Travelling to Xanadu! A Year in the USA..


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June 28th 2003
Published: June 28th 2003
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Travelling to Xanadu! A Year in the USA..

In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round.
… It was a miracle of rare device.
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice.
…And ‘mid this tumult Kublai heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1816

Like the fabled Xanadu, the United States is a mythological construct inhabiting the minds of men. The fable of this Great Experiment in human possibilities become confused with the reality of living in the United States and the world. This vision of the United States, as the best country where all have freedom, opportunity and the possibility of success, permeates all aspects of US life and has become a national ideology more imbued in the psyche of Americans than any other ideology of the past in human affairs. The brainwashing of Americans as to how great their system is, is the world’s most effective example of ideological success. To protect this national myth, Americans surround their pleasure-dome with real and psychological walls and towers as bulwarks against the rest of the world.

Someone or other once said, one year living in a foreign country is equivalent, in life experience, to seven years living if you never left home. In a very real sense, the United States of America is the most foreign place on earth, as it is unique, and with its peculiar brand of American patriotism, is very different to every other country on earth. Americans tend to view themselves that way, and indeed, underneath it all they are very different! Americans tend to take themselves very seriously; have a sense of their own superiority and lack a sense of humour and irony or the ability to really laugh at themselves.

Being a foreigner who was living in the USA before, during and after September 11 2001, I shall try to share what we have learnt in a humorous and informed way with anyone who might want to listen. Particularly those readers who might be planning a trip to North America, or American who might be curious enough to want to find out what the rest of the world might think of them, especially in the light of 9/11.

I hope this is an honest and helpful, “warts-and–all” account of living and travelling in North America by an ordinary Australian family finding itself in some extraordinary situations. It is the observations of non-Americans and is from that perspective so is not meant to offend Americans.

If it does offend our patriotic American friends, this can’t be helped and possibly says much more about American sensibilities or attitudes that may have contributed to the terrible events in New York and Washington. If it does offend a little, I’d like to hope that this is a good thing and in its small way perhaps become a part of the necessary catharsis and re-examination of the role of the US in the world post 9/11.

Why should anyone want to listen to what an ordinary Australian has to say about all this? Precisely because it is from a very ordinary perspective. In what was perhaps a reckless moment, I was granted an international teaching fellowship to teach for a year in Minnesota in the Midwest of the US. So our whole family packed up and went!

This commitment by our whole family was something more like immigrating for a year rather than merely being a traveller or a tourist. My German-born wife Dagmar, gave up her well-paid job in Australia. Our then fifteen-year-old son Raymond, and our thirteen-year-old daughter Jessie had to say good-bye to their Australian school friends. We all left our comfort zones of family and friends to take a leap into the unknown. Time would tell how silly or courageous we had been! Our friends and family in Australia were about divided in these opinions. Many appeared envious, but not envious enough to gather courage enough to contemplate such a voyage of discovery themselves.

So this is not another travelogue book! Aren’t there enough of them already? What makes this one different? What indeed!

Travel is a funny thing. It is said that travel is supposed to broaden the mind. In a very real sense though, it can equally narrow it. Biases are confirmed. All human beings necessarily travel with cultural baggage from their homelands. This is unavoidable. To mix metaphors, through this they see a rose-tinted world or though a “glass darkly”. So it is with this admission that we have come to know and form opinions about the United States. Many of the good things about the US that we suspected before we arrived have been confirmed. Likewise, many pre-conceived critical or negative ideas about the States have proved accurate, and travelling there has merely served to give us more solid reasons confirming these biases.

This of course is by way of true confession and may explain a little of some of our perspectives on America.

What sort of future awaits us in a world dominated by one Superpower? Where do small countries like Australia fit in? Is it a “War Against Terrorism” to defend freedom? How do we separate the rhetoric from the reality? What does all this say about America and the American psyche? What IS America and what are Americans really like? We spent a year in the United States being confronted by these questions, and I think many of the answers to some of these questions may be a little disturbing. There is however, hope for the future.


**********

“Why do they Hate us?” asked the sixteen year old American student, hoping his Australian teacher could make some sense of the terrible events.
On that morning in September 2001 when the World Trade Centre was destroyed, in Minneapolis, the school I was teaching at “locked down” as the news hit the airwaves. The school administration had decided that the students should find out at home that night and have their parents try to make sense of it. The school didn’t want to take on this responsibility. This wasn’t enough for some of my students.

“Do you think they hate you?” I asked my students with good dialectic method. The consensus was in the affirmative.
“Why?”, I asked.
“Because they are jealous of us,” said one of the students.
“Jealous of what?”
“Our wealth and power”
“Maybe.. Then what should the US do about it?”
“Bomb the hell out of Afghanistan,” came the answer.
I then suggested that the Soviets had already done this in the 1990s, and asked the students, why Afghanistan anyway?
Blank looks.
“Well, what was the nationality of the terrorists anyway?”
Again blank looks.
The homework task was to find out.
The following day the answer came that they were Saudis and Egyptians.. countries that were US allies, and I avoided any real controversy by basing the rest of the lesson on “E Pluribus Unum”: discussing countries that respected pluralism and contrasting it with regimes like the Taliban. We also contrasted power with moral authority.
The lesson became yet another reinforcement US national mythology.
Of course all this left more questions unanswered than answered.

So the “crusade” began. George W Bush actually used this term and offended many US Moslems, so quickly had to recant. In the next many weeks the media jumped into the fray to saturation point. Pictures were shown of an Afghan woman being executed on a soccer field by the Taliban. The BBC reported said that it was for adultery, and Barbara Bush came out and said that that’s why they were fighting! It transpired that this woman also had murdered her husband. This was left out of the news item for several weeks. Given that the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh had been executed only a few months previously, the irony did not escape us.

Before we left Australia we received our final E-mail from the American family we had entered into the exchange with. The patriotic sensibilities of the American exchangees had been offended. They asked why we had placed the USA as our third preference for exchange after the United Kingdom and Canada.

This they could not understand as the US was the centre of their universe.

I answered that it was the crime rate that had put us off. The current figures has less than one murder per 100,000 people per annum in Australia, compared with nearly ten murders in the USA.

We had visions of being posted to East LA or the Bronx. Minnesota however had only three murders per 100,000 PA, so was three times safer than the rest of the USA, but three times more dangerous than the whole of Australia. I suggested to our American acquaintances that this was an acceptable risk!

The rest of the family would at least travel to the USA via Germany to see their relatives there and arrive later. I had to go it alone for the first month or so.

