Mariko, our Japanese student who is in New Zealand for a month, has to take the bus to get to her school which is in the city. She is a little worried because she doesn’t know how the transport system works in this country. Jenny, her homestay mother, is talking to her.

Jenny: “Mariko, did you get your AT HOP card like I told you to? If not you’ll have to pay cash but try to have the correct change because the drivers get really annoyed if you try to pay for one stage with a $50 note! And you won’t be popular with the other passengers, either.”

Mariko: “Yes, Jenny, I’ve got my card but they kept on talking about “tag on” and “tag off” and I didn’t want to ask what they meant. They were speaking so fast”

Jenny: “Yeah, they speak nineteen to the dozen those guys,eh? No worries, I can tell you. It just means that you must hold your card up to the card reader when you get on and the light should go green and show you the balance on the card, say $25.50. It should also go “beep”. If you forget to “tag off” you will get charged a penalty rate”

Paul:  “Hey, Mariko, you want me to come with you? I’m at a loose end and I’ve done all my bits and bobs here. If I stay around Jenny will just find something that needs fixing or painting…”

Jenny:  “Hang on, Paul. Are you suggesting that you are actually thinking of taking a bus? What has the world come to? I can see the headlines in tomorrow’s paper: “Paul Smith (38) takes bus”.  I must tweet this right now!”

Paul: “Ha, ha. Real funny, don’t give up your day job for a career in comedy, eh?”

Jenny: “Like they say, truth hurts sometimes, darling!”


Teacher Ray says:

Many Kiwis now live a lot further from where they work or study and lots of families have one or more cars.  Public transport in Auckland is a topic that most Aucklanders have an opinion on and it’s a good “neutral” topic to discuss (we also like to talk about the weather, which is equally unreliable). If you’ve just come from a country with an efficient, inexpensive transport system ours can seem a bit confusing.

Mariko says she found it hard to follow what she was being told because the speaker used words that were unfamiliar (“tag on, “tag off”) and they spoke too quickly. Many native speakers forget that people from other countries won’t be used to another accent or people speaking more rapidly that they are accustomed to.  They also won’t think about explaining words that they know but the other person may not.

Mariko might also be too embarrassed to ask them to repeat or explain what they have said.


“Mariko, did you get your AT HOP card like I told you to?”

Jenny is asking if Mariko has followed her advice but she is unlikely to be annoyed if Mariko hasn’t got the card.

“correct change”

Jenny tells Mariko to have the exact change ready (or close to it) as the drivers dislike having to hand back lots of change. They also carry very little in the way of cash these days.

“speak nineteen to the dozen”

This means that they speak very quickly (e.g. “He can talk nineteen to the dozen, can’t he?”). It usually has a slightly negative meaning and is used if you are being critical of what someone says as well as how they say it.


This is a very common tag question that Kiwis like to use. It can be used with a positive or a negative sense (e.g.  “You’ve not been to Queenstown, eh?”) and the speaker’s voice will either rise (asking a genuine question) or fall (expecting the speaker to agree with what you’ve said)

“Hey, Mariko, (do) you want me to come with you?”

Paul is offering to go with Mariko because he wants her to feel more comfortable when taking the bus. He leaves out the “do” and his voice would probably rise as he says the last part of the question.  He could have said: “Would you like me to come with you?” but this is much more formal.

“I’m at a loose end”

Paul is suggesting that he hasn’t got anything to do right now. Actually, he may have some things that he could be doing, but he wants to help Mariko.

“bits and bobs”

This could mean physical things (“I’ve got to get some bits and bobs from the shop”) or some tasks that need doing (“I’ve got some bits and bobs to do in town”).  It just refers to a range of activities or needs.

“Hang on,”

“Wait a minute”. Jenny is genuinely surprised by what Paul has said. You could also use this if you want someone to wait for you (“Hang on, I’ve just got to tell them where I’m going”)  or that you will get someone (“You want to speak to John? Hang on, I’ll see if he’s free”)

“What has the world come to?”

Jenny is pretending to be surprised that Paul is thinking of taking a bus and she can’t believe that he’s said this.  This is similar to a “question asked aloud”  (“What am I hearing? I must be dreaming!”) Obviously there won’t be a headline in the paper about this!

“Real(ly) funny, don’t give up your day job for a career in comedy, eh?”

Paul reacts to Jenny’s criticism by suggesting that she shouldn’t think of taking up a job as a comedian.  This is often used when being sarcastic and if you disapprove of what someone has said or done. However, they are probably just making fun of each other. This type of humour can be hard for second language speakers to understand or appreciate as they will think that the speaker is being serious.

“truth hurts sometimes,”

Jenny reacts to Paul’s joke by suggesting that she is telling the truth when she shows surprise at his decision to take the bus. Suggesting that she is about to tweet the fact that her partner is about to take a bus is only adding to the situation.


Enjoy our lovely country, stay safe and don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat what they’ve said or speak more slowly!


Teacher Ray (the “friendly” Kiwi)