Friday, June 23, 2006

oi oi oi

I come from a land down under

Where beer does flow and men chunder

Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?

You better run, you better take cover

Men at Work

I read somewhere not long ago that there is a floating population of 2,000 Australians in Paris. I'm not sure if this ethereal figure is correct, but if it is, that's not very many. That's certainly a small enough number to make me exotic.

Australia seems to have a good reputation in France. Despite the ongoing efforts of the conservative government of John Toady Howard (who?) to score boos for Australia on the world stage through unadulterated support for the merest sneeze of Bush and the boyz, the reputation of Australia seems to be relatively unscathed - at least in Montmartre.

People hear my accent and they try to be all smartypants and announce:

Vous êtes Anglaise!



Na ha

D'ou venez vous?


Oh you speak German?

No! Australia, land downunder, where women glow and men plunder.

And then they get all big-eyed and either say "ha ha kangaroo!" or wax lyrical about how they would like to go there one day, their cousin went there once, or they went there...and they loved it!

And why would I live here when I could live in a beautiful country like Australia? Why do people want straight hair when they have curly hair?

Or they tell me that they have tasted Foster's beer or wine from Jacobs Creek (of course Australians don't take these exported beverages seriously - the good stuff stays at home - what Australia exports is the cheap and nasty stuff that we drank when we were teenagers so we could lose our inhibitions as quickly as possible and have an excuse to grope each other's boyfriends and steal clothes from stranger's clotheslines).

So generally Australia gets a got a good rap from the French people I meet. It's the Australians in Europe and many of my friends who still live in Australia who diss the big brown land.

But with so few Australians in Paris, I don't meet that many floating through its sugary streets. Except for the tourists. I can always spot an Australian tourist.

"They are Australian", I'll whisper to H, pointing to two indistinct blobs in the distance.

"How do you know?"

"I just do!"

I think I have an 83.5% success rate.

It's not their skin colouring or the shape of their eyes because as we all know Australia is a hotchpotch of many different colours, shapes and sizes.

Perhaps it's a way of dressing, a way of standing (not quite straight), their demeanour, and dare I be so lame as to say it - a certain openness - "come on in and know me".

But I don't come across that many Australians who actually live here. And with a few exceptions, those that I have met here don't really want to know other Australians. Like I am the bones jangling around in their closet, like I am going to see beneath their cultivated European ways, tear off their Euro veil and reveal their inner aussie bumpkin.

I was a bit like that when I was living in London. I'd dodge the Australians roaming around in packs thinking it was nothing other than the silliest of the sillies to move to London and carve a mini Australia within a foreign city.

But I find I've recently started to seek out other Australians in Paris. A friend rang me not long ago and said "Come out, i'm with some Australians!". It generally takes a lot to get me to leave my cave at short notice, but I boot scooted down to that bar before you could say "Larry".

Of course the guys that happened to be there, although good people who I don't wish any harm,
were the extreme form of Australian, those who drink lots of beer and then chunder, quite expressively and publicly. So one hour was a big enough dose of Australia to last me a while.

But I still do feel a welcome bond with many Australians I meet.

I guess it is nice to be blue-eyed and exotic in Paris, but often i just feel a bit quirky and out of step, from that land with lots of desert and funny accents. Oh isn't she mignonne! Like everyone just wants to give my cheeks a good, hard squeeze. Meanwhile I just want to go and do some sport somewhere, any old sport.

Hmm, very interesting all that. Considering that in Australia I always felt a bit out of place, not sporty enough, a strange dark bookish character sitting up a tree watching everyone else participating in life or sport.

I've always been a sucker for the brooding man from "Europe" (doesn't matter where - any EU member will do) but I found that a couple of years after I moved here I had a turnaround and started being attracted to six foot men full of muscles with broad australian accents and sun-drenched noses. Exotic is indeed relative and ever-changing.

Now that I am nearly as far from Australia that I can be, I've found that I have become attracted to Australia in the way I used to be attracted to Europe. I read Australian history and when I take holidays in Australia, as well as visiting my family, I try to go to some of the places there which i've never visited.