I landed in the United States of America on the 27th of December 2000.
Arriving at Los Angeles Airport after out long haul across the Pacific, I waited to change planes to travel to Minneapolis Minnesota via Denver Colorado. We ventured into our first Starbucks coffee outlet and joined the long queue. This was our first culture shock. The choices were mine boggling. “Ill Grande” this or that coffee with amaretto or whatever. All I wanted was a coffee, perhaps a cappuccino, and it was if I needed a phrasebook and a PHD just to know what to order.

I felt a little like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust: an alien who had fallen to earth. My J Class visa even had me as a “legal alien”; not a visitor, traveller or necessarily a friend of the US.

Maybe I was like Marco Polo in the court of Kublai Khan. A visitor from a small, rather obscure country at the other end of the earth, to fabulous Xanadu. I was to find out that there was something in this.

I boarded the plane to the East. It felt a little like boarding a local bus, with the long lines and frequent departures. The business and bustle of this airport seemed to have more akin to a city bus station than an international airport. After take-off, we flew over the unbelievable vistas of the Grand Canyon then ever North over the great plains. As we flew on, a gradual change over took the brown winter landscape.

As the spreading landscape gradually transformed into hues of white, I began to wonder what I had let myself in for. Looking down at the frigid, white empty wastes I had a fight of fancy that maybe we had actually crossed the Arctic circle and next stop was the North Pole. When reading about the weather in Minneapolis before leaving Australia’s warm summer, with its temperatures of minus twenty, I had serious doubts that the place was suitable for human habitation.

Around five in the afternoon, as the sun was setting, the plane began its approach to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul) airport. What a magical sight it was: white landscape of beautiful city buildings; snow covered roofs of houses and frozen lakes and city parks with ice skaters, illuminated by floodlights.

A reception committee of American teachers awaited me in the Arrival Lounge from the school I was to teach at. They presented me with a quilted snow jacket in the colours of the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, so I wouldn’t freeze to death. It turned out that I would need that jacket!

My new friends drove me from the concrete park house, past the Somali attendant dressed like Ernest Shackelton, into the icy night. (Somalis, along with Ethiopians, Eritreans and Meoung are major ethnic minorities in the Twin Cities.)

Our breath crystallised in the below zero temperature. The Minneapolis freeway system took me to my new home in the suburb of Bloomington. The culture shock hit. I really didn’t know which way was “up”. Even the night sky was different, with unfamiliar hues. It was as if the moon was in the wrong spot in the sky.

It is curious when you arrive in a new country, that first impressions are on a basic, almost animal level. Even the smells are different to what your whole being is used to, have grown up with and what are almost ancestral memories. These are nearly sub-conscious sensory perceptions that can scarcely be articulated, such as the position of the sun relative to the horizon; the night sky and its hue, here dominated by the Aurora Borealis; the quality of the light; the frigid air hitting your lungs and scores of other subtle differences.

That night I was snowed in. Awakening with jet lag and a slight hangover, even to get out of our driveway, I had to come to terms with the operation of the “snow thrower” or “snow blower” an alien four stroke contraption in the garage. And so our stay in the US began.

The following day I had to find my way to the Supermarket to do some food shopping. So began my amazement and a little culture shock with my introduction to the American Supermarket.

**********

Culture shock is all about the little differences that stand out because of our cultural baggage. It's really just the funny little things. Things such as the mass-produced Supermarket food…

· GM!! Genetically Modified food
· The Breakfast Cereal aisle is truly scary! Try to find some actually healthy real grain breakfast food and you are confronted with sugary iridescent confections after-marketing a myriad of cartoon characters and sporting heroes.
· Bright “baby poo”-yellow “plastic” processed cheese with names like Marble Jack.
· Starbucks flavoured coffee in a world that should be fresh-brewed
· Bread devised for people with no taste-buds nor teeth;
· GM, Sugar, salt, fat, MSG and assorted petrochemically-derived flavour-enhanced glop masquerading as haute cuisine.
· Assorted crumbed offal, cow's anuses and chicken beaks in manifold forms
· Being hyped-up on all the assorted growth hormones, steroids and manifold other chemicals in the foods we ate!

America's supermarkets are something else! They are warehouses of wonders such as spray-on cheese; chemical concoctions approximating sauces for all occasions, and myriad convenience foods; snacks and sweet confectioneries. Sugar in manifold forms that defy the imagination. Eggs minus shells in cardboard tetra packs; whipped cream that looks like melted marshmallows in margarine-type containers; spread-able cheese that looks and tastes like some hardware product All the basic food groups: salt, fat and sugar! Fresh fruits and vegetables are limited in winter because of climate and population, but the marketing makes up for this in sheer imagination. For Thanksgiving you can buy for example, iridescent green and blue gems such as candied sweet potatoes with orange sauce as a side dish to the main course. Much of these American foods seem to be long life or full of preservatives and if not eaten, would remain totally useable well into the next millennium..

In the land that gave the world the wonderful Idaho potato (the most delicious baking potato you can imagine), potatoes come in scores of remarkable packaged "instant" forms including the ubiquitous Hash Browns. We prefer to buy them in their original state!

We were ever amazed with food shopping in the US and the things that you can and cannot find.
In spite of being the home of junk food, some things we missed from home such as meat pies are unknown here. You can’t even buy plain pastry to make your own pies although you can buy scores of sweet confectionery type dough for desserts. I think if someone, like Sweeny Todd, had the capital to open a real pie shop here, it would end up being a chain and making this person a fortune. Mc Donald’s would probably buy them out.

Little cultural differences such as it nearly being impossible to buy leaf tea and a proper tea pot! This probably has something to do with The Boston Tea Party. Part of America’s patriotic duty is to drink assorted flavoured coffees rather than real brewed tea!

We came to appreciate quite a few American foods in the next months such as the old Idaho potato, "Ruby" grapefruit; the plentiful variety of apples and pumpkin/squash, baby carrots, frozen concentrated orange juice.
Other foods, such as cheese however, are just too processed for our taste with its "baby-poo" yellow colour. What the food dye is, I do not know. A teacher friend of mine has promised to bring back some real (crumbly, sharp, white and un-processed) cheddar from her home state of Wisconsin (America's Dairy state) when she visits her parents over Thanksgiving. So apparently you can buy non-processed cheese, but not in the ordinary supermarket.

US supermarkets are fascinating places and you CAN find good things to eat at the right price. Although basic food items are mostly twice the price of home (the pound price for most items tends to equal the kilo price at home!), US supermarkets have a COUPON-system! Thank goodness. Coupons are a great idea. You pick them up as promotions from the newspapers, and they discount items. A favourite of mine is the "Budget" microwave dinners. These can be purchased five for five dollars (or about two dollars Australian each) when on "special". The Budget meals are good, but very small portions and I suspect the extruded plastic packaging is worth more than the food itself. The packaging of course joins the landfill. Nevertheless I think they taste okay and so maybe I can live with the environmental degradation!

