I didn’t give much thought to Australian slang before I got here, and when I did, I was, I’ll admit, a little smug. After all, I’ve been here before; I lived in the UK for a long time, which has plenty of slang overlap with Australia; I know several Australians; and blah blah blah blah. I figured I had it sussed (see, UK slang!).
Well, I hadn’t been in Canberra more than three hours before I came across “Manchester”. Known to me previously only as a northern English industrial city (home to some of the best bands of all time), I was completely confused by seeing it on signs in several of the stores I walked into; as in the supermarket: “Dish soap; paper towels; mops and brooms; Manchester.” And it kept happening: ads on TV: “50% off kitchenware, hardware, Manchester!” Billboards: “Canberra’s biggest selection of Manchester!” But I could never find a sign for it in close proximity to any actual object; it was always dangling from a ceiling or hanging in a window. I kept pointing it out to DP: “There it is again! What the $#!% is Manchester?”
I couldn’t bring myself to walk up to a random salesperson and ask them, and none of the Australians I know live in Canberra. And even if they did, and I could manage to call them up out of the blue and say, “Hey, I’m in Australia! How are you? By the way, what the $#!% is Manchester?”, it took four days for my phone to get hooked up. The internet took even longer, so I couldn’t even look it up and conceal my ignorance from the world. The few minutes I could snatch at internet cafes had, shockingly, to be devoted to more important things, like answering work emails.
But at last I have had a free moment to find an online Australian slang dictionary and I am here to tell you that “Manchester” is Australian slang for linens—you know, sheets, towels, that sort of thing. When I told DP the answer he looked at me blankly and then the light of illumination spread across his face. “Because that’s where all the cotton mills were!” he exclaimed.