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Archive for the ‘Both and Neither’ Category

I have been living in Australia for 10 years now and have had to cop a lot of casual, knee jerk anti Americanism. And, you know what? It’s offensive not to mention hypocritical. Those of you who read this blog pretty much already know that I’m no flag toting patriotic “God Bless America” wanker. I know my country of origin is fucked up for many reasons and rapidly getting even more fucked up. I don’t harbour any illusions that my country is some sort of land of milk and honey that does no wrong. I can complain about America right along with most people and I understand where anti American sentiment can stem from. But there are certain people (a whole lot of you Australians, whether you think so or not) that automatically denigrate America in ways that you would never dare do so to any other country. The reason you wouldn’t dare demonize any other country in that way is because it is offensive, insensitive and racist. So why is it ok to do it to the US? Yes, the US is predominantly white so the racist* argument would be hard to hold up. But that doesn’t change the offensiveness. This sort of thing happens across all sorts of subjects but the one I notice the most is language and accents.

Just now on Twitter, I noticed some people I was following having a conversation about the correct way to spell “premie” (as in, a premature baby). The fact that Americans say “preemie” was mentioned. I jumped in only to say that the reason Americans say that is just an accent thing. We pronounce “premature” “pree-mature” as opposed to the Australian/English habit of pronouncing it “preh-mature.” I also pointed out that “mum” vs “mom” is accent related yet it’s reflected in the spelling so go figure. I then got served with some snotty comment along the lines of “if it’s American then it’s wrong.” I pointed out how offensive that statement was and I got served with yet another snotty dismissal of all things American.

Here’s the thing: Accents are not wrong, they are simply different ways of pronouncing words. Different is not Wrong. Accents fascinate me because they seem so random and weird. I always wonder how one group of people speaking the same language as another group of people came to pronounce things so drastically differently. Even groups who live right next to each other have radically different accents! I find some accents beautiful and some of them make my teeth itch. Honestly, even I find a really strong US accent quite jarring especially after having lived overseas for so long. So, I get that some accents are just not palatable to certain people but they are not Wrong, for crying out loud! Neither are different spellings. They are DIFFERENT and they are all ENGLISH (well, in this context I’m only talking about English). I would have gotten pretty upset (and justifiably so) if any of my teachers had marked me down for spelling “colour” the British way as opposed to the US “color.” The same goes for if my kids happen to spell something the American way.

Language is a funny thing. It’s always changing. The English we speak now is nothing like the English spoken in Shakespeare’s time, for example. These days it seems to change even faster (I’m no linguist, that’s just my personal perception of how quickly words seem to make it into the dictionary). Accents add another layer to this. It’s all pretty fascinating and a good topic of discussion, really. But to say that everything about US English is Wrong and therefore should be ridiculed is ignorant. I wonder what the people who behave like this would do if an American went off about how Australian English is Wrong and deserves ridicule? You can bet they’d get pretty offended and justifiably so.

The language thing isn’t the only time this casual anti Americanism happens around me, to me, or about me. It’s uncomfortable on top of offensive. How should I act? If I stand up for myself and my country, I am seen as an overly patriotic American wanker. Often I have just joined in or let it go for the sake of social harmony. But, that is pretty cowardly on my part and after a while, it gets to me. These things should not be ok**. Part of what’s wrong with America is Americans’ perceived arrogance and ignorance of the world. And you know what? That’s fair enough because, as an American, I know that the American government (and many Americans, collectively) can come off as arrogant and ignorant of the world. It shits me too. But what shits me even more is that the people displaying the casual knee jerk anti Americanism are BEING JUST AS ARROGANT AND IGNORANT OF THE WORLD as the Americans that they complain about! So, get off your high horse, you arrogant fuckwits! Not everything Americans say, do, spell, eat, or think is shit. Quit acting like you’re so much smarter and worldly than an entire country of people just because you happen to live somewhere else. In short, grow up.

*    I almost want to call it a sort of cultural-ism. Does that work? Can I make that a word?

**  I’d just like to note here that I am not entirely humourless. I can take a joke and I do find most America jokes pretty funny. So don’t give me the “Australians take the piss” lecture. I know they do and I love it. What I’m talking about is not your usual light hearted Australian piss taking. Some jokes go beyond that and have too much animosity behind them to be funny.

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Yeah, yeah … it was only a matter of time before I brought up Vegemite. How can one not when one is prone to blogging about Australian stuff? It is quintessentially Australian. It’s a symbol of Australia around the world. Australian kids grow up eating it. There are even myths surrounding it (ie Put vegemite behind your ears to ward off Drop Bears, a viscious cousin of Koalas … oh, nevermind).

