The first Tuesday in November = Election Day in the U.S., but maybe more importantly, = Melbourne Cup Day in Australia. Holy moly what an experience! I know we were in the country last year for it, but I must have just been at the house hanging out with the boys because I had no idea what happens at all on that day. This year, I got to work on that day and I have never been a part of a more interesting, culturally defining day.
The Melbourne Cup is a horse race run every year on this day in Melbourne, which is about a 2 hour or so flight from here. It sounds very similar to the Kentucky Derby, except that the ENTIRE country, pretty much every one of the 19 million people here is focused on it and excited about it. In that sense, it would be equivalent to Thanksgiving Day almost in the U.S. It is a public holiday in Victoria, the state of which Melbourne is the capital city. But I don’t think any of the states or cities get much done at work that day. When I came in that morning, it looked a bit like Halloween a week late. Many of the other women were dressed in fancy dresses and those fascinator hats, a la Kate Middleton. They and a bunch of the men in suits left around noon to go to an expensive event at the Brisbane race track, where apparently everyone dresses like that to watch the race on a big screen.
What happened at the office, however, was entirely mind boggling to me. No one was very focused on work all morning. People were signing up for ‘sweeps’, where you put in some money and a horse is randomly drawn on your behalf. If that horse places, you win part of the pot of money. Then they started setting up food out in our main lobby and conference room. People walked around for the better part of an hour as noon approached, slicing bread, assembling platters, setting up buffet tables, etc. At noon we all got to go in to where a HUGE (again, think Thanksgiving) amount of food was laid out and eat to our hearts content, and drink champagne punch and/or beer. Yes, Americans, it’s true! Australians are allowed to drink at work! Incredible! In the middle of the day!
So in addition to the cheese and cracker, nuts, snack-type basics, there was roasted chicken, ham, prawns, zucchini cakes, three different salads, HUGE rolls to make sandwiches, and then FOUR homemade desserts and two packaged desserts. Unfortunately for me, I always feel compelled to try all of the homemade desserts because I have no will power, so it is really hard for me that this type of dessert spread happens at every festive gathering and NOT just at Thanksgiving. Thank goodness I’ve gotten a bit obsessive about exercise or I would be in big trouble.
For two hours, yes, TWO hours, we sat and ate and drank and chatted and watched pre-race activities on the TV set up in the conference room. Shortly after two the race came on and I am serious when I say that most of them not only just enjoyed the chance to eat and drink at work, but they knew about the horses, knew the jockeys, knew the race specifics, etc. When I would ask questions I would get “What, don’t you have horse racing in America?” Um, yes, we do, but not every single person in the country watches it. Big population compared to tiny population right there. I know a few people who love the Derby every year, but most people are engaged in other stuff, as with every big U.S. event. I won’t even go into detail on what happened when my boss and coworkers realized I do not eat prawns (shrimp on steroids—if you’re into them, they really do it right here. As Steve says, U.S. shrimp has nothing on Aussie prawns—they’re not even worth eating I guess). And I committed the even more unforgettable sin of not eating either of the other two choices of meat either! Gasp! It’s a wonder I’m allowed to be here.
The race itself lasted about 2 minutes. It was run on grass which I found interesting. I also found the pre-race entertainment interesting, where a pretty white lady sang about how we’re all in this together, forget our differences, we are one, etc. to a sea of nice white people watching at the track to a sea of nice white people watching on TV. Afterwards, people continued to eat and drink a bit and then went back to work! Yeah! How do you go back to work after a Thanksgiving meal?! I need a nap people! Our receptionist kept a glass of champagne punch with her while she worked at our front desk! So cool! I loved that day!
I asked if all businesses do this same thing, and wondered what schools do. (Steve had done the other Australian work life cliché that Americans know—he ‘chucked a sickie’, so he didn’t know what his school did, because he really was napping during the race. So, that’s true, here, too. People call in sick just for fun—love it! You earn the days off; you have the right to use them, right?) My boss told me that schools wouldn’t do much other than watch the race. They show the kids the race—stop teaching to show a horse race—wow! I also heard many teachers that aren’t showing the race sneak out of their classrooms for a few minutes to find a room that is showing the race. You just gotta love these people. 😉
I forgot to mention in my last post, but people at my job were glued to the news of Superstorm Sandy. They didn’t get much done that day either, because they were keeping up so well. Their concern and interest was truly touching. It really hit me then about the size difference. That storm affected more than twice the amount of people in Australia! We had all pitched in for some big lottery ticket (yes, I just follow the crowd here—if people ask me for money, I give it; if people ask me to do something, I do it, because I don’t know any better!) and they were bemoaning our chances of one in 4 million. I said,” Well just think: that’s less than one-tenth of the amount of people affected by this storm, actually pretty good odds.” One of my coworkers asked me if Americans pay as much attention to an Australian storm, for example if people were concerned when Brisbane had the terrible flooding almost two years ago. I said, yes, of course, people were concerned and asked us about it and paid attention. I did not tell her, however, that we didn’t pay nearly as close attention as they were paying that day to NY.
