This weekend is Australia Day, a holiday extremely popular in Australia and nowhere else for perfectly understandable reasons. But while Aussies gather eagerly to see which of their number will be chosen as Australian of the Year, and thus represent them in the Hunger Games, the rest of us simply think of it as Sunday.
Except at Man Cave. Here, two of our writers have insider knowledge on the relative merits of America and Australia: Alli Reed, an American, just spent two years in Sydney; Aaron Dennis-Jackson, an Australian, is gearing up to join his wife and son in Texas. We gave them five categories and had them figure out, once and for all, which country is better.
Aaron: One word: Helmets. America, racing car drivers wear helmets. They drive really fast and sometimes crash into walls made of cement. Wearing helmets for a sport that’s played on a field is… man, it’s just really sad. And I know there’s horrible injuries and stuff, but seriously, watch a rugby game and see what a head injury can be in a scrum. It’s two packs of blokes, over a metric ton of flesh on each side, ramming into each other as hard as they can. It’s awesome. But my personal favourite sport is rugby’s faster, looser, working-class cousin: Rugby League. And man, that’s where the violence in Australian sport truly lies. Check it!
Although there is one Aussie sport that, if it wasn’t for Big Bad Barry Hall just punching people for no reason whatsoever, would be the one we hide in the closet when guests come over. It’s called Australian Rules, and that’s all you want to know. America does score big points, however, for ice hockey. Fair dinkum, if we had ice in this country, it would be our national sport because it has everything we love: Skill, speed, and tons of violence.
The other area where Australian sports differ is the money. Now, our best players can make a living playing, but the vast majority make bugger-all; they play it because they love it. There’s no holding out for more money, no player strikes, none of that crap, and it shows on the field. They don’t fight for spectacle, they fight because they’re so incredibly passionate about the sport they’ve loved since they were knee-high to a grasshopper. It’s something to behold, America. If you get a chance to watch Australian sport, take it.
Oh, except for cricket. I’ve tried explaining cricket to Americans, and it’s impossible. Not because you lot don’t understand, it’s because halfway through explaining why the silly-mid-off took the bouncer of the glove of the striker in the last over you realize that holy crap, if you hadn’t grown up watching it you would never understand it yourself.
Alli: As I mentioned in a recent screed where I laid down some of the weirder sides of culture shock, suddenly caring about sports was one of the most surprising new aspects of my personality when I moved to Australia. While I’d been a big baseball fan growing up, I hadn’t followed it in years, but when the Giants won the World Series, I taped this photo to my office window. It was the only photo I ever put up, in a year and a half at that job. No family portraits, no college dorm snapshots, not even a vacation selfie; the only personal touches in my cubicle were Buster Posey and a Dethling statue. The World of Warcraft memorabilia speaks to my personality pretty well; a sports photo does not.
Since I missed baseball so much all of a sudden, I went with an Aussie friend of mine to a local baseball game – Sydney vs. Adelaide, I think. And listen: it was adorable. They were trying so hard! And they were having such a great time, you guys. I really get what moms mean when they say everyone wins as long as they all have fun.
So you know what? I’m giving this one to Australia. Clearly – clearly – American sports are more professional, more polished, with higher production values. But Australian sports feel real. It feels like some Aussie blokes decided “Hey, what if I did this sport for a while?” and they did, and we paid to watch them play it, and they just tried their very best at it. It’s Game of Thrones vs. your nine-year-old cousin’s puppet show about dragons. Yes, of course Game of Thrones is technically better, but what kind of heartless bastard can watch that kid do his very best dragon roar and not give him the win?
Aaron: As I’m sure Alli will point out, we lose by default. We did enjoy some international success (read: were kinda noticed by Yanks), but after that we moved into prestige pictures. The problem is, for some strange reason ‘prestige’ in Australia means ‘about junkies’. Seriously, we have more movies about heroin addicts then we have actual heroin addicts, and they are just… ‘depressing’ doesn’t even cover it. It’s like the average movie pitch in Oz goes “Okay, so there’s these two junkies right, and they’re in love, but then one of them gets AIDS and gives it to the other one. Then, one of ’em tries to get clean while enabling the other one because he’s dying, but of course she fails, and so they prostitute themselves to get enough heroin so they can overdose in each other’s arms! I’m thinking we market it as a comedy!” So yeah, this one is all yours, America.
Alli: I’m not going to waste your time here, readers: America wins. I mean, seriously. Australia has made, what, five great movies? And they are great movies. But there’s five of them. Even though we also make worse movies, we just make all the movies. It’s like when I said I was moving to LA to try to be a comedy TV writer; everyone was like, “You can write comedy TV in Australia! What about Wilfred?” Yep. That’s the one comedy show Australia made. You found Waldo. And now it’s an American show, starring Elijah Wood, being made in Los Angeles.
I realize this is the exact opposite of the point I made about sports, but come on. Movies are real. They’re important. I’m not going to just give away the win like that.
Aaron: Now, as I’m friends with a man for whom home brewing is like a really, really awesome religion, I’ve noticed that even American beer-snobs can’t help but take swipes every chance they get at the more popular beers: Bud, Coors, etc. I won’t be doing that, because really, the only difference between Australia’s popular beers and American ones is our obsession with cold, as evidenced in this photo I took of a beer tap that shows in real-time the temperature of the beer:
And as Alli may have noticed on her travels, the super-cold beer serves two purposes: One, Australians just love cold, cold beer. The other reason is, the colder the beer, the more the flavour is hidden, so if the beer isn’t that good, it’s sufficiently drinkable so long as you finish it before it warms up too much and the flavour is there in full. And that’s why I couldn’t really drink American beer, because it just wasn’t cold enough on-tap.
