I love being a New Zealander, but after listening to a lift full of Auckland Grammar school girls in Hawaii, last week, I finally admitted I speak fonny. My kiwi twang –the kwang– sounds lazy, as if my tongue is allergic to vowels.
My great, great English grandparents are to blame; they lost some semantics on the long migration to New Zealand. ‘Hare, hair or here – who cares?’ they cried, with glee. ‘We’re going to the end of the world!’
They didn’t know planes would be invented, and some day I would fly back from the brink, only to find my diphthongs mocked. On my first visit to the great Mothership, England, my elation at finally arriving was soon shattered by a stuck up Chelsea Bitch who said, “Oh listen to the Antipodean!” I felt like some sort of colonial gecko.
It wasn’t just the confused vowels, my very words, apparently, indicated I was of lower class, gecko descent: pardon, couch, handbag, dessert, lounge, perfume, mum, morning tea and going to the bathroom. It should be sorry, sofa, bag, afters, living room, scent, mummy, tea and lavatory, according to Home Witch. London’s a blast but my tongue had never felt so judged.
The Dimple has his own part-Viking, part-sloth variation and between us, we have tested the kwang all over the globe. In Britain it is too Colonial. Yet in Africa it is too British. In Europe it is Australian. In South America it is not Spanish. In Asia it is something to haggle with and in Australia it is teased (as if they can talk).
Thank goodness for mighty America, where the kwang is revered. As my friend Cin says, “Americans love the sound of their own voices but we also love a good accent,” – especially in Fort Bragg, our nearest west coast town with a population of: 7000 locals, 6,950 Dodge Ram trucks, 2000 long grey ponytails and four foreigners (us).
People look at me with wonder when I order a Skunny Mulk Latte, and ask where I am from. No one scoffs when I ask for ‘the chick’. My accent turns hids here. Yis, true!
I’m no longer a gecko from the colonies; I am a mermaid from Narnia.
My kwang was invited out for lunch by a stranger, at the pool recently. Fay (*), in her late fifties, lived on a farm with her husband. After a brief chat about why on earth we shifted to Fort Bragg, she invited us over to lunch – the very next day.
“So, we speak Nu Zealish while they fondle under the table?” said the Dimple, when I told him. “In the middle of nowhere?” We didn’t go.
The Dimple would give Sean Connery a run for his money. I love watching females serve him at hardware stores… “Want some candy? Do you have candy where you come from? No? Lullies? Oooh.” His accent and dimples –a lethal combination– have been detained by two sisters and their mother at the drive-through coffee spot, causing someone behind to holler, “It’s not a #@#$%# parking lot”.
Nine months in America hasn’t tainted the ‘Dactyl’s chances to speak cute. Her vowels are nicely muddled already. Her favourite being ‘mar’ when she wants more. Quite popular during dessert, pudding and afters.
Last Halloween, Bob hauled in a stack of candy because they loved the way he said ‘Puckle Treat’. It may be lower class in some parts of the world but he’s got his four-year-old friends asking for morning tea and their parents love it (who just snack). Try as he might, he can’t wrap his tongue around mom and I feel proud to be mum. That’s who I am.
If I’m going to trot around with an accent, it’s nice to know it’s getting the very best of attention. Well, sometimes, the Other Camp Mother (Mama K) has to translate for me, when we’re out… ‘She wants a STRAWH!’ but my tongue hasn’t felt this interesting since it had twenty stitches in it.
The only downside, is that those bastards, Flight Of The Conchords have made everyone, across the US, assume kiwis not only speak fonny, but we’re actually funny. Oh the pressure. It was easier when we just came from paradise. At least, when I’m stuck for material, I can fall back on my vowels. Especially admiring a lovely deck, because you can imagine what my kwang does to the ‘e’.
My old pal, Philip O’Neill, said on his excellent blog, a while back, that silence is the loudest feedback. So go on, post a reply about the kwang. Is it fonny? Or funny? Or just plain exotic?
(* I changed Fay’s name. Fort Bragg’s too small.)