*********

I soon noticed plenty of other small cultural differences…
· Squirrel Pie, Hunters and Taxidermists and The Second Amendment.
Yes, some Americans eat squirrels. We met a nice elderly retired couple in a small town in Illinois. The old gentleman shot them (about four squirrels to a pie) and his wife had written a recipe book featuring several squirrel recipes.
So many of my students in Minnesota trapped or shot squirrels. I think some Americans will eat just about anything in the way of game with the possible exclusion of skunk. Armadillo is even eaten down South and known as “possum in the pot”.
There is even a condition known as being “squirrel headed” or slightly mad. Eating too many squirrels apparently brings about this condition. The little creatures are known to dry out certain poisonous or hallucinogenic fungi which taints their meat. So eating too many squirrels might approximate an LSD trip!
So many Americans take their Second Amendment excusing a well-armed militia as the absolute right to own a firearm. So many do, and along with this goes a frontier attitude to killing wildlife. In some Midwest sates traffic-warning signs reading "Game Crossing" rather than "Wildlife Crossing". This represents a common psychology in the USA.

· The use of euphemisms such as "washroom", "bathroom" or "restroom"(who washes, bathes or rests in the toilet?)
Americans still have a prissy and puritanical aversion to giving linguistic recognition to bodily functions. Perhaps it’s not part of the world of The Waltons or The Brady Bunch!
I was constantly amazed at the many gory and macabre stories on US reality television and even the news. On one bulletin, a disturbed individual was televised suiciding with a handgun. Yet breasts are pixelated out of the vision on late night TV, and one just can’t say “toilet”!

· Toilets that are difficult to flush!
Dual flush cisterns are unknown and the bowl fills with water, inadequate to the task. The two-pounder takes several attempts to make it disappear.

· No switches on electrical outlets and upside-down light switches.
I soon found out that the US did many things quite differently to most of the rest of the world! The little things were most obvious. When I first arrived in our Minneapolis house, I spent the first several days wandering around the house turning lights on when I was trying to turn them off. Yes, the “on” position of switches on the American continents, different to everywhere else in the world, is up. Very confusing and a little like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels discussing whether one should open your boiled egg at the big end or the little end. Having only 110-volt electricity supply and not the 230 or 240 volts of most of the rest of the world, there are no safety switches on power points and you can’t buy an electric kettle that works fast enough.
In the next few months, other differences took us by surprise.
As and Australian maybe this visiting alien was more like Marco Polo visiting the wonders of Cathay. America is so big, bold and inward looking.

· Fahrenheit, pounds, cords and rods, poles and perches
The USA is the last non-metric country on earth. When most other English-speaking nations converted to metric some twenty years ago, the US went it alone.
I asked a young American colleague at work if she had travelled overseas (few Americans do). She said she had! She had been to Canada, and she said it was really like visiting a foreign country as they had kilometres and kilograms!
Later as we drove around the USA, I remembered just how useful miles had been all those years ago before metric came to Australia. Unlike kilometres, mileage establishes a direct relationship to the speed limit of around 60 MPH, to time and distance. A mile a minute is much easier to estimate distance travelled and time taken.

· Paying a quarter for a $Aus. twenty-cent gumball.
The US cost of living was a fright to us. The US dollar is now a little like the old gold standard, and is purchased as a hedge against the ups and downs of smaller currencies. Its value is therefore artificially inflated in relation to the real worth of the US economy. It is a vibrant powerhouse of capitalism, but its deficit is gigantic.
When my wife first saw the prices of steak in the supermarket, at first glance she said that the dollar price seemed very similar to home. I suggested that she look again, as the prices were in US dollars (of course) for pounds, not kilograms, making the cost nearly four times that of Australia.

· The US Media.
It really is very hard to find out what is happening overseas from the mainstream media in the United States. Public radio gives a little more international news and current affairs but we had to resort to the Internet to keep up with world affairs.
This is a real problem for the US and partly explains how the events of 11 September 2001 caught American by surprise, and why, by and large, they still seem not to understand these events.
The US media is all about marketing and selling advertising. The pitch is to the typical demographic of people more interested in the sate of the Minnesota Vikings Football team or similar parochial interests. Any news via NBC, CBS or CNN, generally highlights the sensational and is exclusively seen through an American perspective.
The importance of Media being about advertising and product placement of course is not unique to the US, but the media moguls such as the ex-Australian Rupert Murdoch take this to a new level.
As a result, there is a near total absence of any public media alternative. Foxtel, Rupert Murdoch and others gave us gems such as Jerry Springer and Steve Irwin: The Crocodile Hunter. The daily newspaper in Minneapolis-St Paul was the "Star Tribune". It laid some claim to being a world-class newspaper but was similarly parochial.

· Month; Day; Year.
9/11. The irritating American habit of putting the month before the day is peculiar to the US and Canada. Interestingly, even the US armed services don’t do it this way and to not confuse their allies, they render the date the international way.
This was a particular pedantic little peeve of mine, and I used to try to confuse bank tellers when I wrote out cheques, or I would use the international date system when filling out visitors’ books in State Parks. Other international visitors used to do the same thing.

· Four months a year of two metres of snow.
Coming from warmer climes, the Midwest Climate took a little getting used to.
The Minnesotans make light of this and the white landscape is appealing for a while. We however struck a very bad winter in 2000 to 2001.
Some Minnesotans have a notion that such weather makes them tough! I rather doubt this as most venture outside as little as possible and remain cosseted in their hermetically sealed houses and work places. Energy costs went “through the roof” literally and metaphorically whilst we were there. Heating must be on all the time, or the plumbing will burst.
Though American houses have to be insulated, they are not very well built and all this contributes to the blow out in energy use. After a period of living like this one quickly develops “cabin fever”. My wife got a touch of this, confined at home by the minus temperatures and being subjected to midday sitcoms and Jerry Springer as her window on reality.
Even the street people of the Twin Cities must venture inside to the shelters at this time, or risk freezing to death. The only hardy souls who venture outside are those in pursuit of winter sports such as cross country skiers; snowmobilers and ice-fishermen. Ice fishing is a popular pastime where the intrepid fisher folk drill a hole in the ice and drop a line. I shall say more about this later.

