Tag Archives: australia

Miscommunicating in the Antipodes

Today I asked my officemate “How do you spell center?” By which I meant “How do YOU spell center?” I asked because I was finding it strange that my Australian copy of Word was red underlining my spelling of “center” and insisting on “centre” instead. In the U.S., at least, both spellings are common and accepted. I was surprised Word was marking “center” flat-out wrong. Not knowing the Australian viewpoint on the matter, I asked the nearest Aussie, my officemate.

Her response was that I should Google it. This also struck me as odd. I tried to explain that “er” versus “re” was the question I was after. Still, she insisted that Google would provide the answer. Slowly I came to realize that her take of the situation was that I truly did not know how to spell the word “center” and was asking her for help.

I had failed to communicate that I was curious about local spelling conventions. Instead I had somehow given the impression I was an utter, drooling moron.

There I was, making notes on an experiment, calculating frame rates in my head so I could program a Matlab routine to display stimuli for the right number of milliseconds, and the person sitting next to me blithely assumed I was a subliterate bogan.

People miscommunicate all the time. I miscommunicate all the time. But I don’t know if it pains other people as much as it does me. Even when the miscommunication does not (as it did today) involve the other party assigning me a single-digit IQ, even when the miscommunication is simple and slight, I feel it as a loss, as a deep pain. How can words fail me so often? Why do I find it so hard to connect with people?


When in Crazytown, eat what the Crazytonians eat.

Aussies are a creative bunch. Especially when it comes to food. Curry on pizza. Kangaroo steak with pumpkin.

I hadn’t seen anything until I visited the Queen Street Mall, however. Waiting there was a culinary offer I could not refuse.

Beef Stroganoff Crepe and Flat White

Beef Stroganoff Crepe and Flat White

It was the Hot Dog Crepe that initially caught my eye. But it was the Beef Stroganoff crepe that sealed my fate. If I knew nothing else, I knew I would be eating lunch at the Crepe Cafe.

Now, I love crepes. And I love beef stroganoff. Together, though? I wasn’t sure.

So how was it? Well, biting into a crepe and finding the taste of beef stroganoff is like kissing an angel that just ate some chocolate chip cookies. Which is to say, IT WAS AWESOME. If my heart could take it, I would eat this every day.

Blessed be the crepe-makers.

My Three Seashells

In Demolition Man, police officer John Spartan is cryogenically frozen and revived in San Angeles, a utopian/dystopian repressed future Southern California. After using the facilities, Spartan searches for toilet paper and finds instead only an enigmatic set of three seashells.

The movie (wisely) never explains how these are to be used, leaving the audience just as puzzled as the protagonist.

In Australia, I’ve encountered my own version of the Three Seashells.

Australia Toilet Buttons - My Three Seashells

Australia Toilet Buttons - My Three Seashells

Every toilet down under has two buttons. In the example pictured there is a smaller button and a larger button. On others one button is labeled with a filled semi-circle and the other a filled circle.

One might guess at the proper use of the two buttons, and one might be right. I’m still not sure.

As one hypothesis, I thought one button might produce a bidet action. Upon testing (standing well back to be safe), I determined this was not the case.

Failing some special function, it seems implied that one button should produce a stronger or longer flush than the other, but on casual inspection I would say if this is the difference, it is a subtle one.

I was hoping one button might provide a proper Northern Hemisphere swirl pattern for us Yanks, but sadly I’ve found most toilets here produce no swirl at all. So much for witnessing the Coriolis effect. (Yes, I know it doesn’t really work that way.)

So, the purpose of two different buttons remains a mystery to me. It may be better that way, as you really do not want to know how the three seashells are supposed to work. Really, I’m warning you not to click on that link. It will take you to a blog called the Poop Report. Consider yourself forewarned.