During my far-and-wide travels the past year, I've been (like my ancestors long before me) "a stranger in a strange land", and I've been dwelling amongst all manner of strange and foreign people (many of whom were also far from home). It's no secret that I'm an Aussie; and naturally, "where you from?" is one of the first questions that gets asked and answered, when meeting new people while on the road. But until this trip, I never before realised just how strong and widely-known the stereotypical Aussie image is, or how much of a preconceived view this could implant in people, before they've even spoken two words to me. I've never really considered myself to be anything remotely close to the "quintessential Aussie bloke"; and having now been an ambassador of my country in the big wide world, I feel that I've done a dismal job of representing patriotically. Unfortunately, I've discovered a sad but undeniable truth about introductions: it's not who you are, it's what you are.
This evening, down in the basement bar of Cat's, I ended up sitting down and sharing a few beers with two Moroccan guys, who are immigrants living and working here in Madrid. I've observed (and even met) recent immigrants almost everywhere I've been in Europe: in particular, I've encountered numerous economically impoverished immigrants from North Africa, from the Middle East, and from Eastern Europe. Many, although not all of them, are here illegally. Tonight was the first time I've really sat down with some of the immigrants themselves, and had an in-depth chat about their situation. Few people around here are prepared to admit it, or to objectively discuss it: but this is an enormous issue for Europe, and in my opinion it's one that they're dealing with in an appalling manner at the moment.
So here I am in New York City, in the beating heart of the USA. And what do I hear in my first hour outside today, walking down the streets of Manhattan? Do I hear "let's go for coffee", "put it in the trunk", or "you want that to go"? Not a chance! Every 5 seconds, it's "qué cabrón es mi primo", "hasta once y media", and "estamos tardes, vamos". What's going on — have I left Latin America, or what?! I could barely put one foot in front of the other, in this city, without hearing people talking Spanish, seeing shop signs in Spanish, and even giving passers-by directions in Spanish! Seriously: "¿donde están los gringos?" (lit: "where are all the gringos?"). Apparently, Spanish is just as useful back here in the USA, as it is down south of the border — in some neighbourhoods, perhaps even more useful than English.
Saw this very cute-looking (although just a little racially offensive) ice-cream on the menu at D'onofrio's, last time I was in Lima. Tonight, I decided to order a "Chinito". Big ball of maracuya (passion fruit) flavoured ice-cream for the head; licorice sticks for the eyes and moustache; red chewy lollie for the mouth; bed of almond nut mix; and topped with a chocolate wafer, and a paper umbrella. Next time you're near Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, head in to D'onofrio's and order one: is verree niice!
The Green Tortoise is in the middle of Chinatown, and I've been taking advantage of the good food around here already. I had a nice Chinese lunch yesterday, and I grabbed another nice Chinese meal for dinner this evening. But on both occasions, all the Asian folk around me were given chopsticks, and I was given a spoon and fork. Apparently, unlike back home in Sydney — where everyone gets chopsticks, unless they request otherwise — here in America, non-Asians are assumed to be both chopstick-illiterate and chopstick-a-phobic, and are by default not given them. I guess that this is an interesting and a sad indication of the cultural differences between the United States and Australia.