I was writing up a list of Kiwi words and phrases when I started to think about some differences in the way words are used in English speaking countries. I went to school in the United States but I moved around every couple of years so I never developed a hometown or regional accent. Living in England and doing my undergraduate degree in my personality-forming 20s (not to mention the fact that my husband is British) means that a lot of the things I say are very coloured by British English and culture. Now that I’ve been in New Zealand for so long I also have a good smattering of things I say and do that are truly Kiwi. My language use is as mixed up as my accent and, on occasion I read or hear something that reminds me of this fact. There are millions of these little instances but here are four.
Kiwis say, “Big ups” to someone when they want to tell them they’ve done a good job at something. I thought this was a Kiwi phrase until I noticed an American, David Miller on Matador Network, write it in a comment. The difference was that he wrote “Big up” in the singular. I wonder why the difference. I guess Kiwis like to give more than one.
In England people use the word ‘brown’ to mean skin that has been coloured by the sun. For example,
“My you are looking brown. Have you been on holiday?”
“Yes, we’ve just spent two weeks in Spain.”
But in New Zealand, brown usually refers to skin colour based on ethnicity. So, when I said to a Chinese friend that he was ‘looking nice and brown’ a whole group of people looked at me like I was mad.
The Kiwi summer is marked by many occasions to get together with friends at a beach, park or back garden and cook things over fire in a metal box. We refer to both the occasion and the metal fire box as a barbecue as in,
“Come over to my house for a barbecue on Friday night”
“Choice. What should I bring*?”
“Could you put more sausages on the barbecue? John’s coming and he eats heaps.”
American’s (and, it seems, Canadians), however will call the metal box a grill and can also use it like a verb as in,
“Should we cook the steaks on the grill?”
“Come over. We are grilling out.”
As far as I’m aware I’ve never used “grill” as a verb because even if I was to talk about cooking something with a grill, which doesn’t even make sense in this context as a grill is a part of the cooker (uh…stove) with high heat only coming from the top, I would say something like,
“I’ll just put this cheese on toast under the grill for a few minutes until it’s golden and bubbly.”
One last thing. I was once doing some work in Laos with a team of people, one of which was from Hawaii. We immediately got on/ clicked (it’s an island thing) when we found out how many things we did the same in New Zealand and Hawaii. New Zealand is the largest Polynesian nation after all. They wear slippers while we wear jandals, but the biggest difference was that here in New Zealand we call everyone ‘Bro’, whereas they call everyone ‘Bra’. Again, I wonder why so close yet not the same.
* You always bring a bottle of wine or a pack of beer and usually your own meat or veggies for the barbecue and/ or maybe a salad to share. Just in case you wondered.