Thursday, August 28, 2008
As an observer to the most recent Olympic Games in Beijing (and by observer I mean, from the comfort of my own home in front of the television), I have to say my take on the Australians is the entire Australian Olympic team seems to be much more of a 'single unit' than any other I've come across.
In the lead up to the Olympic Games, the various athletes representing Australia would have been completing their training regimes in all corners of the Earth. Many of them arrived in Beijing at different times depending on the schedule for their events. Which is all, as they say in Australia, fair enough.
Once they arrived in Beijing though and competed in their events, they rallied around one another. I didn't witness any early exits, most of the athletes seemed to stay on till the closing ceremonies to support their fellow countrymen and to soak up a bit of the rare experience of being an Olympian.
To give you some indication of how unified the Australian Olympians appeared to be and what a big deal the Olympics were in Australia, have a look at the welcome home reception afforded the select few who represented Australia in Beijing and returned home to Australia on Tuesday morning.
The Australian (a national Australian newspaper) covered the homecoming in an August 26th article entitled, "Beijing Olympians return to emotional welcome" with the following description:
"THE Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson have welcomed home Australia's Olympic athletes in Sydney.
Qantas charter flights, carrying more than 500 Australian competitors and support staff, landed shortly after 6.40am (AEST) today. The medallists arrived on a Qantas 747 while the remainder of the team travelled home on a Qantas A330.
The Olympians were met at Sydney's International Airport by Mr Rudd, Mr Nelson, NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Sports Minister Kate Ellis.
Hundreds of family and friends waving Australian flags and carrying flowers, gathered in aircraft hangar 96 at Sydney airport to welcome the athletes."
How's that for unity? 500 athletes, coaches and support staff traveling back together to Australia to be welcomed by the Prime Minister and a legion of fans. Never saw anything quite like that in the USA. Did I mention this reception was covered LIVE on television? We got to see the plane landing and taxiing into the hangar and all the athletes disembarking. It was quite the party atmosphere.
A brief Google search this morning (and I didn't spend too much time on this--I've got kids remember?) leads me to believe that this type of reception for the Olympians immediately upon their arrival home from the Olympics isn't done in too many places. There were indications that perhaps the Irish and the Canadians may have had similar receptions for their athletes.
Lucky are those who do, I say. What a lovely way to celebrate your personal Olympic accomplishments with your fellow Olympians and to be appreciated together as one team, representing one nation.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
First of all, most cafes have a specific breakfast menu. Unlike the USA where there are specific breakfast restaurants like IHOP, LePeep, Village Inn, Waffle House, and a myriad of others, Australia doesn't have a particular chain restaurant you identify with breakfast. (In fact, while we are on the subject, Australia doesn't have that many chain restaurants period.) This makes choosing a place to go for breakfast slightly harder as there are many, many cafes and restaurants here and a large number of them have breakfast offerings.
Since each restaurant sets it's own breakfast menu, the items you'll find on offer vary from place to place, but there are some recurring themes. Eggs are always on the menu and are offered in a variety of ways: fried, poached, scrambled or in omelet form. From my experience, Australians seem to prefer their eggs poached (this of course is a wild generalisation, but that's what I've observed so we'll run with it) and they will eat them with a variety of accompaniments. Each restaurant usually offers a list of breakfast accompaniments and the most common are: grilled tomatoes, grilled spinach, baked beans, bacon, sausage, grilled mushrooms, smoked salmon, ham, or hash browns. Some cafes will have a set menu item that includes eggs your way plus a set selection of accompaniments for a set price or they may just have the eggs your way and allow you to choose the accompaniments and charge you for each selection separately.
Besides eggs, you might commonly find a toast offering. Generally it seems to be raisin toast that is on offer. Another popular item is a toasted sandwich or croissant with ham and cheese.There may also be a muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit and for the naughty among you--pancakes. Only the Australians seem to find it appropriate to serve ice cream on pancakes for breakfast. As you can imagine, our four year old LOVES pancakes for breakfast and orders that each time we go out. They may also be served with fresh fruit or with maple syrup.
