Wandering Thoughts

January 5, 2013

Language Barriers

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 7:08 pm

Yesterday, the sky was perfect, uninterrupted, not a cloud. Just a big thirsty blue, that stretched in an unnerving way between faint horizons. It was the sort of sky you could imagine dying of thirst under. The day baked. Grass and trees wilted. And we drove around Canberra’s empty wide streets running errands.

The super-market was easy. The barber’s more difficult. There I had to talk. But the barber and I lacked enough shared words to converse. We tried, but our sentences fell to the floor like cut hair.

“Summer Nats this week mate.”

“Oh, um, yes, all those noisy cars.”


“We went home to New Zealand for Christmas.”

“Cold there? You been watchin the cricket?”

“Um no not really, are we playing you guys?”

“You’re bein’ thrashed by the South Africans.”


“You’re bein’ thrashed by the South Africans.”


The tire place was worse. The guy was friendly, bearded and tattooed. He knew everything there was to know about tires, I knew nothing. We tried. I should have pretended to like the Summer Nats car show.

And so I realised later, as Jo and I sat atop mount Ainslee, almost cool in the evening breeze, watching the land grow gold as the sun fell from its empty sky, that somewhere in my life I’d failed to learn an important language. I can speak reasonable Pijin. My Portuguese was passable once. And I had alright traveller’s Spanish. There was even a time when I could at least navigate in Bahasa Indonesian. And yet, despite growing up in the Hutt, I never learnt bloke. I can’t talk rugby, or cars, or common sense. All I can do is stare at my shoes awkwardly, and fudge for a bit until my accent gives me away.

Not that I really mind: I yearn to be a lusophone more than I’ll ever yearn to be a bloke. But there are times, I confess, when I wish I knew what to say when someone says in a confident drawl: “Mate did you hear the Kiwis got bowled out for 44.”

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