· Universal superlatives applied to America (biggest, best, brightest, largest)
The United States is an amazing country, and in so many ways it is the biggest, best and brightest. Trumpeting of this is a large part of the national psyche and bemuses and irritates many foreigners. It is a fatal flaw in American culture, because it makes many of them inward looking and seem arrogant.
Southern California is one of the many places in the world who have imported Australian eucalyptus trees. A friend told me of finding a nursery in that state that claimed to have “The largest Variety of Eucalyptus Trees in the Whole World.
Put simply, bigger does not mean better or best. My students would ask me whether I was going home to Australia or would I like to stay in the USA. Many could not conceive of me returning home. They would think it a slight against the USA..
“Why are you returning? Is Australia better? What’s wrong with the USA?”.
My answer was as always, not better or worse but just different. If I answered more truthfully that Australia WAS better in some ways and the US better in others, and that there was really no “BEST” country.
This they could not understand or conceive of. I would be met with a polite, bemused response and end to the discussion.

· Flags everywhere, as if we didn't know where we were. "America Strikes Back", praying for this in church, but not wanting a Somali living next door
It was much worse after 11 September 2001. Most American seemed shocked, confused and did not really understand the tragedy of 9/11. The typical response was therefore to fall back on their secular ideology of patriotism, jingoism and national hubris… “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” and all that.
For we outsiders, this uncritical American nationalistic fundamentalism became quite nauseating. We were bombarded by it through the media for months, and the Star and Stripes flew everywhere. To us, this seemed to reflect more on the cause of 9/11 rather than the solution to it.

· Left-hand drive.
Just a small inconvenience for us being used to right hand drive. Japan also drives on our side of the road, and we were amazed to see Japanese tourists driving the wrong way down the main street in Banff, Alberta. This didn’t happen to us! Although many a time we wanted to give a diverge signal only to find that we had turned on our wipers!

· The “American” language.. Is it really English?
Noah Webster has a lot to answer for!
Noah Webster was one of the strange and unappealing characters of history. He appears to have been a nasty little curmudgeon who was a fierce self-promoter. In the years immediately after American independence, Webster wanted to purge the English language in America on patriotic or ideological grounds. He really wanted to murder the language to follow American idiom and make it more “logical”.

The spelling of English had never been logical, but at least its lack of logic was understood. The American Congress understood this, and a check was put on Webster’s scheme. Commons sense luckily limited Webster’s “reforms” to a comparatively few spelling changes. Enough changes however to create a few more illogical inconsistencies in the language.

Nevertheless, with one billion native English speakers in the world today, and another two billion learning English, the Noah Webster-American variant accounts for roughly one third of the world’s native speakers, so the rest of us are well and truly outnumbered!

So what are some of these differences? “Bananas in Pyjamas” are sold here and spelt “Bananas in Pajamas”. When I told the kids that I would give them new grades once a fortnight, blank looks and they had no idea what I was talking about! The word “fortnight” is nearly unknown. And what the heck is a “guacamole” or something like that? It’s an avocado! And I discovered that harbours all have “U’s” in them on the Canadian side of Lake Superior and have lost them this side. They have “zeds” and not “zees” in Canada too. I think adverbs and adjectives are nearly extinct here.
Why isn’t “color” a homophone for “collar”? If Mum is spelt “Mom”, then why isn’t Bum spelt “Bom” or “Bomb”? Do you have a bum or a bom? I better not go too far down that track! Spelling “reform” is less logical than the illogical English it purports to improve.
There is a restaurant in the US called “Famous Dave’s”. Why isn’t it called “Famos Dave’s”? That would be more logical if US spelling was consistent. And if “ass” means “arse” here, what is a donkey? That would be more logical with their strange variants on Oxford English. Noah Webster has a lot to answer for!

Curiouser and curiouser are some other American terms and nicknames.

One day the local plumber arrived at our house in Minneapolis, sporting a baseball cap with the name of his company. With one look I burst into uncontrollable laughter. The name of his cap read “Mr Rooter”. Americans also “root” for their team. When I explained the reason for my mirth, that in my country, “to root” means to engage in sexual intercourse, my new acquaintance joined in the laughter and ended up presenting me with his hat!

On another occasion TV news was interviewing a conservative old fellow about fighting the floods on the Mississippi. He went by the amazing name of Randy Eddy. “Randy”, in Australia means “horny” or having a heightened libido!

A colleague at the school took some students to a well-known fast-food chain known as “Chucky Cheeses”. As “to chuck” means “to vomit” where I came from, I had an incredible vision of what the inside of this place must look like, complete with half digested cheeseburgers hanging from the walls. When I explained this to my teacher friend, she joined me in laughter.

Churchill said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. The same might be said for America and Australia.

We are gradually learning the various dialects of the United States, many of which do approximate a type of English.

Whilst I admit the following conversation may not have actually occurred and may be a little exaggerated, it may well have occurred in an apocryphal sort of way. I shall try to provide a translation at the end.

Randy and Chuck

RANDY is a “person of color(colour)” or “African-American” (whatever that is), from the urban North. He wears a bandana, and a back-to-front baseball cap as formal attire on check (cheque) day.
CHUCK is from the deep South, has no front teeth and drives a pickup (ute) with the Stars and Bars (Confederate Battle Flag) on the hood (bonnet).
(with apologies to Jerry Springer)

RANDY: “Yo yo homie G!”
CHUCK: “Talk to the hand y’all. You don’t know me, ass-hol. Dude, get your hoochie ass ouda my face!”.
RANDY: “’sup (or) wassup?”
CHUCK: “You call mah goyal frayand (girl friend) a ho?
RANDY: “I didn’t call yoh goyal frayand no ho! Get off of me bro!
CHUCK: “Mah Bad! Ah bin talkin like trailer trash! Ah bin goin now. Y’all come back now, y’hear.
RANDY: Yo bro. Gimme five.
CHUCK: “Good job!”
Exit stage left/stage right.

(please not that in the United States “chuck” does not mean vomit and “randy” has nothing to do with sexual arousal)

Loosely translated, the conversation might go something like this:

RANDY: “Hello my friend/mate/bosom buddy/cobber/home chum/fellow gang member.”
CHUCK: “Don’t talk to me.. I don’t wish to make your acquaintance/enter into an interlocutor with you, arse hole (fundamental orifice) (please delete expletive). Sir, kindly go away”.
RANDY: “Why, whatever is the matter/What aggrieves you?”
CHUCK: “Did you insinuate that my lady friend/paramour was a women of dubious virtue (whore)?
RANDY: “(denial of same minus double negatives). Please don’t impute my honour and my gentlemanly virtue so, my friend.!
CHUCK: “I apologise/I am sorry/With obsequience/ I have been speaking as one challenges socio-economically or as one lacking socio-economic or educational good fortune/an inhabitant of a caravan park! Now I must bid you adieu but I hope that our paths will cross once more.
RANDY: Good bye my fraternal friend, and may I shake your hand?.
CHUCK: Well done is a rough translation, but please note that ‘good job’ is the term used by most Americans in order to avoid any offence, proper discussion or dialectic, confrontation or litigation. It is also used in order to refrain from criticism of mediocre performance in order to promote false expectations amongst those of limited talent (in the guise of “building self-esteem”)


**********

By March, the rest of the family had arrived. Minnesota is a great place to live, and we have settled in comfortably.