You can guarantee there will be espresso coffee so you can get a Latte, Cappuccino, Machiato or whatever your little heart desires. If the place is really good, they'll have freshly squeezed juices--orange, apple, carrot, pineapple, etc, etc, etc.
Are you getting hungry reading this? I'm getting hungry just writing it...enough about my descriptions though, a picture is worth a thousand words...
This is known as 'The Big Breakfast' and at this particular restaurant it included: 2 eggs your way (the Handsome Australian has them poached), 2 sausages, grilled mushrooms, bacon rashers, grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, two pieces of thick toast (this isn't Wonder Bread y'all) and a little bit of tomato chutney on top. (There was also an unimpressive hash brown in that empty spot next to the toast, but the Handsome Australian quickly passed along this substandard morsel to fellow diners with less discerning tastes--our children) The Handsome Australian calls this 'heaven'.
What do you think? Would you give it a go? I do every weekend!
Learn the Lingo
brekkie = breakfast
Monday, August 25, 2008
Eventually, he'd choose a place and we'd have dinner. Most of the dinners I had with the Handsome Australian in Buenos Aires were quite memorable--the food was really good and generally quite different from the status quo cafes you found on every corner. I tried to understand why his standards were so high and how he knew exactly what he was looking for. The more I got to know him, the more I learned about his family. The Handsome Australian comes from a long line of restaurateurs and so it turns out, he's been around the food and hospitality business his whole life. A lifetime of experience had helped him hone his senses and he was able to recognise a promising place when he saw one.
Before I met the Handsome Australian, a restaurant was just a restaurant and food was, just food, really. The more time I spent with him though, I began to see the subtle differences that he could see and I too began to seek out that something special every time I dined out. This search for really, really good food has become even stronger now that we've spent more than a decade together.
While I credit the Handsome Australian with introducing me to the world of restaurants that take food to the next level, I also credit his hometown in raising my expectations when it comes to dining. Melburnians are absolutely spoiled in their choice of eateries. There are multitudes upon multitudes of places to dine here and the standard is extremely high. So high in fact, that the industry is fiercely competitive and a restaurant won't survive if it doesn't deliver quality food in a unique way.
The variety here is amazing as well. Any genre of food you might be interested in be it Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, Lebanese, Turkish, Greek, Italian, Malaysian, Moroccan, and the list goes on and on--is available. The biggest problem you'll face in Melbourne when it comes to dining out is choosing a place to go. A nice problem to have--my stomach certainly isn't complaining.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Firstly, I've noticed the coverage here tends to favour sports that the Australians are actually competitive in (ie have a good chance of medalling) and that these are not the same sports that are emphasised in the USA. It makes sense doesn't it that each country would have a handful of sports that are preferred and played with more frequency than others. There are also certain nationalities that seem to dominate particular events. The Australians seem to put a lot of their emphasis on the swimming. The Australian swim team is very competitive and is a tough rival for the USA.
After the swimming, Australia's Olympic performances are pretty hit or miss. They've medaled in a variety of sports, but haven't dominated any. The Australians love their sport so much though that each and every medal is celebrated and cherished. There isn't a single medal that has gone by uncelebrated by the Australian media and public. There have been a few hard fought silver medals that have almost captured more media attention than some of the gold medals.
In fact, the entire Olympic Games coverage here has been pretty Australian-centric. That is to be expected I suppose, but even in the USA, I remember the networks doing profiles of athletes from other nations and really explaining who were the top contenders in each sport. That seems to be missing here. So much so that I'm not even sure who any of the US athletes are. It's all Aussie all the time and as a result, I'm all Aussie all the time. I find myself barracking (that's Aussie for supporting or rooting) for the Australians even in races when they are competing against Americans. I've been questioning this behaviour for two weeks now and have finally come to the conclusion it's because I don't know the stories of the athletes from the USA. I didn't get to experience a media build up to the Olympics that let me know who these people were--I only saw the Aussies. Well, that's not entirely true. Michael Phelps has gotten quite a bit of media coverage here, but I'd say he's the exception to the rule and the exception is made because he's 1. a swimmer 2. EXTREMELY GOOD and 3. 8 GOLD medals are hard to ignore.
