Saturday, 3 August 2013

G'dday, sport

Actually, I have never been to Australia and, to the best of my knowledge, have never met an Australian.  The nearest I can get is having a cousin who emigrated down under and who was visited by my elder son when he went walkabout during his gap year.  And my wife's godson has been to Oz as well.  Oh, I nearly forgot.  Talking of the Old Bat, she has a smidgeon of Aussie blood in her as her grandfather was born out there and emigrated in reverse when his mother died.

Not that the Aussie greeting - nor all that drivel in the previous paragraph - has anything to do with what I propose writing about today.  Except that a greeting features quite strongly.

My introduction to small town America was back in 2002.  The Old Bat and I had previously visited New York, but I was well aware that NY is to the USA what Sydney is to Australia (to continue with the Aussie connection), that is, a world apart.  We were determined to see something of what could be described as the 'real' America.  Not being exactly knowledgable about these matters, we settled on visiting Virginia, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains.  That trip came as something of a culture shock.

It started on our very first day.  I had made the electronic acquaintance of a Lion living in Maryland and I suggested to him that it might be good to meet up for a coffee when we were so (comparatively) close and he invited us to spend the first night of our trip at his house.  He gave me detailed directions how to reach him from Dulles Airport.  Kent duly booked a table at what he told me was the best restaurant in the area for our evening meal.  Unfortunately, he had failed to allow for the length of time it would take us to pass through immigration - and had missed one vital left turn from his directions.  The result was that we got well and truly lost.  But I managed to retrieve the situation and we arrived with Kent at about 8.00pm - just about the right time for the restaurant, I thought.  But Kent was jumping up and down and had cancelled the reservation - which had been for 6.30.  We had no idea that Americans ate so early in the evening.

For the rest of our trip I had taken the precaution of booking rooms at motels - the cheap ones like Days Inn.  But there was no motel to be found at one of the towns where I planned to stop overnight - Front Royal - so I booked a bed and breakfast.  This came as something of a surprise to us.  Over here, B and B tends to be relatively cheap and cheerful.  Not so in Front Royal.  We had a private sitting room and were invited to help ourselves at the bar when our hosts and their friends ate.  And we needed a stepladder to get into bed, a bed which was almost as wide as our bedroom at home!

Now it may well be that my memory is playing tricks on me, but I have in mind Front Royal being a small town with no hotels or motels and only one or two restaurants, one of which was a German establishment which closed at 9.30.  I have just checked and discovered something like 42 restaurants(!) in a town with a population of a bit over 10,000.  But be that as it may,  back in 2002 we ate at the German place rather earlier than we would have eaten here in England.  We got into conversation with another couple who were, they told us, locals.  But they had driven 35 miles to what they assured us was their nearest restaurant.  35 miles to get to a restaurant!  That made a round trip of 70 miles.  Here in England - in Brighton, anyway - people would think twice about doing a round trip of 20 miles.

Walking back to our B and B we passed a lad on the street - the very, almost eerily, quiet street - a lad of about 15 or 16 years.  And he spoke to us!  Very politely.  "Good evening," he said.  Now that would never have happened in Brighton.  If we had seen a lad of that age walking on a quiet street we would have been a bit wary.

Despite speaking the same language (almost), it was all so different.


From small town USA to small town France.  This is Tourtour in Provence.

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