The locals talk about “Minnesota Nice”. This is a bit of an in-joke with the rest of the United States. Perhaps it is the influence of the gentle Swedish immigrants who populated Minnesota. Minnesota Nice is popularised by Garrison Keilor in his famous “Prairie Home Companion” radio series. Minnesotans are supposedly so polite that it takes a paragraph of dulcet tones to make a simple request. Apparently someone conducted en experiment on politeness in different parts of the US. At the traffic lights they purposefully held up traffic on the green. In New York City, it took a third of a second on average for the cars behind to honk their horns. In Minnesota, it took three complete changes of the lights before someone honked from behind. Perhaps this is apocryphal and perhaps not. I rather hope that it is true.

Minnesota in many ways is a parallel universe to where we come from, our state of Victoria in Australia. It is curious. The states of Minnesota and Victoria are in many ways, mirror of one another on the other side of the globe. They are about the same area and population. Victoria is more urbanised, with Melbourne being about 3.5 millions and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/Saint Paul only a million or so. Minnesota is a place of small towns. Minneapolis and Melbourne were both founded about the same time in the Nineteenth Century, and their growth parallels each other. Even the legislative buildings (the Minnesota Congress and the Victorian Parliament) were built about the same time in the 1850s, and as far as their architectural style, could well have been designed by the same architect.

Moving to a new place to begin a new life is an interesting experience. We go through much the same process as generations of migrants have experienced when they arrive in a strange land. You seem to go through definite stages as you learn about your new surroundings. When first you arrive there is a short “honey-moon” period, where you a really like a tourist. Everything is exciting and new. This only last for a week or so, and then it is down to more serious business of learning to find your way around. Grocery shopping; school enrollment; work; not getting lost on the freeways and learning to “the ropes” of living in a new city is quite a steep learning curve.

You begin, childlike, trying to operate at the most basic level in the strange new society. This can be frustrating, disconcerting and give you bouts of homesickness for the first couple of months. After about three months, with perseverance, at all begins to fall into place, and your start to begin to operate on a more comfortable level. And so it goes.

By about ten months in the US we were like locals and well and truly knew the lie of the land. Ironically, after our stay was up at the end of the thirteen months, and when it was time to come home, we were at our most comfortable living in the US. The biggest and best impression is that of the people here! We have made so many special, helpful friends in the neighbourhood and at the different schools.

The family gradually comes to cope with living in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. We come to appreciate that it is a special part of the US and the world.

“Minnesota Nice” showed itself with the ordinary folks who we meet from day to day are generally just so friendly and welcoming! Americans may know little about Australia, but I think many seem to be in love with the idea of Australia and Australians, and are genuinely interested in us. The American view of Australia is rather naïve, romantic and exotic. They are very welcoming and one is getting a little tired sometimes of repeating the same explanation of how we have come to be here!

In many ways, the way Americans look at the myth of their own country: a new world frontier of open spaces, opportunities, individual liberty and freedom from the detritus of the Old World is a more true description of Australia than the USA. The US is a much larger, older society than Australia. It has twelve times the population of Australia and about twelve times the number of states. Australian eyes it is more like Europe than Americans would care to admit. The myriad states are so diverse and in many ways less united than modern Europe, each state with its own way of doing things; its own culture; government and laws. This diversity and lack of unity was to be brought home to us as we traveled the USA later in the year.

The Twin Cities claim to be 2.3 million people total, but this seems to be counting all the suburbs. The cities are a far cozier size than this. One million people is a closer estimate.

Minneapolis is a clean and well-organised city with a wonderful system of skyways or glassed in walkways that join the entire central business district above the streets and out of the winter weather. There are picturesque walks along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis around Saint Anthony’s Falls where the city was founded in the early Nineteenth Century.

The French priest, Father Hennepen began preaching to the Native American Ojibwa and Sioux in the Seventeenth century and was martyred for his cause, beginning the dubious relationship of culture contact with the colonizers. The city began as the most northerly trading post on the mighty Mississippi. Minnesota Territory was purchased from the French as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The cradle of the city is the well-preserved old Fort Snelling that was set up by the new US government to forestall the British in the early Nineteenth Century and it is still an army base and military cemetery.

It was from Fort Snelling that Minnesota dispatched its soldiers to the Civil War It had been a centre for conquest and trade with the Native Americans. Later Minneapolis-St Paul was the service centre for grain production in the Midwest. Pillsbury Flour is famous to this day in the US and this gentleman became a Governor of Minnesota and a millionaire. Large “Pillsbury” wheat silos and flour mills still dot the Mississippi shoreline, and a system of locks were added, as marvels of Nineteenth century engineering to transport flour downriver. Later the railway took this over.

This Mississippi is truly one of the world’s great rivers, rising in Minnesota at Itasca and flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. We were to follow its course in our travels.

At Minneapolis-St Paul, it is perhaps a mile wide and here it joins with the Minnesota river to make the first great river junction. It’s amazing to see its mighty reaches frozen in winter. It still flows underneath the ice. A quaint old stone arch bridge crosses a frozen cascade of St Anthony’s Falls here to the gentrified university quarter with its bars and restaurants rejoicing in the happy name of Dinkytown. Nearby Minnehaha Park contains the picturesque Hiawatha Falls, made famous by Longfellow, also frozen solid in winter.

Here, in the very heart of the Twin Cities are situated the exclusive apartments of the well-to-do: the surgeons, corporate lawyers and retired matrons living on alimony. The penthouses overlook the old stone bridge and the falls. Here, I spent my first New Year’s Eve at the end of 2000 (purists and pedants would say that this was the first day of the new millennium).

I had met a Minneapolis trial attorney (barrister) through mutual friends. Paul, my new lawyer friend made his living as a defender of drunk drivers. This was his specialty. A search on the Internet on “DWI” (Driving Whilst Intoxicated) or “DUI” (Driving Under The Influence) plus Minneapolis brings up his name! His wealthy aunt lived in one of the penthouses. She hardly looked elderly with her dyed hair and very expensive face-lifts, but she was probably in her early seventies. Since she had been to Australia as many times as she had had ex-husbands, she was in love with Australia and Australians. Her gigantic “Home Beautiful” apartment was decked out in expensive Australian souvenirs. According to Paul, because I was “in tow” was the reason that we were all invited to the party. Paul and his wife had never been so “honoured” and it was all about showing off my new friend’s quaint Aussie. We were made very welcome nevertheless, and all had a great time. Paul unsuccessfully tried to explain to me the intricacies of college football on the large screen TV. I sampled the many and varied California wines and American beers. Fortified with suitable libation, we ventured to the rooftop to view the fireworks and the peasant revelers on the stone bridge in the Arctic Minnesota winter. This was my wonderful introduction to life in Minneapolis and the United States.