Other than Michael though, it's been hard to keep track of Olympic athletes from other countries. This strikes me as very odd because normally I'd say Australians are very outward focused. They are quite interested in what's going on in other parts of the world and are very knowledgable about other places. I guess the Olympics are one of those times when their competitive spirit takes over and they see it as "us against them".
Whatever the motivation, I haven't enjoyed the coverage as much as I used to in the USA. I say, give me Bob Costas and a sappy athlete profile any day...(does he still do that? anyone? anyone?)
Saturday, August 16, 2008
From what I can tell, snow is a big deal for the Australians. Or maybe I should say, a little bit of snow is a big deal for the Australians. The Handsome Australian did manage to convince me to make a trek to 'the snow' during my first year here. We went to Mount Hotham which is one of Australia's premier ski resorts. The weekend we went, there were heavy snowfalls and everyone on the bus on the way up the top of the mountain was buzzing with the knowledge that this was the best snowfall of the season. This resort was, in their words, awesome! And to have the fortune to be there on a weekend where there was plenty of fresh powder. A girl should be so lucky!!
Now, here's where I'll admit I'm not an avid skier. In fact as a sport, I can take it or leave it. I've had good times skiing, and I've had bad times. The good column probably equals the bad column. The point is though, that I've been skiing enough times in enough places, that I know a good ski resort when I see one. I was completely non-plussed when I saw Mt. Hotham in all it's glory that weekend. I remember thinking, "This is it? This is 'the snow'? Who are they kidding?" When I questioned the Handsome Australian about it, he said, "Look, it's not Vail, but it's three hours away from home and it's snow." So what I learned from this was Australians love their sport so much, that they are happy to ski on mountains (read: hills) that are covered (read: lightly dusted) in snow. They also don't seem to get bored with the same three runs over and over again. Good for them, I say. You gotta make the most of what you've got right?
Today we took our children to 'the snow'. We didn't go to Mt. Hotham again and we didn't go skiing. Instead, we went to Lake Mountain. It's a two hour drive from Melbourne and you can cross country ski there or you can go tubing or tobogganing. You can also build snow men, have snow ball fights, etc. It bills itself as "Melbourne's closest Alpine Resort". I'd say they use the word, "resort" very liberally here. Again, I was unimpressed with the size of the place--it simply pales in comparison to any resort I've been to in the USA, but our kids loved it. When you've never seen snow before, a little snow goes a long way!
Here is a picture of the Australian snow man constructed by the Handsome Australian and our brood. He's got Eucalyptus branches as his hair and Eucalyptus leaves for his eyes. He also has bark from the Eucalyptus trees as his nose. Have you ever seen such a thing?
Monday, August 11, 2008
The second thing I was struck by when I first came to Australia was just how clean their public toilets are. There aren't scraps of toilet paper lying around on the floors. The floors actually look like they've been cleaned recently. In most female toilet stalls there are neat little bins for your sanitary items (in some cases they are automated and don't even require you to touch them--just wave your hand over the top and they open as if by magic).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all public restrooms in the USA are dirty, scary places, I'm just saying that on the whole, Australians maintain a higher standard. This is particularly true when it comes to places like petrol stations or parks. In the USA, I'd really need to use the toilet in an urgent manner if I were to set foot in the bathroom of a gas station or in a public park. In my experience, these are some of the worst restrooms you come across. They often lack in cleanliness and there may or may not be the necessary items present--ie toilet paper or hand soap. I'd classify these as 'go at your own risk' sort of places.
When I first found myself needing to use a public toilet in a park here in Australia, I shuddered to think what I'd find inside the toilet blocks. When I walked in, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very clean restroom with all the required items. The taps were all functioning and there wasn't rubbish strewn around inside. It was a positive experience.
Now, I have thought considerably about why public restrooms in Australia are cleaner than those in the USA and I have a few theories. The first comes down to population density and traffic. I think that most public toilets in Australia probably get a lot less traffic than their US counterparts. This is because there is hardly anyone here in Australia. With a population of approximately 20 million, you often struggle to find a crowd of people anywhere!
