You are very tan." It's his style, I discover later. My nerdy-looking travel companion compliments first, then asks a question: "Which country are you from?" I tell him. He looks doubtful, two frown lines forming lightning streaks between the pale brows. I'm not sure it's whether he disbelieves or no longer wants to converse. "You don't speak like an Indian." "Have you visited India?" I counter. "No, but I see many Indian movies. Too many." he retorts. Ta-dah! So he's judging me by the Bollywood yardstick.

I can handle backhanded celebrity status. "Where did you think I'm from?" I ask, curiously. "Pakistan," he says promptly. After letting five speechless seconds elapse, he breaks into laughter and says, "Just kidding. South Africa". "No way," I say. "Norway," he says, incredulously. "No, no, no, not Norway," I explain. "Norway guys very pink. I think. Like me," he says. "But you're not Norwegian, and you're not that pink either," I joke back. "Where did you think I'm from?" he asks. "Very easy. China," I say. He recoils, his eyeballs magnifying impossibly behind the egghead lenses. "South Korea," he adds quickly, before I could shock him further, for - owing to his high cheekbones - I was next going to guess, "Japan."

He wants to make Australia his home, he says, after completing a Masters degree in Business Management. "But harder than my degree is learning Australian English," he confesses, adding with a sad shake of the head, "Not in any dictionary. Only last week I say to a female student, 'What's up, mate?' and she get real angry. She say in her country no 'mate' for woman, okay? She from your country, by the way."

I want to tell him there are no 'mates' for men as well where I come from, but don't wish to confuse him, especially after 'No way' led so unerringly to 'Norway'.

"What means 'fair dinkum'?" he asks, after a pause, adding with a laugh, "I always think dimsum. Every time I eat I think, 'Fair dinkum'. Now I confuse the two. One time in the restaurant when I order I say, 'One plate dinkum.' And the waiter - he's older Australian guy - he laugh and say, 'That's fair, sir, but what will you have to eat?' For two minutes we both speak without understanding each other. After I see my mistake and he understand what I want he laugh again and say, 'You beauty.' In India men give such compliment to men?" "Not openly, I would think," I venture.

"Forget Australian, English itself very tricky. I give two examples. How can man eat from palm of the hand when someone is pulling his legs?"

I contemplate the enormity of the task before this ambitious young man who has pinned his faith on learning it by the book. Painstakingly I explain what each of the two idioms means and how in a sentence one of them cannot easily sit beside the other. It's also a lot easier to just pick up local usage through interaction with people. Put your dictionary away, go out meet and talk with others, I advise.

A light goes on in his eyes. It's clicked, I think. He's grasped the meaning of the idioms. But no, it's a deeper insight he possesses. Reaching into his fur-lined jacket pocket he extracts a card.

"That's my telephone number," he says, "You are good teacher and I am free every Sunday. I understand very clearly how you explain about pulling legs. How about I buy you coffee and you talk to me for one hour?" He must see the doubt on my face for he immediately ups the caffeine stakes: "Two coffees?"

For two cups of Gloria Jeans, it's a done deal. Besides, it's virtually impossible to walk away from his enthusiasm to better himself: "Fair dinkum," I tell him, laughing. He holds out his hand to shake on the deal and at the clasp, says, with a wink, "You beauty!"

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.