Return to Kiwiland, Part IV: Why New Zealand? Take the Kiwi Kwiz

A fun highlight of visiting English-speaking countries is learning just how different a language English can become. We discovered this big-time in New Zealand in 1996. 

Just a coupla Kiwi Kids--or as they pronounced it in the South, "Kuds"

Just a coupla Kiwi Kids–or as they pronounced it in the South, “Kuds”

First, there were the words that sound exactly the same but mean something completely different. (If you’ve been to the UK, you’ll likely recognize these.) For example:

biscuit = cookie

tea = the drink; but also morning or afternoon tea, the break you take, like in England; but ALSO supper, so when someone invites you “for tea” you really have to nail ’em down

bench = counter (in a kitchen)

bonnet = hood of car

Then there are some which kinda-sorta sound like our terms, but still caught me off guard till I got used to them:

takeaway = take-out (food)

SO ubiquitous, I wanted to write a novel called "Tearooms and Takeaways"

SO ubiquitous, I wanted to write a novel called “Tearooms and Takeaways”

panel beater = body shop (for cars)

Guess that makes as much sense as "body shop"

Guess that makes as much sense as “body shop”

And then there was the accent.

Understand, we lived in the southern part of the South Island. That’s like someone from outside the US moving to, say, Alabama. Even the folks we met in Auckland, in the North, said, “Oh, Dunedin…they have queer ways down there” (which to me sounded like, “queeh wize dan theh”).

My favorite accent story involves Son One thinking someone at his school shared his name, when it turned out that the kid’s name only sounded the same due to the accent. But I can’t explain further without violating Son One’s privacy. 🙂

Son Two, at kindergarten (“Kindie”), had so much trouble understanding the other kids (“kuds”), that he gave up, poor kud, and spent playtime by himself.

So, I’ve just alluded to two components of the  Kiwi accent. One is the tendency to abbreviate everything. (Australians–Aussies–do this too.) Therefore,

kindergarten = kindie

biscuits = bickies

postman = postie

milkman = milkie

OK, Kiwi Kwiz time! You fill in the blanks:

sunnies =

mozzies =

The Kiwi Kwiz was something I developed for funsies, in weekly emails back home. (No Facebook or blogging back then.) To play, you need to know about the second component of the accent:  the Great Vowel Shift. You already know that “mate” becomes “mite” down there. But, in the South at least, short “i” turns into a short “u” sound–“kid” becomes “kud”–and the short “e” becomes a short “i”:  “fresh” becomes “frish.”

Thus, the brand new supermarket in town, Big Fresh, was pronounced Bug Frish. We loved this.

Other vowel shifts included “skeery” for “scary,” “stike” for “steak,” and “poi” for “pie.” So. Ready for another Kwiz? These are some phrases we heard:

What are “chicken formalities”? (Hint: it’s something they call you to the counter, I mean the bench–or the binch–to take care of at the airport.)

What is “cheetah chase”? (Hint: it’s good melted on bread.)

What is “Kevin sailing?” (Hint: it’s what you see when you’re in a cave and you look up.)

First one with the most correct Kwiz answers wins a prize! I mean a proize.

Next post (which will be the last one will I get back in February): Reason #2 for the Return to Kiwiland. But here’s a hint:

It has to do with running...mountains...and writing.

It has to do with running…mountains…and writing.


Return to Kiwiland, Part III: Why New Zealand? Memmmmorieeees….

I know I haven’t give Reason #2 for our Return to Kiwiland, but I’m saving that one for right before we leave. Turns out there’s a third reason I hadn’t even considered: Nostalgia. Looking through photos from our year in Dunedin 20 years ago, I was ambushed by memories. Thought I’d share.

First of all, some perspective. Here’s Dunedin:

Fun fact: same latitude (south) as our then-home, Tacoma (north). But climate's more than latitude.

Fun fact: same latitude (south) as our then-home, Tacoma (north). But climate’s more than latitude.

And here’s a view of the town and its harbor (or “harbour”), looking down from Flagstaff Hill:

See those clouds? Yeah, we did too. A LOT. Only had six FULLY sunny days in 8 months.

See those clouds? Yeah, we did too. A LOT. Only had six FULLY sunny days in 8 months.

Think I showed our house already, but here’s a look from the front:

I know. We couldn't believe it either. The whole third floor was locked up for our stay, and we still felt lost in that house. Great for hide & seek, though!

I know. We couldn’t believe it either. The whole third floor was locked up for our stay, and we still felt lost in that house. Great for hide & seek, though!

Any stay in another country requires getting used to what one thinks as “weirdness,” which the locals call “normal life.” Here are a few examples.

