I was sitting in a cafe in Hamilton. While I was waiting for my order I glanced over at the fridge chilling the cafe’s selection of alcoholic beverages. On the couple of shelves of beer I spotted Waikato, Steinlager, Lion Red, Heineken, DB Export and Lion Ice. Then I realised that I didn’t even have my glasses on to read the names – I had identified those beers by the design of their labels.
Logo politics aside, this made me feel happy. Not in a pisshead kind of way, but after spending three months in Australia, it was nice to be on familiar terms with beer.
Over in Melbourne I’d find myself in really horrible situations involving the ordering of beer.
Person: Do you want a beer?
Me: Ok, that’d be good.
Person: What do you want?
Me: Um… I don’t know. What have they got?
Person: [Rattles off a list of beer names that mean very little to me]
Me: Um… what are you having?
Person: I’m going to be having a Red Bull and vodka.
Me: Ok. Um. Maybe I’ll have one of those too.
As well as not being familiar with the flavour of all these new beers, I also didn’t know about the other stuff that goes along with beer. For example, I know that a certain type of person drinks Waikato, and a different type of person drinks Export. But what type of person would I been seen as if I was drinking VB? Would I be celebrated or shunned if I was spotted with a Carlton cold in my hand?
Even if I’d selected a beer, there was still the matter of size. When I’d only been in Melbourne for a couple of weeks, I was walking past a pub that had a sign advertising, “Pie, Chips, Pot. $10.” I did a double-take – what sort of liberal drug laws did Victoria have? It turned out that a pot is a standard size of glass that beer is available in.
If this wasn’t traumatic enough, names for sizes of beer differed from state-to-state. In New South Wales I had to contend with the schooner, the middy and the pony. I was discussing this with some people from South Australia (another state, another set of sizes) and I mentioned that in New Zealand a handle of beer can be ordered. They all laughed like this was the most absurd thing they had ever heard. Well, ok, but I’d feel like a bit of a girly wuss ordering a my-little-pony of beer.
All the different beer types were driving me crazy. I wanted to live in the simple world of the movie bar, where “a beer” could be ordered and the bar tender would pour a glass of beer without asking what type or size I wanted.
But I eventually managed to do it. In a pub in Newcastle I went up to the bar and said with much pride and excitement, “a schooner of VB, thanks mate.”