Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Bon Voyage Barbie

Today is my final day down under--my flight leaves in a couple hours. Chris has left for work ("wuuhhk") and the contents of my luggage are strewn all over his “lounge room,” complete with a large jar of Vegemite and some new Bonds underwear to bestow upon my mates in San Francisco. (If you guys don't know about the Bonds brand, it's the best cotton EVER and Aussie men and women alike just love slipping into a pair of Bonds "knickers").

I spent the rest of the week in Sydney walking around the city and attempting to impress Chris with my intimate knowledge of the city bus and ferry system--a knowledge somehow reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man. (Me: "Chris, did you know you can take the #441 from the Botanical Gardens right to the Harbour?!” Chris (staring blankly at me): “Love ya 'wohrk.' Now excuse me while I grab a ‘beeha’ [beer].”) Taxi's just aren't as much fun and the drivers think you’re weird when you sit in the back seat (apparently, Aussies sit in the front seat, even if they're the only passenger.)

I'm pleased to report that my experience down under was quite a good one. I feel really lucky that I got to travel and live with Aussies as opposed to cruising around backpacker style. This way, I ate what they ate (we had a "barbie" last night with none other than kangaroo...and Semillon--check out the below photo!), went where they went (mostly to pubs) and discussed the kinds of things they like to talk about (with the exception of the cricket, which I “reckon” I’ll never quite grasp).

Since my time here is almost up, I've been reflecting on my trip and thinking about the similarities and differences between my fellow Yanks and the citizens of the land down under. And I've concluded that, for the most part, people over here are just like Americans with a few key exceptions. Following is my almost statistically significant analysis of the differences (where n = Chris’ mates plus random people I met on buses, ferries and in pubs).

Stereotypes that were confirmed:
  • People really do say "no worries" instead of you're welcome. Grandmas, business people, everyone! And not worrying is indeed a major priority as Aussies are huge into relaxing and not being "bothad" (bothered). No one is “fussed" if you accidentally spill or break something, people are up for anything and there's almost zero discussion about who does what kind of job or who went to school where--no one cares! I'm still not sure how they're able to reach this perpetual state of Zen, but I'm thinking it may have something to do with all the beer.
  • Beer, beer and more beer and maybe some wine...and then some more beer is THE WAY. Everyone I met here drinks A LOT (although I'm yet to spot a Foster's) and thinks nothing of it. Plain and simple: beer...and beef (on the barbie).
  • The sun here is really, really hot—way stronger than in the States. You can feel it beating down on you after just a couple minutes...and it does indeed burn you…BAD.
  • People are BIG. I guess I thought Chris was an anomaly (for those of you who haven't met him, he's quite big. Maybe 6'3 and looks like a gym buff although I don't think he's EVER seen the inside of a gym). Well, it turns out that he fits right in over here. When I walk down the streets, I'm shocked at how large everyone is (tall and built). It's like walking into a Marlboro ad from the 1980s.

Things I didn't know about Australians until now:

  • They have a strong affinity for pumpkin. True. Who would have guessed? They put it in homemade stir fries, offer it as a side dish in restaurants and even serve it as an extra at KFC!
  • They're tight with the English but rarely pal around with Americans, which is interesting since I think of our friends down under as geographically and politically much closer to us Yanks. And there are SO MANY English people over here and vice verse; every Aussie has an English mate or two yet you’d be hard pressed to find one with an American buddy.
  • Aussies just love them a good view! It's interesting to hear the these guys feel out a location since one of the first questions they ask is "what's the view like?" Whether it's a restaurant, someone's flat or a barbie in the park, it's all about the view, preferably of the Harbour.
  • Sydney is much more "up market" and sophisticated than I imagined. Restaurants are expensive, people are extremely well traveled and the CBD (Central Business District) boasts a serious collection of corporate powerhouses. I knew Sydney was a major world city, but I envisioned it to be a little less intense.

While Americans and Aussies are, at heart, for the most part, very similar people, there was one encounter I had that reminded me I was far, far from home. It was the day that Chris, Amy and I babysat one of their friend’s very adorable little girls. Her name is Eve (pronounced "Evie") and she's three years old (pictured below).

We picked Miss Eve up for the day on the town, and before we left her house, she insisted we check out the chalk drawings that she and a friend had made on her deck the day before. Next to the requisite chalk flower and traditional little girl chalk rainbow was a big chalk kangaroo, hopping under a chalk umbrella to avoid the sun. When we were in the car on our way to lunch, Eve pointed out "the harba breedge" while telling us about her “best mates at kindy” (nursery school).

Sitting down at lunch, Eve ordered "chippies" (french fries) and proceeded to ask for a "babyccino" (steamed milk with chocolate flakes on top, served in a latte cup—a common thing for kids to get here). Later on, we had a ginger beer in the park and Eve broke out her can of Playdo. "What are you making me, I asked? "Um, a meat pie!" she answered.


Anonymous said...

One thing that I want to add to your 'final thoughts' was my two cents worth on austrialian character and that's that I've
always found them to be, basically, the result of putting english people in the sun for a couple of generations. Slighty less ornery, uptight, and
annoyed, but still inexplicably arrogant and chauvanistic besides from all of the common cultural
traits. Actually my botanical metaphor also explains why aussies are so big: you take the medium sized english, give them some nice weather, and high protein food and they get bigger kind of like a ficus. I guess the next question is, are canadians the result of
freezing english people for two or three generations and what does this tell us about canadian culture?

Anonymous said...

Chris is hot.

Wayne said...

The "Following is my almost statistically significant analysis of the differences (where n = Chris’ mates plus random people I met on buses, ferries and in pubs)."

I always knew that statistics class was worth it!