A strange thing happened to me this week in my local pub, the Albion Hotel.
Of course, that’s not unusual in itself; after all, I live in the Victorian Alpine village of Swifts Creek, but this one really took the McVities Digestive.
Someone asked me if I was American.
To be honest, being taken for a foreigner with a funny accent, outlandish clothes and weird unfathomable habits is hardly a life shattering event, especially not for me – it used to happen every time I went to Paisley.
And whilst there, I’ve heard punters I know to be Buddies pontificating – to themselves usually, often whilst shadow boxing - in what would appear to be a confusing combination of Pidgin English, Gaelic and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot men speak.
‘Heedrum, seeven, hulla-mucka-do? Flubba-dubba-pairty. Wha, eleeven? Eh... naw, A’hm awright.’
That’s as maybe, but no one ever – anywhere - has ever accused me of being American.
I’m the first to admit I don’t sound as Scottish as I used to. But at the risk of sounding like an abject apologist for the likes of Lulu and Sheena Easton, it’s very hard to live in another country and retain the good old glottal stop.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done. A pal of mine has been living in Canada for 30 years and sounds more Scottish now than he did when he first went there. But then, his family are all exiled Scots and more to the point, he lives in Hamilton, Ontario, far and away the most Caledonian town in North America, if not the world.
Not only can you buy square sausage, Irn-bru and the like in Hamilton, Ontario, but the town coat-of-arms features a shield-shaped clootie dumpling, mounted on which is a pair of crossed McKellar Watt links. (I might have made that up, but you get the general idea. It’s Scotland with maple syrup on the side.)
Though if my mate Norrie thought he could hoodwink his old pals back in Scotia that, despite his quilted tartan jacket and passion for ice hockey, he hadn’t changed, he was sadly mistaken.
On one of his trips back home he was in the pub with the lads and the talk turned – as it does – to the price of booze.
“How much do you pay for a beer over there?” was the question.
“I don’t know”, says Norrie, “a couple of bucks.”
Cue mass derision and scorn – and as we know, no one does derision and scorn better than a massed bunch of blokes in the pub.
“A couple of bucks? Hey lads, listen to John Wayne, here!”
The fact that my accent had been somewhat blurred at the edges ensured that on my trips home, I didn’t escape disparagement, either.
Without me noticing, I’d become – sort of – assimilated into Aussie ways.
But in my defence, I was with Australians all day at work and surrounded by them at night too. And, as the saying goes, when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, right?
Too bloody right you do, mate.
There were other, practical reasons, as well. Not long after I arrived in Oz I got a job as a Probation Officer. This entailed me talking to people about the circumstances of their crime and their efforts to rehabilitate, sometimes a dozen ex-felons a day.
A lot of these guys were Aboriginal and, to be frank, at first they simply did not get me. Even a friendly greeting such as ‘Howzitgaun?’ was treated with incomprehension and I soon realised that if a half-hour interview wasn’t going to last upwards of a fortnight, compromises would have to be made.
It was a gradual process. The first change, in the style of all good foreign phrasebooks, was in the section named ‘greetings’.
My preferred salutation - ‘Howzitgaun’ easily morphed into the much more Australian and therefore totally comprehensible ‘Howy’goin?’
No problem there. I mean, no worries, mate.
Next, I tried turning my hand to a few tried and trusted Aussie expressions. That declaration of mounting appetite – “I’m Hank Marvin”, was replaced by the local colloquialism, “Hungry? Mate, I could eat the crutch out of a low flying duck.”
Easy-peasy. She’ll be apples, cobber.
After that, I considered single words. Booze became grog, a meal became a feed and rooting started to have absolutely no connection with rummaging around looking for something rather mysterious and exceptionally hard to find.
Actually, come to think of it, the meaning of rooting hardly changed at all.
But good old-fashioned Scots words such as glaur, dreich and smirr? Well, to be honest, there wasn’t any need to find substitutes for them. Somehow or other, words like those just never really seemed to come up. Funny, that.
So, given the above, I could have accepted it, if the bloke in the Albion Hotel had asked if I was an Aussie.
But, an American? No way, Jose.
Now, the character who made this outrageous allegation was on his umpteenth drink and is well-known, some might say notorious, in these parts as an individual who’d, in the local vernacular, "struggle to find his a**e with both hands and a compass", but that’s not the point.
What’s he on about? I mean, American? Me?
Still, on the other hand, perhaps I should be grateful. After all, it could have been worse. A lot worse.
I mean, he could have said I sounded like a Pom.
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