Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm Here With All Of My People

Aah, it's so nice to be amongst your own.

I went to an Australian bar the other night. That was possibly the most godawful fifteen minutes of my life. A bunch of ugly, drunk Australians dancing to pub rock from the 80s, all dressed up in costumes to distract themselves from how dull they and their lives are. I pitied them, in a way: they've travelled to the other side of the world, and what do they want to do? Hang out with people from back home, listening to music from back home, drinking beverages from back home. (Incidentally, here's a quick nationality test for you: do you drink Foster's? If the answer's "yes", you're not Australian.) It was so hopelessly boring, so utterly uninspired.

No, those Australians aren't my people. My people were the nerds at Nine Carols And Lessons For Godless People, a vaguely Christmas-themed celebration of nature, science and freedom from religion. Richard Dawkins and several other fascinating scientists made presentations, and there were numerous comedians and musicians performing too. Waiting in the Hammersmith Apollo's lobby, I noticed that, for the first time, I wasn't the only person hanging around and reading a book. There were dozens of solo readers, and many more who, despite chatting to other people, had books clutched in their hands.

Fuck landing in Sydney. Being surrounded by people who love books and knowledge felt like coming home.

In the show itself, the host asked "Are there any scientists here tonight?" There was an enormous roar. "Are there any particle physicists here tonight?" There was a smaller but still substantial roar. He then made an impenetrably nerdy pun-based joke about particle physics, and the audience lost it. Oh, how nice to be surrounded by people who are amused by popular misunderstandings of the behaviour of neutrinos, instead of being only amused by talk about beer and boobs.

So those are my people. While I miss many people in and aspects of my home country, I don't feel tied down by outdated notions of nationality. I was born in Australia and I'll most likely die there, but in the time between those two events, I wouldn't spit on most of its residents if they were on fire.

Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh. Admittedly, I've found myself hanging out with a lot of Aussies while over here, mainly flatmates. They're friendlier, and we share an instant bond because of our homeland and culture, but they're as disgusted by the boorish and boring behaviour of most Australian backpackers too. Being reminded recently of my fellow Australians' behaviour made me realise that I can be at home anywhere in the world: being in Australia doesn't mean people will understand me any better. Although they may not look confused when confronted with the way I pronounce "vitamin".

Friday, December 4, 2009

Polski Delikatesy

In my previous post, I briefly exhorted the deliciousness of Polish beer. I also fell in love with Polish food while I was there. Tonight, I got home from work and didn't really feel like cooking, so decided to check out the Polish delicatessen at the end of my street.

Goodness me, it was wonderful.

I didn't understand what half of the products there were, as most had no English labelling and the few that did were woefully translated. But it looked just like a the delicatessen's I visited in Krakow (albeit cleaner) and I picked up some delicious pierogi (I could eat that shit 'til I die). But anyway, the reason I was so chuffed was that the checkout dude started talking to me in Polish. It was like being on the road again, where I just nodded and tried to pass for an unusually quiet local. Eventually, I had to break the spell and tell him in English that I didn't want a bag. Of course, I got a kick out of being mistaken for a Pole. (Because have you seen them? Delicious. But it seems that once they hit 30, all Poles are sent to an uglification camp, which is unfortunate. Watch out, Martin.) But I mostly thought it was wonderful because here, in the centre of the capital of the English-speaking world, is a small community where the dominant culture is treated as the minority: the feeling of being lost and insignificant while travelling came rushing back at me. I was suddenly completely out of my depth, and as I sit in my room with a stomach full of pierogi and Lech (URP SLURP SLURP), I am reminded of how unimportant I am on this little planet.

It makes me feel human. I love it.

In other news, I booked a few trips in my lunch break today: four nights in Copenhagen (SO MANY KINDS OF YAY), three nights in Salzburg and two nights in Glasgow. It will be good to get on the road again and step outside of England for a little bit.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Beer Here

Sweet baby Jesus, I love beer. I really do. It wasn't love at first taste. My dad used to let me have a sip of his every now and then from the time I was twelve or so, but I enjoyed the novelty more than the taste. ("Look! I'm grown-up! And manly!") On special occasions at university, some friends I would buy Coronas and shove so much lime into them they tasted like the ready-to-mixes we were so accustomed to. Eventually, I switched to drinking Toohey's Extra Dry when out because it was cheaper than vodka and less awful than goon sunrises, a particularly vicious concoction at the university bar.

But this economical consideration eventually turned into real love, and I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Not snobby, necessarily, but I know what I like and enjoy learning about different brewing methods and such. Apart from seeing the various sights one expects to see on a European trip, I wanted to achieve two things while over here: 1) assess and explore the standing of English in the wider world (more on that later) and 2) drink lots of beer.

I am proud to say I succeeded.

Anyway, this is what I learned.

Polish beer is excellent. (So is Polish food, and I now regularly stuff my face with borscht, golabki and pierogi in a most undignified fashion.) Tyskie, Okocim (owned by Carlsberg) and Zywiec (owned by Heineken) are lovely, although Zywiec is a darker beer and I was expecting a lighter lager. But my favourite, by a long shot, was Lech. Mmh. Lech. Sounds gross, but is most delicious. I will drink it any chance I get. I was quite stoked when I arrived in Copenhagen, and discovered that Carlsberg is their local beer: it's on tap everywhere, like Toohey's New back home. But still, it was mor eexpensive than Carlsberg back home. Being Denmark, where you have to sign a form promising the shopkeeper your first- (or second- or third- or fourth-) born child before they will release any goods into your keeping, a pint is stupidly expensive and could buy a small house in the southern suburbs of Sydney.

Czech beer was even better. This didn't surprise me, as its reputation preceded it. Pilsner Urquell (which sold for about fifty Australian cents per half litre) and Budweiser Budvar are the two biggest, and I can fortunately find them with relative ease in London. However, whenever I encounter Budweiser, I must ask if it is the American or Czech brewed version. One, you see, is a delicious beer, while the other is watered down dog urine. This problem also plagues Stella Artois. Stella Artois is considered a premium beer in Australia. It's a lovely beer, originating in Belgium, and I drank a lot of it in Holland (alongside delicious Dutch beers like Heineken and Grolsch). Anyway, in England, Stella Artois is a disgusting chav beer that tastes like ball sweat.

One beer that stays the same over the world is Foster's. It tastes consistently execrable.

I went to a delightfully tacky Australian restaurant in Germany. I ordered the kangaroo wrap (which was unusual: although I cook kangaroo frequently - oh, quit your gasps, Europeans, they're a pest - you rarely see it on menus in Australia) and a Foster's, as it was the only Australian beer on the menu.

Foster's are ingenious. They've marketed their beer as the Australian beer of choice, so Walkabouts and other Aussie-themed venues around the world stock up on it big time. But here's the secret, Europeans: nobody in Australia drinks that shit. We have some delicious, world-class beers: Cooper's, Little Creatures, Blue Tongue, even Carlton Draught is a tasty beer.

But Fosters.

That shit is awful.

The moral of the story is don't drink Stella Artois in England and don't drink Foster's anywhere.