The truth is that Vegemite is really the most foul concoction ever packaged and sold as food. Australians laugh about Americans eating cheese from a can and fake bacon bits. Well, cheese from a can is pretty disgusting but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the revolting, non food status of Vegemite. In case you didn’t know, Vegemite is a nasty black paste that people inexplicably put on anything from toast to cheesy scroll things. Sometimes they even mix it into stews and casseroles in the misguided belief that it “adds flavour.” Since when is ass flavour something one wants in their stew anyway?

Vegemite is basically the biproduct of beer making. How Australian is that? “Hey, we have all this foul black paste leftover from making our beer. What should we do with it? I know, let’s eat it!”  This is a culture so obsessed with beer that not only do they televise Lawn Bowl games, a “sport” that can be played (and usually is) while holding a stubby in one hand, but they actually ingest the biproduct of producing said beer.

I remember the first time I tasted the foul death paste (a description of Vegemite coined by Amanda Palmer). It was on my first visit to Oz, two years before I actually moved here for good. I had been told about Vegemite but had no real idea what it tasted like. My roommate at UW was dating a Kiwi guy who had grown up in Brisbane and was now living in Portland. He had a predilection for Vegemite and potato chip sandwiches. He told me it tasted excellent. I had my doubts (Vegemite & potato chips? Um, can you get more sodium in one meal?). Anyway, when I first got to Australia, I found a pot of it in my future mother-in-law’s pantry. I thought “Eh, what the hell” and opened it up for a sniff. It smelled foul. If I were smart, I would have stopped there. But no, I am prone to stupidity so I got a teaspoon, scooped a tiny amount out, and took a tentative taste. HOLY SHIT! The tiniest touch of my tongue to the tiniest scoop of this shit made me gag. I had to rush for a glass of water to rinse the vile taste from my mouth.

The moral of the story? Believe people when they tell you Vegemite is foul. Do not try for yourself … you will be sorry. I think a love of Vegemite requires training from an early age. Few people actually taste the stuff for the first time as an older child or adult and decide they like it. No, I have not done studies but it just makes sense, ok? It’s my blog and I can say what I want, damn it! 😉

Part of what finally motivated me to write this post was the Amanda Palmer gig we went to last night. She’s touring her most recent album, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, which she has described as a “love letter to Australia.” The show was glorious … the audience even spontaneously sang Advance Australia Fair to her. She looked stunned when that happened. It was pretty awesome. Anyway, my favourite song on the album is The Vegemite Song. You see, occasionally, Amanda Palmer manages to hit upon Truth in her songs. This is one of those times. This song is better than any blog post I can do about Vegemite. In fact, you’d probably be better off skipping this post and going straight to this video:

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Yesterday I got a chance to visit a friend in the Perth Hills. I love going up there. It’s beautiful. Carlia lives about an hour’s drive away but it’s worth it. Even the drive is beautiful. There is something about the hills that make me almost like living here. It’s the trees, I think. I need to be surrounded by trees every once in a while. It’s a comforting feeling. Even though the kinds of trees are different, and there are no mountains visible above them, it makes me feel a little closer to home. The hills are the best during the autumn/winter months. During the summer, it’s too hot for me to fully appreciate the trees … I’m too busy melting. If you want to see what I mean about the beauty of the Perth Hills, check out Carlia’s blog particularly this post. If we have to stay in Perth, I really want to move to the hills.

The reason for the gathering at Carlias was an Intimo party. Intimo is a line of lingerie that is sold via a party plan. I am not shitting you. This is a real thing in the world. Party plan undies. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be attending things like undie parties, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve even hosted Tupperware parties of my own. What’s worse? I’ve not only been to a sex toy party but I’m planning on going to another one as soon as my friend is able to organize a date for it. Yeah, my life is exciting, is it not? 🙂 But, hey, they’re good excuses to get together, eat some cake and enjoy the company of friends (and even, dare I say, make some purchases … though not this particular time).

My accent was brought up at the party. Everyone thinks it’s funny how Australian I sound when I pronounce an “O” sound. It is kind of funny, I suppose. The scary thing, though, is that I realized today that I’d find it difficult to actually pronounce that “O” sound in an American accent now. In fact, it might be impossible. Since when did I become so Australian, that I cannot even immitate a full American accent? Oh, hai Identity Crisis, I forgot you existed for a while. Sigh.

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I’ve been neglecting this blog. I’m sorry. I just haven’t been inspired to say much more than random (and inane) tweeting so I’ve ignored the blog. I’m bad at blogging.