Later, not very far from here, we were to meet the “other half”: the street people. Somewhere in that frigid Minneapolis night they were moving, if they were lucky, to shelters so they would not freeze to death.

To drive around the suburbs of Minneapolis is so easy. The freeway system is impressive, and so easy to navigate running generally north south or east west by numbers and blocks. The various suburbs are small, fairly self-contained with interesting individual attributes such as great theatres in Hopkins, restaurants in other areas and so on. Many of the areas are wonderful, such as Hyland Park in Bloomington, with its gigantic mansions overlooking the most beautiful lakes.

Minneapolis-St Paul is the centre of Art and Theatre for the Midwest. There are more theatres and galleries there than in Chicago. New York is about the only American city with more. The very best of the American and international theatre perform here. Sir Tyrone Guthrie, the English Shakespearean actor established the beautiful Guthrie Theatre on the banks of the Minneapolis River. Here we saw Patrick Stewart in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. Along with a score of smaller theatres and concert halls the other great theatre is the famous Fitzgerald Theatre.

The birthplace of F. Scott-Fitzgerald, Saint Paul is the capital city of Minnesota and in some ways even more impressive than Minneapolis. Saint Paul is beautiful. You can walk it in an hour or so! It is so accessible with its skyway system too, but also its well-laid out streets at ground level. It is a city of theatres, restaurants and wonderful public spaces. The Science Museum and Minnesota History Museum are both impressive. We joined the former with a reasonable family membership, which enables us to see the most amazing exhibits.

Most impressive in St Paul, however are the two buildings that dominate the higher parts of the city: the Cathedral and the Capitol. Here we attended a Brass and Choir Concert performed by the University of Minnesota, who is celebrating their 150th anniversary and walked to the History Museum.

Democracy in action, inside the Capitol building we met a few small protest groups, one called, “moms, who walk for millions” and another wearing yellow buttons saying, “we care for education”. They were delivering letters and petitions, and hanging around Governor Jesse Ventura’s office in the hope to meet him. Unfortunately he wasn’t in: a pity, as I would have liked to meet him.

Governor Jesse Ventura has legendary stature in parish-pump politics. He is one of the few state governors who is nationally and even internationally known, even if it is only for his joke value. In some ways Jessie may be seem as a metaphor for America with his sow-biz connections and his media profile. In another way, he is better than that, as for a long time, “from log cabin to Congress” has largely been a myth. Candidates usually need millions to be elected. Yet Jessie did it with little financial backing, so he is better than the national myth.

Minnesota has prided itself on being a very liberal state, being ruled for a long time by a Democrat-Farmer coalition to the exclusion of the Republicans. Then along came Jessie. He was unusual in that he wasn’t wealthy nor endorsed by either of the two main parties. An independent underdog, with very much the common touch, he became Governor of Minnesota. He them brought his very unconventional style to the office.

Jessie had been a professional wrestler and a friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also claimed to be a hero of the Vietnam War. It turns out that he had been a Navy Seal but never saw active service. He called himself “The Body” but later amended that to call himself “The Mind”, as that is why he claimed people elected him. Jessie Ventura polarises public opinion. Many see him as a joke. He is a master of the politically incorrect quip, making statements such as wanting to be re-incarnated as a double D bra. The Star Tribune newspaper ran a humorous column of quotes from Jessie. The teachers and educators, many good Democrats, tend to hate him. The underdogs admire him. No-one could ignore him. He brought colour and interest to the office, and like him or loath him, was at least not boring, like so many politicians.

A classic, politically incorrect Jessie-ism was his when he characterized the city layout of the state capital of St Paul as having been designed by a bunch of drunken Irishmen. St Paul and Minneapolis, the two Twin Cities, have always been rivals. The Irish had settled St Paul, and its layout is rather less well organised than Minneapolis. Yet St Paul is a beautiful city that has been gentrified since the end of the Nineteenth Century. Earlier, it had a much more colourful past.

The original name of St Paul had been “Pig’s Eye”, apparently name for a Mississippi River pirate of that name. The refined city of St Paul had grown out of a pirates’ nest of earlier times. Maybe the old name would make for a much more interesting address today, though I doubt it would suit some of the more repectable citizens of today’s St Paul. There is still a St Paul brewery that goes proudly by the name “Pig’s Eye”. Pig’s Eye Beer is actually a very nice drop!

The St Paul Cathedral is a magnificent domed structure finished in 1912 and is a copy of St Peters in Rome. It looks something like a white wedding cake but whilst being grand and beautiful it is quite restrained and not over-ornate.

The Capitol building houses the state legislature (the Minnesota Congress of Senate and House of Representatives). It seems roughly the same age, size and style as the Victorian Parliament House, but I think in one way more impressive, as unlike the Victorian Parliament. Here the completed and magnificent dome that was never finished on our Parliament at home. The colour of the Minnesota Capitol building is an impressive light gray and it is beautifully proportioned, high on a hill overlooking the city.

Below the Capitol building in the basement, we made an amazing find: a little piece of Munich, Bavaria, in the form of a real Ratkeller. A Ratkeller is a traditional German restaurant of beer hall built in the cellar below the City Hall. Here it was, replete with saurkraut and wurst on the menu. Created in the Nineteenth Century, the Ratkeller was testimony to the large numbers of early German settlers in Minnesota. Residues of some of the old prejudices remain even today in Minnesota, as the locals still lay claim to predominant Swedish and Scandinavian migration in the Nineteenth Century. It was however the Germans who formed the largest group of immigrants. Some of the more Germanic murals had been painted out in the cellar after 1917 and some of the rooms had been blocked off. This was now being put right with archaeological excavation and restoration.

We observed some debate. Would you believe at present the State Legislature here is debating whether it would issue permits for individuals to carry concealed handguns. Particularly if you have had a conviction for a drink driving offence, are you liberties infringed if you are denied the right to carry a concealed handgun on that basis. This is seriously being discussed even although there has been yet another school shooting in California.

We wandered the halls and were able to actually enter the governor’s office and admire the astonishing collection of paintings. The civic sculptures and paintings depicted some of the milestones in Minnesota’s past. Past Governors such as Colonel Shibley, the amateur soldier who bought is command in the 1860s and put down the last Dakota/Sioux rising. Later, of course he became governor. Then there was Mr Pillsbury, the Flour man, who made his fortune and so became governor. The giant painting depicted the Minnesotans fighting at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and at other long-forgotten Civil war battles, miles from home in the Deep South.

