Oprah's Down Under tour... don't mention McDonald's

The Oprah machine has arrived Down Under - and the world's highest-paid entertainer is ruffling feathers in Australia.

Oprah Winfrey's giddy audience of 300 arrived from the United States yesterday to start enjoying the talk show queen's ultimate giveaway - an eight-day trip across Australia.

But the show has come under fire for suggesting that Australians like nothing better than "hanging out" at US fast food chain McDonald's.

The itinerary for "Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure" - marking the 25th and final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show - remains secret, but it is expected to cover much of the country.

A promotion for McDonald's was screened on Winfrey's Aussie Countdown show, watched by about 10 million American viewers - including the 300 who have been invited to join Winfrey on her nine-day whistle-stop tour Down Under, which starts this week.

In a "crash course on Australian lingo and culture", local presenter Carrie Bickmore delivered a guide to modern life Down Under, with shots of Bondi Beach, men in "budgie smugglers" and the Sydney Opera House.

After revealing that Australians call men "blokes" and women "sheilas" but don't use the term "g'day" very often - "just say hi" - Bickmore neatly segued into the McDonald's plug.

"In Australia, McDonald's are called Maccas. They're hip hang-outs where people sip gourmet coffees in the McCafes and dine from a menu exclusive to Australia."

The suggestion that Australians gather and socialise in McDonald's has hit a nerve in the country.

Australia has a thriving coffee culture, thanks to its Italian and Greek migrants, and chains are shunned in favour of independent cafes.

Australian media instantly condemned the piece as absurd.

"There I was, about to buy a rack of spring lamb for dinner, and a beautiful fresh tray of Bowen mangoes for the fruit bowl, when bing! I remembered that in fact, what I craved, on a deeply-ingrained cultural level, was in fact that most Australian of treats, the American Choc Brownie Slice," wrote Anthony Sharwood, deputy editor of comment website The Punch.

"As Oprah has reminded us in her timely pre-Christmas message, McCafe is where the true blue come to affirm our Australianness."

Winfrey's visit will be the first time the Oprah Winfrey Show has been recorded outside the US, and is a coup for Tourism Australia.

Australia paid $3.3 million to lure Winfrey, but the trip is expected to be worth more than $20 million in tourism revenue.

Excited audience members waved at reporters and photographers as they were ushered through Sydney airport.

Winfrey was travelling separately by private jet and details of her arrival are a closely guarded secret.

- AGENCIES

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