I know I’d probably be better off keeping my nose out of this one, but sorry Dewbies, I just can’t let it go.

I’m referring of course to the KFC Australia commercial that has so upset the delicate psyches at NBC’s Today and their colleagues at The Grio – NBC even trotted out a shocked representative of that well-known arbiter of correctness and good taste, the advertising industry.

The Australian dialect: confusing and often lost in the translation

I’ll just quote a couple of lines from The Grio here:

The KFC ad depicts a frustrated, white Australian cricket fan sitting among a crowd of black people who are happily dancing to the beat of steel drums while rooting for their team, which is apparently from a Caribbean nation. How does he get them to see things his way? He offers them a bucket of chicken and they quickly change their tune. As they grab pieces of chicken from the bucket, he looks at the camera and says, “Too easy.”

Well let me explain a couple of things, fellers. You’re right of course in assuming that the black people are supposed to be from a Caribbean nation: The West Indies is one of our best-loved cricket rivals, but the steel drums aren’t there to tell us that – that’s just you stereotyping things.  You see, when Australia plays a Test series against the West Indies in the West Indies – that’s what we call major sports contests between Commonwealth* countries, a Test – then steel drums can be heard pretty much continually throughout the four or five days of each Test match. The West Indian barrackers also like to don fancy dress and dance around the place as part of their contribution to the atmosphere. In short, a Test series in the Caribbean is one big carnival and big heaps of fun, though you may see it as stereotypical. And the feller in this commercial is in a pretty typical situation for someone at an “away” match I can tell you. You want to try sitting in the middle of a mob of Maoris at a Rugby Test in the Shaky Isles. It’d be pretty hair-raising for a pakeha not from the Commonwealth I reckon. The back slapping and shouts in the bar afterwards are pretty good, though.

Let’s say the roles are reversed, as is often the case, and an agency wants to run a similar commercial in Trinidad and Tobago. Would I be offended if the product being offered is Foster’s Lager? Other than to say I wouldn’t be caught drinking Foster’s if my life depended on it, I wouldn’t. I could, on the other hand, be persuaded into being deeply offended by Paul Hogan kow-towing to international pressure and calling a prawn a shrimp.

Now to the expression “too easy.” Perhaps even a cursory examination of the Australian dialect may have helped you here. “Too easy” has many meanings, but the literal one you have assumed is not among  them. It can mean the same as the US “you’re welcome,” or “she’ll be jake” meaning things will turn out all right in the long run or even “no problem,” which itself needs explanation in this context but I ain’t gonna. They could’ve had him say “No sweat,” I suppose, but the newly arisen language police of the Australian moral reicht may have objected to that, in the same way that NBC’s Brian Williams apologized to his audience when he showed Time‘s “Decade from Hell” cover during an interview about the article in question. Sheesh!

Let’s say you’re stuck with a flat tire and a flat spare by the side of a lonely outback road. An Australian pulls up and spends four hours in the blazing sun patching the tire. You thank him. “Too easy,” he says. Not the work, not the sun, not “some people are easy pleased.” He’s shrugging his shoulders, turning aside the compliment, saying “anyone would’ve done it.”

Ah strewth, what’s the use. “Too easy” has connotations that even I can’t put into words – none of them bad – it’s Australian, it’s a state of mind.

The Grio also claims the commercial is racist. Why? Because the writer can only think in stereotypes?

You know, what I see as the real problem here is insularity. An ardent fan of the US and its peoples, I nevertheless am not blind to some of its shortcomings and one of them is an appalling lack of knowledge about the world beyond these shores. A lot of Americans are genuinely puzzled on travelling overseas to find that other people are different from them and some – a very small some – can’t cope. Something less than 20 per cent of US citizens hold US passports – the figure for Senators is even lower by the way – whereas the figure for Australians is around 50 per cent and that may have something to do with it.

Sorry folks. I love America and the Americans, but when you start chucking deepies over stuff like this… Now, who can I speak to about that pot-hole’s accent in the Geico commercial?

*To add to what I fondly hope is the patronizing tone of that aside, the British Commonwealth is an association of countries once in the British Empire. Though our Governments may spout guff about our special relationship with The Crown, what unites us ordinary, run-of-the-mill, ex-colonials in the street is the love of sport and our fierce rivalry over it: netball, cricket, rugby, badminton; you name it, we’ll have a red hot go at it. We still largely believe that the game’s the thing. Now there’s a stereotype for you.

Frank Povah

Frank Povah

Arriving in the USA in late 2008, Frank Povah moved to Stamping Ground, Kentucky in mid 2009. Passionate about the written and spoken word and constantly bewildered by non-verbs and neo-nouns, Frank trained as a typesetter - though he has worked at many things - and later branched out into proofreading, writing and editing. For many years he has been copy editor, consultant and columnist with a prestigious Australian quarterly along with running his own editorial and typesetting business. His other interests are many and include traditional music, especially that of the south, folklore, natural history, and pigeons.

  1. What galls me are the people who apparently feel ordained by God to do the thinking for us ordinary men of the street. I’ll decide if something is offensive or racist or as typically the case an affront to my perception of reality. As evidence I offer you the proliferation of TV and print ads that convey the message that Americans sit around the dinner table and share Christmas morning with members of various races all the time. You tell me. Is that what you see routinely in any given day?

  2. Not disagreeing with any of your points, Frank, but I will say that people often forget how large America is. Not large, like, China-large. But large, like, fifty-states large. And each of those states, while joined to create one, are each unique in history, tradition and dialect. And since many of our citizens barely understand the fifty states within, why would anyone expect us to understand Australia or any singular in the European union or anywhere else in this vast world? Not an excuse for ignorance, just a possible explanation.

    “…chucking deepies…” I have GOT to use that out loud before the day is done.

    Now. Forget the Geico lizard. What about the announcer in the Outback commercials. He can’t be an Australian natural. He just can’t. Can he?

  3. The loss of regionalism in this country is fostered to a degree by the P.C. Language Police which mirrors this brouhaha. The Appalachin dialect, like the Cajun, is nearly gone. And when they go, in comes a group of busybodies clamoring for correctness. In no way is this a Good Thing.

    While you’re at it, pour the Foster’s back in the horse.

  4. Frank Povah

    Meg: I’m not talking about the Gecko (it’s a Pom), I’m talking about the pothole (a girl) who has a great almost vaudevilian Southern accent – there’s also a pipe with a Russian(?) accent. The bloke in the Outback commercials is an Australian I think, but one educated, I’d say, at a nob school (in Australia the really flash private schools are modelled on the English counterpart) trying to sound authentic.
    As for reasons why…well I could be cruel and say that many Americans (some in high places) don’t even want to learn, perhaps for reasons I won’t even begin to speculate about.
    The journal I pontificate and copy edit for now has me doing a spoken version of my column for its website (as of last month) and I found myself reverting to the accents of my childhood, so I toned it down a bit – to my eternal shame.
    I should do something on Australian attitude to sports and their opponents thereat.

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