I Forgot To Pack My Diphthongs

Being ten floors away from the pool, we heard a lot of accents.

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.)


  1. I giggled all the way through this. I didn’t get to the USA, but certainly had similar experiences with the accent when I travelled. What was really hard though was when I came home and
    Judy Bailey with her gorgeous accent sounded ghastly to me – I was the Chelsea Bitch for a while, while I re-kiwi-ed.
    (PS I’m pleased you’re still Mum and I quite fancy myself as a mermaid from Nania!)


  2. My New Zealand accent isn’t charming. Apparently mine’s quite dirty.

    A few years ago I travelled with a couple of New Zealand colleagues to a meeting with a large magazine company in New York. At their offices we were met by Andrew, the only person we’d ever dealt with from the company previously. He showed us into an expansive boardroom, capable of comfortably seating 40. He introduced us to a couple of colleagues. Then he introduced us to a couple more colleagues, then a few more colleagues, then another group of colleagues. And just as we sat down the door opened again, and so entered a further three straggling colleagues.

    So we three New Zealanders looked across the table at 15 people – our host and 14 women (all of whom were, it has to be said, not unattractive).

    I was responsible for introducing the meeting. I started by thanking the group for their hospitality and letting them know that we were very grateful that so many people had taken the time to come and meet with us, that we hoped our presentation wouldn’t disappoint, and (looking at Andrew) that after such a turnout I would be able to return to New Zealand and tell my friends that I finally understood ‘what you Americans mean when you talk about bringing your posse’.

    Which would be fine but for the fact that in a New Zealand accent (or at least in mine) the word ‘posse’ doesn’t sound quite like it should. It sounds a little…..feline….and therefore an entirely inappropriate collective noun for a group of attractive women.

    Oh how we laughed. Eventually.


  3. About to forward a link to this page to all my Oz mate here in Paradise – They ‘take the mikey’ constantly and it’s unreasonably unfair – they have far more twang than I.


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