Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Everyone's new best friend

Drunk Aussies take the "best" photos, and I mean that on both sides of the camera.

Generally when I'm abroad, I try not to draw attention to myself or specifically advertise that I'm an American -- I try to use the local slang and sometimes (to the huge chagrin of Claire) I even try putting on the local accent. Not that I have a problem with being an American (I certainly have never done the "pretend you're Canadian" schtick), but I don't like being treated like an "outsider."

Yesterday was an exception. While "being American" was key to my plan to get students at the UWA to speak to me, I hadn't intended to keep the advertising up into the evening. Circumstances dictated otherwise.

For example, I was waiting at a bus stop and the fellow there asked why I was taking pictures of the passing buses. I told him I was from out of town and was getting souvenirs. He asked if I was American, I affirmed and then asked how to get to Northbridge (a fashionable district of Perth). He said, "Mate, you get on any one of those buses you've been taking pictures of." How was I to know you actually have to hail the bus? Oh yeah, there's a sign (right).

The fellow bus-stop patron was named Brad and was catching a bus to the local rail station to get his trip south. He had the smell of beer on his breath and a six-pack of Carlton Draught in his bag. After giving some vague directions, he suggested I go to Mustang, because "It's an American Bar." I told him if I wanted to go to an American bar, I'd have stayed in America. He laughed. (He also asked if San Francisco was "full of poofts." "Yes it is," I said proudly.)

We finally got a bus (it's easy if you actually hail it) and I got to the Northbridge area, a modest three-block by two-block stretch of restaurants and night clubs on the edge of Perth's Chinatown. After taking a survey walk of the area, I slowed down outside a local steakhouse where the (Italian, Greek or Lebanese) owner was standing outside, reminding me quite a bit of Stanley Tucci in "Big Night." He invited me in, showed me to a table near the front window and I ordered the rib-eye, apparently an Aussie specialty. After indulging in a fine meal, I went to the counter to pay.

I spoke with the man at the counter, who asked if I was American (no fake accent tonight!). I affirmed again and soon had all three members of the wait staff -- one proudly showing me a copy of the night's extra edition of the West Australian (left) -- telling me how impressed they were at the results of the election.

As I left the restaurant, I looked across the street and there it was: Mustang, the "American" bar Brad had told me about. It was close and looked hopping, so I dropped my head in. Well, it was American in that it was crowded, played rock and roll had TVs with sports on all around. But when your TVs have Aussie rules football and soccer on, it kind of ruins the American effect.

I had wondered if there were any other actual Americans in the bar, when I saw a couple Obama Girls near the bar. If I wasn't hiding my nationality, these very drunk young women were absolutely flaunting it.

The other Americans in Perth weren't difficult to find.

I asked for a picture, they asked if I was American and when I replied yes I was given an unsolicited hug by the drunker of the two (and that was saying something) and a high-five by the other. They tried to tell me from whence they came, but their speech was too slurred and the bar was too loud for me to understand. Some of the Aussies wanted a picture of the Yanks in their midst, to which we obliged. I could've probably gotten a free drink out of the deal, save for the fact that I don't drink and wanted to head home because I was tired.

I had one final encounter on the Murray Street Mall, where a tiny (literally about 5-foot-0) man was selling the newspaper extra. I asked for a copy to make a souvenir and was -- for the umpteenth time in the evening -- asked if I was American. He congratulated me on having a new president (I had to explain that GW Bush is still president until Jan. 20) and engaged me in conversation. He immigrated from Italy 44 years ago (although he still sounds fresh off the boat) and was impressed that there were a lot of Italians in San Francisco.

Getting back to my hotel, I had intended to blog and surf the net, but collapsed after a busy day. The flip side of that was that I awoke at 6:30 a.m. today. (Below, the Perth skyline at night.)


Rob said...

I can't help wonder what would have become of you if McPalin had been elected.

The "hail bus" sign was funny!

JOHN C. BAKER said...

No doubt I'd have put on one of those fake accents Claire loves so much. "G'Day mate, shame 'bout those elections in the States, eh?"

Jennie said...

Caption for first photo: JOHN (through gritted teeth): Save me. Please.