Tourists don’t ride the bus. Well, I do, but I’m not like other tourists.
So it was wonderful to me when a few people, a husband and wife, I think, and their son asked me for directions. And there was no mistaking that accent. They were Australians. Or from New Zealand. I’ve heard those are actually two different countries. The important thing is they were from two hemispheres away.
“Could you tell us which bus we need to get to the Parthenon?” the woman asked.
I nearly fell over my own tongue starting to answer. The Parthenon is the centerpiece of Centennial Park which, for years, was the site of the largest Australia celebration outside of Australia. This was a fun annual event in September attended by the likes of the Australian ambassador to the U.S. and Colin Hay. I loved being around bona fide Aussies, hearing them drop terms like “g’day” and “dinky-di” so casually I could almost believe those were real words. There would be a tent where they sold food and beer, except they called it “tucker” and “ice cold tubes of the amber fluid”.
It was also the only place I could find Vegemite. I’m not kidding. I love the stuff, but that’s another story.
The festival ended several years ago when the original organizers moved away, and I wasn’t sure whether this family was even aware of it since this was early June. We were near downtown, but fortunately standing on West End, a large road that leads directly to Centennial Park. I told them all they had to do was catch the next bus. I could just as easily have said, “Follow me,” since I was going the same way, but I was struck by a sudden and overwhelming shyness. There were so many things I wanted to ask. What brings you here? Are you having a nice time? Can I help in any way? What part of Australia are you from? Where in Australia is Wellington? Do you have any Vegemite? Don’t you love that song about the bunyip of Hooligan’s Creek? Instead I just smiled politely.
“Is the Parthenon easy to find?” the woman asked.
“Oh, yes, very easy. There are two or three stops along the front of Centennial Park, and you’ll see the Parthenon as you go by.”
I gulped and hoped that made sense. When the bus arrived we boarded. I made my way to the back while they sat close to the front, watching out the windows and checking a map. I desperately wanted to call in to work and say a couple of dingoes had got me and I’d be waltzing Matilda on walkabout, and maybe throw in a “crikey”. Instead as I disembarked I merely smiled and said to them, “I hope you enjoy the Parthenon. It’s just a few blocks away from here.”
OK Christopher– I couldn’t really think of anything to add to this post until I saw the last photo and the caption “Australian for sex in a canoe”. What does it mean? What does the beer truck mean? I really and seriously do not know. I lead a sheltered life.
When we were at my cousin’s beachhouse in Florida last year, we found out that her Father-in-Law, who lives just a few houses down, has a catamaran that he leaves on the beach. Often, apparently quite often, he finds used condoms and underwear and whatnot on the catamaran. “Sex in a Catamaran” must be more comfortable than “Sex on the Beach”. Who knew?
So you’ve never heard the joke, “Why is American beer like sex in a canoe? Because it’s fucking close to water.”
There should be a drink called Sex In A Catamaran. From what I’ve heard sex on the beach is pretty uncomfortable, but more importantly the one time I was in a bar with someone who ordered a Sex On The Beach she turned her nose up at it. She said it was salty. The bartender must have taken the concept a little too literally and made it with salt water.
No, I had never heard that joke! Maybe people don’t tell me beer jokes because I don’t drink beer.
Regarding the salty-flavored “Sex on the Beach”, my first thought wasn’t saltwater but the uh, male by-product of sex, which made it taste salty. Gross I know. But it’s what I thought of. This speaks volumes about me, I am aware of this.
Oh, I wish there was a paragon of helpfulness and friendliness in all the tourist hotspots!
If I could I’d be one of those paragons full time.
I have an annoying habit of appearing approachable despite my general dislike for human interaction. As a result I get asked for directions frequently when I am traveling. I’ve been mistaken for a resident in a total of four countries that weren’t mine. Once or twice I was lucky enough to have just passed the place in question, so I got to feel like a smartypants by telling the askers exactly how to get there, but more often than not I have to answer with a shrug and a “Sorry, I don’t live here.” They always seem surprised. They say I look like the kind of person who knows where she’s going. I say looks can be deceiving.
Maybe if I start asking everyone if they have Vegemite, they’ll leave me alone.
Vegemite does seem to turn off a lot of people. Australians are often surprised to learn that I, a native Yank, like it.
You must move with great purposefulness and that’s what throws people off. You must also not dress like a tourist. Not that there’s a distinctive way that tourists dress, but when I’ve traveled with groups it seems like some people stand out while I just blend in.
Have you ever heard the Billy Connolly sketch about Vegemite in a hotel room?
Effin hilarious! Couldn’t find it, so here’s another one that made me howl with laughter
I’ve never had vegemite, but I’m given to understand that it’s pretty much the same as Marmite that we have over here. Which is delicious.
Billy Connolly’s genius is unparalleled. Brilliant stuff. I’ve just ordered one of his CD’s, because I’m old fashioned like that–too old fashioned to even describe myself as “old school”, an expression that’s been around at least twenty years now–and I hope his Vegemite story is on it. Probably not. I’ll just have to buy up the rest then.
The few times my sister traveled solo in our younger days, people would assist her without her even asking. Her confusion must’ve been obvious and people simply offered a hand. I on the other hand must appear totally unapproachable, probably that RBF (Resting Bitch Face) I have going for me. Or maybe I look like I know what I’m doing, even though I’m most likely a panicked mess on the inside. I DO like knowing there are nice people like you, Christopher, who genuinely are happy to help if possible. That’s a nice feeling.
I think I’d always be happy to help, but I also know what it’s like to be alone in a strange country–or even just a strange city. But I’m also shy about offering to help. Part of that is I don’t want to be intrusive even when I see people struggling with a map or looking hopelessly lost. The other part of it is it’ll be just my luck that they’ll be looking for a place I’ve never even heard of.