It was early on in our Sydney residence when my husband, Kevin, had an altercation with a bus driver. Kevin was holding up the line trying to stuff a bent paper bus pass into a ticket machine, and the driver lost his cool. “You gotta keep it in good nick, mate,” he snapped. Kevin turned to me in confusion. All I could do was shrug; I had no clue what the driver had just yelled. But then the man unleashed his pointer finger like an arrow from a quiver, and we read loud and clear the universal signal for “get the fuck out.”
In good nick gnawed at us for a few weeks until it appeared again while shopping for household items on Gumtree, the Australian equivalent of Craigslist. Amid the doonas and wardrobes, we found a tall boy (tall dresser) that said “Only a few years old. In good nick.” In this context the meaning was obvious: good nick means good condition.
In a country with so many parallels to the United States, the daily language puzzles are a rich source of amusement and cultural comparison. From the odd-at-first greeting “How y’going?” to the “too easy,” “no dramas” or “ta” you get after you pay the bill—not to mention all the differences in stress, accent and inflection—this creative new lexicon and all its subtleties could be a life-long adventure, even for a native English speaker.
(Online-only story published on AFAR.com in May 2016. Read the full essay here.)