Saturday, February 28, 2009

quicko: goin' to the chapel

Most wedding customs I've encountered here are pretty comparable to American ones, but it's the pre-wedding rituals that actually have, at the very least, different names.

For instance, there's the kitchen tea. The first issue with the kitchen tea is, of course, that "tea" does not mean merely a beverage, but the pausing for a brief snack (generally, but not always, with a cup of tea) or even meal. Are we clear on that? It's like they can have morning tea or afternoon tea, which would generally include, say, biscuits (which, naturally, are small cookies) or maybe fruit or a piece of cake or some other nibbly. It's a lovely concept, though, to my mind, distinctly un-liquid-like.

A kitchen tea then is not a kettle in the centre of the house, but rather a gathering of a women who shower the bride-to-be with kitchen wares. Presumably it's not even in the kitchen.

It would seem that there is an occasion when a future bride can get presents other than spatulas and waffle-makers, but I'm not quite sure what that occasion is. Or perhaps kitchen tea is a loose sort of a terminology. It's hard to tell with these Australians.

Finally, there are two more words that I think do translate directly, so long as you learn the bizarre new vocabulary: buck's (or stag's) nights and hen's nights. It was actually in England that I first encountered these terms as I read (yes, I'm the sort who does) the fine print at a hostel I planned to stay at: "no stag's or hen's nights," it said. I thought this was very strange. Concluding it probably didn't refer to real stags or hens (it wasn't that rural a part of England), I got the idea it, being forbidden in hotels, must refer to prostitution. I continued merrily in this train of thought until my friend's friends started engaging in such activities with some regularity.

It turns out bucks or stags are actually grooms-to-be and hens (surely a man coined this term, though why women continue to use it remains grossly unclear to me) are actually brides-to-be. I have nothing against giving people cutesy animal names, but surely there's something better than a chicken for a blushing bride -- a girl meerkat, perhaps, or maybe a lionness? I realize they haven't got quite the same ring, but I happen to prefer them to chickens. And if all else fails, as, really, it so clearly has, why not resort to, I don't know, bachelor and bachelorette parties? Too human I suppose.

And one more note: events are also often called "dos," which is the plural of "do." This is a very strange case of a good, strong, solid, proper verb being stripped of its very verbness and gaudily clad as a upstart little noun without so much the cover of an -ing. It is one of the most extreme examples I have encountered, and still sends grammatical shivers up and down my shaky spine. But in any event, events dos remain. Thus, one can have a leaving do (i.e., a goodbye party) or, say, a hen's do. What precisely the hens do do is still a bit of a mystery, but I'm pretty sure the girls have a pretty good time.

By the time you get to the wedding ceremony, the Australians are so worn out from deviating from the normal wedding procedures that they generally fall into line and issue fairly standard celebrations. I've been to two weddings here and they were both beautiful and, unfortunately, exceptionally normal. Thank goodness.

The only part of the wedding that is actually legitimately different is, like the British ceremonies, the signing of the register. While an American couple I knew got theirs hastily signed in the back of the family store once upon a time (I suppose their entire wedding wasn't the most traditional, come to think of it) and most regular American couples sign it sometime shortly after the ceremony or during the reception, the Australians are so fond of bureaucracy that they drag it front and center in the ceremony. There everyone sits, watching the legal document get signed. We don't even do that with Presidential pardons!

There's of course some sort of quiet, serious music going on in the background to keep the guests awake (precisely how it's supposed to do that is rather beyond me), but the guests are generally wise to these ways and know they've got to keep the blood flowing to stay upright. To this end, as soon as the register signing begins, they madly dash to the front of the church to snap the ready-made photo. It doesn't seem like a particularly flattering one to me as they usually click while the bride is sitting down, but smile she does, and click they do.

And that was "do" back as it belongs as a verb, thank you very much.

Friday, February 27, 2009

quicko: a cuppa

Is a cup of tea, but it's cuppa for short. Isn't that just plain cute and cozy?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

quicko: daggy

To be kind of frumpy, off-style or otherwise un-cool. Usually refers to a person or clothes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

quicko: poppers

I just learned tonight that Australian children never (can you believe this?) ask for juice boxes.

It's not really that they don't like red liquid sugar (who doesn't?), it's just that they call them poppers (according to the girls, for the sound they make when you pop you straw into them or, according to the boys, for the sound they make when you empty them, blow them up and stomp on them). Go figure.