1. “Burn time.” That was something they’d announce on the weather report, as in “this is how many minutes you can be out in the sun without getting bright red.” NZ sits directly under the hole in the ozone layer, we learned. (I’m assuming that hole hasn’t gotten any smaller, 20 years on.) So KIDS WORE HATS. Always.

Son One on a beach field trip with his First Form class.

Son One on a beach field trip with his First Form class.

2. Kiwis–the namesake of not only New Zealanders themselves, but also their money–are not only ridiculously rare, they’re also nocturnal. I got to see one on a tour on Stewart Island, at midnight, but our kids couldn’t stay up that long.

The only kiwi the boys got to see. (Wellington Zoo)

The only kiwi the boys got to see. (Wellington Zoo)

3. Aside from 70 billion sheep–OK, it was “only” 45 million, but then there weren’t quite 4 million PEOPLE in NZ at that time–Kiwis also raised elk for, of all things, the velvet from their antlers, which apparently fetched (still fetches? don’t know) a high price in some Asian countries. So weird to see elk penned up like cattle! Even weirder: they called them “Wapiti,” which is a northwestern Native American word.

Wapiti! Up in Marlborough Sound. The meat is sold too, of course.

Wapiti! Up in Marlborough Sound. The meat is sold too, of course.

4. Christmas falls in summer. At that latitude, it doesn’t get dark till around 10. So why bother with Christmas lights? They’d barely show. This might have changed, but back then, we saw hardly any. Took me a long time to notice what was missing.

But who needs lights when you have the Pohutakawa--the "New Zealand Christmas Tree"?

But who needs lights when you have the Pohutakawa–the “New Zealand Christmas Tree”?

5. New Zealand is officially bilingual. Here are signs from Otago University, in English and Maori:

"Wh" is pronounced like "f."

“Wh” is pronounced like “f.”

…and speaking of language…oh boy. Language. Don’t get me started. That’ll have to wait till next post. Till then, haere ra!

Scottish Independence: Vote Either Way…Just Don’t Stop Debating!

I generally have strong political opinions, but on the issue of independence for Scotland, I am officially neutral…except in one area.

I love, love, LOVE to hear the Scots talk about Independence. Or the weather. Or anything, really. That accent makes me SWOON.

I really can’t tell you WHY Scottish accents thrill me to my core–I mean thrrrrrrill me. Part of it’s that rrrrromantic rolled R, for surrrrre. Then there’s that pure “u” sound: puuuuuure. Or pewre? It’s practically unspellable. But it sure puts a spell on me.


The vowels are fun too. In the mid-90s, my family spent most of a year living in southern New Zealand–specifically, the town of Dunedin. If I tell you that “Dun” means “town” in old Scots, you will understand that Dunedin is another way of saying Edinburgh. In other words, southern NZ was settled heavily (in both senses of the word) by Scots, and they left their mark on the accent there.

I came to think of it as the Great Vowel Shift. Short “i”s became “uh”s: fish ‘n’ chips became fush ‘n’ chups. Short “e”s became short “i”s, so the grocery chain Big Fresh was Bug Frish. When the PA system at the airport called passengers to the gate for “chicken formalities,” it took us a minute to realize…oh. Right. Check in. (We still get a giggle from that.)

Then there was the time our son Mac (short for McKenzie) came home excitedly from First Form to tell us, “There’s another Mac in my class!” Later we learned the boy in question was actually named Mark. While in school, our son went by “Meck,” or, more formally, “MecKINzaye.”

(orig. image courtesy

(orig. image courtesy

Could there be a blog post about a more trivial subject? I don’t care. I find accents fascinating. Even more fascinating: what makes certain accents appeal to certain people. Ready to join in? OK, I’ll start. Here are my top ten favorite accents in which to hear English:

1. Scots (Do they really speak that way ALL the time, amongst themselves? Or is it some kind of elaborate hoax they perpetrate on the rest of the world?)

2. Russian (ever seen A Fish Called Wanda? I don’t even need to hear Russian; a Russian speaking English does it for me.)

3. Italian (OK, that’s a gimme–who doesn’t have Italian in their top 3?)

4. Welsh–ooh, gotta think about that one, eh? Hint: Welsh speakers always sound as though they’re asking a question?

5. Spanish (even fakey Spanish: “Allo. My name ees Inigo Montoya. You keel my father. Prepare to die.”)

6. Aussie/Kiwi (there IS a difference, and Kiwis get annoyed if you call ’em Aussies)

7. Londonite (but NOT fakey Londonite–“Oi, guv’nor!” drives me up a tree)

8. Jamaican–wait a minute, this should go WAY higher up on my list…but I’m too lazy to start my list over, mon

9. Downeast Mainer

10. Alabaman

Your turn. What are your favorite accents, and why? Oh, and if you’re Scottish–don’t forget to vote! Guuuud luck on that!