Having said that, I do think that perhaps the expectations of a clean public restroom here are slightly higher and hence the standard is higher. It's all about what you are used to I suppose. As I said, my experiences in certain public toilets in the USA led me to expect all such places to be of questionable cleanliness. Even now after living in Australia, I find it hard to shake these expectations. If I had grown up here in Australia though, I think I would simply expect these public toilets to be as clean as any others.
So this has made me wonder what Australians must think of American public toilets. Anyone care to share their experiences? I'll poll the Handsome Australian and see what he thinks. In the meantime, feel free to comment!
Sunday, August 10, 2008
As I made a quick visit to the Ladies' Room at the restaurant where we were dining, I thought for a moment about how different Australian bathrooms are to the ones you'd find in the USA. I mean, they aren't dramatically different--all the basic fixtures are the same, but the feel and finish of these rooms is different.
For starters, take the doors of the bathroom stalls in a public restroom (or public toilet as the Aussies would say), in the USA these doors are often three quarters of the way to the floor with large gaps on the sides where the hinges are. When you are in one of these stalls going about your business, you can often see out and see people that are passing by. Not a great deal of privacy when you come to think about it. I do remember when I first arrived in Australia, I was struck by the solidity of the doors on the stalls in the public restrooms--they went all the way to the floor and there were no gaps on the sides where the hinges are.
Before coming to Australia, I never considered the short doors or large side gaps in the American toilet blocks--I was simply used to them. Now that I've lived in Australia for so long, it strikes me as strange that American toilet stalls have to have such dodgy doors on them. I mean, seriously, what does it say about us if we can't hang a door properly? The true irony of the situation is Americans are generally more socially conservative than Australians, yet they are happy to use toilets where any Tom, Dick or Harry walking past can take a peep inside their stall and see what they are up to.
And what about those tiny toddlers that are on the loose in the bathrooms sometimes peeking underneath your stall door? In Australia, those kids have to amuse themselves with the hand dryers or the taps while their Mums go about their business because the full length doors on the stalls don't allow for peeping by little people. Score another point in the Australian column!
The doors aren't the only difference between Australian toilets and American restrooms...
Check back tomorrow for more philosophical observations on the good old Aussie dunny!
Learn the Lingo
dunny = toilet
toilet = the room where the toilet is (may or may not be the bathroom--toilets are often in a separate room from the bath, shower, sink, etc)
public toilet = public restroom
taps = faucets
Mums = Moms
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Recent highlights from the show include regular guest spots by Australian radio personalities and comedy team, Hamish & Andy. If you ask me, Hamish and Andy are the funniest comedians in Australia at the moment. Here's a clip of their recent work on rove:
They're funny right?
The other thing I like about Rove's show is that it's so relaxed--another very Australian trait. The big celebs that come on the show don't seem to be putting it all on and he's not afraid to ask goofy questions. Here's an interview he did with Matt Damon last year.
So that's what we're watching...how about you?
Monday, August 4, 2008
As you might imagine in a country with only 20 million inhabitants there isn't a particularly large television industry. This means good Australian shows are few and far between. The comedy genre is basically untouched--I can only think of a handful of Australian sitcoms I've ever come across. As for the drama genre, there seems to be quite a few shows that have been running for many years, but none of them have ever captured my imagination.
There is one diamond in the rough on Australian television though. This show is funny, moving, compelling and deeply interesting all at once. It's actually an interview format show with an extremely talented and insightful host. The show is 'Enough Rope' and the host is Andrew Denton.
He interviews people from all walks of life--from the very, very famous to the lady next door. It doesn't matter who he is interviewing, he always gets people to reveal a side to themselves that you've never seen before. He asks hard questions in a breezy and calm manner that doesn't seem to phase his subjects and surprisingly they just respond. He's amazing to watch and truly a credit to Australian television.
This year he did a special series entitled, 'Elders' in which he interviewed a series of high profile elderly people in search of the knowledge they had to offer after their many years of experience. It was fascinating to watch.
