How Are You Going, Australia Day?

Posted on January 30, 2012


How are you going? That’s Australian for ‘How are you doing?’ If you didn’t know how to answer that question before my explanation, then you share something in common with my wife who responded, “I don’t know how to answer that,” the first time she was greeted by her now best friend.

How could I have forgotten to celebrate Australia Day last Thursday?

After all, many of my best friends in Shanghai are Aussies, although how good a friend they consider me is up for debate since none of them invited me to their Australia Day parties to share a VB, even though I invited them to share our Thanksgiving.

Maybe I wasn’t invited because of my obnoxious tendency when meeting an Australian to bet I can guess his hometown within six guesses (80% of the population lives in only six cities on the coast, leaving the vast majority of the country unoccupied).

If guessing his hometown fails to get the party going, I try and guess his nickname, and my chances are pretty good since it seems every Australian has had at least a dozen nicknames, and one of these names is bound to be Gaz, Baz, Gazzer, Bazzer, or the Bandit. Ask an Australian to list all the nicknames he’s ever had in his life and be sure to make yourself comfortable. We once spent a Christmas Day in Australia with a friend’s father whose two best friends were named Smokey and the Bandit, and they both earned those nicknames long before they met–and they’re still not friends.

And for all the interest I’ve shown in their nicknames, they’ve still never given me an honorary Australian nickname.

My favorite thing about living in Shanghai is the international diversity and how in a given month we probably interact with friends, neighbors, and colleagues from two or three dozen countries. My second favorite thing about Shanghai is that you never have to tip at restaurants because tipping hasn’t been invented here yet. No tipping ever. I love it.

But back to the first favorite thing, a few years ago my wife and I made a list of all our foreigner friends and decided to rank them according to whom we didn’t mind dropping in on us without calling first (this followed other rankings of whom we would most likely be willing to lend money and who would be most helpful in covering up a crime), and when we reviewed our dropping-by-without-calling-first rankings we were surprised when we realized the first six rankings were all Australians.

And the more we thought about it, the more we realized how much Australians and Americans have in common. We’re patriotic, friendly, easy-going, wear similar clothing, eat similar foods, and spend more time playing and watching sports than any other two countries–and somehow the two biggest sport-loving countries are also the two fattest.

I’ve almost finished reading Manning Clark’s history of Australia, and I’m fascinated by how many parts of Australian history mirror American events. Like Americans, Australians were British subjects (kind of still are), almost exterminated the indigenous people, had pioneers, homesteaders, cowboys, and a gold rush. If you add the world’s most poisonous spiders and snakes to America’s frontier history, it’s basically the same highlights. Australia could be an alternative, science fiction version of  America, similar to the hundreds of Doctor Who episodes when the Doctor returns to Britain in 2012 and the British are driving on the right side of the road and Pete Best was never replaced by Ringo Starr because the Doctor left the oven on back in 1945.

Part 2: More incredible book-report worthy insights on Australia.

Posted in: Travel