I know the U.S. gets a bad rap for our knowledge and broadcasting of what is going on worldwide. Some of that is very well earned. But, the population difference is really hitting me lately and I am realizing just how big the U.S. is. It’s impossible to keep up with what’s going on around the country completely, much less anywhere else. Honestly, people here can’t even fathom a population of OVER 300 million and how many big cities and big events that means. That’s why one race would never be all consuming there. It’s in one city of out hundreds; there’s just too much else going on.
I think that’s true for our election as well. People are surprised that our voting numbers are ‘low’ and think it’s weird that it’s not mandatory. I’d like to see any other country try getting more than 200 million people to care about an election and vote. If anyone else can do it, than by all means, smirk at the U.S. If not, then keep quiet and realize it’s a vastly different story.
Speaking of the election (whew, big couple weeks), I have also been completely surprised at the amount of people here that cared about it, followed it and had very strong opinions about the result. I very well realize that what happens in the U.S. affects the rest of the world in a big way, so it is very important that other countries pay attention (remember comments on numbers above!). However, it was still very interesting to hear, and yes, as I’ve mentioned, sometimes very frustrating. There is even a TV show that airs here weekly, completely devoted to American politics. When I tried to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, my computer started freezing up and I got very frustrated. Then it occurred to me that I should see if it’s on TV here (I’ve gotten so used to finding everything online these days). It was on, televised live, the results coming in the same way they were in the U.S. They actually just broadcast NBC’s coverage. So that was cool, getting to watch it as it happened.
Australians were thrilled with the results and I am, too. The reaction here to Romney made me realize that if he got elected, it would be as embarrassing to travel overseas as it was when Bush was President. It was very hard to admit to being American at that time—we came across as one big giant bully and I think we are still doing damage control from that. And, unfortunately, it’s the completely innocent, uninvolved citizens who catch the grief over whoever their leader is when they travel abroad.
The election actually happened on November 7th here, which was Steve’s birthday. We had a wonderful party that night with our half-American friends celebrating Steve and the results.
On other topics, I have a funny possum story to relate. I have to go outside, down a flight of steps and back inside to do laundry at this house. I am scared doing that at night because of all the creepy things outside here, but I still have to do it. One night recently, I entered the laundry room and my flashlight (torch here, even though it’s the same thing, not a large fiery stick!) captured something furry inside the room, hanging half outside (our lovely door has a giant hole in it, so shutting it is kind of just for fun). I ran up to get Steve and he and the boys came down and we discovered that it was a mother and baby possum. The baby was on her back and they were not bothered by us at all, but climbed up another door and then went under the house. It was very precious to see them together, but also scary because I never know how a mother will perceive me doing laundry when it comes to protecting her baby. The next morning I went down again to find them sleeping behind a box in the same room. I got Steve again and this time Drew came down very excited and pulled the box away yelling “Where are they?” The poor girl freaked out and disappeared and we haven’t seen her since! I should hire my 4-year-old out for possum removal! They were very cute, but I am much happier that they are outside. I feel I have always appreciated wildlife, but I now know that I truly appreciate it only when it is outside my house.
It’s so weird—I have never considered myself a real city person. Big cities have always intimidated me and I have always enjoyed being outside, getting dirty, camping, hiking, etc. But I have decided that living in Brisbane is like camping. My house is a tent—there is no difference between the air inside and the air outside, no matter what the weather. I have to live with lizards IN the house, not just in the yard (one actually landed on me one night when I came inside in the dark—that resulted in quite a scream! Thankfully, my boys are excellent sleepers!), and when I told the possum story to locals, none of them were surprised. So, that’s my latest newsflash, my new insight to me as a person that I never would have guessed: I am a bona fide, wimpy, easily scared city slicker! Hhhmmmmmm….wonder how I’d handle a real city then, like Chicago or Detroit? Yikes! Is there any in-between?!