A Guide to Hitchhiking: 3) The Meaning of “Duckhead”

a) People will give you shit for talking in a funny accent

I was picked up by two Maori girls. I know this sounds like the start of a hitchhiking porn story but no, I just wanted a ride to Dannevirke and I wasn’t thinking about anything else. [Dannevirke could be pronounced a number of ways, but us ignorant Aussies say “Danny–verk”.] I hopped in the car and said hello and they cried, “Ahh, you’re an Aussie! Get out!” Then they laughed at their own joke and drove off with me still in the car. The entire thirty minute trip down the road to Dannevirke was spent taunting me for my accent and my rugby team. At times like these, as they say in Australia, cop it sweet.

b) It pays to talk to kids

At Dannevirke I was standing by a 7/11 at the edge of a town. There was little traffic that day and I was waiting for a while. At one point a station wagon loaded with people drove by. The car had a built-in PA system and the driver grabbed the handset and called through the speakers, “Sorry, I have a full load. Good luck.”

Some time later a car pulled into the 7/11. A little kid stayed in the car while his Mum went to the shop  to get some snacks. The kid stared at me and wound down the window.

“What are you doing?” The kid asked.

“I’m hitchhiking.” I said. “I’m going to Palmerstone North.”

“We live there. We’ll give you a ride.” As he said this his Mum walked out of the store and gave him a cross look for talking to a stranger. “I told the man we’re giving him a ride to Palmerstone,” the kid said.

Uh oh. I could see that Mum was conflicted: she didn’t want to make him break his promise but she knew she shouldn’t carry hitchhikers.

“Ah no, there are plenty of rides this morning. You should go on without me.” I said, meaning the opposite.

She looked at me for a few seconds and said, “OK. we’ll give you a ride.”

c) Other people talk in funny accents

Late on in the trip I stayed the night in the youth hostel in Dunedin. It was a grand place with a large kitchen and a lot of guests. I met some girl over breakfast who was volunteer help and she invited me to stay the next night at her place so I didn’t have to pay the $12 to stay another night at the hostel. I thought it it was a little odd to volunteer your time but then deprive the hostel of income but hey, it saved me some money.

That evening I was being driven around Dunedin in an old VW bus with the girl and her flatmates. They were telling me about the University of Otago and how it was a great place to study with its own culture. Listening to them I noticed that they had some interesting terms. They kept saying “you’re such a duck” and “you duckhead”. I had been driven across town before I figured out that they were saying “you dickhead” in a strong Kiwi accent.

d) If someone has no accent, they have your accent

As you might expect, there were lots of foreigners staying at the hostels. I played the game where you try to identify everyone’s accent before they tell you where they are from. One evening I found myself in the company of two German guys travelling together. I identified them as German and they corrected me: “We’re from Baden-Württemberg.” I guess their state pride is greater than their national pride. There was also a German girl staying there too. At one point she went out to go to the bathroom and one of the Germans guys said, “How can you talk to her? She’s such a Bavarian.”

There was one guy I spoke to who had no discernable accent. I couldn’t tell where he was from. As he was talking and I was trying to figure out his accent I found myself liking him for no good reason. He seemed like a good bloke, I felt he’d be a good guy to go out with for a beer. His accent had me stumped until he said he was from Sydney, my home town. How obvious, I thought, and I felt a bit vulnerable that when I was overseas, all it took was an Aussie accent to have me want to grab a beer with someone. I’m thinking this is the cause of much partying amongst Australians overseas.

Some background: These lessons were learned the hard way over a period of a couple of weeks hitchhiking in New Zealand. It was 1988 and I was 21. My Father was living in Hamilton on the North Island so I started there, making my way to visit my cousin Kevin in Dunedin on the South Island. Even though I was a New Zealander by passport I had left the country at fifteen months of age and was an Aussie kid with an Aussie accent living in Sydney. This was the only trip I hitched, in case you hadn’t already figured out I don’t know what I’m talking about.


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