They speak English in Australia, right? So why is it so hard to understand what the heck everyone is saying?

When we were making our decision to move to Sydney we figured that, with everything involved with moving abroad and settling in, at least they spoke English in Australia. Of course we now know that American English and Australian English are not always the same. This difference in “English”, even though it’s slight, often results in humorous misunderstandings.

One of my favorite stories of an Australian to American English mix up is from a fellow American expat, we’ll call her Lynn.

An Aussie Slang Mix Up

On one of Lynn’s first days at her new job in Sydney she met Kylie, a very friendly and boisterous Australian woman who was basically an open book. Lynn and her new friend soon became close workmates and would often go out for a morning coffee break to chat and share office gossip. (Otherwise known as Morning Tea here in Australia.)

One morning Kylie was a bit livelier than usual and, in secret, told Lynn her good mood was due to a hot lunch date she had planned with a guy she fancied.

Just before lunch, Kylie popped over to Lynn’s desk and asked if Lynn had a “rubber”. Lynn, remembering the hot lunch date, was a bit startled by the question and said no, she didn’t have a rubber.

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“Really?” Kylie replied, “I thought for sure, since you just started working here, you would still have a rubber. Most people usually start out with a rubber on their first few days at a new job then lose it later. Funny, I’ve asked everyone if they have a rubber and no one has one. I guess no one really uses them any more, you know, with computers and all.”

Lynn just sat there and stared at Kylie, not at all sure of what to say. Kylie, a bit puzzled by Lynn’s reaction continued, “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to live without one” and bounced away.

Lynn later recalled thinking that Australians must be very forward and a bit out, well, there. She chalked it up to “just one of those culture differences” and figured she had best get use to it now as there was surely more to come.

A few days later Kylie once again showed up at Lynn’s desk, this time with a smile on her face and her hands behind her back.

“You’ll never guess what I found?” she says, to which Lynn had no guess. “A rubber!” Kylie unveils from behind her back. A surprised Lynn looked at the rubber and exclaimed “Eraser. An Eraser! That’s what you were looking for.”

Kylie, taken aback by Lynn’s overreaction, just replied “Ah, yeah, eraser, sure. Is that what you call it?” Then it dawned on her, “What did you think I was looking for the other day?”

This is one of the many stories I’ve heard from American expats living in Australia. Most of the time the American to Australian English (or vice versa) ends up in some funny misunderstandings.

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Have you ever gotten lost in translation?