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The American Diner in Australia

Food has many parallels with language. They can both be delicate and sumptuous like a beautifully cooked lobster or a Shakespearean reading, yet they can also be rough and impatient like a greasy sausage roll or a regional newspaper. Sometimes there can be misunderstandings. You order calamari and receive processed-fish rings. You ask for a side of salad and get a bowl of lettuce. Ah, the wonders of modern language. Even a single word can stir the pot of confusion into a whirlpool of misunderstanding. Ask for seeded grapes and you’ll receive grapes without any seeds. But ask for seeded mustard, and you’ll be presented with mustard full of seeds. Who invented this language?

Even the difference between American English and Australian English can cause confusion. One would think we are all speaking the same language and therefore we should understand each other, but alas, it is not always the case. Oscar Wilde said "The Americans are identical to the British in all respects except, of course, language." Yes, individual words in American English can refer to different things when used in Australia or Britain.

Americans dining in Australia need to be familiar with certain terms to avoid bafflement and frustration. The most important is the entrée. In Australia, the entrée is the appetizer. In the US, the entrée is the main meal. So here’s the basic Australian dining timeline:

1. Entree
2. Main meal
3. Dessert

Some hyper-patriotic Americans have also recently renamed French fries as Freedom fries and French toast as Freedom toast. McDonalds even proposed renaming French fries liberty potatoes. It is interesting to note however, that French salad dressing has retained its name in the US. And what about French kisses? Gee, I hope that one stays.

Here are a few other language differences that will help diners from the US understand Australian restaurant terminology:

American (US) version Australian version
entree main course
jacket potato baked potato
washroom/bathroom toilet
French fries chips
jello jelly
soda soft drink

We may think English is a technical language full of conjunctions, prepositions, transcendent ideas, idioms, split infinitives and hyphenated prefixes. But when we compare our dining language with that of other cultures we realise we have it pretty easy. The Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea have 100 words for types of yams. Italians have 500 words for types of macaroni, and the Araucanian Indians of Chile have a wide selection of words to describe degrees of hunger.

US diners should also be aware that Australian restaurants usually don’t expect tipping. By all means, if you feel the service in a restaurant was fantastic enough to warrant a tip then please do so, but normally this is not required. Waiters and waitresses are paid on an hourly basis and do not rely on tips for their income.

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