Monday, February 23, 2009

quicko: darlin'

Not all, but some, Australian guys have "darlin' " built into their vocabulary. It just pops out at the end of every phrase when they talk to a female. Sometimes it switches to "sweetheart" or occasionally "love," but something just always escapes. Like a Southern waitress calling all men "honey," it's not really meant as anything ... but it certainly doesn't hurt!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

quicko: national animals

Kangaroo and emu. Kangaroo I understand. Emu I don't. Have you ever met an emu?!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

quicko: witty headlines

Australian headlines -- even in that lowly creature mX -- are terribly witty. They're full of wordplay (there's a section called "worldplay" -- about international sports) -- both puns and poetic devices I've forgotten the proper names for. Here's a sampling:

"Here is the church and here is the spire, open the door and see all the fire"

"Ear this, he's hair apparent" (about a main with exceptional ear hair)

"Chook out my woolly jumper" (about a woman who knits sweaters for chickens; chickens are called "chooks" in Australia)

"Quick-fix dieting a waist of time"

"Art pushed to an insanse degree" (about a woman doing bizarre things to get a degree in art)

"Aye to eye for an eye"

"Hair today"

"Shaven haven"

"Roy keen on green"

"Fare play" (about rail fare rates)

"The Great Spit Spat" (a debate about the Spit -- a geographical area of water with a very important bridge that runs over it)

Friday, February 20, 2009

quicko: same same

The most annoying Australian expression has got to be "same same." As in, "Nope, nothing new at work. Same same." Or, "I'm not too keen on that shirt. It's too same same for me." Or, "I can't be bothered to think up synonyms, I just like same same."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

quicko: i feel my temperature rising ...

It's Celcius here, not Fahrenheit, so suddenly 32 becomes roasting, not freezing. One day when I first arrived I overheard a man say it was 75. I was so excited someone was finally speaking my language!

ps -- Hooray for you if you know (not can google, know!) the musical alluded to in this title ...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

quicko: what's the buzz?

First off, I know the picture's sideways. I'm sorry, I haven't got a clue why. It was a horizontal picture that was taken horizontally, uploaded horiztonally and downloaded vertically. Go figure.

That being said -- the Sydney Morning Herald is the paper in Sydney. People talk about the SMH and it's just generally accepted to rule the journalistic roost.

The Daily Telegraph is the main competition. I've tried to ascertain exactly what the stereotypes are -- because they definitely exist -- but it's a bit difficult for me as an outsider to nail them down accurately.

The Telegraph seems to be read perhaps a bit more by the working class, but also was thought to be more fair and well-rounded in its reporting.

And then waaay at the bottom there's mX, the daily commuter paper. It's not exactly erudite, but it is very fun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

quicko: p-platers

I can't claim to know the specifics of it, but in Australia the road to a driver's license includes stops at both L and P plates (hence, P-platers). L is learner's and P is provisional (not perilous). They don't call anything temps. And you actually see a good number of cars with P-plates -- it's a very obvious P affixed to the side of the license plate. I thought about taking a picture but didn't want to get any P-plater in a snit ...

Monday, February 16, 2009

quicko: ads

The other day I was watching TV and in one -- ONE! -- commercial break saw government infomercial ads for three -- THREE! -- kinds of cancer: prostate (Aussie males, don't be afraid to seem un-macho and not get things checked out), bowel (Aussie everyones, don't be afraid to seem weird and not get things checked out) and skin (put on sun screen or you'll DIE!). Let me just stress, these were not about treatments, medications or the latest fad drug with a mile long list of side effects, these were simply warnings. In advance. So beware!

And if you die of cancer, you can't say the Australian government didn't try to tell you so.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

quicko: eskies

I'm not positive I'm spelling this right, but it's a brand of cooler. Not just a brand, but the brand. And so, in the tradition of Kleenex, Scotch tape, Xerox and Band-Aids, coolers are, in Australia, Eskies. And surf boards? Esky lids.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

quicko: bad ice cream

It's very sad. In such a hot country you'd think it'd be amazing, but it's not. It's really quite sub-par, I'm afraid. And it's not just because I'm graetly (yes, graetly) spoiled, it's just not up to snuff. The Magnum ice cream bars are good, but, gosh, if you're paying $3.50 a bar they sure ought to be!

