Wednesday, 30 May 2012

How to blend in: Australia

 When I was in the most painful of the teenage-angst years, my mom took me and my blue and black hair to Italy on a business trip. I was so worried about the random Italian strangers knowing we were tourists that I prevented her from taking almost any photographs. I was ecstatic when I was strolling through the Piazza Navona (in a very casual way, making sure not to actually look at anything lest it be obvious I didn't belong), and a group of teenagers passing by asked me for cigarettes in Italian. Clearly my 25% Italian blood and uber-cool attitude were paying off and I had blended in! Until I tried to respond.

If you, too, are filled with trepidation over sticking out in a foreign country, here is the first of a series of posts on secrets for blending in.

How to play it cool in Australia:

Forget Crocodile Dundee. Quite a few Australians do not carry around gigantic knives, wear hats decorated with crocodile teeth, or hideous croc-leather vests. To look like you belong, your best bet is to dress all in black, or in neon-hued surf-wear. Shoes are optional.

Don't wear your Uggs around town. They are like slippers. It took me more than 2 years to learn this, but now I understand why my co-workers made fun of me in wintertime.

Order your coffee properly. It is impossible to find American-style gallon-sized containers of cheap coffee in Australia. Instead, you will get to spend most of your income on some variation of espresso-based drinks. Short and long blacks refer to espresso straight up or diluted with hot water. If you want milk, you have 3 main choices: flat white, latte, or cappuccino. They claim these all have different ratios of coffee:milk:foam, but really they are all identical but presented differently: a latte comes in a water glass instead of a mug (so you can burn your hands more easily) and a cappuccino has chocolate sprinkled on top (clearly the best choice). 
Hot tip: if you try to go American-style and order a coffee with cream, you will be laughed at. Cream is a thick topping for dessert, not something you add to coffee.

Shoes optional for the pubwoman as well.

Don't order your beer properly. Actually, just don't bother--most of the beer on tap tastes like old shoes boiled in water. If you really feel the need, just point at something and ask for one of those. There are too many permutations of different sized-glasses (schooners, midis, pots, etc.) and truncated names for the beers (old, new, gold, etc.) that invariably, whatever you request will be wrong and embarrassing.

When hitchiking, point your index finger towards the wheels of the cars whizzing by instead of hooking your thumb out.

Eat large quantities of cakes and savory pies.

Do not suggest to anyone that you "throw a shrimp on the barbie." It would be more accurate to ask them to "chuck a prawn on the barbie," though I have yet to see anyone barbequing invertebrates. Better to stick to cooking up the lamb you won in the meat raffle at the pub (apparently you should bring your "eskie"--or cooler--with you in case you are the lucky recipient of a large tray of raw meat during your night out).

To speak Australian (don't attempt the accent), you can just drop the second half of most words, and generally add "ie." Bikers becomes "bikies" (the Hell's Angels sound much less intimidating here), wetsuit becomes "wettie," sunglasses becomes "sunnies." Then just say "yeah" a lot in a nasal tone.

Unfortunately, the Australians have also developed their own take on English, and use many words in totally different fashions than Americans. How irritating. Here are a few examples:
Hearing these words may seem scandalous, but they mean something quite inert in Australia:
Thongs          just means           Flip-flops (not tiny undies)
Skivvies        just means           Turtlenecks (not undies, either)
Rubber          just means           Eraser (not a baby-preventer)
On the other hand, here are some American words that are rude in Australian English, and the alternative you can use:
Don't say Root for a team    say    Barrack for them instead
Don't say Fanny Pack      say        Bum Bag (but really, why on earth do you still have one?)

Confusingly, some terms are the same as in the US. Try not to get tripped up and do things like grab a zucchini and ask the shop keeper "what is this thing called?" You will be told that it is a zucchini and look like an idiot.

Finally, come to terms with the sad fact that you will not see a Koala, unless it is in a zoo. Then you can stop breaking your neck and wandering off cliffs while staring into the trees wherever you go.
You may not see koalas, but while trying, you can acquire leeches!

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