Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cheers, Mate!

Something I'm finding useful down here is "cheers." It's a common Kiwi utterance that's used in all sorts of situations. If you complete a sale with a cashier, it's common to hear "cheers." If you pick something up off the ground that someone dropped and hand it to them, they'll say "cheers." Someone getting into an elevator you're holding for them can say "cheers" in place of "hello" and "thanks" or they may wait until they get off to say "cheers" as a sort of "thank you" and "goodbye."

It's a sort of friendly linguistic spackle used to mend cracks in conversation or to put a friendly sort of sentiment into situations that normally don't require speaking. I like it.

It's kind of like everyone's walking around engaged in an extended round of toasting with pints of beer, only they've set their beers down to go about their business but are still in the mood.

"Mate" is added to the end of "cheers" a lot. I don't know if women get referred to as "mate" though I suspect it's a guy thing. Total strangers refer to me as "mate" even though it has an air of familiarity about it. It's kind of like "man" in the states if "man" were more appropriate in all situations. Saying "Thanks, man." to someone at , say, an Information Booth at the museum is sort of breaking through the layer between the air-of-professionalism and the air-of-familiarity. It might be a little weird if the guy is a sixtysomething art docent and you're in your thirties.

Here in Wellington I get the sense that there's no such layer. It's pretty normal for people, where there's a situation calling for professional distance, to call me "mate" or say things like, "Cool." to indicate that things have worked out satisfactorily and we're done with our interaction.

There's a sort of comfortable informality that's disarming. I'm working on adopting a few of the patterns of speaking that contribute to comfortable informality. It's fun to spread it around.

Cheers, mate.


Patois said...

I'm with you, mate. Love the "cheers" and the "mate" all the time in England.


leslie said...

Spot on with the continuous round of toasting!..I think that toast is to life...