Saturday, October 24, 2009

Australiana - A few observations on this strange and wonderful country

[Maryanne]A little while ago I wrote a little on the less known differences between the USA and the UK.

In response I got an equivalent list from an old UK work colleague, now living in Australia (Thanks Julie). Here is what Julie had to say on those oddities for a Brit experiencing Australia:

An obsession with beetroot. Now I like beetroot; it reminds me of going to my grandma's when I was a kid, but here it's everywhere. In sandwiches, burgers, salads whatever. McDonalds even has a McOz burger, which includes, you've guessed it, beetroot!

- it's an Aussie icon and locals swear it tastes nothing like Marmite. I reckon in a blind tasting they wouldn't pick it.

. What we Poms call crisps, they call chips, and they come in humongous packets presumably meant for sharing although I've seen people scoff a whole packet. What we call chips, they call "hot chips". At least it's logical.

Beer. They take the piss out of the British for drinking warm beer, and I have to try and explain that it's not really warm, it's just not so cold that it hurts when you drink it, like it is here.

Corned beef. Order corned beef in a pub here and it's nothing like the Fray Bentos stuff we used to get. It's kind of normal beef, but very salty and with lumps of corn in it. I'm not sure whether that's better of not.

Luncheon meat type things. They try and disguise this by calling it obscure names that vary from state to state, like Devon, Fritz and even Belgium. It doesn't hide the fact that it's still horrible. In a similar category is pizza ham - for some reason they won't just put normal ham on pizza, it has to be some vile reconstituted stuff that looks like short bright pink worms.

Now Kyle and I have spent a little time in Oz, we had a few to add ourselves.

I was especially taken with some of the outback mailboxes. There is clearly no regimented post office approved/enforced mail box (as there is in the USA), and in the outback the folks make use of whatever they have to hand. Some get very creative indeed. We found amazing works of art, and then true junk all being used as private mail boxes at the end of the drive way. It was great fun to discover them as we drove around Western Australia - here is a selection.

And my all time favourite, the recycled washing machine(? I think).

And Kyles list, from [Kyle]

#1: ie

In this sense, I am referring to Australians’ propensity to use –ie or, sometimes, -ey, as a suffix. Australians love to end all of their colloquialisms in this way. Probably most famous is ‘barbie’, for barbecue. A ‘coldie’ is a beer, which can also be a ‘tinnie’ or a ‘stubbie’, depending on whether it’s from a can or a short bottle. The guy’s that drive the road trains are not called truckers, but ‘truckies’. We’ve seen a lot of signs at roadhouses offering ‘Free coffee to truckies’.

The one that I find most hilarious is ‘bikie’. This is used to describe big, mean looking, black leather clad guys on mostly Harleys. Groups of them are called ‘bikie gangs’. I actually saw a news report on the television where a very serious looking reporter standing in front of hefty, important looking government buildings in Canberra, went on and on about some new piece of legislation intended to disrupt the nefarious practices of the most powerful bikie gangs. She said it over and over again. Then they went to the studio, where the anchor said it and then did a toss to another field reporter, who was there to get a response from the leader of a well known bikie gang. That guy said they were just a social club, and the new legislation was yet another example of the government interfering in their primary role as a positive role model for toddlers.

I’m sorry but, to me, a bikie is what you graduate to when you turn five (known to those who are five as ‘this many’) and you’ve been really, really good, and you have shown your parents that you have mastered your trikie.

I could only imagine that if I were in some tavern and a guy who didn’t like my face came over, told me so, then bragged to me that he and his mob are the toughest bikie gang west of the Nullabor, I would not be able to suppress my urge to giggle uncontrollably for the three seconds between when he said it and all of the lights went out.

#2: The El Camino

For those of you who thought the El Camino was dead, it turns out that it is still alive and well Dununda.

Kyle laughed every time we came across the car he called the "El Camino"

Maryanne, having been raised British, cannot understand why I think this is so hilarious. We’ve talked and talked it over as I tried to dissect the joke but she doesn’t get it. It turns out that there is no direct British equivalent to the El Camino in America, so Brits may not understand fully.

As I remember it, The Chevy El Camino, with a car for a front and a pickup truck bed for a back, was an attempt to get the best out of both types of vehicle but turned out to be pretty poor at both. Maryanne insists that such a vehicle probably has legitimate practical uses but, as I keep trying to tell her, that’s missing the point. The El Camino, like its ‘80s successor the hideous AMC Pacer, died its death in America because, like gold lame bell-bottoms, it was a stand-out icon of the kitsch of an era those of us who were there would like to forget, thank you very much.

