Tuesday, November 26, 2013

American food

It was only just recently that the term 'American food' would bring forth all sorts of ridicule from white Melburnians. 'Food?' they'd say incredulously, 'that's not food!' as all things crumbed, glazed or deep fried were shunned. Back then, white Melburnians thought American food was all just hot dogs, burgers, greasy sandwiches and pork. But now that American food is being marketed to them in culturally appropriate ways, you'll see plenty of white Melburnians raving about hot dogs, burgers, greasy sandwiches and pork. My advice for anyone thinking of opening an American restaurant in Melbourne's inner north? Just call your soup 'gumbo' and put the word 'pulled' in front of any meat dish. They will line up.

But let's be honest. Australians have been eating American foods for generations. McDonalds, Burger King and KFC have always been popular, and TGI Fridays still draws a crowd. But these foods were never marketed to white Melburnians. There are a number of ways in which these places are marketed and presented to consumers that make them off limits to white Melburnians. For example, they are all very loud. Too much ambient noise means that strangers on adjacent tables won't get to listen to white Melburnians talk about their weekends or their experiences on a recent date or their new purchases (eavesdropping is a central form of communication in white Melburnian culture). The decor is all wrong too. No exposed brick, wooden beams or white tiles. All those glossy surfaces clash with the white Melburnian preference for matte.

Another problem with TGI's (and McDonalds and KFC etc) is that they are too authentic. Too firmly suggestive of their native context, these places are filled with lots of people who could be Americans. The food itself is also too authentic. It tastes just like the type of crap you're forced to eat while changing planes at Logan or Dulles, or filling up on I-91, or while watching a game at the Wells Fargo Center or AT&T Stadium or at a shopping centre in New London or New Britain or New Hampshire or San Luis Obispo. It's just too American for white Melburnians. Which is to say it's located in a part of the world that's not Northcote, so white Melburnians would prefer to avoid it altogether.

But there is definitely something a little sad about American food made by white Melburnians for white Melburnians. It lacks a certain depth of flavour and texture. Holding these foods in my hands, there's an odd feeling of lightness both in the food itself and in my wallet that isn't there in the American versions. Too much palm is visible, and when you squeeze the food it gives way (yields) too easily. White Melburnians forget they don't have to dress up to eat fried chicken. American food makes you feel full, happy and strong. People who eat that food could conquer the world (and they almost did). American food is for the masses, not just for the few in the inner suburbs of the most privileged cities. Its food that's eaten from sea to shining sea, through the cornfields, the bayous and the everglades. From the housing projects of Detroit to the upper floors of the Chrysler building in Manhattan. From the stoops of Brooklyn brownstones to the front porches of Pocatello, Idaho. American food is for all Americans. Thank you for reading and God bless. And may God bless American food.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Conversations with white Melburnians: a guide

Being a subset of Melburnian culture, white Melburnians have their own social norms, ways of communicating and ideas of what constitutes desired behaviour. Thus when Melbourne white people discuss their lives, there are only a limited number of possibilities for every statement they make. This changes the types of questions you can use to engage them in conversation. The getting-to-know-you questions are different, since you already know the answers to all of the usual ones. Here is a guide to conversations with white Melburnians:

If a white Melburnian tells you they are going to America:

"So are you staying in Williamsburg or the area next to Williamsburg?"

If a white Melburnians tells you they are going away for the weekend:

"Is there public transport to Castlemaine?"

If a white Melburnian tells you they are going to MIFF:

"Which music doco are you seeing?"

If a white Melburnian tells you one of their housemates is annoying them:

"Is it the photographer or the writer?"

If a white Melburnian tells you their tram was delayed:

"Is the 86 normally so bad?"

If a white Melburnian tells you they have to write an essay for uni:

"Is it about Derrida or Lacan?"

If a white Melburnian tells you they are moving to Europe:

"So you got that residency in Berlin?"

You also don't need to tell white Melburnians the suburb you live in, which can be confusing if you are new to Melbourne. When you hear them describe where they live, often it's just a street name:

"I live on Scotchmer. You?"
"We're between Canning and Rathdowne".

It's remarkable that such shortcuts of speech are possible in a city of 4.2 million. All of the diversity such a massive city offers in terms of lifestyles, places of work or residence, geography, forms of transport, social life and recreation - most of it gets air brushed out in White Melbourne where everyone is doing the same things all the time.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Food trucks

In many cities around the world, people eat food from trucks because it's cheap and convenient. In white Melbourne, food from trucks is considered a delicacy. Food trucks are so popular you actually have to queue before you can place an order. But the longer you have to wait the more enriching your experience becomes. Because then everyone will not only get to see you eat truck food, but they'll also see you attempting to buy it. The next steps are to (1) talk about your truck food experience to people who weren't there; (2) check in to the food truck you're eating at; (3) update your status about how you're eating truck food comparing it to other truck food you've had in the recent past; (4) tweet about your truck food dining experience; (5) photograph your truck food and upload.

