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A Much-Too-Brief Summary of My Trip Overseas

(Reprint from News: May 22, 2002)

April 8, 2002


I have a lot to say about my 4-month trip to New Zealand and Australia.  However, because of my limitations as a writer I'm sure I'll fail to adequately describe it… but here goes:


Overall, my overseas trip went very well and I had a great time.  However, and unlike most people I know who've been to both countries, I enjoyed Australia more than New Zealand.   What impressed me the most about both countries, other than cricket and fish & chips, was how incredibly friendly and courteous everyone was. 


Coming back to the U.S. was a big shock for me, and after I got back, I felt like I was on another planet at times.  Were Americans really this rude, violent, crass, and obnoxious when I left in December?  I always thought of the U.S. as a pretty great country, but my smugness took a big hit because Kiwis and Aussies are, quite frankly, much more pleasant than Americans.  I'm not criticizing Americans, necessarily, but after my experience overseas, I think we could be a lot more polite and civilized.  Yes, I'm proud to be an American, but I also think we have a lot of work to do... and please spare me the "Love It or Leave It" attitude.


What can I say about New Zealand?  Well, it's a wonderful country with lots of scenic diversity.  Imagine scrunching all 50 states into a country the size of Colorado and you’ll get the idea.  However, it rained a LOT when I was there, the roads are incredibly winding, and it was very crowded just about everywhere I went.  Take a tip from me – never visit New Zealand during December or January without having reservations.  The next time I go, it'll be in November, February or March, and I think I'll have a much better time because... well... it really is a nice country. 


2-1618_Hwy_80.jpg (32280 bytes)  

Above:  Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand, with Lake Pukaki in the distance.


In terms of culture, climate, topography, vegetation, and just about anything else you can imagine, New Zealand is like a combination of Oregon and Hawaii.  Those are two of my favorite states, so it’s no wonder that I enjoyed New Zealand so much.  I’ll definitely go back some day.


Now for Australia, which is a lot different from New Zealand – although not as different as either Kiwis or Aussies would like to believe.  Frankly, Australia isn't as interesting as New Zealand or America from a physical point of view (I still think that America, with its stunning landscapes, is the most interesting country in the world).  While there are some places in Australia that are incredibly beautiful, such as the Great Dividing Range, there are also large stretches of Australia that I found pretty boring -- and this coming from a person who enjoys long, tedious drives.


BUT... from a cultural perspective, I think Australia is tops.  Aussies are a lot more courteous than Americans, they obey the speed limits, they don’t have the pushy, “in-your-face” attitude that unfortunately is becoming so common here in the U.S., and for the most part, they’re really cheerful.  I can’t count the number of times that I walked into a restaurant, gas station or motel – whether in downtown Sydney or in the Outback – and got a big smile and a cheerful, “G’day!” (always pronounced "gudday," not "good day").  Like I say, coming back to the loud, pushy, violent, in-your-face U.S. after spending four months in polite and tranquil New Zealand and Australia has been a major cultural shock for me.


Here are some more accolades for Australia:  Most of the cities and towns there are a lot more interesting and vibrant than those in America, Aussies generally take more pride in their homes and businesses than Americans, the media there is more intelligent and not nearly as obnoxious, there’s a lot less crime and violence (due largely to more rigid gun control legislation – take the hint, America), and there's an attitude of optimism that's refreshing.  In a single word, I’d say that Australia is much more “civilized” than America.  Americans, including myself, could learn a lot from Aussies.  


The cultural idiosyncrasies in Australia were also refreshing.  I liked Vegemite, I loved Arnott's Farmbake Chocolate Chip Cookies, Aussie music is great, and I wanted to marry any of the women on the Outback television show, "McLeod's Daughters" (except for Tess, who's too prissy). 


Yeah, I did miss America while I was over there, especially its physical beauty, and I'd never want to live anywhere else.  However, now that I’m back in the U.S., I miss Australia a lot, too.  So if you ever get a chance to visit Australia, definitely go.  And even if you don’t get a chance, go anyway.  For more of my thoughts, check out My Impressions of Australia.


2-3325_Vegemite.jpg (33013 bytes)    2-3236_Arnotts_Farmbakes.jpg (72556 bytes)

Above left Kids, don't try this at home.  This is the famous Aussie staple, Vegemite, smeared on a cracker, oops, I mean "biscuit"... no wait, a "biscuit" is a cookie...  The trick, as I learned from Peter (see News: April 7, 2002), is to spread this salty concoction very THINLY.  When applied correctly, it's actually pretty good.

Above right:  Arnott's Farmbakes are absolutely the world's best chocolate chip cookies.  Too bad you can't get them in the U.S.  I ate about 15 bags of these in Australia and New Zealand.  I’m now on Arnott’s Christmas Card list.



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