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Newcomer to Vancouver: Navigating new accent boundaries

In this regular column, North Shore News reporter Mina Kerr-Lazenby shares the ups and downs of moving to Metro Vancouver, and all it entails.
A newcomer to Vancouver details the journey to understanding Canadian lingo and accent. | Vancouver/Shutterstock

Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially wicked, I like to play a little game called "Confuse the Canadian."

Played during conversation, it involves me responding to a statement or question with deadpan sarcasm or a nonsensical English phrase. Almost every time someone gets a little head-scratchy, and more often than not — something which continues to surprise me — my hogwash is taken as gospel.

The Canadian way of hearing British linguistic acrobatics and taking it in a literal sense was one of the first things I noticed when I arrived in the country in August last year.

To be clear: "taking the piss" occurs almost everywhere but the lavatory, being full of beans has nothing to do with being satiated and I’m well aware that Bob is, in fact, not your uncle.

Another slightly mischievous pastime is seeing what absolute mayhem I can get away with while being totally absolved of guilt.

A Canadian’s impulse to apologize despite them having done no wrongdoing is a stereotype, but one that rings true more than I would ever have expected.

"Sorry," vocalized as though the locution has more O’s crammed in it than a packet of Portuguese biscuits, is surely close to battling the likes of "the" and "OK" from the top spot of most commonly uttered term.

Oh, what a polite bunch you are! Warm, kind and just one stop too short of saccharine, the local lingo and accent is like an endearing grandma – one who drapes herself in bobbly cardigans and always has some sort of scone rising in the oven.

Sentences peter off into nothingness or an “anyways” or “anywho” more than they ever do a clear point, and phrases like “oh, brother” and “shoot” replace the more, let’s just say, unsavoury, outbursts that my British ears are accustomed to hearing.

I was lucky, really, that I arrived in Canada after a three-month sojourn travelling the breadth of the United States, experiencing every accent from the long whiny drawl of L.A. to the warm embrace-like patter of the Southern States to the brash bellowing of New York.

Prior to that, a Canadian accent had been indistinguishable from that of an American, but after crossing the border following those three months, the softer, less obnoxious variation felt like welcome reprieve. Now, I’m sure, I can confidently tell them apart — and should I ever be confused, it’s not long before an "about" or an "out" surfaces in conversation to help when I falter.

There are, however, a few things I would like clarified. Who decided loonie and toonie were suitable names for currency? You all sound like loonies when you call them that. Apparently it’s because it has a picture of a loon on the front? What is a loon?!

What exactly is the meaning, origin and correct usage of "eh?" Does it require a response? Can my sentence be deemed finished even if I don’t punctuate it as such? Help me out, eh?

While certain terms I refuse to get on board with, like chips instead of crisps, others I’m more than happy to welcome with open arms into my lexicon. Darts sounds cooler than cigarettes and far less flinch-inducing than fags, while washroom is certainly more charming than bog, bowl or crapper. Kerfuffle sounds cuter than brawl. Ass, despite its meagre difference, seems much less offensive than arse.

With the welcoming of these new words comes the introduction of a new way of speaking. Perhaps I can learn a little something during my time here in rosy Canada.

Rather than forever taking the piss – which, for the record, is a common British pastime that involves mercilessly mocking others for their own self-pleasure – perhaps I would do well to offer a compliment. Not one dripping in sarcasm or disguised as a quick quip, but a true, do-gooder compliment that would elicit a smile bigger than the offering of a fresh box of Timbits would.

Maybe soon I’ll swap out [insert unprintable word here] for knucklehead, or "dang it" when I drop something, spill something, forget something. Perhaps I could be sweeter, less crude, more Canadian. Or maybe I’m just having you on, making you believe I’m turning over a new leaf as part of another little game I like to play. Got ya.

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