And then there is that not quite pride I have for the country I wanted to ditch forever. Especially now with the World Cup. With football i'm like one of those people who say they are a devout catholic but only go to mass at Christmas and Easter. I say "I love football" but only ever watch it during the World Cup and then forget it exists for four years.

I nearly cried when Australia lost against Brazil on the weekend. Not because they lost - because I am a good sport. But because in the bar where we watched the match everyone was supporting Brazil (and they weren't brazilians - personally i thought it was a little on the safe side to support a team who is clearly very talented and powerful and won the World Cup last time).

So tonight I chose my bar better. I went to the Australian bar near my house (somewhere I thought I would never go). And yes everyone was supporting Australia and yes they qualified, knocked Croatia out of the competition and they will be playing against Italy soon.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I don't like hoo ha

These last few days I've been concerned that my lack of soft well-wishes
for the French football team in this World Cup (that is to say my inner bat cave of satisfaction that they didn't actually win in the recent match against Switzerland), is symptomatic of my failure to properly integrate into French society.

They seem like nice, strapping young men, why don't I want them to do well? I do live in France you know. Perhaps it's because I think they have already guzzled enough from the Cup of 1998. Now when they lose a football match the blow of losing is counterbalanced with the headline: `World Cup winners 1998, lose 10-0'. They are winners even when they lose.

The use of this qualifier `winners of 1998' is ubiquitous in France:

`Jacques Chirac, President of the World Cup Winners 1998',

Le Boulangerie de Violette - croissants made for and by the Winners of '98'.

I think 1998 has still got some life in it yet.

But I also think maybe my lack of support is just because I don't like hoo-ha. If they did win we would have months-upon-years of radios and newspapers splattered with victory, ticker-tape storms and a whole lot of hoo-ing and ha-ing which would smother the songs of birds and the quiet chatter of people exchanging ideas.

It was the same with the 2012 Olympic bid. I was secretly batting for London because I couldn't be bothered living with the hoo-ha if Paris was hosting the Olympics: the anticipatory highs followed by the post-games lows and mass city depression.

I've lived in an Olympic city before (Sydney 2000) so I know how it is. The communication channels are inundated with Olympic mania blocking out every other sound. This isn't to say that those two weeks in September 2000 where we dined on hot olympic pie smothered in olympic sauce and big jugs of olympic froth weren't more-than-fun.

On the other hand, distant hoo-ha, where I don't have to be at its core, is ok. There's a lot of hoo-ha in Australia at the moment about Australia winning its first World Cup match ever. Even though I didn't see the game so I can't engage in philosophical discussions about the ins and outs of the goals, I find myself just grasping on to any information I can so that I can text my Australian friends about it. No matter how banal, just the fact of keeping the conversation about the win going is enough for me. Text 1: "Did you know that when Australia won Jerry said he was so happy he could die?" Text response: "Ha ha really?". Pause. I need to say more but I didn't see the game or read anything about it, what about a re-phrase? Text 2: "Yeah, he said he was really happy. Happy enough to die."

Like the Olympics, the World Cup is a marker of time. Each four years I inevitably ask myself the question: Pinochiette, what were you doing last World Cup? Have you become a finer woman since this epoque?

Last World Cup - 2002 - I was blending with the sand on pale, empty beaches in the South of Italy. With my pallor and a big floppy sun hat, I fancied myself as quite the English lady. Entering bars for a cold drink I'd find men huddled around the television broadcasting the football, while women sat at tables watching from respectful distances. On the street sometimes I felt a bit like the woman in this photo by Ruth Orkin (a boyfriend gave me a print of this photo years ago and I remember wondering what his message to me was: women are slabs of meat surrounded by summer flies?)

But for the Final of the World Cup 2002 I'd left Italy and I was in Dublin, watching it in an Irish pub (although being in Ireland I guess it was just called a pub). More exciting then the Final was the day after the match when both French and I nearly got thrown in prison (or something) when French refused to pay for the hotel room (and wouldn't let me pay either) because there were crumbs on the carpet when we arrived and because, according to French `Paris is a more beautiful city than Dublin'.