Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Cultural confusion

I didn’t realise how ‘Australian’ I had become until I returned home, writes Andrea Kissane

Thu, Sep 5, 2013, 12:15


Andrea Kissane

I never intended to dive in. For me, it was more submersion by a thousand drops. A flat white here, an arvo there, each new phrase a small step to calling random people my mate. Gradually I start to find it normal that men wear pants smaller than mine to the beach.

I begin to notice my brain getting confused. Should I pack my thongs or my flip flops? I get momentary paralysis of the mouth when I start to speak. The automatic switch in my brain starts to trip and I don’t know whether to start a conversation with g’day or hello. I’ll enjoy a sundowner cocktail on the beach but I am unsure if I’ll clink glasses with a sláinte or a cheers. It’s a verbal Russian roulette.

I knew things were getting out of hand when I came back to Ireland for a holiday after three years in the sunny southern hemisphere. I collected my nephews from a play date, chatting to the parents on the doorstep in what I thought was my thick Kerry brogue. As I left, they shook my hand and welcomed me to Ireland. I was surprised both by their enthusiastic welcome and the fact I was now using words like play date.

I gave a speech at a friend’s birthday party and guests referred to me as the Australian. Except for one man who called me a nice Welsh girl but to be fair, he is actually far less confused than I feel.

The final straw came when the barman in my Killarney local thought I was psychotic. I had ambled up to the bar, reminding myself not to say schooner, stubby or sheilas. What I actually said turned out to be much more confusing. He had opened with a friendly hello.

“Hello”, I replied. “How are you?”

And then I waited. It had taken me years under the sprawling, sun soaked, lilac jacaranda trees to learn that people in Australia actually insist on answering this question. Furthermore, they consider it rude if you babble on to the next part of your conversation before they have informed you. And so, like the mutt of an Aussie Pavlov, I continued to smile silently at him. He looked expectantly at me. I thought he hadn’t quite heard the question. So I gave him another chance.

“Hello. How are you?” I asked with an encouraging smile.

“Ah c’mere” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “I serve drinks. Not sanity.”

I had always despised those J1 students who would return from Boston having left the letter “r” in Fenway Park and for the next semester would need “khakis” to start their eleven-year-old Ford Fiestas. Or the Glastonbury attendee who would’t give up the wristband and retained grubby fingernails for the next month.

But was I guilty of the same process? Granted I may have been living in Sydney for a few years but was that any excuse? It turns out my Irish skin, thoughts and speech are far from impermeable.

I have christened the phenomenon “Aussie Osmosis”. It is a fair dinkum frightening thought.

As I pack my boxes to move from Sydney to London, I know I’ll have to lose the rising intonation at the end of my sentences or I’ll forever be posing questions?

Andrea is a freelance writer now based in London. She tweets as @herlondoneye