Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is That A Wombat In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

I’m watching Oprah this week because she’s featuring the audience trip to Australia. If there is a country I would pack up and move to in one second flat, no hesitation, it’s Australia.  If you don’t go for the scenery, go for the food, the humor and that Jackman guy. (WooHoo!).

Question: Are there any men on TV shows who are American or are all of them graduates of the Australian Academy Of Seriously Hot Male Actors Who Do Perfect American Accents? I’m just wondering. Not complaining. Oh no. Just wondering…

My work resume, as I’ve mentioned, beyond “Most Awesome Mom Ever”, includes a variety of experience involving things I love; art, design, food, travel, the written word, and studies of body/mind/spirit. In the travel part, I’ve been a tour guide and worked in various posts creating, marketing and facilitating tours and events. Back in 1979, I had a whole busload of charming Aussies on my California/Las Vegas tour for 14 days.

Side note: The Aussie 10 cent coin is virtually the same size and weight of a US quarter, so when your tour group starts chucking them in the slot machines in Vegas, it is time to round up the gang for a “chat.” Second side note: Day 5 of the tour, they announced that their “favorite” American saying was “Holy Shit”. Ah, it’s the little things that are our real souvenirs…

By the time I sent them on their way back home, we’d exchanged addresses and phone numbers and I’d promised to let them know when I’d be Down Under to visit, not knowing I’d be able to keep that promise the very next year. As it turned out, this very same week, 30 years ago, I was winging my way south with a group of tourism representatives from the USA. We traveled to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.  

A cluster of my tour buddies lived in Adelaide and picked me up at my hotel on my work free night. I thought we were going to a restaurant to have a meal with them. Instead, I was brought to the parent’s home of one of the 20-something guys from the tour.

When I entered their backyard, I was greeted by about 30 people and outdoor tables decorated with little US & Australian flags: a true Shrimp on the Barbie meal. Apparently, I was the first American they had ever had at their home, so I felt a little like Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon with cameras at the ready to capture the moment for posterity. No pressure, right?

These folks couldn’t have made me more comfortable and beyond their great sense of humor and hospitality, I was really impressed with the great, simple, fresh food they served; so different from the gooey, starchy, fatty stuff we tend to bring to our own BBQ’s here in the states. We had gorgeous green salads laced with tropical fruits, incredibly fresh seafood and a “mixed grill” of lamb, beef and pork and ended the meal with fresh fruit and cheese for dessert.

The Barbie in Adelaide was an eye opener regarding the portion sizes as well. Some restaurants tend to serve fashionably small portions both here and abroad, but you get the truth about how a country eats when you go into someone’s home and see it firsthand. Australian portions were human sized and not Shrek sized like we expect here stateside.The people there were also human sized, mostly, and the clusters of very overweight people tended to be tourists… from America. When did we start to expect a giant container of food for our meals? Maybe we have to leave America to get a better idea about how completely bizarre our portion sizes are.

I remember the look on the face of an elderly woman from India on one the Arizona tours I guided when the gigantic steak meal was mistakenly set down in front of her at Pinnacle Peak, a western style steakhouse north of Phoenix. The meat was the first issue, being Hindu, but the portion size really took her over the edge. I grabbed the plate and whisked it out to the server to replace it with the vegetarian meal I had pre-ordered her. I guess her gorgeous green traditional sari or the Kumkum Sindoor mark on her forehead weren't a good enough clue as to who, at the table, might have asked for a vegetarian meal. One guy down the family style table had ordered the Cowboy; a 32 ounce porterhouse steak and my Hindu guest silently prayed her way through the meal. I took her outside to see the stars while the rest chowed down inside.

Actually seeing a person struggling to watch someone eat something that they don’t was an eye opening exercise. Watching them eat a portion the size of an entire butt cheek really drove the lesson home: We are a nation of mindless eaters like greedy children grabbing for the last bite and willing to pay for it with more money than most of the world earns in a week. We also pay for it with shorter, unhealthier lives.  

It should be required that every American travel abroad at least once in their lives. We should want to know how the rest of the world eats and we should not see a day when a flight attendant announces to the plane that in case of an emergency, the passenger in seats 37 A & B may be used as a flotation device.

So, Simon, John, Peter & Rosalie, I’ll be watching the rest of Oprah’s adventure as she swings her cameras around your part of the world. Thanks for the wonderful memories, the amazing hospitality, the great conversations and the food I still remember, 30 years later.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy, Oy Oy!

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