21 June 2009

A Few Rays of Sunshine

There has been considerable discussion in the media recently about economic “green shoots.” It appears economists and politicians are seeing the earliest indications that maybe the global economy is stabilizing and may soon begin to improve. The analogy is the springtime emergence of green shoots from plants emerging from winter hibernation leading to subsequent blooming flowers.

I don’t care for this analogy; maybe it is because I grew up in Chicago and know green shoots are often followed by late winter snow storms.

Lately, I have been feeling some rays of sunshine finding their ways through the overcast. Sunshine beats green shoots every day. Sunshine brightens the day, brings energy and vitality, and warms the body and spirit. My doctor says he has fewer patients when the sun is shinning and more after a few days of dark skies and rain.

It has rained quite a bit in Sydney lately. By the time the storms pass, it will have rained several consecutive days. Yet, there are brief periods of sun between the showers which blow through. A few days ago, a rainbow painted the sky above and touched down at our door; surely a symbol of better times ahead.

I continue my uphill journey, but the glimpses of sunshine lighten my burden and quicken my pace. After a year long winter of personal grey skies and stormy weather, the rays of sunshine, even if intermittent, offer hope to a brighter future.

My wife signed a divorce settlement agreement last week after months of acrimony and accusation. I cannot read the terms of the agreement; the scanned copy has been faxed or scanned too many times. I called my attorney, but he lacks a legible copy. "No worries," he says, he and my wife’s attorney will figure it out.

But why not resign a legible copy? No one wants to ask my wife to sign anything again. I have signed three settlement offers from my wife’s attorney, only to have them withdrawn by my wife because she wanted to add more demands. Now she wants to add more demands again, but the documents are executed by all and will not be changed – even if they cannot be read.

I signed up without forethought for an internet dating service and am overwhelmed by the number of single women who want to meet me. Maybe they all are ugly or have psychological issues; maybe there is an ax murderer among them; I don’t know but I appreciate their expressions of interest after being the subject of non stop criticisms for so long. It gives me a measure of hope and confidence there is someone out there who will be my partner and friend.

At work, the mood has definitely experienced some sunshine. In a market environment suffering from tenant contractions and rising unemployment, we succeeded in gaining agreement on the largest new lease for an office tenant this year in Australia. The tenant had firmly rejected our proposal previously, but our staff persevered and would not accept “no” for an answer.

Our $600 million loan is now due June 30 after securing a last minute extension; it now looks like we will be able to refinance and extend the maturity date. No easy feat with 10 banks in the syndicate and the lead bank in the process of being nationalized by the German Government.

After being told by a local bank they would make no more property loans this year, we were approved for a big loan on a development project in North Sydney that was desperate for funding.

The capital markets have been closed for a year with only smaller buildings trading due to lack of debt availability. We signed a Letter of Intent last week to sell a big office building; if it closes it will be the largest asset sale in Australia for many months.

Our one derelict building, unoccupied and uninhabitable is now under terms of agreement to sell it for $75 million for a critical public use.

Today is the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere; from now forward for the rest of the year, the days will become longer. That means more sunshine awaits.

So there are still problems; too much work to do; too many things that can and will go wrong. The economy is still weak and revenues are under pressure. My wife is still sending accusatory emails and calling with confrontational tone. My youngest son continues to dream of a career in Hollywood as the movie industry downsizes. And I continue to live alone.

But the sunlight lingers behind the cloud cover, waiting to break through and light the world. And I continue to climb my mountain, until I reach the sun. I know I am getting closer.

04 June 2009

Introduction to Australian English

I grew up in America and learned English there. Subsequently, I have traveled widely and conversed in English with people from countries throughout the world including business associates, travel and tour guides, and friendly folks at restaurants and public places. Only when I moved to Sydney, however, did I realize that a second form of English existed. I guess the Scots have their own version of English too but I question whether their language can really be called English since no one outside the country can understand them.

I have encountered many ‘men of few words’ in my journeys. However, in Australia it is more common to meet men of ‘few letters.’ It is typical in Australian English to eliminate letters from multi syllabic words. I am surprised there are still 26 letters in the alphabet here.

I do not know the historic antecedents which led to the widespread demise of long words here, and I thought at first it was the penchant to be economical and efficient with speech. Others more knowledgeable than me suggested otherwise including the following theories:

• You can’t talk and drink beer at the same time and
• Chants at sporting events are easier if they are short (‘go’, ‘stop’, ‘kill’…..)

And we know going to sporting events and drinking beer are favorite pastimes.

