Sometimes I have to remind myself I'm in a foreign country. The accent has become familiar, and if I'm at a school auditorium listening to a reading teacher list good books for preschoolers, it feels very familiar. The books are largely the same. Mem Fox, being Australian, is big over here. Moms ask about the schools approach to reading instructions--whole language vs. phonics, etc. I could be in any suburban setting in the U.S.
And then I'm confronted with the odd idiosyncrasies of Australia--Christmas and flip-flops, Swimming lessons and Santa, and then the strangest of all: Aussies and Cricket. My understanding of Cricket is limited, but to me it seems to be a baseball game that has overdosed on Quaaludes. This time of year we often see grown men dressed in white shirts, white vests, white knickers, white socks milling about watching a guy run full speed from what would be center field in baseball (relatively speaking) with a white ball that at the last second he hurls at a guy with a white paddle. After that, they usually have tea. Seriously, afternoon tea is part of the game. Short cricket matches last an entire day, and at the end of the day their uniforms are still white. But cricket can often go one for three to five days and right now that is what we are witnessing at the moment. It is the Ashes Series here in Australia, and in the last go around for the first time in something like twenty years the Aussies lost. It is a tense time here in the antipodes.
The Ashes series began in 1882 when Australia, went to England and beat the "barmy army" at their own game. The Sporting News, after a humiliating loss to a bunch of convicts and the descendants of former *sniff, sniff* English peasantry, declared that English cricket had died and that the body would be cremated. Eventually an Australian, in a gesture entirely characteristic of Aussie humor, presented an urn carrying the English cricket remains, and to this day this is the "cup" that they play for. It's a tiny little thing and looks a lot like the trophy I won when I spent one summer on a wooden bench watching my softball team place third in the fillies league.
And if you are like me and you wonder why NBA finals are best of seven games instead of five or three, then you'll be simply bowled over by the Ashes series: Five games, each game lasts five whole days. So of course, why not break for afternoon tea.
I can understand why such a sport goes over in the UK. Mainly because there are a whole host of items (the British version of The Office, Borat, the Royal Family) that entertain the British (called Pommies here, and often spoken of with good humored disdain) that elicit a yawn in the States as the T.V. channel is switched to NASCAR, My Name is Earl, or even celebrity poker. But I don't understand why Australians find it so appealing. This is, after all, the country that introduced the world to the Crocodile Hunter, Crocodile Dundee, and Mad Max. I doubt the Man from Snowy River ever dressed in white nickers, polo shirt, and v-neck, then played a sport that breaks for tea. But cricket is serious business over here and I heard on the radio that two bowlers had been expelled from the league after having taken steroids. It took me a week to realize they weren't talking about lawn bowling, but still, I think the irony remains.
This is a foreign country.