I've been sitting on this blog post for a while. Since I still haven't had a chance to write up our trip to New Zealand I'm publishing this one so the blog doesn't seem so unloved.
"Walmart." Chris looked knowingly at Michelle, a fellow Australian, as he said it. I waited for the insults to begin: corporate behemoth destroying small businesses, paying slave wages, and selling cheap crap. Instead, he said with conviction, "I love Walmart."
Nothing like Walmart exists in Australia (though I've heard rumors the company is trying to open its doors here). There are fairly large supermarkets, reasonably sized Targets and Kmarts, and an equivalent of the Home Depot called Bunnings. But there's nothing at the scale and low prices and business hours that Walmart offers. Need a pack of neon yellow paper at 8:00pm on a Tuesday here in Australia? Well, you're probably out of luck. In the U.S. we take for granted the ease with which we can procure things. I won't try to argue whether the rampant consumerism is good or bad, but to an Australian the options are amazing. Our friends talk with passion of going to the States and stocking up on cheap stuff.
Chris then told us about the day he purchased Pillsbury for the first time. Pillsbury -- famous for their giggling doughboy mascot -- makes ready-to-bake pastries. "Biscuits in a can!" he declared excitedly, reminiscing about his Pillsbury acquisition from Walmart. "They're the most delicious thing! Adam, am I overreacting?!" I told him he wasn't. He is correct -- they are delicious.
His excitement continued. "Then we made burger buns from them! We made burger buns from the Pillsbury biscuits. They're the most amazing thing! ...I'm sorry," he tempered his excitement. "I am overreacting."
His American wife said she came home once to find him trying to open a Pillsbury container -- the kind with the aluminum top that you tear open -- with a can opener. Apparently, they don't have tear-away packaging like that here. The enthusiasm for American junk food posing as breakfast food was shared; "His sister's favorite is Bisqik," she said.
Chris entertained us with other stories of his first encounter with the U.S. "I once ordered six Coors Lights at the hotel from room service, and because of my accent they brought me six cole slaws."
Fortunately, Walmart and instant pastries aren't the only draw to America. Virtually all the Aussies we know want to visit the U.S. and if they've already visited then they want to live and work there.
I once overheard an exchange at work where a young woman told her colleague she was going to America for vacation. "America! You're going to America?!" her colleague responded jealously. We don't always get that kind of reaction.
In a world where America is often maligned for throwing its weight around and exporting McDonald's, it's nice to know we've still got friends. And I'm glad to say the feeling is mutual. Everyone we know in the States wants to come to Australia. I'm thinking the U.S. and Australia should start a massive exchange program.