half in Italian words and half English.
      That’s us, only we should know better! 🙂

  • Chloe Holiday

    Nice article, TJ!
    To us a beanie is a kiddie cap with a propeller on top!

    • T.J.

      **sigh** Thanks, Chloe. Do you think Americans might consider a rationalisation of their-obviously ambiguous headwear choices? I’m thinking, baseball caps, ANZAC Digger slouch hats and, maybe, French berets? It would make it much easier for foreign writers. 🙂

Comments are closed.