USA 101: for Aussies

I have learned a lot since coming to Australia. Figuring it would be helpful, I read up on this country, quite a bit, in order to keep from putting my foot in my mouth too often. Before I left, I was able to do a good job of explaining where I was going, and where in Oz that I would NOT actually be. Such as explaining that I’m nowhere near Sydney.

And now, after sharing all this great information with my friends back home, I feel like I need to do a blog post for the Aussies. This was brought on by some very fun and interesting conversations I’ve had with different people. And some of the conversations were extremely helpful to me, in order to keep from embarrassing myself. I know that “nursing” doesn’t always mean the same thing to Aussies and Americans, and I know that rubbers and erasers are two terms for the same thing…. but necessarily interchangeable between countries. And I’ll let everybody figure that one out for themselves.

First, geography is a very important thing. Some Aussies I meet have been to the U.S., and some have no idea what the United States map even looks like. So, please observe carefully.

You can see California (home to Hollywood) on the West Coast, Alaska (home to Sarah Palin) isn’t to scale, and Florida (home to all northern retirees) sticks out from the East Coast. And two states above Florida, you have my home, South Carolina. Yep, the little, yellow triangular state. And several states straight north of SC, you’ll find the rectangular state of Pennsylvania (PA), where I spent the last five years of my life, working at a Christian camp. Oh, and my dad grew up in PA, so I’m 50% Pennsylvania Dutch, born in New York State, and raised in the South. Quite a hodge-podge, if you will.

Now, on some world maps, you can’t really tell how big the United States and Australia are, because the flat world map isn’t quite to scale. One map may make the U.S. look bigger, and another will make Australia look huge, since it’s out there in the ocean, on it’s own. A comparison map is handy, especially so you can tell people things like… oh, I’m as far from Sydney as Maine is from South Carolina (or something like that, I’m only guessing). Let’s take a look.

Not including Alaska, our countries are much of a size, aren’t they? Oh, I was a bit off on the distance comparison, wasn’t I? For Aussies, the distance from Rockhampton to Sydney is about an hour or two short of what I used to have to drive, to get from PA to SC, to be home for holidays. So, I made that drive about… six or eight times a year.

The other night, I went with a friend to FloodFest, here in Emerald, in order to go on the free rides and listen to The Cat Empire perform. Unfortunately, we discovered that the free rides were just kiddie rides, so we didn’t go on any. And the power had gone out on stage, so we had an additional 30 minutes to wait for the concert to start. While waiting, I looked around, certain I was smelling funnel cake, or something like it. Quickly, I discovered that she had no idea what funnel cake was, and my attempts at description were a bit lacking.

My dear Australian friends, it was quite a shock to discover that you do not know the deliciousness of funnel cakes, so I thought I’d tell you a bit about this American treat. I think it originated in Pennsylvania Dutch territory, but it’s spread all over, as far as I know. We definitely get them at every fair and outdoor show in the South, as well as the North. And some places in PA, you can get pumpkin flavored ones (yum!). And that’s American pumpkin (jack pumpkin), not squash. If you’ve ever had pumpkin pie in the U.S., we add cinnamon, nutmeg, and other ingredients to the pumpkin, and bake it in a pie. Don’t picture this being done with your pumpkins (our winter squash), it may sound even odder to you.

So, I tried to tell my friend that funnel cake is made of a deep fried batter, and looks something like a bird’s nest, with powdered sugar on it. My description wasn’t working very well, so I had to e-mail her a picture, eventually. Funnel Cake is poured with a funnel into hot cooking oil, and then after it’s holding it’s shape (as seen above), it’s deep fried until golden, fluffy, and delicious. I think some areas of the country put other toppings on them, but my family only asks for powdered sugar on them.

And at the Apple Fest in PA, I once had a pumpkin flavored one… oh, it smelled of nutmeg and cinnamon, and was so good. But it’s tricky, if you’re eating one by yourself. Served smoking hot, on a paper plate, trying to break off bits with one hand, while trying to not spill the entire cake off the plate with the other. It was definitely complicated, besides, you don’t need this many calories, by yourself, normally, so it’s better to share. Now, I do remember Donna making some at camp, once, so maybe she will actually send me a recipe.

