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YOUR SHRIMPS ARE GETTING LONELY
For three years, I was the worst Business English teacher in São Paulo. I was two months into the job before I realised that grammar did not end with ‘er’. I didn’t fully comprehend what the different parts of speech were, so when a student would ask if a word were a verb or an adjective I would look them in the eye and say, “It’s both… Now try and put it in a sentence.” My spelling is so bad that I often don’t even get close enough for the autocorrect to guess the word I am trying to spell. Please keep all this in mind while you read the rest of my story. What I lacked in language skills I tried to make up for with personality. I have zero knowledge of the fundamentals of business, so I would usually try to steer the conversational part of my class towards explaining pop culture idioms that the students had heard in songs or American films. Every now and again, I would be in the middle of explaining a bit of Australian slang to a Brazilian banker, when I would have a flashback to an incident that happened to me twenty years ago.
At the tail end of a profoundly unenjoyable hitchhiking odyssey around Tasmania, my travelling companion and I spent our final evening at a caravan park in Hobart. The trip started well but had grown arduous. Monotony and lack of comfort had begun to expose some of the holes in our friendship. Barry, my fellow wayfarer, was a six foot six, strapping young lad that required a lot more food than either of us had budgeted for. We had spent the last two weeks living on packet pasta and an invention of ours named after the town where we had first created it.
1 Sausage Roll
4 Plain white rolls
Break sausage roll into 4 even pieces
Place piece of sausage roll in bread roll
As this would be our last supper, we had decided to blow our remaining budget on our final meal. Sticking firmly to the stodgy section of the healthy diet pyramid we had splurged on some sausages to cook on the caravan park’s communal barbie. So, at sunset, we headed down to the secluded BBQ area to prepare dinner. Upon arrival, we discovered that we would not be eating alone. Perched amongst one of the several coin-operated grills was a beautiful Swedish backpacker. There were some shopping bags and a couple of drinks on her table, so after some mental Columbo-ing, I deduced (hoped) that there could be a second Swede lurking around. Things were starting to look up. Suddenly, there seemed a chance that my lame hitchhiking adventure might turn out after all. The girl looked exactly like how movies had promised me a Swedish backpacker would. Unfortunately, I looked exactly like a broke art student. We exchanged polite smiles and pleasantries, and I enquired if she was there alone. She told me that her friend had just gone to get something. Bingo. My sojourn to this point had been a dismal failure. I had been dreading arriving home and recounting three weeks of uneventful fruit picking, unsuccessful hitch hiking and bickering. No-one wants to hear about that. But a romantic sausage based dinner with two Swedish backpackers. Now that's a story! Hearing footsteps caused me to puff out my chest in a pathetic attempt to look cool for the approaching, imagined Swede. To my disappointment, her ‘friend’ turned out to be a middle aged business man. When I say ‘businessman', I mean more like a used car salesman and when I say ‘middle aged’, I mean how anyone over twenty-five appears to a twenty-year-old. Eavesdropping revealed that he was not some old friend of hers, but rather a caravan park Casanova that had swooped in while my friend and I were out dilly-dallying in the meat aisle at Coles. Undeterred, I began to plot my seduction of the backpacker. Let him bore her with stories about old Volvos and as soon as there is a lull in the conversation, I will casually inform her that I am a bohemian art student on a voyage of self-discovery. The film Titanic had just been released, and it had given me a false belief that deep down all women longed to be sketched. I began to envisage, that if all went to plan, I’d be hearing “draw me like one of your Swedish girls!” with some regularity. If the bohemian-art-guy angle failed, I still had sausages. Let's call the Swedish girl Elsa, as Google has just informed me that it’s a popular Swedish name. The Australian used car Lothario was named Richard; I remember that because Elsa kept punctuating her beguiling sentences with it, which chipped away at my confidence while piquing my interest. Richard, a grill master, sautéd while I seethed, pretending not to listen. He was playing up his Australianess by peppering the conversation with slang which, to my horror, Elsa was eating up. He would deliberately use a colloquialism and then act surprised when she asked for the definition.
“What is a ‘drongo’ Richard?”
“Oh, well a ‘drongo’ is a type of idiot.”
“Hee hee, Oh Richard, tell me some more of these funny Australian expressions.”
Richard began running out of esoteric jargon; he was soon scraping the hot plate and the bottom of the linguistic barrel.
“Well, if I were to say ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ that would mean, ah, please put another prawn on the barbecue.”
This one particularly annoyed me. I had never heard anyone use that expression in real life. In fact, I’d never seen anyone cook prawns on a barbie. Casting a stink eye over, I discovered that Richard had a mountain of prawns sizzling and an exotic woman giggling. I rotated my six sausages in silence with the understanding that they couldn't compete with a seafood feast. Richard excused himself by announcing he needed to “take a slash” and walked into the bush to relieve himself. I knew this would be my last chance to make an impression on Elsa. I needed her to see what she was missing. A couple of awkward minutes passed while I flexed and tried to make eye contact without success. I regretted not bringing my Derwents. Eventually, Elsa cooed “Richaaard… Oh Richaaaaard… your shrimps are getting loooonley Richard… and so am I…”
Richard trotted back, and the insufferable Australian-a and giggling resumed. At one point he came to our table, winked (breaking the fourth wall for the first time) and asked if he could borrow the “Dead Horse.” Rhyming slang. Are you kidding me? Elsa couldn’t believe it. I realised I no longer stood a chance. It continued heating up in the European section of the Barbecue area. Barry and I sat eating in disbelief; the joy sucked from our snags. This fiasco reached its crescendo when Elsa asked for one final definition. Sensing that this was his moment, Richard dropped the bravado for the first time. I could tell that he was about to get real. He thought for a moment, choosing his words carefully, and finally said: “Well, if I were to say ‘you’re a hornbag’, it would mean that you are a very beautiful woman. And Elsa… you are a hornbag.” That was it. My amigo and I picked up our rubbish and walked out of there while they kissed passionately, oblivious to our departure. Like shrimps passing in the night.