March 11, 2011
Some stories are more interesting, or at least funnier, when you don’t have all the facts. When I heard that Australia’s drug council (known locally as the GAFA Wombat Yobbos) was asking schools not to sell their own brands of alcohol I was pretty surprised to hear that not only were Australian schools selling alcohol but schools even had their own brands of alcohol. When I looked into it, though, what I found was that, while a few schools do have a particular brand of alcohol, the real issue is schools selling alcohol to adults at fundraisers, and even having wine tastings as school fundraisers. School administrators are emphatic that alcohol is never given to kids, and that the presence of alcohol at school events is treated with a combination of caution and common sense. And having alcohol at fundraisers seems like a pretty good idea. My school had flea markets and bake sales. If we’d had wine tastings we might have been able to afford textbooks that didn’t have chapter headings like "Will We Reach The Moon?" And kids aren’t getting alcohol at these events anymore than they’d get alcohol in a restaurant where adults were knocking back a glass of cabernet or a martini or two. And I do kind of like the idea of a school brand of alcohol, since alcohol tends to put me in a reminiscing mood, and having a bottle of whiskey with my alma mater’s name on it could help stir up some memories. On the other hand mixing up alcohol and memories of high school might not always be such a good idea. But consider the potential for an organization like, say, the Girl Scouts. They do pretty well selling cookies-I especially like the chocolate-mint ones–so imagine the fundraising potential if they added, say, a chocolate-mint liqueur to their menu.
Speaking of chocolate, mint and alcohol reminds me of a joke. A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says, "We have a drink named after you." The grasshopper says, "You have a drink named Murray?" Okay, I admit it, everything reminds me of that joke. Anyway, I can just imagine kids-with adult supervision, of course-with a card table out in front of a grocery store stopping people and saying, "Would you like to buy some beer to help our school?" It beats kids hanging out in front of liquor stores asking adults to buy them a bottle of Old Harper, which does nothing for their education, and what would they reminisce about, anyway? Kindergarten? Except that Australian kids wouldn’t say, "Would you like to buy some beer?" They’d say, "G’day, mate, how’s about a few tubes of the amber fluid?" And that gets me to what I really want to talk about: the myth that Australians speak English. Winston Churchill said that the the people of the United States and Britain are divided by a common language. Australians, on the other hand, gobsmack us in the Northern Hemisphere with their language. It’s a lot of things but I’m not sure it’s English. Australians take a perfectly good word like "pond" and replace it with "billabong", which, admittedly, must make them demons at Scrabble. We say food", they say "tucker", we say "underwear", they say "grundies", we say "original", they say "ridgie-didge". It’s like Australia is a whole other country. I once met an Aussie folk singer. I bought his CD-which I think they call a "silver spinny"-which was a collection of all twelve of Australia’s national anthems. One thing that always makes Australians winning a gold medal at the Olympics exciting is you never know whether they’re going to mount the podium to Slim Dusty’s "G’Day G’Day" or Men At Work’s "Land Down Under", but that’s another story. When I bought the CD the smallest bill I had was a twenty-which I think Australians call a "doovalacky". The singer wasn’t sure he could make change for that, but instead of saying, "I don’t think I can make change" he said, "Crikey, mate, I think all my bikkies have gone walkabout." I would have asked if he knew any English, but I was too distracted by the corks hanging from his hat. Finally he found some change under his hat, which I think Australians call a "hat". That’s the thing about Aussie lingo: it’s still interesting even if you understand it.