PATRICIA YOUNG in Sydney, Australia ANNE McILROY in Ottawa
A koala bear runs into a Sydney bar, stuffs all the food on the tables into its mouth, makes love to the waitress and runs out the door.
"What was that?" a stunned American tourist asks the bartender. "That was a koala," he replies, "and everyone knows that a koala eats, roots and leaves."
It's a mildly off-colour joke, especially by Australian standards, but it demonstrates why the Canadian Olympic team could become the unwitting laughingstock, or crowd favourite, of the Sydney 2000 Games.
Put politely, to root is to make love in Australian slang, and Australians have been known to tell others to root off, said Bill Jackson of the Australian High Commission in Ottawa.
With "Roots" emblazoned on the Canadian Olympic uniform, the sponsor may have made the team the butt of Aussie humour.
"Those will be great collector's items. We Australians have the best sense of humour in the world," Melbourne insurance executive Carl Gullace said of the uniforms. "I think they'll be bestsellers, but they are not really offensive by Aussie standards."
Mr. Jackson said Australians will more likely giggle than be scandalized. "It would not be offensive to a vast majority of people," he said.
Roots clothing already has certain down-market appeal to younger Australians. antipodean tourists who have travelled to Canada are easily spotted on Sydney's finest beaches wearing their eye-catching "Roots X-Large" T-shirts.
The Roots store at Toronto's Pearson airport is very popular among Australians, manager Chantal Narine said.
In Canada, a spokesman for Roots Canada says the company is aware of what their brand name means down under. "The company name is the company name," the Roots official said.
Some Australians have made a fortune from off-colour clothing. The Mambo surf-wear company sports a dog with a musical note coming out of its bottom as its logo. Mambo, it was announced this week, will be outfitting the Australian team.
Australia has developed slang into an elevated art form. Yesterday, newspaper headlines accused politicians of "$1000 porkies." A porkie is a lie but the reference is not obvious until you master the rhyming slang of Australia: Lie rhymes with porkie pie. A beer is a pig's ear. A friend (mate) is your china plate and an American is a septic -- yank, septic tank.
Australians have had their own cross-cultural marketing problems. In the 1970s, when Australian beer began to sell internationally, the brewers of a beer called XXXX (pronounced four ex) were puzzled as to why their competitor Fosters was so successful in the United States but XXXX flopped.
The problem was with the beer's signature slogan. The company's marketers did not realize that Forex was the name of a popular brand of condoms. The brewery's theme with the lyric "I feel a Four Ex coming on . . ." took on a double meaning they had never intended.