Every traveler having an "a-ha" moment on their journey will agree that the most amazing memories are created when you have a local person treat you to a unique and authentic experience. Whether it's getting beaten with branches in Russia, or eating camel burgers in Morocco, those moments of connection are the moments that linger long after you unpack at home. In our Suitcase Stories series, we let travelers share their stories of local glory with you.
This week Pat McKinnon is letting us in on his Australia day adventures abroad. What does one do on the most Australian of days when overseas?
By Patrick McKinnon
Not being the most patriotic of Australians, the 26th of January has never held particular sway over me. However, whilst travelling through winter-ravaged Europe at the beginning of this year, I found myself growing increasingly keen to ring-in Australia’s night of nights in the most Australian way possible: by drinking alcohol to excess and potentially receiving a southern cross tattoo on my upper torso. Arriving in Paris on the 25th, word on the grapevine revealed evidence of an Australia Day party at the aptly named “Café Oz” on the big night. With only four days in the city of lights, an executive decision was made to skip several supposedly pertinent tourist activities so that we could better uphold our civic duty as Australians, to maintain a steely ignorance of other cultures, and to punish our livers with cheap beer. Thus, timing in Paris was relatively tight, a whirlwind tour of the Louvre, a rapid ascent of the Eiffel tower, and a confused wander down the Champs-Elysees were squeezed into a single afternoon, a strategic decision, considering we were intending to spend January the 27th in a thoroughly lethargic and hung-over state.
Intoxicated on the promise of a thoroughly Australian evening, we dressed to the nines on the big night, and boarded our local metro stop giddy with thoughts of the night to come. Arriving at Café Oz, we checked our coats at the door, and entered through a confusing series of doors that I suppose were meant to resemble Malibu surfboards, all Australians love surfing right? The only way that I can describe the scene of the club upon opening the doors is to state that it resembled a grisly circus sideshow, where an entire manner of obligatory Australian symbols had been strung up in unusual positions, I saw Skippy the kangaroo seemingly lynched from the ceiling, crocodiles dangling over the bar, and Steve Irwin quotes scrawled across the urinals. At the floor level, a teeming host of a largely male crowd swirled around a sweaty dance floor, where the “Men at Work” soundtrack blasted continuously. Ignoring the macabre scene in front of us, we pushed through the milling crowds, throwing out phrases like “G’day mate” and “how ya going, cobba?” to unresponsive faces in the crowd. After a tepid twenty minutes, we had pushed our way to the bar, grabbed four of the most Aussie beverages money could buy (Coopers) and then proceeded to attempt to make contact with some fellow Aussie travellers like ourselves. After a painful few minutes one thing became startlingly apparent, the ratio of French to Australian revelers was about 5:1. Not speaking French, and desperately wanting that sense of drunk camaraderie that can only form on Australia day, we searched the establishment high and low for someone who was quintessentially, and undoubtedly Australian.
At last, we ran into an indisputable Aussie. Dressed in a wife beater singlet, and bravely wearing stubbies, Greg informed that he would “look after us” and proceeded to beckon us towards the bar. What followed was a 10 minute display of Greg downing several shots of Jagermeister, several beers, and after finishing his last drink, promptly bidding us farewell, to climb on a table to dance with some French girls who were clearly out of his League. I couldn’t believe it, Greg, our supposed savior, had abandoned us in a drunken stupor to chase exceedingly attractive females. What had happened to the comradeship and solidarity that was supposed to form between Australians on this night? Suddenly, the night began to transform before me, no-more was I drunk on the promise of mate-ship, but merely drunk on the fumes of my growing homesickness. The hanging Australian symbols lost their irony, and came to resemble purposeful attempts by Café Oz to horrify and startle. Chagrined, and with emotions running low, I abandoned my friends to the dark carnival of horrors that was forming in Café Oz and exited back onto the cold Parisian street. Bracing myself for the hour long commute back to the hotel at Port de Versailles, I jumped the turnstile at the local metro, and waited in the semi-stale station air. Buffeted by the winds of passing trains I began to consider the fact that the night hadn’t been a complete waste after all, I mean, what could be a more Australian activity than being drunk, disillusioned and disappointed? Perhaps Greg had the right idea: get incredibly intoxicated, and then chase exotic French women over the tabletops of a dimly lit bar that was teeming with sweaty French men. I mean, what could be a more Aussie activity than that? True larrikinism.