Melbourne for Americans

From aussiecon two progress report #2. Transcribed by Doug Burbidge.

Melbourne for Americans

by Mark Linneman

Outside of North America, Australia is the easiest country in which an American can feel at home. McDonald’s and Pizza Huts dot major streets, and the themes to Eyewitness News and Hill Street Blues are heard on television. After the first flush of gaping at the sights and noticing every difference from the US, it is far too easy for an American it [sic] ignore the very real distinctions in culture, language, and laws.

As an expatriate American who has lived in Melbourne for three years, I have made many mistakes through lack of local knowledge, and because of unfounded assumptions. The language, a mix of British English and local inventions, also creates difficulties. When accused of “flogging my biro”, an American is unlikely to know how to react.

American Aussiecon visitors might as well learn (less painfully) from my errors. It should be emphasised that this is a very personal guide. The opinions expressed are my own. Omissions and errors are entirely my responsibility, unless a likely person to blame is available.

BYO. Bring Your Own. Many restaurants have a license which allows diners to bring their own drinks. This substantially reduces the cost of a meal. There are fully licensed restaurants as well. BYOs are largely restricted to Victoria. The 1200 in Melbourne range from corner pizza shops to elegant French restaurants. Almost all Australian parties are BYO, in that you bring your own drinks.

Beer. Australian beer is tasty, strong, and served ice cold. It is relatively expensive, but it also contains up to twice as much alcohol as US beers. Drivers, or even people trying to find their room in a convention hotel, have often demonstrated the problems caused by downing the same number of beers as they always have in the US.

Buckley’s chance. A prime example of Melbourne slang. There are several explanations for this term. My favourite is that it is based on the large department store in Melbourne that used to be called Buckley and Nunn’s. Buckley’s chance is thus next to none.

Bunyip. A monster of Aboriginal legend, this “half-horse, half-alligator” haunts waterholes. The term is sometimes used to describe a fraud or imposter. The move to make the bunyip the Convention symbol, thankfully, failed.

Bush. The country is the bush, especially if remote. Australia has bush-, not forest-fires.

Chunder. Vomiting—a “technicolour yawn”.

Crashing. Australians usually more generous than Americans about having visitors stay with them. Even outside of fandom you might be invited to stay with some new friends. These people are likely to turn up at your front door in the US next year and expect the same courtesy.

City. Only the central business district is the city. Half a mile away is an indistinguishable suburb with a different postal address. The Southern Cross and the Victoria are both in the city and have the postal address, Melbourne 3000.

Drugs. Don’t even think about bringing in any through Customs.

First Floor. The floor above the Ground Floor. The system goes: Ground Floor, First Floor, Second Floor, etc.

Grog. Any alcoholic beverage.

Hotel. A hotel might not actually rent rooms. Officially, under the licensing laws, rooms must be available in a hotel before it can sell beer. Closing time is 10 p.m., although there are some late licenses.

Liquor. All the usual brands are available, but taxes make them expensive. Australia allows you to bring in a litre with you—get some duty-free in the US before you leave.

Mate. Someone you’ve known since third grade—or someone you met ten minutes ago in the hotel bar. The term can be used sarcastically. It depends on the context. Often rendered, especially in films starring Bryan Brown, as “me mates”.Except in Tarzan movies, mate is restricted to males.

Ocker. The legendary Australian stereotype of an aggressively unsophisticated boorish male. The type is most common in British comedy sketches about Australians.

Oz. Australia.

Politics. A subject to be avoided. Whatever your own politics, you can’t win.

Pom. A generally non-affectionate term for a native of England. It can be used as an adjective, as in “pommy bastard”.

Public Transport. Melbourne has a gloriously obsolete system of trains, buses and trams. It has been called the “model transport system of 1925”. The system does work well, and is more than the equal of the networks in most American cities. A warning—train schedules are to be regarded as a general statement of intent rather than anything to be taken seriously. One train is in the Guinness Book of Records for being late 97 per cent of the time over a six-month period.

Ratbag. It originally meant just an eccentric or a crazy, but the term is now derogatory in a more general sense. It can be used affectionately. While ratbag is not as strong a term, feel free to call someone this if you could call them a mother.

Shouting. A very formal informal method of buying rounds of drinks, thankfully dying out. Australia is not the place to leave just as it is your turn to buy. In pubs, and especially in non-fannish gatherings, be careful about this for the sake of your health.

Tattslotto. The local lottery. Tatts has twice-weekly drawings, and the first prize can be over one million dollars.

Tipping. Not required, except in the very fanciest of restaurants. You might tip for very good service, but it is not mandatory. Don’t even tip cabbies.

Traffic. Remember to look in the opposite direction to usual when stepping off a curb. While you know vehicles in Australia drive on the left side of the road, habits encouraged since you were three are almost impossible to break. Australians nearly get killed in the US for the same reason. Victorian drivers have a tendency to speed and go through just-changed red lights.

Tram. An electric streetcar on rails powered through overhead wires. They are a very efficient method of getting round Melbourne—especially if you start or finish a journey in the city.

Wine. Australian wine is roughly equivalent in quality to Californian wine. Because of the low taxes, it tends to be less expensive. Cask wine—in cardboard boxes with plastic taps—can be quite drinkable, if not at all exciting, for about $1.50 per litre. Check with a local before buying a cask—some brands are dreadful. Fannish parties always have free-flowing cask wine. There tend to be a few really nice bottles as well. If interested, ask for some advice about wine and you’ll probably find out much more than you really care to know.

Wowser. A prude or killjoy. There are very few wowsers in Australia, and almost none in Australian fandom. The antonym for wowser is Perth fandom.

Yank. Any American—including those from South Carolina.

If someone accuses you of “flogging my biro”, he or she is claiming that you took a disposable pen (biro). Flogging can means either stealing or selling—again it depends on the context.

(Thanks to many, and especially Jean Weber, for their suggestions.)

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