Our new home is in the depths of Suburbia.
It might be “Smallsville”; or or the colourless stereotype of a suburb seen in countless American movies. The place Richard Dreyfus fled from in “Close Encounters…”; the suburb built on the Indian burial ground in “Poltergeist”, or the colourfully cladded ticky-tacky of “Edward Scissorhand”.

It was pleasant and anonymous but it was not the town where Jimmy Stewart lived in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

American suburbs in new developments can be characterised as pleasant and comfortable desolation. The developers put up a few common designs to suit different budgets. Uniformly the houses are cheaply built to a price. Some actually resemble Jimmy Stewart’s house in “..a Wonderful Life” but that’s where the similarity ends. Appearance with little substance, these middle-class “dream homes” are made of the “tick tacky” of the sixties protest song: notably cheap light-grade aluminium cladding that looks like weather board but actually dints when you press your finger against it and is wrecked by hail storms. The designs vary only in small ways, such as the colour of the cladding or the position of the garage.

Ecologically too, these houses and suburbs certainly have their shortcomings. Houses of course, have to be well insulated, and there is now some recycling. The American middle class preoccupation with gadgets doesn’t help. You hardly ever see Americans hanging washing on the clothesline, as that is was the poor do. Even in summer they all use the clothes dryer.

The denizens of this bourgeois dream suburb politely nod to one another as they drive to work to pay the mortgage, or mow the lawn on a Sunday, but basically they keep to themselves. They may see one another at church, but that’s about it. There is no public transport; no local stores and the journey to the supermarket has to be by car.

Yet the suburb of Bloomington, where we live, is considered to be the ideal, comfortable and quite well to do middle class suburb. Its only claim to any historical importance is a couple of nearby sports grounds. One is named Dredd Scott after the escaped slave who fled to Minnesota in the 1850s, and the other named after the famous Minneapolis son, the old hoofer Gene Kelly.

Winter in Minnesota is certainly an experience. Our first winter in Minnesota was a long one. Four months of over a metre of snow. Coming to terms with the perils of winter driving, where vehicles would literally skate into the middle of intersections or off the road on the ice. Where, if you forgot your mittens on the way to work, you were in very real danger of getting frostbite. Proclaimed “snow days” where the local schools would close or open late because of the flurries and blizzards.

One of the traditional Minnesota pastimes this time of the year is the legendary ice fishing, popularised in the “Grumpy Old Men” movies. Small huts are erected on the ten thousand plus Minnesota lakes. Augers drill holes feet deep into the ice and, fortified by alcoholic spirits, hardy souls drop a fishing line in to try to catch sunfish and walleye. Every year the local newspapers report some of these enthusiasts waiting too long to vacate the lakes as the thaw begins and losing their fishing huts or four-wheel drives in the lake, to the amusement of the readers.

When the snows begin abating the temperature is still seldom above freezing although we move slowly towards spring. The fishing huts on the frozen lakes have had to be removed. Sometimes when the temperature gets above freezing the snow begins to melt, puddle and then refreeze. This will be happening more often now as spring approaches, although more snow comes in the meantime as we warm up! Then out with the snow blower again. Our house is still covered with its blanket of snow at this time. It really is beautiful as we awake to fresh rabbit tracks at the back of the house, or our resident squirrels scampering in the snow. We know spring is around the corner by the increased bird life. The cute little Chickadees, a local species are feeding at the bird feeder.

Our house is cozy and warm and the kids rug up against the weather on the way to school in the “Yellow peril” busses, and we have finally learnt to live with the weather. It really isn’t a problem after awhile, although too much exposure to central heating tends to crack your lips and dry you out if you don’t remedy this.

The Twin Cities get the last of the Arctic weather in a big “V” that comes down into the Midwest from the North Pole. Our house in Xylon Road South, Bloomington, Minnesota is actually right at the very bottom apex of this climatic “V”, as the neighbour’s house over the road is actually warmer. Our climate tends to have more similarity with Alaska or the Yukon than with our latitudes, although the Twin Cities lie further north than 70 percent of the population of Canada! We are cold!

Australians will find such weather difficult to contemplate. The Celsius and Fahrenheit scale intersect only once at minus 40 degrees. The coldest recorded temperature ever in Australia was minus 26 degrees Celsius at Charlotte’s Pass in the Australian Alps. This is about minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit. That winter in Minnesota we generally sat around freezing (32 degrees F, 0 degrees C), but we have had several nights and days where it was into the negative Fahrenheit with wind chills approaching minus 40 or even more. One morning they talked of minus 20 F and a wind chill of minus 60 F though this was an extreme.

That year a couple of toddlers, one 18 month and the other 2 years (two separate incidents) wandered out of the back doors of their respective houses and were clinically dead when found not so much later. The 18 month one recovered with frostbite and the other ended up in a coma. Terrible. But mostly people cope, although energy use is very high here indeed.

BUT the spin off is the most picturesque countryside blanketed in snow. It is really beautiful.

So far, what we have seen of the hinterland around the Twin Cities is equally impressive, and there is plenty to see. We have had a few nice drives into the countryside. Some highlights are places like the Mystic Lake Indian Reservation with a world-class casino run by the Dakota, Sioux and Ojibwa Indians. The Indian gift shop is owned and run by a local white person, who not only buys and sells the beautiful handcraft from the local Indians but also from salespeople, who are travelling around the States and Canada to buy the craft from other Indian tribes.

For me the highlights are just the various sights and sounds of the countryside. The little and not so little country towns with names like Cologne, Hamburg, New Germany, New Ulm, and, would you believe Glencoe and Hutchinson (the odd Scot being here too). These towns despite their colourful origins look fairly identical. Some how they have industry and make a living. The names indicate the ethnic origins of the early settlers. Minnesota claims Scandinavian heritage but this is misleading it is majority German, as are Wisconsin, Nebraska, the Dakotas and other areas around here. This is not even second to English settlers, although they and the Scots etc were here as co-existing minority groups. The US really is a fascinating melting pot similar to Australia but more so by a factor of ten.

Driving back through the white countryside, we saw deer, snowmobiles and once something straight out of Jack London, a fellow exercising his dog team: a sled with eight wonderful dogs. We stop, chat to the dog-sledder, and our daughter Jessie got a ride on the sled for a couple of miles. Just wonderful the grin on her face was something to behold.

Thank goodness spring finally arrives and is sort of here, nearly! We hope that it is not a false start. It still often reverts to freezing but we can actually get outside and do some walking in the neighbourhood. Quite miraculously the crocus and other plants are sticking their heads up for the short growing season. The squirrels or rabbits that are now very active are nibbling the hyacinths. The beautiful cardinal birds and chickadees are eating from our bird feeders.

