The perfect start
The childhood of an Australian kid growing up in the nineties, in Sydney at least (I can’t speak for Perth), is, to the surprise of some Americans, conspicuously American.
My childhood was constructed with the help of the Home Alone series, the scene with the the hot door knob searing the burglar’s hand, for example, is burnt into my brain. I watched Home Alone 2 daily for some years. Then there’s Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network: Clarissa explains it all, The Flying Nun, Green Acres (sporadically), Sister Sister, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch.
Manhattan street-talk with Seinfeld, pop-culture comedy in the Simpsons, saucy Californian romance at Melrose Place. This all filters through, and perhaps into the consciousness of a young Sydney-sider with a Sattelite TV connection (as well as an an apathy toward sports.) The McCallister’s, that family from the Home Alone movies, were particularly emblematic, to me, of the perfect life: a huge house with a snow covered driveway, a two-car garage and pizza delivery.
My perfect student-exchange
I had heard it said by someone that when they landed in New York they were overwhelmed by the sensation that they were ‘home’, and, corny as it sounds, I was somehow home once I landed in America
*(I never went to the South, where it is possible that they may have told me to “GO HOME!” (expletive).
Though I only actually set foot in the States for a student-exchange last year, I was rarely shocked by my experience. America was exactly what I had expected and hoped for.
The peanut m@ms that I bought at Detroit airport which I snapped up over my very first copy of USA Today, the chirpiness of the Delta flight attendants, the businessmen darting around in their suits, the earnest sounding PA announcement, the pleasantness of the lady behind the counter- it was all so perfect that I just wanted to die. So positive, so clean, so shiny, so American.
For example, at one point, the woman on the PA system actually said: “Would Mrs Watson return to TGI Friday’s to pick up her lost items.” Yep, this is true.
Pop-tarts, snowy winters, the Superbowl, Halloween, Walmart, Thanksgiving– that comforting sense of being surrounded by nice things, must have had something to do with all of these well-traveled stereotypes, which had soaked into my mind. For example, it seemed genuinely odd to me, an Australian child, that Christmas in Sydney brought no snow: Madison, Wisconsin, on the other hand, looked just like the inside of a snow globe with the cottage lights inside flickering orange. These perfect coincidences made my whole America trip immensely gratifying.
The sheer predictability of it all, the easiness, was rather comforting: “yes, this is what Central Park should look like,” “this is the perfect Brooklyn Deli,” “the shiny lino hallways and the silver lockers in this High School in Milwaukee are just right.” To find that people actually do go to Florida for their holidays, that everyone really does ride the subway in New York, that people do by hot dogs from street vendors, made me so happy.
How uniquely placed is the US citizen. To find that their culture is possessed, consumed, even (albeit ashamedly) shared by the world. It makes Americans more important than even they, yes, even than Americans, sometimes see. Though they may not have earnt it, it makes the American teenager heir to a beloved heritage of TV shows and movies and even a shared consciousness, a pop-culture lingo if you will.
For example, while standing around the car one chilly Milwaukee morning, a friend of mine was surprised to find that I also use the phrase, “I made a funny.” Perhaps he never considered that it was HIS phrase that I had merely stolen- for it probably seeped into my subconscious while watching some stupid American TV show as a child.
That no other culture is so easily commodified, exported, shared, as theirs, makes it more important, or, to say the least, more pervasive, than even I, an America enthusiast, expected.
A note on Pop-Tarts
The pop tart is around the size of your open palm, it combines a slate of cookie base, and a sweet topping. Strawberry, chocolate and caramel are popular, but more exciting flavours like “S’mores” and “Frosted Chocolate Chip cookie dough” also exist. The toppings are toothsome and sugary. While pop tarts can be eaten straight from their silver foil packets, they’re really made for the toaster (thus the ‘Pop’ after which they’re named). For a really healthy start to the day, they can be microwaved. They are both crumbly and sumptuous. Bon-a-pop tarts!