But, I have rant material now. Today I unfriended (don’t you love Facebook inspired new additions to the English language?) someone from my distant past on Facebook. You know why? Because she joined this group. It’s a joke, right? Hahahaha … except it’s not. It’s a sign of ignorance which just got me fired up to rant about the ignorance of a large and vocal group of my fellow countrymen/women.

Dear American Conservatives:

America is not the best place on Earth, America does not have the best health care on Earth and America is really quite backwards in a lot of aspects compared to the rest of the world. Grow up, get with the program and try to learn how to handle CHANGE.

Yes, America can stand to CHANGE. Case in point: The metric system. The ENTIRE FREAKING WORLD (or thereabouts) has changed to it except for America. Ironic that America, the fiercely “Democratic/anti monarchy” country is still using a system called THE IMPERIAL SYSTEM that was originally based on the length of kings’ feet, etc.

Universal health care is not out to get you. In fact, I find it ironic that often the people who seem protest it the most are the people who *stand to benefit the most from it* (ie people in lower socioeconomic groups). Much of the rest of the Western World has some sort of universal healthcare system in place. Now, probably none of them are The Perfect Solution, but I daresay most of them are BETTER THAN THE SHIT SITUATION THE US HAS. When I was officially granted Permanent Residency here in Australia, I literally did a happy dance in the Immigration Department upon hearing that I was eligible for Medicare. I lived in the US, I know what it’s like to worry about the price of going to the Dr.or the price of prescriptions. Here, people complain about the gap fee they have to pay at the Dr.’s office or the price of prescriptions … they have no idea how much it can cost in the US. I was lucky, I had some insurance, I was not as dirt poor as some people. I shudder to think what happens to the seriously destitute in the US.

Granted, I am not completely up to date with all the intricacies of US news. I have not been following Obama’s administration as closely as I originally planned. Life has distracted me from lofty goals like that. I can’t say for sure if he’s the best president ever, if he’s going about his goals of change in the best possible way or anything like that. But, what I can say is that he’s better than the slack jawed moron that we were stuck with for the previous 8 years. At least Obama can pronounce “nuclear” and has a vision for improving things other than bombing the shit out of any country that looks at us cross eyed. It wouldn’t take much, really.

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We’re having a long weekend down here in Oz. Why? Because Monday is a public holiday? Why? I have NO FREAKING CLUE!

Australians like their public holidays. They have a freakish amount of them each year(around 10 depending on which state you’re in). Rarely does anyone even know *why* they have the day off work. But, you know what? That’s fine by me!

Australian’s laid back attitude where there is always time to relax is an easy one to adopt. Being here so long, I have nearly forgotten how hideous it is to be a part of the US workforce. I mean, no wonder Americans rarely know anything about the world around them … they’re too busy being worked to death and paid shit to travel or think about the world outside! Over here most workplaces have something called “long service leave” in which you get a month or two off for something like 5 year’s work or something silly! This is on top of being entitled to way more paid (and unpaid) annual holiday leave than the average American worker can even dream of PLUS the public holidays. You’d think, given this laid back attitude towards work vs play that Aussies would have a reputation for being lazy sods, right? Well, anecdotally, this isn’t the case. I’ve been told that UK workplaces often prefer hiring Aussies for their good work ethic!

So, I salute the Australian public holiday. I suggest you all raise your beers and salute it too! Take that, US Puritanical “work ethic.” *thumbs nose*

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It’s a funny thing, being in an expat. Often I don’t realise how much I *do* want to connect with other American expats until I hear the telltale signs of the accent in a public place. This happened today.  I heard another woman in the grocery store speaking with what sounded like an American accent. This always comes with an internal conflict that usually ends the same way every time.

I wonder: “Should I ask her (him/whoever it is) where they’re from?” And then I proceed to agonize about it until I conclude that I don’t actually have the guts to just walk up to a stranger in the store and ask. I worry that maybe she doesn’t have an accent, maybe I just thought I heard something I didn’t. Or maybe she’s from Canada and I misheard the accent*. Then I start to wonder whether it’s worth asking at all … I mean, the only thing we have in common is an accent. This can be problematic … often the person I am wondering about may not turn out to be the kind of person I want to be friends with anyway. What if she hits her kids or uses CIO or actually liked Bush or is homophobic or any number of other things I would probably consider deal breakers? Just because we are both American expats in Australia does not mean we would be friends.

Then I figure that she probably don’t want to be bothered. I mean, she can hear my accent, right? If she wanted to know, she would ask. Then, after the moment is gone, I realize that my accent has morphed so much in the years that I’ve been here that even Americans don’t always recognize our common origins**. I kind of like my changing accent (it is pretty unique to me as it is somewhere in between) but, at the same time, it saddens me that I’ve become somewhat invisible to other Americans.

