The first time we moved to Australia, I was eight. We made our way through the South Pacific, visiting Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand. Eventually, we found ourselves on a plane to Brisbane, where the flight attendant asked my mom if she would like a beer.
“I’d love a beer!” She exclaimed, as any member of my family would.
“Great! We have Four Eggs. Is that alright?”
My mom cocked her head to the side in confusion. “No, that’s okay. I already had breakfast.”
“No, Four EGGS.” The man said again, slowly this time.
“That’s okay. Just a beer will do.” Her smile drooped. She was struggling to understand why this man kept offering her eggs.
“Just a minute,” the flight attendant said, as he turned on his heel and headed back to the beverage cart. A moment later, he returned holding up a can of beer. He pointed to the label and reiterated one more time, “FOUR EGGS.”
With that, my mom started laughing. On the label were four Xs. The beer was called Four-X.
Not much later, we had landed in Brisbane. My parents were busy standing in all sorts of lines. My brother and I never understood why there were so many lines everywhere we landed. We wandered as far as we could, making sure we could still see Mom and Dad.
I spotted a little shop that looked like it sold drinks and snacks. “Milk Bar,” the sign said. I had no idea what that meant, but I propped my little brother up on a bar stool in the shop and waited for the keep to come around. When he did, he asked if there was anything he could get us.
“Do you have any pop?” I asked. Immediately, the shop attendant’s face began to crumple up into a sort of pained smile as he struggled to stop himself from laughing.
“Do we have any what?”
He howled. Another man behind us began howling as well. When he regained his composure, he asked,
“You’re joking right?”
I was so confused. I just wanted a cool Sprite. “No. I mean like Coca-Cola or 7-Up or something. Don’t you guys have pop here?”
“Ohhh! Pop!” The man pinched his side and looked down at his feet, inhaling loudly and exhaling powerfully. “You mean fizzy drink?”
“Fizzy drink?” Seemed like a long and awfully literal name for pop. “I mean, I guess. Does that mean Sprite? I’d just like a Sprite.”
“Coming right up!” The man exclaimed, visibly relieved that the situation had been cleared up. He headed toward the other end of the counter and held a glass under a fountain machine.
“Where are you from, miss?”
“Ahh. Well here in Australia…” He trailed off and walked closer. He handed me my Sprite and leaned down to get closer to me. Whispering, he said, “a pop is a fart.” and with that, my brother and descended into fits of laughter.
During our first few months in Australia, we learned that a car trunk is a boot, and chooks are chickens, sausages are snags and mozzies are mosquitos. We now understood that a tinny was a beer, a cuppa was coffee and a bikkie was a biscuit.
My Mom taught sixth grade in Adelaide. When she first arrived at her new school, she was greeted by friendly faces, and given the tour. The teachers showing her around kept talking about starting the day with early rolls. My Mom hadn’t realized school included breakfast in Australia. It took her a week to realize “early rolls” meant taking attendance… not breakfast. Breakfast, in Australia, is brekkie.
One afternoon, as my mom stood in front of her class of sixth-graders, she counted down a list of vocabulary words.
Holding her pointer finger up, she said, “One. Obstacle. O-B-S-T-A-C-L-E.” The kids furiously scribbled the word down as my Mom read it out.
She held up two fingers this time. “Two-”
Before she could even say the word, her classroom erupted with hysterical laughter. My Mom let her arm flop at her side as she asked, “What? What did I do?”
The room fell quiet and became a sea of red faces. She wasn’t going to get an answer out of them.
“Okay, let’s try this again.” She held up her fingers again and just as she was about to repeat, “two” the room roared with laughter once more.
“Okay. Someone has to tell me what I’m doing wrong.” My Mom said, smirking. She shifted her weight onto one foot and scanned the room. No one said a thing.
She held up her hand again. They laughed. She let her hand fall to her side and the laughter subsided. She tried it again and again.
With a creak, the door to her classroom swung open and another teacher, Mrs. Ritchie, waved my Mom out into the hall urgently.
“That means fuck off!” She told my Mom.
“You don’t need to be so rude.” My Mom exclaimed, taken aback.
“No! No, I mean… holding your two fingers up like that.” Mrs. Ritchie held her fingers up in a V, palm facing inward. “That means fuck off!”
“Oh! Oh my god!” My Mom began to laugh. Mrs. Ritchie followed suit. Through giggles, the Aussie teacher explained that when counting, always face your palm out – at least when you hit two.
During one recess at school, my Mom was approached by a group of girls.
“Mrs. H! Can we have a bowl?”
“A bowl? What do you need a bowl for?”
“Just to play a game” One of the girls explained, shrugging.
My Mom’s forehead wrinkled as she tried to think of a children’s game that called for a bowl. Unable to think of one, she finally asked, “What sort of a game requires a bowl?”
The little faces in front of her seemed to cloud over in confusion. One girl muttered, “Don’t they have bowls in Canada?”
“We do, Sarah, yes. But I can’t think of any games we play with them.”
“Mrs. H. You can’t be serious! Almost all sports are played with a bowl!” Another girl explained, incredulous.
My Mom’s eyes widened as she finally realized, “You mean a ball!”
“Yes! A bowl!”
After our year in Australia, we went home with a whole new language. We all still say, “no worries” when someone makes a mistake. We still call expensive things, ‘posh’. We still rug up when it’s cold. Our sweaters are jumpers, women are sheilas, dudes are blokes and we still tend to reckon everything. I think the most important thing we learned, though, is don’t come the raw prawn; always be fair dinkum.