Category Archives: Culture

Ass-tute Observation

I wish I could see everybody’s faces ( Kiwi residents excepted) as I ask you to figure out what the phrase in the picture could mean! ‘Kiwi As Waitangi Deals’! The operative words being ‘Kiwi as’. No,there’s nothing missing. No preposition or noun to be added! The deal, is apparently Kiwi as! 

It threw me into some confusion too when I first heard similar exclamations many years ago. The first time was over the phone with a young person to whom a course of action was being explained. I asked her if everything was clear. ” Sweet ass!” she said or at least that’s what I thought I heard. There must be some quintessentially Kiwi anecdote about a donkey whose phrase had worked it’s way into everyday conversation I thought to myself! Or perhaps I heard it wrong!

But the next time I heard it, I realised I had indeed heard correctly. The man with whom I was talking got up to leave and said cordially but unmistakeably to me,” Sweet ass!” I hurried over to a mirror and twisted around to  appraise myself critically. Admittedly I was not the skinniest person around and had piled on the kilos over the years, but no matter how objectively I looked at it, it would take a great deal of imagination to call aforementioned part of my anatomy ‘sweet’!

Soon after that incident, a receptionist working in the clinic came into the lunch room one cold,wintry day rubbing her hands and exclaiming,” Don’t go out there! It’s cold as!”. I waited patiently  for her to finish her sentence…as cold as?….but  it never happened.

Gradually over time I heard similar expressions in many forms. Something could be ‘cool as’ if it was very cool, ‘windy as’ on a windy day;someone could be ‘hungry as’ and if everything was hunky-dory, then it would be ‘Sweet as’! It was rather a relief to come to a realisation about the last! Flattering though it was to be considered sweet in any shape or form, it was getting mighty unbelievable! 

So as we approach Waitangi Day which falls on February 6th , I suppose the ‘Kiwi as’ deals referred to in the picture is very apt. It’s certainly a very Kiwi expression. I suppose you could say that the word ‘as’ sort-of replaces the word ‘ very’ if one had to pick a choice. A ‘cold as’ day would be a very cold day,a ‘hungry as ‘ person would be a very hungry one and ‘sweet as’ would simply mean,”that’s fine” (so don’t let your imagination carry you away! )

A couple of other terms you may want to remember if you plan to visit here are “your /my shout” and ” bring a plate”. If I wanted to pay for your coffee for instance,that would be my shout. Or,if you were to feel particularly generous, you could shout me a meal. If you were invited to a meal or barbecue and asked to bring a plate, please don’t ( like many unsuspecting souls have) literally take along an empty plate. Although it may sound like your host/hostess has a slight crockery issue, it actually means that its a pot-luck meal and so you may take a plate of food along! 

Of course every language when spoken colloquially has it’s own quirks . I have been asked why many Indians tend to add the word ‘only’ at the end of so many of their sentences! ” It’s like that only” for eg if you ask why a certain engine is noisy . Or ,if you,say comment about a new inconvenient law,the other person may exclaim, ” That only I want to know also!”. One day I watched a TV programme here about Customs and Border security. An Indian cardiologist had declared on his arrival form that he was not carrying any edible items. The scanner proved otherwise and when opened,his baggage contained packets and packets of assorted food items. When questioned as to why he had made a false declaration, he  answered finally after a lot of histrionics from his wife( I  kid you not), ” We are Indians you see. We are like that only”!! Ask my husband if you don’t believe me! 

I have also been asked about the Indian head-wobble and why I don’t have it! I am talking about the ubiquitous and indeterminate head and neck gyrations and all Indians will know what I mean! When I do reflect on it, I am sure I do the head-wobble at times when talking to other Indians. I am sure other expatriates will also agree, that  when you live overseas, you tend to develop two modes of interaction. One is employed with citizens of your adopted country and one with other Indians. It happens quite naturally but when you are in the company of other Indians, your head wobbles of it’s own accord, your hand gestures get more expansive, you interject the word “yaar” into sentences and call older people ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’ ! I know I always say ” accha” involuntarily which could mean anything from “Really?”  to ” okay”!

It happens with the kids too ( interestingly) to some extent. They will automatically call your Indian contemporaries ‘aunty & uncle’  but call your Kiwi friends  John or Mary ,even if they are 80 years old!

Also it’s never  ‘ bring a plate’ among Indian communities even if that would be the logical and convenient thing to do! When one asks if you can bring something to the meal,you are firmly told, ” Just bring yourselves!”. So you do this while your heart bleeds for your hostess who you know will be up at the  crack of dawn grinding,pounding and marinating stuff  and it bleeds even more when you know that when it’s your turn ,you will be doing the same! 

Well,it’s been cool as talking to you but I have to go  and purée the spinach now although I could probably buy it in a tin! What to do? We are like this only!

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