August 6, 2006

Badger Down Under.

It's a blog by UW political science professor Ken Mayer, who's visiting at Australian National University this fall. He's sent the kids off to school -- in uniforms -- and here are some questions the Australian kids asked them:
Where is Madison? (Don't laugh. Do you know where Toowoomba is?)

Have you ever been robbed at gunpoint?

Are there hobos on every street corner?

What about New York? There must be hobos there.

Have you ever been shot? (this was the same person who asked about being robbed, who has apparently learned that the entire country was actually the set for Scarface)

Do you like Vegemite? (apologies to our Australian friends, but it is, um, an acquired taste)
"Hobos" is an evocative word, not used by Americans -- that I know -- to refer to anyone in the present in the United States.

23 comments:

Ron said...

Where is Madison? (Don't laugh. Do you know where Toowoomba is?)

Madison is with Waldo, looking for her Toowoomba.

Have you ever been robbed at gunpoint?

Not yet; As an American we have the god-given right to dump a clip into you on mere suspecion.

Are there hobos on every street corner?

No. A major provision in the Hobo Reclaimation Act is the automatic appointment of hobos in governmental positions presently filled by idiots. Thus, the hobos are off the streets, but every Starbucks is overflowing with GS-9's.

What about New York? There must be hobos there.

Yes, but they are presently called 'Colin Farrel's.' Hobos with mere seven figure incomes live in Brooklyn or, preferably, Philadelphia.

Have you ever been shot? (this was the same person who asked about being robbed, who has apparently learned that the entire country was actually the set for Scarface)

A little-known provision of the National Security Act is the require ment that all American clothing be some form of Uber Ballistic Kevlar, (which is why our clothing is made in China, for secrecy) thus, preventing rounds from scoring too highly. Flying bullets in America are referred to by regional colloquims such as 'mosquitos' or 'black flies' or 'dry heat.'(As in 'Yeah, but it's a dry heat!') In Detroit, they are referred to as 'the weather.'


Do you like Vegemite? (apologies to our Australian friends, but it is, um, an acquired taste)


Anyone in America who does is, by law, required to live in a state with plenty of dry heat.

Ron said...

Pleeze four-give spellling; no coffee yet...

Todd said...

"Hobos" is still commonly used out west where I grew up, in the rural Sierra Nevadas. We use it to refer to the homeless men who spend their time on and around the trains.

Though it was set in the mid-twentieth century, Marilyn Robinson's novel, Housekeeping, has some great descriptions of hobos that accurately describe the kind of men we used to be afraid of.

Jake said...

If I was a kid in Australia, I would be worried about crime too. Since the program to confiscate guns started in Australia, the burglary rate has gone up 40% and the murder rate has gone up 3.8%.

The Drill SGT said...

Todd said...
"Hobos" is still commonly used out west where I grew up, in the rural Sierra Nevadas. We use it to refer to the homeless men who spend their time on and around the trains.


I agree with Todd. Growing up in Oroville (rural Sierras) and Sacramento in the 50's/60's and having a father who daily had negative interactions with Hobo's (he worked for the WP railroad), I can assure you that it survives in my lexicon, but would not be used to describe a generic homeless man panhandling on the street.

Jake said...

Hobos would take part time jobs to survive. But they could never stand to be in one place very long. They rode the rails to get from one place to another. Hobo's would condemn today's homeless people as shiftless.

JohnF said...

It's obvious that to the rest of the world the U.S. is a quagmire. And doubtless it's all Bush's fault!

It is interesting that there can be such a misunderstanding of the culture in an incredibly open society (ours) by those in another incredibly open society (Australia). It makes you wonder how we can have even the slightest confidence that we are getting an accurate picture of what is going on in the relatively closed societies we routinely hear about. If the Aussies can so misunderstand us, what gives us any confidence we know what's going on in, say, France, not to mention Lebanon?

Jeff said...

A Hobo is a distinct type, perhaps now extinct. Usually meant as a designation for a man who undertakes menial labor for food or money and travels a circuit of towns by way of riding the rails. They eschew permanent work and homes by choice.

Not to be confused with a vagrant or a bindlestiff. And definitely not to be confused with a guttersnipe or the au currant gutter punk.

A "homeless" person is something else again. I prefer to term them derelicts.

knoxgirl said...

professor Ken Mayer, badger expert

Ann Althouse said...

Here's one of my oldest posts, written in my second week of bloggingg:

Things to write in an obituary for a Hobo King:

• "For every mile of beautiful scenery and warm sunshine, there are hundreds of miles of cold, dark nights, no food and no one to care whether I live or die," he wrote in his 1988 book, "Hobo King."

