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Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at

I had many lasting impressions of our year in Australia, but the fellow on the phone wasn’t one of them.

Some people have a hard time remembering names; well, I have a hard time remembering people. The Australian on the phone recalled our many good times together in Australia and said that he was coming to the states for a visit. “I am going to take you up on your offer, mate, to show me around,” he said in his Aussie accent. The only problem was that I had no idea who he was!

I assured him that I would be glad to show him around; after all, what are friends for? I figured in the two weeks before he arrived, surely I would figure out who he was. But I had only one clue to work with. He said on the phone that he was with me the night I embarrassed myself.

That really narrowed it down.


It could have been the night that I was invited to give a humorous talk at the local Rotary banquet. My biggest laugh of the night was when I asked for a napkin. The whole place roared in laughter. How was I supposed to know that a napkin in Australia was a baby’s diaper?

Or my Australian friend could have been present the night I drank too much grog. (How was I supposed to know their beer is twice as strong as ours?) I also botched the words to God Save the Queen and spilled my peas which are mandatory at every meal. I suppose it was rather hilarious watching me while under the influence attempt to eat my peas in the traditional two-handed eating style familiar to anyone who has traveled the Commonwealth. The peas ended up everywhere except in my mouth. I even found some the next day in the pocket of my shirt.

As the time approached when I was to pick up my “mate,” his identity was still alluding me. It could have been any one of a number of “friends.” He might be the grazer who saw me fall off the slick horned Australian stock saddle or the cop who ticketed me for driving on the wrong side of the road in my Holden car.

As it turned out, I shouldn’t have wasted my time worrying about it. The minute I saw him I recognized him as my good friend what’s his name? We had become friends at a Hereford sale. (That’s three syllables…Hair-a-ferd) After that, he showed me around New South Wales and even took me to a cricket match. The embarrassing situation that my friend, Ian, had referred to occurred during the match when I loudly asked him, “who he was rooting for?” Half the people in the stands got up and left. It seems that the word “root” is a VERY bad word in Australia.

I had a great time showing Ian around, and he loved this country, although his most lasting impression of our country was how fat most Americans are. I must admit that was my first reaction after having lived down under and returning home.

On our way home from the airport, Ian and I drove through a construction zone with big Caterpillar® tractors, scrapers, and dump trucks. Ian found it odd that every time a large piece of equipment would back up that it would make the now-familiar sound… “ding… ding… ding.”

“Why do they make that noise?” Ian asked.

“For safety,” I explained. “When a large object backs up, it makes a warning sound so that people behind it will know that it is coming in their direction.”

Ian seemed to grasp the concept.

Later during the drive, we stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and a Twinkie® or two. Standing in line in front of us at the check-out counter was the largest lady I’ve ever seen, which just confirmed Ian’s impression of Americans. The fleshy lady wore a phone beeper, the kind that sounds off when the wearer has a phone call. Sure enough, as we stood in line, the obese lady’s beeper went off…. “ding… ding …ding.”

My Australian friend jumped back out of her way and said to me, “Watch out, mate, she’s backing up.”