But on the plus side, I was introduced to something very interesting, thanks to a Tex-Mex bar: The ‘Pickleback,’ which is a shot of Jameson’s, quickly followed up with a shot of pickle juice. Now, I nearly vomited just reading the description, but after I was given a chance to try it for free, I reluctantly tried it, and… I was blown away. Not only did it not make me puke, I actually ‘got’ it: The pickle juice really contrasts beautifully with the whiskey! Granted, if I was stone-cold sober, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it near as much, but when you’re drunk enough to feel adventurous, it actually works out really well. Would I drink it here in Oz? No, but even so I’m incredibly grateful to your country for introducing me to it.
Alli: Australia was not what I was expecting, alcohol-wise. I had an image of manly, sunburnt men drinking lager out of the bottle as they watched the…kangaroos doing something, probably? Running from the spiders? I had this vision that this was a country where the only drinks were beer and rum, and there was only one kind of each, and you goddamn liked it that way.
But oh my GOD do they drink a lot of cider. And not just the regular kinds of cider; it’s strawberry-guava-key-lime cider. Seasonal pumpkin-pear-cinnamon-vanilla cider. Cider that’s more hyphens than alcohol content. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get drunk off of cider, but it is a feat. It’s so sugary that the insulin headache starts immediately, so you feel like you have a hangover before you’re even tipsy. It’s the worst thing to happen to alcohol since pink wine (which they ALSO drink a ton of).
Australia: I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Call me when you figure out how to make a decent porter.
Aaron: Okay Alli, riddle me this: Why the frickin’ hell do they give you scones with fried chicken? I understand they’re called ‘biscuits’ in America, but what on Earth am I supposed to do with it? Do I pull some of the chicken off the bone and sandwich it in-between the scones? But, on the plus side, I do lovehow things we consider to be dessert dishes are served for breakfast there; the fact that I can get a stack of pancakes with syrup, or waffles with bacon, as my very first meal of the day is incredibly awesome. And, having spent all my time in San Antonio, I have learned that anything that isn’t soft-shell tacos with egg, bacon, cheese and potato filling isn’t a proper breakfast. Or lunch. Or snack. It’s not dinner, however, because slow-cooked brisket, wings, burritos, and the entire menu of my new favourite fast-food joint in the whole wide world, Sonic, is dinner.
Australia is renowned for its seafood and light, Asian-fusion dishes and restaurants specializing in same, but I’ll take American meat stuffed in meat with cheese-covered meat wrapped in bacon with an entire battered, deep-fried chicken slammed inside any day of the week. You definitely win this round, ‘Merica!
Alli: I always dreaded getting the “what do you miss most about America?” question, because it meant I either had to lie or out myself as an amateur sociopath. I knew I was supposed to say “family and friends” to that question. I knew how to make those words with my mouth, and I knew how to shape my face so that people believed I meant those words, or at least that I was aware I was saying them. But sometimes, if I answered before I got the chance to censor myself, my honest reply would slip out and I’d publicly admit that the element of the first 24 years of my life that I missed most were burritos. Sometimes it was Ethiopian food, but mostly it was burritos.
That said: Australia wins this category for me. I’m sure the best American restaurant is better than the best Australian restaurant, but let’s be honest with ourselves: none of us are eating at the best restaurant in the country, because they make you wear high heels and suit jackets and even if they have root beer and ice cream on the menu, they won’t make you a root beer float. So if we’re just looking at the average restaurant in the middle of a big city, I think Australia has a higher standard. It’s fresher, healthier, and has a range of flavors that aren’t just variations in the key of lard. Sure, they haven’t figured out Mexican food yet, but boy howdy do they know how to do sushi. Plus, they have whole cafes devoted to chocolate. They have competing chocolate café chains. Point Australia.
Aaron: Bugger me, I’m really in front of an away-game crowd on this one, aren’t I? However, disclaimers are for the weak, which is why I’m including this one: I’ve only ever spent time in Texas, and if the amount of folk who told me, whenever I mentioned how I was enjoying America, “This ain’t America, son! This is Texas!” are to be believed, there may be a substantial difference between them and the rest of the country… and humanity.
I guess my main takeaway from it was that Americans tend to be a very literal people, especially those that are a) religious, b) over forty, or c) both, so even a mildly absurdist sense of humour does nothing but make them think you are at least a serial killer. A bull$#!+ remark said in jest (which is about as common as breathing in Oz) is only ever taken at face value:
American: So do dingoes eat a lot of babies?
Me: Only the ones that lose in the Thunderdome.
The American will gaze into the middle distance, and you can see his mental gears clicking, clicking, clicking… Well, there wasn’t a laugh-track… and he has a straight face and hasn’t done a pratfall, so that must mean he isn’t joking and that there really is a Thunderdome, and that the babies that lose are fed to dingoes. This must mean that the Mad Max films were in fact documentaries.
Alli: I’ve heard this isn’t actually true, but the old saying goes that there are 100 Eskimo words for “snow”, because snow is such a big part of their lives that they need their language to allow for finer distinction between the different types. I think things like that can say a lot about a culture and what’s important to it. If you need way more words for something than any other society, if you use a concept so frequently that you need the sorts of minute distinctions within the concept that no other society is even aware of, then that thing is clearly pretty central to the way you interact with life.
For Australia, that phrase that has a million variations is “don’t worry about it.” No worries; she’ll be right; too easy; no dramas – the list keeps going. For America, that phrase is “go f**k yourself.”
I prefer the Australian one.
It’s a tie. In the spirit of Australian “sports,” everyone wins as long as they had fun.
Alli is destroying the fabric of our peaceful society AND her liver with We’ve Devised (and Tested) a ‘GTA V’ Drinking Game. Aaron is looking out for you new dads with So You’ve Just Become A First-Time Dad.