Friday, February 13, 2009

quicko: ta

Means thanks. It's kind of like what you teach kids to say before they can really talk, but it's used all the way up into the professional world. It's actually quite useful -- it's much faster to write on quick post-it notes, for example.

quicko: poms

i.e., the English. As in, "The Poms are really taking over Bondi these days." Not exactly derrogatory, but not exactly a compliment. It's definitely better than what they'd call Americans: seppos. It's rhyming slang for "septic tank -- Yank." And they say Australians are friendly!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

quicko: dragon fruit

I was walking casually through the grocery store the other day (how else does one walk through a grocery store? formally?) when what should I meet but the coolest, pinkest fruit I had ever seen -- and not just one! A whole basket of them!! Of course I immediately stopped to take a picture.

Imagine then my surprise when two days later what appears on my desk at work, but another specimen of the exact same fuschia fruit! My friend Steve had very generously bought me one and (having seen my ineptitude with mangoes) took it upon himself to teach me how to eat it.

First he cut it in half, and then he gave me a spoon. It was lovely! It's a surprisingly mellow speckled flesh considering its outside flair. It tastes possibly in the neighborhood of a canned pear, but with a texture a bit softer but comparable to a kiwi.

And, finally, what, prey tell is this amazing entity? It is -- what else? -- a dragon fruit!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

quicko: the states

The Australian states and capitals aren't quite fifty nifty, but they are pretty impressive:

Sydney, New South Wales
Melbourne, Victoria
Brisbane, Queensland
Adelaide, South Australia
Perth, Western Australia
Hobart, Tasmania
Darwin, Northern Territories

with Canberra as the capital of Australia in the ACT -- Australian Capital Territory.

Monday, February 9, 2009

quicko: birthday boys

Along with blowing out the birthday candles, Australians have another tradition: the birthday girl cuts the cake. The catch? If the knife comes out clean, all's well. If it's dirty, she has to kiss the nearest boy.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

quicko: to stuff something up

i.e., To mess something up, as in posting February 8th's blog after February 10th's ...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

quicko: the fires

So the fires you might have noticed in the news are in Victoria -- the state that borders New South Wales (where Sydney is) to the south. They are quite bad, but thankfully I am quite safe.

quicko: good value

Being "good value" in Australia refers not so much to something being $10 when it could have been $20*, but to someone being what we referred to at Calvin as a "quality" person. It's a compliment -- the person is assuredly fun, amusing and clever -- but sometimes a bit of a backhanded one, as it patently does not refer to beauty.

*it can also have this meaning

Thursday, February 5, 2009

quicko: the wattle

Is the national floral emblem. I haven't got a clue what they look like, but I hear they're green and gold.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

quicko: post offices and banks

Good luck if you want to buy a stamp in Australia. Good luck if you want to do any banking in person. Really good luck if you want to do both.

Banks and post offices keep amazingly short hours -- all during a standard 9 to 4 workday. Guess lunch's your best bet, if you can make it through the lines.

(Sorry, I sound bitter. It's just that it was my friend's birthday on the 1st and I have yet to mail her card.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

quicko: names

I've always been slightly obsessed with names. I like inventing them, finding new ways to spell them and giving them to inanimate objects. (Elmer the lamp springs to mind.)

Granted, my pool of Australian names is probably a bit skewed, but here are some that I've noticed as being a bit more common than they are in the US:



*Or perhaps these were really more British??

Monday, February 2, 2009

quicko: no groundhogs or superbowl

In an interesting twist of fate, Groundhog Day and Superbowl Sunday fell on the same day in Australia. Or at least the Superbowl took place on what was February 2 in Australia. Very few noted the coincidence, though, as very few took any note of either.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

quicko: stars

Just in case you didn't know, let me clear this up: there are different constellations in the Northern hemisphere than in the Southern. And, it seems, there are tons more of them in the Southern. Even living in Sydney with an abundance of light pollution, I see way more stars on an average night than a particulary starry night back home. It's a bit like someone shook a lot of salt around and the splashed it over the sky and it suddenly shimmered and sparkled and shone. (Mindless trivia: the previous sentence included the names of two of my former pets -- Shimmer the hamster and Sparkle the rabbit.)

The Southern Cross is of course the famous constellation, and I did get a friend to show it to me once, but I'm afraid I'd be hard pressed to point it out even if you did come to visit. Instead, I've gotten quite handy with the three-star thingy that looks like Orion's belt but isn't. I'm not quite sure what they call it, but I'm sure it's something catchier than Not-Quite-Orion's-Belt.