Journalist | Editor | Speaker 

Me no speak like Valley girl yet


We’ve been here in sunny, drought-ridden California for well over a year now and it really has been a pretty easy transition seeing as we speak the same language and are into a lot of the same things – the sea, food and wine, exploring the outdoors, The Big Bang Theory and Psych. And the language is really pretty minor in the scheme of things, although a new American friend of mine agonized (note that US spelling?) when we first arrived over my ability to make myself understood here and not fall into lots of embarrassing situations. This hasn’t been a problem at all but there are times when I want to bellow in sheer frustration when faced with certain language misunderstandings.

The main one, I guess is that everyone who sees my name spelt, calls me Gill with the hard g, as in gorilla. Sometimes these are people who I feel like I’ve formed some kind of connection with and when they finish our nice conversation with a, “Great to talk to you, Gill” as in gorilla, it’s all a bit disappointing really. As well as pronouncing my name incorrectly, those who have only had electronic communication with me also assume I am a man as in Gil. So there’s that too. There’s a moment’s startled silence when I introduce myself on the phone, after emails have been exchanged.

The hardest times are when I am on the phone with the bank or AT & T and I am forced to put on a bad American accent just to jump through the usual hoops of: “Do you want to talk to someone about billing, say billing, or to customer service, say customer service etc.  And I say: Customer service,” using every conceivable syllable, even with a follow up word like “Yes” which can easily have three syllables here.  I often have to press zero and talk to a real person in the end.

Other words used here, which just really push my buttons, are the ways Americans pronounce “buoy” (that thing that bobs in the sea)- they say booey and it sounds absolutely ridiculous. I listened to a radio interview the other day and they must have said the word about 20 times. I nearly drove off the road with frustration.

Another word they use here is, instead of: “We will put you in the draw for a $50,0000 prize,” they say “drawing. We will put you in the drawing.  I realise that I may not be grammatically right but that just sounds so wrong.

Now I wouldn’t want this to be a complete downer. There are lots of words I like here. I like the way my teen says “Anyways” instead of anyway and it seems to take the edge off when the kids call each other  “ass (as in donkey) hole”. My 14 year old now uses “oftentimes” regularly which is so lovely and old-fashioned sounding I think. And I really enjoy ringing up my hairdresser and saying: “Could I have my bangs (fringe) trimmed please.” So Little House on the Prairie, isn’t it?

And the nice thing is when Californians find out that I am from New Zealand, they beam from ear to ear and say they REALLY want to go there. I usually counter with: “Well, it’s just a direct 13 hour flight with Air New Zealand, just go ahead and book it.”

They tend to look a bit nonplussed at this, as if I’ve accused them of sheer laziness and ineptitude and am questioning their keenness. I don’t mean to, I just want them to understand it’s very easily done, much less of a schlepp than the trip to Oz, so just do it, as Nike would say. Oh yeah, some people here say Nike as in rhymes with Mike instead of Nikey. That’s weird.