Food truck websites want you to believe their food is the most authentic, genuine, real, pristine, original, natural, traditional food anyone has ever eaten. Online you can read about how the truck in question was inspired by journeys to eastern Europe or Mexico and other countries that aren't Australia. This type of promotional strategy draws on an aspect of broader Australian culture to its advantage, which is the idea that the best way to succeed in this country is to leave it. Then you come back and talk about how you did all of the stuff you normally do in Australia except you did them overseas. This equals instant Australian success. We can't take anyone seriously until they have been validated for us by Europeans or Americans (and maybe the Japanese).

So when white Melburnians eat truck food, they are not just consuming the food itself. They are consuming the experience of consuming food purchased from trucks. This distinction is critical because it means eating truck food isn't about eating truck food. It's really about your choice of clothes, the way you've brushed your hair, and how you sit on the kerb while eating than the flavours, textures and aromas of the food. There are at least two levels of consumption here, and you'd rarely be wrong in assuming that to be the case whenever white Melburnians consume anything. Since the quality of the meal is insignificant compared to the experience of openly consuming it, when asking someone what they thought of the food they'll say "it was alright".

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Malcolm Turnbull

White Melburnians love Malcolm Turnbull because he enlivens public debate by using words other than "boats", "stop" and "the". He talks naturally, doesn't try to hide his intelligence and isn't openly scornful of the Arts. It's even possible that Turnbull might understand not everybody in society enjoys the same privileges as rich white men. For Melbourne white people, most Liberals come across as bullies or try-hards, so they appreciate Turnbull's lack of bluster and relative honesty. Malcolm Turnbull knows he isn't average and isn't afraid of that. He is rich, privileged and intelligent - and he acts like it! But this is okay for white Melburnians because they want their leaders to be smarter than them. They don't care if their leaders aren't the types they'd have a beer with because that's what friends are for. Tony Abbott tries to act like an average bloke. But average blokes aren't Rhodes Scholars and they never seriously consider becoming a priest.

But Malcolm Turnbull plays an important role in the ongoing pursuit of social status amongst white Melburnians. When Melbourne white people tell you they like Turnbull, what they are really telling you is they are better than the average Labor voter. Their open appreciation of Turnbull is an attempt to position themselves above the fray, to make it look like they aren't diehard Labor or Greens voters. They want you to recognise their high political IQ, which is hard because in the next sentence they'll go on about how Tony Abbott or John Howard are "idiots", which is a grave miscalculation. But like most things in white Melburnian culture, the content of the message is not as important as its delivery. Pay close attention to the way white Melburnians tell you they like Turnbull. All of them say it as if it's a grand revelation! They want you to be shocked to hear they like a Liberal.

Turnbull is also a republican and campaigned hard for the 'yes' vote in the 1999 referendum. Even though republicans are found on all sides of politics (as are monarchists), white Melburnians like to pretend the republic is only for the Left. While the existence of Malcolm Turnbull is proof that they're wrong, white Melburnians get around this by claiming Turnbull as one of their own. Remember when it was uncool to travel to America and white Melburnians said they'd never go there "except to New York"? Malcolm Turnbull is the New York City of the Coalition. Remember when the only hip hop white Melburnians listened to was the Beastie Boys? Malcolm Turnbull is the Beastie Boys of the LNP. If Kevin Rudd is Labor's answer to John Howard, then Malcom Turnbull is the Liberal's answer to Kevin Rudd.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Onesies

In most cultures around the world, the wearing of a one piece polyester suit inspired by members of the animal kingdom is considered creepy, at best. But for white Melburnians, the onesie couldn't be more popular. White Melburnians love talking about onesies and making jokes about onesies. They even like to wear them in public sometimes. Like out to lunch, or at the airport or while doing the grocery shopping. The best part is when you get to make that joke about going to the toilet (it really doesn't get any better than that).

I think the popularity of onesies is a continuation of our vivid childhood imaginations. When you saw a pile of woodchips in the playground and you knew (you just knew!) jumping off it would feel exactly like flying. So at recess you go back for the run up and you time it perfectly, hitting full speed as you reach the top of the pile and then you leap - both feet are briefly off the ground but you land all too quickly and realise it wasn't as exhilarating as you imagined.

The onesie is a reminder that the gulf between imagination and reality remains large into adulthood. The thought of someone wearing a onesie is quite funny. But then you see someone wearing one and it's kind of gross and a bit pathetic. They are hilarious for about 5 minutes. In the time it takes you to get to the shops the joke has worn off. By the time your food arrives at your table when you're having lunch with your Mum (in your onesie) the joke hasn't been funny for about 45 minutes. Onesies manifest the same limitations we experienced in that leap of faith from the top of the woodpile. But they remind us it's still okay to dream big.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Awkwardness

White Melburnians don't know how to introduce themselves. They don't know if they should do the handshake, the hug, the kiss or the hug 'n' kiss or the handshake with the half hug. They don't know if they should give you a dap, backslap, high five or low five, or whether they should do or say anything at all.

