I’ve been living abroad for almost eight years now. I am originally from Australia and have lived in South Korea, Singapore, and now, for the past week, India. I’ve worked as an English teacher for almost all of that time so I tend to take notice of changes and adaptations in the way I speak or act when I am in another country for a prolonged period of time. Here are just some examples of the adjustments I’ve made subconsciously when I have been in these countries:
Australians use far more slang than is really necessary. It is ingrained in us from a young age and becomes almost impossible to escape, constantly shortening words and adding an ‘-o’ or a ‘-y’ for absolutely no reason at all, rhyming slang, stupid analogies, the list goes on. What was natural for me as young kid growing up in a small, country town had to be toned down substantially when I moved to the city and completely avoided when I relocated overseas. I was recently back in Australia for two and a half weeks and I noticed that I did in some ways make minor adjustments in the way I spoke, reverting to some of the old habits I grew up with, especially when I was in rural areas, speaking to rural people.
Most Noticeable Change in that Time: Beginning sentences with “Yeah, nah…“.
I moved to Korea only six months after I developed epilepsy and I had tried to learn some Korean in that time, but all I managed to remember was ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Thank you’.
Most Noticeable Change in that Time: Speaking louder in the hope that it will help someone instantly understand what I’m trying to say.
English is technically the official language of Singapore, but in reality it is Singlish. Aaahhh, Singlish, which, to the ears of an English teacher is the aural equivalent of chewing on tin foil. For example, every year Singapore has Beer Fest, a pretty cool international beer festival. Last year I tried a new beer I really enjoyed so I asked the distributer where it was available. I then asked him if it was available in bottles or cans. His response? “Bottle can, can can not, lah“. Translation: “It’s available in bottles, however, not in cans.” Terrifyingly, I had been living in Singapore long enough by that stage that his sentence made perfect sense to me, even after about 10 beers.
Most Noticeable Change in that Time: When I ask questions, I make a sentence and put the question word and the subject pronoun at the end, much like Yoda from Star Wars. Example: Instead of asking, “is the flight delayed?”, I now ask, “flight’s delayed, is it?”.
Which brings me to India:
Where we are staying, the two main languages are Tamil and French, however, most people here are reasonably fluent in English, too. They tend to speak very quickly without really stressing syllables, but besides that, they speak like you and I, with no noticeable slang. There’s only one main difference; Indians wobble their heads from side to side when speaking.
Most Noticeable Change in that Time: I now wobble my head side to side when I am answering questions or am offered anything, particularly in restaurants. This isn’t a racist thing, I’m not mocking them, it’s just a cultural thing here and it is extremely contagious! I noticed Anna doing it when talking to a taxi driver on the second day we were here! It happened when we came to India three years ago, too. I try not to do it, just in case the person I’m speaking to thinks I’m being condescending, but it just happens subconsciously, thus, I have to make a conscious effort to control it. But, “When in Rome…”
A few other things I’ve noticed here that I wouldn’t have expected:
- There really aren’t any convenience stores. No 7-Elevens, no Cheers‘, nothing, just small roadside stalls selling water, ice-cream and cigarettes, which is ironic when the stereotype for most countries is that convenience stores are usually run by Indians.
- No McDonalds or Starbucks, either. In fact, the only fast food places I’ve seen are Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Subway and I’ve only seen one of each. Plus, there was a place that sold chicken biryani in a bucket similar to KFC. The bucket even had red vertical stripes
- People here are extremely honest. I mentioned the other day that a waiter chased us quite a distance in the dark to give Anna her credit card back. Well, the other night I had to try to convince another waiter that they had substantially undercharged me. It took a while and in the end the bill was still less than it should have been!
- People here are incredibly friendly. I have random strangers come up to me all the time on the street and say ‘hello’, ask where I’m from, that type of thing. They aren’t drunk, they’re just genuinely nice, hospitable people.
Anyway, yet again it’s another nice day outside so I better have a shower and get dressed, because Anna is on her way back from Chennai Airport after attending Tiffany and Farid’s weddings in Singapore. I just want to take this oppourtunity to say congratulations to Tiffany and Farid, you’ve been through a lot to get to this point, I’m just glad to see it was worth it, but I truly am sorry I couldn’t be there for your two big days.