Colloquialisms and Cultural Exploration

Last night witnessed a diverse group of students seated in a circle on the grass, sipping lemonade and arguing belligerently about the meaning of cookies, biscuits, and scones. A boy from Austin, TX and I represented the American side, another girl submitted the British opinion, and two Kiwis brought the New Zealand perspective. I contended that cookies, biscuits, and scones are all different: cookies = sugary, sometimes filled with chocolate chips, good when soft and gooey, better/best in a pre-cooked dough state; biscuits = generally savory bread things, go well with gravy; scones = slightly more crumbly and sweet than biscuits, don’t know anyone who makes scones for fun, have with tea to feel proper and aristocratic. I remain slightly muddled on the details and opinions of other cultures. What I learned from the confusing conversation: To New Zealanders, all cookies are biscuits, but not all biscuits are cookies. I think. In England, you can tell where someone’s ancestors hail from based on how he pronounces “scone” – skawn vs the normal way.

For those who are considering traveling to New Zealand and/or desire to expand their cultural and linguistic horizons, here are some more phrasery to keep in mind:

  • Mosquito = “mossie” (a much cuter nickname than this hedonist species deserves)
  • swimwear = “togs” (I was very confused when people kept telling me to bring my togs to the beach. I would say, “Look, I don’t know what you’re saying.” And they would respond, “TOGS. You know? T. O. G. S.” “NO! I DON’T KNOW TOGS!” “The thing you swim in.” “What? The ocean?” “NO- what you wear!” “Oh… a swimsuit.” Finally, America has a word for something that actually makes more sense than other variations  (“Swim” because you’re going swimming in water/jello/some liquid + “suit” because you wear it. Perfectly reasonable). Here I’m thinking “soccer” vs “football” – I just refer to “soccer” as football because my British coaches did and it makes me feel all cosmopolitan and European… and because IT EFFING MAKES SENSE! American football players really don’t use their feet. But I guess “handball” was already taken.)
  • pay for = “shout” (or something to that extent. I was getting coffee and this guy was like, “I’ll shout you.” And I just sort of awkwardly haha-ed and went to hand my money to the cashier, and he, more forcefully, says, “No- I’m shouting you.” I think that’s what he said. And I’m still oblivious, thinking, “Please don’t start shouting at me I’m just trying to get coffee and what the heck is happening….”)
  • Maori is pronounced MORRR-eee. Break out your sultry Latin voice and roll those Rs. Yes- we’ve all been pronouncing it wrong for years.
  • “Tarpots” and “Bludgeons” are derogatory terms for Maori people. I won’t go into the history behind the terms, but unfortunately there are elements of racism that are alive and well in Dunedin. Knowing these terms, you can now actively avoid using them. Hark- an attempt to lessen my own ignorance. Knowledge is good for me: Now, I won’t revert to my middle-school mindset and throw around words whose meaning I don’t really know. That always got me in trouble.
  • “Cheers” = Thank you/You’re welcome/whatever you want it to mean
  • “Sweet as” = I confirm that what you are proposing is good by me (a phrase so popular that shirtmakers put it on sweatshirts)


If you hear a word whose meaning utterly confounds you, don’t be afraid to ask. If you’re still afraid of appearing stupid, put on your best Southern accent; you will immediately be pegged as a hapless American and everyone will rush to take pity on you and help you in any way they can. Works like a charm.

Cultural differences between the US and New Zealand extend beyond the linguistic….

  • Kiwis don’t generally put their eggs in the fridge.
  • Automatic doors are quite slow. I feel as if my Force powers have been dampened in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Students dress up for class. I don’t mean that they put clothes on – most people do that – but they really look stylish and put-together. The campus is also fairly spread out. These two factors combined lead me to realize that I will probably not be wearing my glow-in-the-dark Dino footie pajamas to finals. I would be judged harder and for a longer period of time.
  • Classes (at least during Summer School) begin later. On Mondays, I do not start class until 4 pm. I have one class at 10 am and the professor comes in looking haggard and saying, “This is too early.”
  • Many bakeries and cafes mark their baked goods as half-off towards the end of the day. Cha Ching! Cheap croissants for Lindsey!
  • Marshmallows are sickly sweet. Don’t eat them. They’re poison.
  • Some ads are weird. Oh wait, ‘Murica does that too.
flexible sunglasses? metaphor?

flexible sunglasses? metaphor?

  • Students are used to single-rooming. When they go to Uni, they don’t usually get the roommate experience that many Americans expect.
  • Condiments cost extra. I’ve taken to carrying around aioli and ketchup (or tomato sauce, if you will). However, if you eat at Velvet Burger, there is a chance that you can cheat this general rule. Are you blonde or lucky? Or both? I learned the powers of these qualities when I went to the burger joint with a friend. The boy taking our orders asked, “Can’t get enough of our burgers, huh?” My friend laughed and smiled and engaged in friendly conversation. Hungry, I glowered and sent a message with my eyes: stop flirting and gimme my food. I paid full price for avocado. She got free cheese and mushrooms. The take-home lesson: Use your feminine wiles to get free food add-ons. If you’re like me and have none, you can always try dying your hair blonde, winking, giggling profusely, and energetically tossing your wavy locks.
  • Short drives to dinner can provide majestic views of the countryside
oh, just driving to dinner, looking out my window. No big deal.

oh, just driving to dinner, looking out my window. No big deal.






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3 Responses to Colloquialisms and Cultural Exploration

  1. Jim Brown says:

    Hannah likes to cook scones. It has been a specialty of hers since grade school. Ok, one ‘mericun who cooks scones, not really a trend.

  2. Ali says:

    I have a great/easy scone recipe. I bake them all the time and then freeze them for a week’s worth of breakfast! YUMMMM!

  3. ZOMG. Bakeries and cafes mark their baked goods half-off towards the end of the day! CROISSANTS. You are so lucky.

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