Today, in the U.S., the El Camino is a rare sight, indeed. The few left are either on their last legs or are being determinedly maintained by aficionados who have the remains of another three in their yard that they cannibalize for parts. There’s an aficionado for everything. To pay $500 for one is to get ripped off. We saw one in a used car lot here with a sticker on the window saying they wanted $26,990 for it!

These things are everywhere out here. In fact, I would venture to say that, second to the Land Rover, they are probably the most popular type we’ve seen. Another funny thing is that these things are not made by Chevy. Several manufacturers seem to be trying to cash in on the Aussie’s affinity for the type. The most popular one of these is actually made by Ford. I think it’s called a Falcon but I’ve also seen cars and vans called the Ford Falcon so I’m clearly not up on Australian car naming conventions yet. The front half of this one looks the same as the Mustang. They seem to be popular with what would otherwise be the Trans-Am crowd; Boy racers and guys who are trying just a little too hard to look tough.

#3: Coffee Milk

I assume this hasn’t caught on in the U.S. because some greedy corporate interest, who will remain nameless, is preventing it.

Coffee Milk is just that – coffee flavoured milk. It is produced by dairies, comes in a carton like other milk and only costs a few cents more than plain milk. The dairies also produce other less popular flavours like chocolate, mocha and spearmint, but coffee has been an Australian mainstay for years. The first time I came over nine years ago, half the fridge space in every gas station in Australia was devoted to the stuff. Three quarters of the people you see coming out of any convenience store will have one of them in one hand or the other. I know that a more sophisticated palate could probably detect the difference in quality between plain old coffee milk and a creation by one of the world’s premier Italian educated barristas, made with the finest quality, hand selected ingredients and then drizzled through the finest glacial ice, but for what it preserves of my retirement fund, I don’t care all that much.

#4: The American Section

Maryanne and I were in a store the other day. There was an aisle devoted to foreign foods that included an American section. I assumed this is where an American, missing a few gems from his culture, like Cheez-its or Tabasco or real marshmallows would go. We’ve been in American markets that had a British section and were able to find all sorts of dearly missed British stuff like Branston’s Pickle, Jaffa cakes and real tea. The American section in this store had absolutely nothing that I have ever seen before in my whole life, all made by companies I have never even heard of. Not only that, but there was nothing vaguely interesting about any of it. They had things like corn in a can, which in the non-American, plain-old-Aussie section was called canned corn. They also had things like Orio’s by Nabesco, whose only defining characteristic was that all of the exact same cookies available in other parts of the store had been packaged along a different axis – as if cereal came in boxes that were meant to be kept flat, like a sheet cake and not stored on end, like books.


Mommy Dearest said...

I have learned that when a new blog entry blips up on my screen, I might as well shove whatever I was doing aside, make a fresh cup of coffee (with lots of milk) and settle in for the ride. I can't ignore it.

This was hilarious. If any of my neighbors can see me doing the full belly laugh while sitting here all by myself, I may get a knock on the door by the paramedics. Otherwise, I've gotten away with having a great chuckle at these descriptions and observations.
First off, I have to admit I had absolutely NO idea what Maryanne (and by extension, Julie) was talking about. ON any topic except mail boxes. I do understand what a mailbox is. The rest? Not so much. I have never heard of beetroot. I don't know what Marmite is. Chips here are either played on a poker table instead of real money or eaten out of a bag. I am betting you're talking about what we'd call french fries, but I'm not certain. Okay, Beer I do understand. Corned beef all mashed up with stuff in it? Is it a loaf or something? Hmmm. And ditto with the luncheon mystery meats. I've never had ham on a pizza either, but that's just me.

Kyle's list made sense to me, of course, since I'm not the least bit cosmopolitan. El Caminos and their cousins, El Dorados were hideous vehicles in at least 50% of the driveways in suburban America in the early 80s. Some things, like the AMC Gremlin, should die natural, unassisted deaths.
Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for a fun out-loud laugh or two.

kate said...

Great post, you guys! Maryanne, you lived in the U.S. long enough, I thought, to know better than to say a vehicle with a truck bed in the back must have a useful purpose. In all your time here, how many sightings of SUVs or trucks showed them to be hauling anything other than the driver from Point A to Point B? A person buys a Suburban to drive to work and back home again, you silly. You could do that in a small economical car, of course, but where would you put your Big Gulp? Oh... I was, and indeed still am, enraptured by the concept of coffee milk - I would so be all over that! Milk? Love it! Coffee? Love it! I also loved "bikie"! How could anyone hear that, especially from a big beefy guy wearing black leather boots, and not giggle??