To be honest, the few times I have asked have resulted in stilted conversations in which we both worked out that we don’t, in fact, have anything in common except for a common country of origin. I know all this but yet the conflict continues each time I hear the accent.

*   I’ll let you in on a little secret: Often Americans and Canadians cannot tell the difference between our accents … especially when we’ve been overseas for as long as I have. There are certain keywords (“sorry” is a big one for me) but even they can be iffy at times. So, Australians, stop being so shy about accidentally identifying an American as Canadian. If they’re the type to get offended then they’re no one you want to bother talking to anyway. (I have often been tempted to simply identify as Canadian, tbh. Especially during the reign of Dubya.)

**  When an old friend arrived for his visit last year, he laughed at my accent because it surprised him so much. Well, that and the fact that he’d just gotten off the last leg of a 24 hour trip and was a little giddy with jetlag so anything probably would have made him laugh at that point.

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When moving from an English-speaking, First World country to another English-speaking First World country, culture shock is subtle and often food related. I’ve already blogged about the Australian obsession with beetroot and my reaction to it. Now let’s talk about pickles, donuts and marshmallows. Australian food FAILS.

I love pickles. they are awesome. Crunchy dill pickles. On sandwiches*, on the side along with a sandwich, on burgers, just to snack on in the middle of the day, or even to electrocute for the fun of seeing how they glow**.  The pickle is a wondrous food. I love the flavour, the consistency, everything. The best are the big, homemade pickles swimming in brine in ginormous jars at delis in the US. Mmmmm, pickles! Yeah, not so much here. For some reason known only to the misguided Australian pickle makers, they appear to *cook* their pickles. I’m not kidding. They’re soft, often rubbery,cooked & humiliated cucumbers often swimming in a mixture that is far from the delicious dill pickle brine of my childhood. I have to be careful about which brands I buy (because, as bad as they are, I cannot have a burger without at least something resembling pickle on it) lest I get one that tastes truly foul. They seem to have an abundance of flavour varieties, as well … like, bread and butter pickles, etc. Um, wut? DILL, people! DILL is the only kind of pickle! And they are called “pickles,” in everyday language, not “gherkins,” or whatever. Oh, and only the cucumbers are called pickles … you can’t call relish or other “pickled” items “pickles.” Sigh.

Moving on to donuts … I should preface this with the fact that I’ve never been a big donut connoisseur. I mean, I like donuts and I’ll eat them if they’re around but I’ve never been the type to eat a lot of them on a regular basis or even to think of buying them when there are other choices for a sweet desserty item available. Having said that, compared to American donuts, Australian donuts taste like ass. Ok, maybe not that bad … but they aren’t good either. They’re dry, the wrong texture overall, often missing flavour and a certain … something. I can’t put my finger on it. I’ll eat them occasionally but I prefer to think of them as mediocre cakes as opposed to real donuts. Recently, Krispy Kreme has made it to Australia sparking a phenomenon. Reportedly, there are lines around the block to get these things, people in Perth beg friends from over east***  to bring them Krispy Kreme donuts when they visit. Now, I have never had Krispy Kreme donuts, so I can’t speak from experience but I’ll say one or both of the following things are happening here: 1) Krispy Kreme put crack in their donuts and/or 2) Australians are getting a taste of donuts made the American way and are HOOKED.

Moving on, let’s talk about marshmallows. Marshmallows are, quite possibly, the most non food item human beings have ever invented and willingly eat (aside from McDonalds burgers and Little Debbie cakes, of course). Seriously, who thought of jet puffing sugar and eating it? I don’t know but I think I’d kiss them if I met them. I used to love marshmallows. In my hot chocolate, roasted over the camp fire, roasted and sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate …. Then I moved here. They have no idea what a proper marshmallow are. The ones of my youth were big, fluffy, melt in your mouth kind of things. They had just the right amount of powdered sugar dusted on them to keep them from sticking together and to make them perfectly delicious, they roasted beautifully, they made me happy. The ones I can find here are shriveled, miniature, overly sugared sad little things. Often they’re flavoured, too. Flavoured and coloured marshmallows? YUCK!

I am well aware of the possibility that some of these things taste so good in the US because they are likely pumped full of artificial flavours and additives that I normally would shun. You know what, though? I don’t care. I still lust after a good pickle and a proper marshmallow. A decent donut would be nice every now and again, too.

*    Only occasionally and only certain kinds of sandwiches, of course.

**  The Nerdy older brother of a friend of mine once did this to impress us at a sleepover (we were 13, he was 17). And, boy, was I impressed! It was awesome! Plus, well, I might have already had a bit of a crush on him. What can I say? I have a thing for nerds. 🙂

*** The franchise hasn’t made it here yet.

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