Here are a few of the distinct differences I have observed between the Australian parties and the American ones I've been to:
- Paper Invites are Optional: Coming from Texas, I am accustomed to sending out and receiving paper invites for children's parties. Generally, the invite is related to the party theme (if there is one) and sometimes the invites will be handmade by the party hosts. I'd say there is quite often a fair amount of effort that goes into inviting people to your child's party. In Australia, people seem to be a lot more laid back about it. I've been invited to many children's birthday parties here with simply a phone call or a verbal invite when I see the person. I'm personally a fan of the written word and I like a nice invite. Call me old fashioned, call me Southern, heck, call me Texan.
- RSVPs are Hit or Miss: To be fair, I've lived in Australia for 8 years now and I can't remember how effective people in the USA were about RSVPing (is there such a term?) for parties, but I do remember being quite surprised at the first few parties I held here in Oz that so many people turned up who hadn't called to say they were indeed coming. I always find catering for a party a bit difficult here because I'm never quite sure who is coming or how many. My instinct tells me that Americans are a bit more efficient in this department, but again, I wouldn't really have any idea after 8 years abroad.
- Gifts are opened almost immediately. Growing up in Texas, I remember taking gifts to birthday parties and putting them aside on a table with all the other gifts until it was "gift opening time", at which point, everyone gathered around and watched the birthday boy/girl open the gifts. I always quite liked this method of gift opening as everyone got to see what gifts were received by the child and appropriate thank-yous could be made. My experience here in Australia has been the gift is given to the child upon arrival at the party and the child immediately opens the gift on the spot. This means the person who brought the gift gets to see the child open it, but few others. I'm not really a fan of this practice because when it's my child's birthday, I'm usually too busy in the kitchen mucking about with the food to see what gifts my child is opening. My child never remembers who gave her/him what and who knows if he/she said thank-you to the person or not.
- Fairy Bread, Party Pies, Sausage Rolls, Frankfurts...You haven't lived until you've eaten these delicacies at an Aussie birthday party. Okay, maybe you have lived, but you haven't lived in Australia because these menu items are standard fare and you generally won't find much else. There seems to be an unwritten code that these Aussie favourites will be on offer at every child's birthday party because I've seen them at nearly every one I've been to. Fairy bread, for the uninitiated, is merely sliced bread (generally white) spread with margarine and covered with hundreds and thousands (that's Aussie for rainbow sprinkles). When the Handsome Australian first told me about this Aussie delight, I said, "Are you kidding me? This is what you guys ate as kids? At a party? Bread with margarine and sprinkles? That has got to be the saddest thing I've ever heard." Now that I've actually tasted it, I still think it's quite sad, but after 8 years of living here, I make it for all of my kid's parties. The kids love it. I can't explain it, but I just toss it in the "unexplained love of random Aussie food items" file right next to Vegemite and move on. The Party Pies of which I speak are a miniature version of the much lauded Aussie Meat Pie. These have to be some of the most disgusting creations I've ever come across. As a rule, I don't eat meat pies. No, I'm not a vegetarian, I'm just not interested in eating a piece of pastry oozing a brown liquid that's got the consistency of gravy with small bits of "meat" floating in it. As for the humble Sausage Roll, this seems to be one of the few party food items people bother to prepare from scratch. If the Sausage roll (seasoned mince meat wrapped in pastry) is homemade, I may give it a whirl. If it's from the frozen food section of your local grocery store, I'll give it a miss. I know, I'm such a food snob. As for the frankfurts, they come in a vacuum sealed pack in the fridge section of your local grocery store. You boil them in water for a few minutes and serve them with sauce (that's Aussie for ketchup). These probably aren't too far off the American hot dog, only they are smaller and meant to be a finger food. I don't mind a hot dog, but I just can't stomach the frankfurts. Good thing the food is actually for people with less discriminating tastes...the kids!
- Pass the Parcel? Not only is the food vastly different, but the games that are played at the parties are different too. Don't get me wrong, the Aussies do play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but I've never seen a game of musical chairs here. The all time favourite party game and one that the Handsome Australian reckons characterises the parties he went to as a child is Pass the Parcel. This game is played with a prize that has been wrapped in layers and layers of wrapping paper. The wrapped prize, known as the "parcel", is passed around a circle of children while music is played. When the music stops, the child holding the "parcel" unwraps one layer of the wrapping paper. There might be mini-prizes in between some of the layers, but the goal is to be the last one holding the parcel when it's time to unwrap the final layer of wrapping because this means you get to keep the prize.
- No Pinatas! While I've seen pinatas for sale at party stores here, I've yet to attend a birthday party where there was one. I don't think pinatas have quite caught on in Australia yet. Pinatas were a staple of my childhood birthday party experiences and I love a party with a good pinata. When my first born celebrated her first birthday, I decided I'd make a pinata for her party to carry on the tradition. I spent three weeks making the silly thing with the Handsome Australian constantly saying, "I don't know why you are bothering, it's not like she's going to remember this." When it was finally finished and every painstaking piece of tissue paper had been hand glued to the thing, I determined it had taken too long to produce and would NOT be filled with lollies (that's Aussie for candy) and smashed. So I'm not really doing my part to usher in the tradition either. Baby steps, baby steps....
- Hip Hip Hooray! Here in Australia, when it's time to have the cake and sing "Happy Birthday", the party goers sing the song just as we do in the USA until the very end. After they finish the last line, "Happy Birthday to you..." someone in the crowd shouts, "Hip Hip" and the rest of the crowd shouts, "Hooray". This is repeated three times. I often wonder what would happen if no one took the initiative and shouted "Hip Hip" first.
Who knew something as simple as a child's birthday party could be so different? There are probably heaps of other differences I've neglected to list here, but I've tried to cover the most outstanding. Despite the different approaches, menus and entertainment, the kids always seem to have fun!
Learn the Lingo
pressie = present
mucking about = messing around
fairy bread = sliced white bread spread with margarine and topped with rainbow sprinkles
party pies = miniature meat pies
sausage rolls = seasoned mince meat wrapped in a pastry
mince meat = ground beef
sauce (short for tomato sauce) = ketchup
Pass the Parcel = a children's party game (see decription above)
lollies = candy