Oh, and here’s a picture of The Cat Empire performing in Emerald.

Back to where I’m from. South Carolina is NOT North Carolina (I have to hammer this into the heads of Americans Northerners, all the time). South Carolina is, however, the state where the first shots of the Civil War occurred (Fort Sumter) and we were the first state to secede from the Union. If anyone cares to know, I’ll try and explain to you why this was perfectly legal, and why Lincoln should’ve let the South go.  : )

I’m from the town of Clemson, in the upper left hand corner of the map. Being in the South, it is now summer in June, there, and my family is getting a high of 34 degrees Celsius and a low of 22 Celsius, with 80% humidity. In American speak, this is a high of 93 Fahrenheit, and a low of 71. Maybe that’ll help explain why I can’t seem to figure out how Celsius works down here.

As Clemson isn’t actually on THIS map, it’s somewhere between Greenville and Anderson. We have a good number of lakes around there, so it’s a big place for retirees (Florida doesn’t get them all). And Clemson is home to the one and only Clemson University, which is a big American football (gridiron) school. Most of the full-time residents and students bleed orange and purple, and live for football season.

In another discussion with an Aussie friend, I commented that Australian animals are very interesting, as we obviously don’t have have marsupials (with the except of the opossum). Side note: The American opossum and the Australian possum might be marsupials, but that seems to be about the only thing they have in common, besides being called “possums” all over. I didn’t know that til just a few minutes ago.

My friend said that he thought Australian animals were kind of dull, as in drab… or maybe just not brightly colored? Maybe all of us are just bored with our own country’s animals. So, the conversation somehow jumped to squirrels and chipmunks, as I tried to think of what animals were definitely native to the U.S.

So, for those Aussies who actually care (and for those who don’t, too bad), here we have squirrels versus chipmunks, explained. To my way of thinking, chipmunks (see left) are actually quite cute, and make you think of the animated ones in the tv shows and the movies. With their distinctive stripes and non-fluffy tails, they’re often captured in pictures with their mouths stuffed with food. They can pack their cheeks with enough food that their faces look almost as big as their bodies.

Now, squirrels… some people think they’re cute, too. I’m not one of them. With their long fluffy tails, and no stripes, you can easily distinguish them from chipmunks (squirrels come in several colors, too). But since I come from Clemson, where they’re having trouble with an overpopulation of them, they’re pests. Last I heard, they were still trying to lace the food with birth control, in order to cut back on the amount of squirrels arriving every year. I still think they should declare open season on them, when the students are gone. Wouldn’t bb guns do the job?

Also, my family and friends in both PA and SC have experience with squirrels chewing through containers, bird feeders, and into wooden birdhouses, just to reach any available food. We even have a friend ( I won’t say where) who feeds them during the winter, and then seems surprised that they don’t leave her alone during the summer. Pestiferous critters. I only like them in books, like the Redwall series.

But if we’re talking of colorful animals, are we talking physically, or just extra interesting animals? We may have moose, otters, badgers, and skunks (yes, I know they’re all over North America, not just the U.S., that’s the problem with being a country that isn’t an island), but you can’t say they’re literally colorful. I don’t think we have any native parrots, and Australia definitely has some of those. I seem to recall one of my girls asking what an otter was, because they don’t have them over here. The U.S. does NOT corner the market on the most poisonous and dangerous critters (Australia has us beat, there), though ours certainly aren’t tame. I guess it’s just a case of “the grass is always greener…” on the other side of the ocean!

Thank you for attending USA 101: for Aussies. If I come up with some more interesting topics to talk about, I’ll feel free to share. It’s up to you whether you read or not! Please remember that this is all in good fun, I’m really enjoying everything I learn, especially when we’re comparing notes on our countries!   : )

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