The Canada geese have come back, and are a wonderful sight for sore eyes. They really are majestic creatures. A flight of half a dozen flew over the house the other day and they call to one-another in flight, as if to say “keep up”, “stay in line” or “don’t pass me, I’m the leader”. They land on all the thawed lakes and ponds, and wander the school grounds as well! Magic!



The real bonus has been how successful our “new” “Recreation Vehicle” (RV) is. Remember it is a 1978 (older than me!) 360 cubic inch (approx. 6 litre) V8 23 footer Dodge (perhaps 10 MPG!!). It has done “only” 80 odd K miles, new “this” and “that” and had been thoroughly refitted inside two years ago. It is wonderfully comfortable, with a three-way fridge, a Coleman gas furnace, hot water, stove/oven and microwave, toilet, bath/shower and could sleep six etc. It is very well designed.

Anyway, we thoroughly tested the RV well and truly on the Easter weekend. You wouldn’t believe that the School District of Prior Lake-Savage decided that teachers had to come to school on Good Friday for conferences, but on Saturday we took off! We began the trip with our Australian friends Merrill and her daughter Jessica. Merrill is another exchange teachers here, who is staying in Golden Valley 20-min. drive from us.

On the Saturday we travelled south to the magnificent bluff country of the Mississippi. Near the town of Harmony we encountered the Amish. We had a great conversation with a wonderful older Amish lady selling wares on the roadside from her black sulky (baked pies, preserves and magnificent patchworks). She had eleven children and seven grandchildren and a fascinating lifestyle.

From there we travelled over the border to Iowa (“Idiots Only Walking Around” as the Minnesotans call them) but a quite different and very interesting place indeed. We went from there into Wisconsin to La Crosse and other interesting towns on the Mississippi. Merrill and Jessica then returned to Minneapolis and we ended up camping at a beautiful town very like Daylesford called Lanesboro.

Lanesboro was apparently a favourite haunt of King Hussein of Jordan when he was attending the famous Mayo Clinic in nearby Rochester for chemotherapy. His entourage would travel down there and check out the little gift shops, and the locals wouldn't “turn a hair!”

We met some great people from Winona (as in Winona Rider) in the camping ground and are invited to their daughter’s place next weekend in St.Paul for an international beer party!

Anyway, the following day was the real test! Predictably the old electrics (the battery died) AND we got a slow flat! We had to beg numerous jump starts to get the vehicle to Rochester where we had it repaired. That is ALL the bad luck that we shall have with the vehicle (hopefully).

From Rochester we went through some wonderful state parks and back to the Mississippi and Winona. Here we stayed and had to use the furnace on the RV as it was such a cold night. We awakened to snow, did some walking in the forest and had some very icy travelling conditions as we travelled north along the Mississippi towards the Twin Cities. Along the way we stopped at the beautiful and historic town of Red Wing on the Mississippi. It is a fascinating place, full of history and where the Red Wing shoe factory is based. I invested in two pairs of shoes!

Spring of course brings with it the snow thaw, which has brought major flooding this year. The rivers are like an Inland Sea, and I had to do a major detour miles to get to work this morning. Many town bridges such as Wabasha of “Grumpier Old Men” fame are under water. People have drowned and there is a major civil emergency in many areas with sandbagging and constructing levies.

Living in the US remains varied, rich and very interesting: the ethnic mix and the famous theatres, thespians and movie actors that are part of the everyday scene even here in the Twin Cities. We saw Patrick Stewart at the theatre the other day.

I am ever struck with the underlying similarities between Aussies and Yanks in most important ways. Australia is really far more fortunate in almost every respect. I really think that this hinges on our relative population size. Our standard of living at home is generally much better because we have only twenty million people sharing our continent. My American friends might find this a little hard to understand but it really isn’t, as it is a function of all our climatic zones (“a nation for a continent”) and our small population. Our essential commodities are very much more processed in the US than in Australia. They are from twice to four time more expensive here and no where near as fresh or natural (fruit, meat, dairy). Heating is twice the cost. Gasoline/Petrol is a little cheaper here (about 10cents Aus. per litre cheaper)


We are having the time of our lives!! It is a pity we have to work occasionally.
(14 May, 2001)

We of course are champing at the bit for the up coming summer break in about three weeks. Then we shall be OFF!! I shall try to keep up some correspondence using Internet cafes around the country to send pictures and words. I shall borrow Hidden Oaks’ digital camera if they let me. Our plans are very ambitious. To head south down the Mississippi Valley to New Orleans; Alabama; Orlando Florida for Disney World; Savannah; Charleston and all the interesting Southern places. West Virginia, Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachians; Washington and then as far north as we can make it to be back in Bloomington for the 4th of July. We have to try to be back to celebrate it with all our friends here. Notably of the Ahern’s new boat on the beautiful Lake Minnetonka (now thawed out and an absolute picture) It’ll be a tall order to do all this and get back in time!

After this, we shall head north into Canada; then west to the Rockies; Banff; BC et al and south again to Yellowstone etc etc and home from there on Route 66 or some such. It’ll be all not over-planned and as we find the adventure unraveling!

I shouldn’t complain too much about the work at this stage, as it has now settled down to quite a nice routine, and there is not long to go. The kids, by and large continue to be good and “engageable”. The staff remains great.

We’ve done great things every weekend and often through the week! Far more in fact than we do at home in Australia and more than most Minnesotans seem to do themselves! My colleagues at school are constantly amazed at what we get up to. Some highlights!

After our Easter Saga, we went with Mary and Alan Poul


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4th July 2004

exempler material!
Scotland,UK July 4th 2004 Came across your travelblog by chance whilst looking for my daughter's journal. Your 'warts and all' entry makes riveting reading. Do you encourage your students to post blogs and comments? I will encourage vikki5678 to visit your journal to observe 'good practice'(please excuse teacher-speak) Many thanks, Alan
7th October 2005

Pretentious
"There is plague upon man...the opinion that he knows something." Montaigne. This article says more about the author, an "ordinary" Australian, than it does about the United States. The majority of American's would love to have the dough and leisure to play Rick Steeves in cyberspace. The construction reeks of pompous self-aggrandizement. Put another shrimp on the barbi and stay home nimrod. Always liked the Falls of Xanadu since I first saw the movie, "The Loved One." Proud to be an American
22nd October 2005

Asoka obviously has not read this journal; can't understand it or is looking though the same Yankee prism that wants to make Iraq "safe for democracy" with bombs and superiority (not that his oligarchial country is a democracy!) .

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