Tuesday, December 17, 2013

G’day mate

Being a long-term expat means inevitably adopting the ways of the new country. That means food, customs, manners and language, including—maybe especially—slang. There’s one word used in NZ that I just cannot use: Mate.

A mate is a friend, an acquaintance or a complete stranger. In my personal experience, women may use the word sometimes, but it’s more likely to be used by men and usually to other men. It’s a casual form of address, a generic term of casual acknowledgement or one of sincere friendship. All that may sound confusing, but it’s actually not, and it’s not why I won’t use it: It’s the sound.

The word mate trips easily off the tongue for Kiwis and Aussies, but I think it sounds downright weird in my accent (such as it is…). So, I only say it when I’m goofing around, usually in an affected accent, a broad fake Australian accent or one of the more pronounced Kiwi dialects. Even if I say “gidday, mate” it’s in a light-hearted way.

You could say that I’m being overly self-conscious, and if you do, you’re not wrong (to use another Kiwi slang phrase). But why that particular word is so singularly adept ad making me uncomfortable when so many others don’t is beyond me. Maybe it’s the long A vowel sounding particularly American to me—no, that seems unlikely, since I still pronounce most of my Rs.

Young Kiwis often use the word bro instead of mate. I don’t use that one, either, but in that case it’s more an age thing than anything else.

I know other American expats who use the word mate freely: “Cheers, mate”, “good to see you, mate!” and so on. Not me. It seems no matter how assimilated I become, that’s one word too far.

And that’s it for this post. Mate.

No comments: