Are You Australian? Or New Z…? a small rant.

I’m glad I decided on an overseas fellowship.  It’s given me insight into how incredibly annoying you can be, despite meaning well and trying to be friendly.  I think I’m pretty good at hearing accents.  So I used to enquire about accents, when I met people, or in an attempt to develop rapport with patients.  For some naive reason I thought that would be a clever thing to do.  It might help me look like I’m listening.  Today is our 131st day in Canada.  Today was the 131st day I had at least two people suddenly exclaim, “Are you AUSTRALIAN?” or the equivalent, ignoring whatever I said.  It does not make me feel warm and fuzzy when asked if I’m Australian/English/from New Zealand.  Mostly because it’s after I’ve just spent five minutes explaining the risks and benefits of a biopsy procedure, and thought I was ensuring good informed consent but all my patient has been thinking is, “Are you Australian? Or from New Zealand?”

Concentrate!  A biopsy makes a cut in the skin and has risks of infection and bleeding!  No my accent is not cute!  No I don’t know your second cousin’s daughter in Adelaide!

Yesterday, after the breast multidisciplinary meeting some senior doctor turned to me and didn’t ask about any of the complex cases.  He asked, “Are you from Sydney or Melbourne?”  As I’m from Perth, on the other side of the friggin’ country, the question did not compute in my head as the answer was neither.  I blurted out, “Australia!” reflexively because that’s the answer I’ve been accustomed to giving, before people start on the fourth option, “South African?”  I can’t even do a South African accent when trying!  He looked at me funny.

I’ve tried to combat the inevitable impasse to patient concentration by bursting into the room and introducing myself, “Hello! I’m Dr Lo.  I’m from AUSTRALIA!” in my thickest Strayan drawl so they might just concentrate on my explanation of why we want to biopsy what we want to biopsy and what is going to happen and what might go wrong.  I’m not sure it’s helped because they immediately look wistful as the try to remember something about the Land Down Under.

Tomorrow I think I’ll pretend to be deaf or mute.  So far my attempts at acquiring a Canadian accent have been thwarted by it’s subtleties.  The car brand Nissan is pronounced Nee-Saaaan.  A mass is pronounced marhs.  If making a statement you add emphasis by the suffix, -eh?  Just say, “Sorry!” randomly throughout conversation, for no particular offence.  Add lots of minimal encouragers like, “Mmm-mm!”  Or talk in hushed tones how it’s terrible the driver of the 4wd next to the streetcar didn’t stop behind the streetcar and that the driver yelling at him, until he wound up his electric window, was not justice enough.  “He needs to learn why you can’t overtake a standing streetcar.  He needs to run over a few people…”  sagely advised one woman to another on the street car from Queens Park today.

My blood, already boiling with rage at being battered every hour by paparazzi wanting to know whether I’m from the capital cities of states on the wrong side of Australia, was tempered by my curiosity today.   The person I was talking to sounded like Dame Helen Mirren.  Her accent was definitely English.  She asked if I was Australian so I asked, “Are you English?”  “Harrumph, Yes.”  That was a conversation stopper.

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3 thoughts on “Are You Australian? Or New Z…? a small rant.

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  1. I hear you! I remember going to a convention/craft show thing and literally not saying a word. Just smiling and nodding. I knew that if I opened my mouth to even say hello that the owners would leap on that as a conversational starting point. I had had 2 days of exactly this already, and had run out of steam!

  2. Thanks, Bec. That is so reassuring. I used to think it was a really friendly conversation starter to pick up somebody’s accent and ask where they are from but I have come to realize that:
    So does everybody else.
    It quickly becomes the sole thing that defines you.
    It is immediately followed by whatever prejudice (good or bad) the questioner has about your country.
    It firmly stamps a reminder that, you are foreign here, and different.

    It’s like commenting on a tall person’s height, or proclaiming “You have a lisp!”. Great, you noticed the obvious, redirected conversation completely off topic to something that amuses only you.

    That said, when brought up in an appropriate social context, I have enjoyed a lot of laughter. For example yesterday in reporting I was still trying to learn how to pronounce, “a”. As I was calling out spelling patient surnames to bring up their mammograms and the staff kept scrolling down to, “I”.

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