Navigating accents

Talking Heads

As a traveller and a super yacht stewardess, interpreting a wide variety of accents is an everyday experience.  Currently, I work with an international crew of six whom all sound distinctly different. They come from all over the globe including Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, England, France and Scotland. I suppose we all  find each others’ accents strange, maybe a little frustrating at times, but mostly entertaining.

The Aussies’ colloquial language regularly cracks me up with slang terms including the following:

Thongs : double-pluggers = slip slops : flip flops (This often makes me giggle when thinking of the Saffa meaning of a g-string)

Doona = duvet

Feeling crook =feeling ill or sick / sea sick

Heaps = a lot of, lots

You’re laughing = easy game e.g. we have lots of time to prepare for the next charter therefore we are laughing

Sweet as = really cool / half simile – sweet as what?

When I try to understand the French and Scottish crew members, it takes me a few seconds to process and register what is being communicated. The Scotsman was telling me the other day that he has had to spend quite a bit of time changing his accent to be more American while working on yachts otherwise, he says, he would not be hired. Only when he is around fellow Scottish peeps does he return to his authentic native tongue.

I guess I censor my South African slang such as ‘eish‘, ‘haiybo!’, ‘howzit‘, ‘sies‘ …. aaah the list can go on… mostly because no-one understands it on board. The French chef, who has worked with many Saffas on yachts before, teases me and often says ‘ag‘ in the galley. Today I taught him what a rusk is as I was daydreaming about dunking a home-made or Woolworths one into my cup of tea today. The others tease me and ask if I will be somewhere ‘now now‘or ‘just now‘ which is unfathomable to most. I usually respond with ‘now now‘.

The French chef explains his preferred description of each meal course before I serve them to guests; which are usually really difficult to pronounce. Sometimes I think he makes them up. The other day he was trying to say ‘tiny bowls’ and I thought he was saying something like ‘tinabowlae’ to describe an entree. Perhaps the sleep deprivation was affecting my brain!

This evening the French chef described the desert as a yellow plum ‘clafoutis‘. To me, ‘clafoutis‘ sounded like an isiXhosa word pronounced ‘klafooootteee‘. [Seriously Saffas, try say it with an African twang] Ya, not so French! We both had a good laugh at the number of times I asked him to pronounce it. He was horrified when I suggested calling it a tart or pie for the American guests. ‘Klafoooteee‘ it was to me and who knows what the American guests thought it was. The still gobbled up every crumb.

I have been lucky on this yacht as everyone can speak and understand English. I think back to my first yacht job working for a Russian family where the toddlers would get so frustrated with me as I did not understand them. I would smile when the sweet yet raging three-year old’s face would look up at me and shout ‘Ruskie’ ‘Ruskie’ with her pigtails flinging around. I think she was instructing me, no, ordering me to converse with her in Russian. Sadly, my Russian is limited or rather, non-existent. Thank goodness for Google translate; which the Mrs used when she was trying to converse with me. This was a far more successful tool compared to the nannies’ use of sign language and pointing at objects. I seem to remember even playing Pictionary with the Russians in an attempt to follow their requests. Lost in translation much!?!

And yes, I am writing in a rather colloquial nature myself; which some may not fully understand. For instance, the Swedish engineer on board sometimes doesn’t understand the crew’s colloquial terms. He takes the upbeat approach of sing-songing the words ‘hello, hello’ to everyone he sees like a little Viking skipping with a beer in hand. He’s spot on! In order to successfully navigate different accents, it’s best to focus on your hearing and interpretation while using a bit of your imagination and just laugh when you land up buried under a pile of foreign, misinterpreted words. It’s all Greek to me! 😉

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4 Responses to Navigating accents

  1. Jo says:

    Haha Katie I know exactly what you mean! Especially the Aussie words I used to think my first mate was making it all up himself like smoko… Morning tea break, oh and my fav, the way they just shorten every word and add an a or an o to the end of it like car registration… Car rego …. Because you use that word so much is everyday conversation, sorry convo, that you need to shorten it. We love the Aussies though. My crew think I make up fancy words to describe my food to guests like amuse bouche, they are like.. ” isn’t that just French for starter?” and I don’t care it makes my food sound good. Keep up the good blogging and that charter face on! Xx

  2. John says:

    Interesting blog!

  3. Hey! Great blog ~ and I hope you enjoyed your visit to Canada 🙂 I’m a Canadian… heading down to Ft Lauderdale this fall to join your world of Yacht Stew-ing…. Also a big fan of Florianopolis… I’ll be glad to follow your adventures, keep up posted!

  4. katiewilter says:

    Thanks for the comments guys! 🙂 @debritowanderlust thanks for the support and contact me if you’re in Fort Lauderdale in November as I will be around there then. It’s always useful having yachtie contacts when getting started.

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