For visitors who are unaccustomed to Aussie English, here are the rules as I perceive them.

As indicated, Aussies prefer shorter words or phrases. If an Aussie wants to use a long word or phrase, he or she just drops most of the letters after the first or second syllable. It conserves effort and time. Why, for example, would anyone want to say ‘Good Day’ or ‘Guten Tag’ or ‘Buenas Dias’ when he or she can get by with G’day? And why attempt a long five syllable word like ‘university’ when all you need to say is ‘uni?’

If you try this technique and want to delete miscellaneous letters or syllables to speed up the conversation but are unsure how many to drop, my advice is to drop as many as you want and then tack a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ on the end of the mangled word. This rule allows you to condense any word as long as you then end it with a ‘y’ or ‘ie’

Think Barbie for barbeque or Brekkie for breakfast. Want to guess a few others?
• Footy
• Sunnies
• Truckie
• Westie
• Pokie
• Soapie
• Mozzie
• Vinnies

If you need to contract a word and adding ‘y’ or ‘ie’ just does not seem to work, it is okay to delete the letters and add an ‘o’ on the end. So the garbo is the trash man; one’s bizzo is what you do for a living; and you buy petrol at the servo.

A few words and phrases which seem to come up all the time include some of my favorites.

When a guy has questionable ethics or character or his actions are highly suspect, he is ‘dodgy.’ Maybe he is trying to dodge the law or behavior rules; but ‘dodgy’ just sounds like an appropriate label for an untrustworthy character.

When someone is really screwed (American phrase) or stuck in an undesirable situation, he is ‘stuffed.’ Maybe he is figuratively dead and faces the added insult is being stuffed. I don’t know. I do know it does make it a lot easier to say you’re stuffed than trying to explain the complex set of circumstances that led you to some yet to be described set of unfortunate circumstances.

Give and take negotiations are called ‘argy bargy.’ I get the impression that you cannot have ‘argy’ without ‘bargy.’ Maybe the derivation is arguments among barristers? These days every time I need a bank to do something; I get argy bargy, so maybe bargy is something to do with bankers.

When it gets too cumbersome for an Aussie (short for Australian with i.e. ending making it acceptable contraction in Aussie English) to speak sentences and words – even condensed words, they just use initials. In the United States it is okay to use State abbreviations (TX for Texas for example) but you still verbalize the word (‘Texas’). In Australia the States are often just referred to as abbreviations -- N-S-W, VIC, W-A, etc.

Other abbreviations which save time and effort include The Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium which is called the ‘MCG,’ and Tasmania which is just ‘Tassie.’ Even the newspapers revert to acronyms such as ETS (Energy Trading Schemes) and in my profession, woe is to you if you do not know about LVR’s, ICR’s, and EVR’s. Some people can speak sentences without using real words; but everyone seems to understand.

The weather in Australia is either raining or is ‘fine.’ In the U.S., there may be a 10% chance of showers, a 50% chance of clouds, and a 40% chance of sun according to various computer models and multiple simulations based on 100 years of data; in Australia the weather is just ‘fine.’ I kind of like ‘fine.’

‘Bugger’ is an expression when you are upset or angry at an unexpected setback. In the U.S., the comparable phrase is ‘Oh Shit.’ Aussies are more polite. I think maybe early settlers here used to exclaim whenever they saw one of Australia’s many crawling denizens and the phrase just achieved more extended usage.

The use of the pronoun, ‘on’ is different Down Under. In American English, ‘on’ simply means on top of. Here ‘big on’ may mean enthusiastic as in he’s big on cricket. ‘Good on you’ is a complement which seems self explanatory and replaces the more traditional sentence structure that includes a verb.

The most universal phrase in Australia is my favorite, ‘No worries,’ or ‘No worries, Mate.’ This phrase has multiple meanings but I have come to learn that one common translation is roughly as follows: something bad is about to happen or just happened but relax because there is nothing you can do about it. When I was in the Whitsunday Islands watching a Category 5 cyclone approaching recently, the prevalent attitude on the island was ‘No worries.’ In the U.S. there would have been evacuations, 24 hour news coverage, and panic. “No worries’ may not mean no worries but it is a great phrase and reflects the optimistic sunny attitude in Australia.

So this weekend, if you’re going to the footy in the arvo with your rellies, don’t forget your sunnies. Stop by the servo to fill the ute on the way. Hopefully the weather will be fine and your team will give it a fair go. If your team is losing, no worries, she’ll be right in the end. Good on you, mate. G’day.