• He learned to drink coffee from rusty lard cans and did jobs from picking fruit to "pearl-diving," the hobos' term for washing dishes.

• In his later life, he passed out cards defining a hobo as a man who travels to work; a tramp as a man who travels and won't work, and a bum as a man who won't work.

• "He once told me that he went to the bank in Shawneetown and told the banker he needed $4,000 to pay off wife No. 3, divorce wife No. 4 and marry wife No. 5," his son said.

• "It was a great life ... I'd do it all over again."

Rambling Rudy Phillips, who was 92 when he caught "the westbound to heaven," appears in the documentary "Riding the Rails." It's worth buying: the story of hundreds of thousands of teenagers who left home--some thrown out by families who couldn't feed them--during the Depression. Filmed in the 1990s, the old men remember how they felt. I wonder which one was Rudy? Was he the man who cried remembering receiving a mailed birthday cake and eating it alone on a cold night?

Derve said...

http://www.miami.com/mld/
miamiherald/living/columnists/
leonard_pitts/15054373.htm

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

In Madison, there ARE bums on every corner. Scanner Dan, Steam Tunnel Bob, Captain Caveman, The Joker, Mittens, the list goes on.

brylin said...

Isn't Toowoomba where they are contemplating drinking recycled sewage?

JorgXMcKie said...

Given Mitch Snyder's 'guesstimate' of some decades ago, 1-in-100 Americans must be homeless. That would seem to mean you should have 2080 +/- a few homeless people in Madison. Wouldn't that pretty much be one on every street corner or more? Is that the case?

And Chicago would have 30,000 or so. My hometown would have 3 and my current municipal residence would have 850 (that would appear to be about 3 on every intersection). Somehow I've missed all of them.

Christy said...

My grandfather hoboed around the country when he was 16 and the way I heard it, a lot of teenage guys did likewise in the 1910s. And, as far as I know, that side of the family was entirely respectable at the time--no forced homelessness.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I still keep in touch with a high school exchange student from Victoria, Australia [in the little town of Hopper's Crossing near Melbourne] and it's been 25 years since we met. These little cultural exchanges are how you inform the uninformed.

Kathy said...

Would the term for hobo in Australia be "swagman"? That's my only significant (and perhaps incorrect) Australian cultural knowledge, picked up from the song "Waltzing Matilda".

Chum said...

'Would the term for hobo in Australia be "swagman"? '

Yes, a drifter who carries a swag. (his gear wrapped up in a blanket roll sort of thing.

Vegemite is a poor substitute for the real thing which is Marmite. Unfortunately, many people not familiar with the product, smear it on bread as they would peanut butter or jam. One bite at this strength is enough to put a novice off for life. Marmite is applied *less* than sparingly. Just a knife tip ever so slightly streaking the butter. The best sandwich in the world is fresh french loaf, smear of Marmite, butter, swiss cheese and whole romaine lettuce leaf.

I think I'll go and make one.

yetanotherjohn said...

Both my sons, ages 13 and 11, have used the term Hobo repeatedly and in context within the last year. To the best of my knowledge, it was neither my wife nor I who aquainted them with the term.

The boys and their peers seem to use it in preference to the politically correct term of "homeless".

It is facinating to me to watch the evolution of terms as a parent. It's not "cool", "hot", "groovy" or "casual", but "sweet", is an example.

TW Andrews said...

"Hobos" is an evocative word, not used by Americans

Incorrect! See this comic.

ronin1516 said...

I love vegemite and Marmite, and eat Marmite daily at breakfast, and I live in Anne's former hometown of Ann Arbor.

minerva said...

"...there's always been people who are inveterate wanderers, who are constitutionally incapable of having a boss, taking a master," he says, chuckling. "I was a tramp, see. I wasn't looking for work, just enough money to get a steak and move on. A hobo works and wanders, a tramp dreams and wanders, and a bum drinks and wanders." -Utah Phillips

I know many folks out here in California who consider themselves hobos. Their ages range from say 17 or less on up till they can't catch the trains anymore. Many of the younger ones, say 45 and younger, identify as anarchists (the black clothes do hide the dirt from the trains well), older ones might be more likely to be socialists. Last I heard there were summer get-togethers, which my friends referred to as "hobo conventions."
It's a lifestyle that is alive and well, but off the beaten track.

skying said...

yes.Hobos would take part time jobs to survive. But they could never stand to be in one place very long. They rode the rails to get from one place to another. Hobo's would condemn today's homeless people as shiftless.