Lost in Translation

Foxtel presenter Rosie Jacobs discovers the magic of her new island home’s lingo.

October 16, 2017
Pacific Island Living

Pacific Island Living

October 16, 2017

It’s no secret the culture of Vanuatu is unique. Some call it ‘island time’ others call it ‘coconut culture’ but whatever you call it, it’s the reason we moved here from Australia with our two young daughters six months ago, in search of a happier existence and it’s 100 per cent the reason why we adore this spectacular gem of the South Pacific. The pace is slower. The laughter is genuine. The meanings are literal.

Some of the incidences however, we have witnessed personally or have heard of from our new friends have left my husband Steven and I gobsmacked, doubled-over laughing and far wiser now to the ways of life on this divine and magical island. And it’s all to do with the ways of communication. Let’s just say we are learning fast!
Here’s a handful of recent experiences that have shed some light on island-style communication in the South pacific.

X Marks The Spot

The first moment we encountered was when we needed to have a couple of old trees cleared from our block of land that were badly damaged by Cyclone Pam. We marked said trees with a large fluorescent pink cross to clearly indicate the trees that needed chain-sawing by the men we had hired for the job and we then left for the day to celebrate our daughter’s sixth birthday party at a nearby resort.

During the party we mentioned to a friend about our trees, at which point his eyes widened and he said “oh no, you didn’t hear what happed to Jimmy down the road! Jim marked all his dead trees with a cross but to a local gardener here, that means “tabu, don’t touch! So they cut down every other tree on the block!”

Let’s just say, we couldn’t get home fast enough. Thankfully, that our amazing gardeners had chosen the right trees and had done a spectacular job clearing the block for us. Phew!

Burn It All

If you ever find yourself with a large stack of green rubbish that needs to be burned, then learn this lesson well. A friend loaded his twin cab ute with all the waste he needed to be cleared and burned and asked his gardeners to take it all and burn it. “Get rid of it all”.
When the gardeners returned without the ute, he quickly learned he had forgotten to mention to burn it all, except the ute!

Stop It!

Our mate Adam was unfortunately in a recent car accident. But the matter of fault was a definite issue. In Adam’s eyes, he had been side-swiped by the other driver. The other driver however, was adamant that Adam had failed to stop at a stop sign.
Needless to say, Adam was a little confused when he said “What stop sign?” And the other driver motioned to a concrete hole in the ground and said “That one!”

It turns out that prior to Cyclone Pam there had in fact been a stop sign in the ground but it was yet to be replaced. Every local driver knew the stop sign rules still existed, unless of course, you were new to the region and didn’t realise that the concrete hole was still officially a legal road rule!

Serve It Up

Margaret was having a dinner party at her house. She had early on decided she wanted everything to be super casual, no formalities at all, so conversation would flow. However she hired a couple of ladies to help with the food preparation so she could enjoy her night with her friends. She kindly asked the ladies not to bring the food through the kitchen doors to the table, but simply to serve it through the servery window.
It was half way through the evening when the meals were ready and Margaret was surprised to see one of the ladies attempting to climb through the servery window with a plate in hand! The ladies of course erupted in raucous laughter along with the guests once the verbal error had been properly explained. And this, in my view, is a wonderful example of cultures combining.

So the moral of the story? Well in my view, as with any new country a person moves to, it’s your job to learn and appreciate the beauty of your new and mysterious land, because after all, that’s why you have chosen to relocate. And this most certainly includes understanding the various forms of communication. If you can’t understand it, then come armed with a wicked sense of humour… and until you feel confident that you have a firm grip, then make sure your insurance is up to date!

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