With no further ado, if you haven't already, meet Andrew Denton:
This is part of an entertaining interview with Jerry Seinfeld
Here is a segment of an interview he did with Helen Thomas (White House Press Corp since 1961--she's covered world politics for 57 years)
Sunday, August 3, 2008
For the most part, Australians are not that nationalistic. They don't bandy around Australian flags at any given opportunity. They don't play their national anthem at the beginning of any and all major sporting events. They don't really even do much to celebrate Australia Day which is the closest thing they have to the 4th of July. We have never attended any Australia Day parades, seen any Australia Day fireworks, but we've enjoyed the public holiday. When polled, many Australians are at a loss to be able to sing all the words to their very own national anthem.
Now, don't get me wrong, it's not the the Australians aren't a proud people, they are. They are very keen to point out the unique aspects of their culture and their country when you speak to them. They don't however, seem to feel the need to come together and celebrate themselves. They are a bit too low key for that. Not reserved, but relaxed. They just aren't in to the hoopla I suppose.
The story changes, however, when sport becomes involved. If the Australian National team of any sport is competing against another nation, the Australians are there supporting them. It doesn't matter which sport is in question--the World Cup Soccer, Davis Cup Tennis, The Ashes, and the list goes on. When it's Australia against the world in sport, the Aussies wake up, start paying attention and begin to sing their songs and wave their flags. You start to get the feeling they are united and maybe, slightly just slightly patriotic.
There have already been small signs of this shift toward Olympic inspired patriotism in the advertising on television. Have a look and you'll notice quite a few subtle references to sport as the thing that brings Australians together.
So look for these crazed Aussies during the Olympics. They won't be wearing the Red, White and Blue of the Australian flag, they compete in the Green and Gold. These are specific colours used for Australian national sporting teams. You might also see them carrying around their national sports mascot, the boxing kangaroo. He's made his way to many an Olympic podium. They'll be chanting things like, "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!". Singing their unofficial national anthem, which coincidentally most people seem to know better than the real one, Waltzing Matilda.
Yes, they'll be there cheering on their chosen representatives with all their heart and soul. And for those two weeks they'll be outwardly proud, unified, flag waving and rife with hoopla. Then, they'll sit back and relax again...until the next major sporting event that is.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
For the most part though, my driving in Australia has gone relatively smoothly. I've adapted to life on the left side of the road and the nuances of driving in Melbourne, which include hook turns in the city and sharing the road with trams, have become second nature. In general, I'd say traffic in Melbourne is more fluid than traffic in the USA. The lanes are painted on the road, but people move in and out of them with great regularity and will sometimes indicate and other times not. I remember spending the first few months of the time the Handsome Australian and I lived in the USA together telling him to "Choose a lane and stay in it!!" I didn't understand why he was constantly in the center of the road. Now that I've driven in Melbourne, I get it. That's just how people drive here.
If you think that sounds like a recipe for chaos, then wait until the traffic signals go out in Melbourne. That's when all hell breaks loose. In my 8 years Down Under, I've only experienced outages in the traffic signals twice. Once was a few years ago on my wait to visit the dentist and one was last week. On both occasions the lights that were out were servicing major intersections and the absence of the traffic signals left dozens and dozens of drivers in a dangerous and ridiculous mess.
Why? Why were these situations so chaotic? I'd been in many similar situations in the USA when traffic lights had failed for one reason or another and yes it was sometimes confusing, but for the most part, people were able to manage the situation by reverting to the rules of a four way stop.
And that my friends is exactly why the Australians simply can't cope when the lights go out...there is a shortage of four way stops here. In fact, I can't even think of an intersection I've been through here where such a thing existed. Most intersections where we'd have four way stops in the USA have roundabouts or traffic circles here in Australia. They work similar to a four way stop except the traffic is more fluid because you are traveling around in a circle. This means that more than one car might enter the circle at the same time, but not be in danger of hitting one another because they are essentially following each other around. In a four way stop situation, each side must take turns to cross the intersection otherwise they'd collide in the middle.
It's my opinion that traffic circles or roundabouts keep traffic flowing better than a four way stop system. That is until the traffic lights at an intersection go out and no one has a secondary system to fall back on. Then it's every man for himself. Then it's chaos. Then in that moment, you miss the good old USA and the regimented four way stop system.
Isn't it amazing the things that you miss from home?