Do you kiss? But what if they go for the hug? You'll kiss their ear! How much pressure do you exert with your lips? If you're too gentle like a mother kissing an infant it'll be weird but going in too hard and punching them with your mouth isn't good either. And if you don't connect on a high five do you try again or go for the conventional handshake? How to recover if you spill your drink (or theirs) as you greet someone? What to do if you knock their glasses off their head while reaching for the hug? And if one person is sitting down do they stand up or should the standing person try to give them a squeeze and risk delivering a groin to the face?

Melbourne white people don't know what to do when they see someone they know. Do you go over to them and chat? But what if they don't want to chat? What if you just met them recently or met them years before but saw them recently? Does the protocol change if you're on the tram, in a bar or riding past?

There is also a pervasive assumption amongst white Melburnians that every person they've ever met will want to engage them in prolonged conversation. What's wrong with saying hello without breaking stride? What's wrong with a wave, a nod or a quick 'hello' as you walk past? White Melburnians will either have a deeply intimate and protracted conversation or completely ignore you. There is no middle ground for them. They prefer to pretend they didn't see you rather than say hello and keep walking. When meeting white Melburnians be prepared to be the first to introduce yourself. Offer your hand as you get their attention so they don't have to choose. They will appreciate it.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Going to Bali . . . but not the touristy bit

Within every white Melburnian there lurks an inner bogan. When the white Melburnian is awake the bogan can be kept at bay, but every night they dream of VKs and premierships. Controlling this less reputable side of their personality takes a lot of energy so white Melburnians need a safe place where these strong urges can be unleashed. Bali is that place. Below are a number of socially acceptable reasons for going to Bali that Melbourne white people will use on you to justify their holidays (real reasons are in italics):

"But Bali is so cheap and so were the flights and it's so beautiful and they've got Heineken on tap!"

 "You can eat fresh seafood for like 5 bucks and I'm trying to learn Indonesian and they've got Heineken on tap!" 

"You can hire scooters and ride quad bikes and get cheap surfing lessons and do yoga and drink mango smoothies and Heineken on tap!"

"We never went to Kuta because the other parts of the island are actually really quiet and it's only locals at those places and we found a nice coffeeshop so every morning we'd drink Heineken on tap!"

When talking about their Bali trips white Melburnians will be at pains to tell you how they didn't go to Kuta. Don't believe them! 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

"First world problem"

The First World Problem phenomenon is a way for white Melburnians to appear worldly without having to think about the world. "First World Problem" has got nothing to do with global inequalities. It's just about making yourself feel better when something mildly annoying happens - like having to drink a soy latte made with So Good (aka So Bad).  "First World Problem" is way more versatile and a lot less lame than "Make Poverty History". Especially because you can use it without having to spend any money.

People will be wearing "First World Problem" tshirts made in Third World sweatshops before anyone does anything to help the Third World. But hey, at least it will provide jobs right? Without having to resort to redistribution or just consuming less, is there even enough energy and resources available on Earth to solve Third World problems? How is it possible that people in the Third World starve while their land and water is used to grow luxury items like chocolate and coffee? This doesn't just happen. It takes work. But we never talk about this.

But aren't First World Problems Third World Problems too? Don't people in developing countries still care if their football team loses? Or do they tell themselves "this loss doesn't matter to me because my nation's elites are hopelessly corrupt". People work boring jobs all over the globe. Or do people living in slums just say - "since I lack access to clean drinking water and functional sanitation systems I'm completely satisfied with my dull job"? Do traffic jams bring smiles to the faces of commuters in Hanoi or Kampala because their criminally low wages make them immune to frustration? A jammed photocopier in Monrovia would still be annoying! White Melburnians make it sound as if complaining is only for the rich. But anyone can do it. It's the great equaliser. White Melburnians should stop trying to make complaining into an elitist activity when it's really the one thing that unites us all. We, the world, should embrace it!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Threatening to move Southside

As White Melbourne moves further and further north, Melbourne white people will be forced to face some serious questions, like - do I really want to live in Thomastown? Maybe one day white Melburnians will argue not over Smith Street being superior to Brunswick Street but how much better Highpoint is compared to Northland. And will Castlemaine (the Portsea of the North) still feel like an escape when so many white Melburnians live basically next door?

Much like those Americans who threatened to move to Canada if Bush won, white Melburnians threatening to move Southside are also kidding themselves. It's just their way of saying Northside belongs to them at the exclusion of everyone else. On the other hand, what's so bad about Southside? It has the beach, it has Luna Park, and you get to catch up with the boys at the Pint on Punt. And the clubs are better! Northside can't compete with the California Club and Club 859!* Anyway, I've been exploring Southside lately and I just discovered a great cafe called the Galleon that nobody knows about. See you there?

*Don't Google them (they're brothels). I was trying to be funny.