Back in January, during the so-called polar vortex, this little ol’ blog picked up an abnormal chunk of traffic over the course of a couple of days thanks to a piece I wrote for a much bigger audience via my former employer back home.
Obviously, with hundreds of thousands of Aussies reading ABC News Online both at home and around the globe, it was inevitable that the story would end up being read by at least a few of my countrymen who are now expats in the United States.
As such, some of my earlier posts attracted comments from other Australians who had been in the same situation as me, with regards to getting set up, getting licensed and getting accustomed to being the guy in town with the funny accent.
One of them in particular comes to the forefront of my mind every now and then, and it’s kinda bewildering to me. It wasn’t necessarily because I couldn’t understand what she was talking about, but that I couldn’t quite empathize with how she felt about a particular occurrence.
(I’d intended to use a flashy pull quote here, illustrating my point, but there wasn’t one snappy enough to sum the whole thing up. So bear with me.)
In short, the reader who commented was incredulous to the point of seeming annoyed about what people in her new community – in Georgia, for what it’s worth – knew or didn’t know about Australia.
Now, I shouldn’t be surprised at all about this. In the six years I’ve been vacationing in the U.S., I’ve heard all the stereotypes from both sides of the Pacific. What first comes to mind about the land Down Under for non-Australians? In my experience, it’s “tropical paradise, hot weather, Crocodile Dundee, Fosters, shrimp on the barbie and a million different kinds of deadly wildlife that’s looking to kill you at all times”. And most of that just proves that advertising works.
The same applies back the other way. From Aussie friends who’ve never been to the States, I get “are they all dumb/fat/redneck/George Dubya/is the food all cheesy/are there guns everywhere?” and various iterations of opinions based on what people see in popular culture. Australian airwaves and cinemas are FULL of American film and television programs, so I get it – it’s easy to build stereotypes.
A very tabloid, and mostly bullshit, statistic that I find Aussies love to throw around about the U.S. is that only a minuscule percentage of American citizens have passports or have ever been overseas. Not only is that no longer the case, I find it ridiculous that people use it as a slight on a nation’s character. But I digress. Before my immigration, I probably spent between six and eight months total in the U.S. vacationing, and I’ve been to roughly 30 states. That’s put me in a lot of places in front of a lot of locals who, chances are, might not know the first damn thing about Australia at all, aside from something they might have heard on TV.
And for the most part, American impressions of my countrymen over the years have been nothing but positive. People love to tell me how wonderfully they, or their daughter or son or niece, were treated when they vacationed in Australia, or how beautiful the country is, or how friendly every Aussie they’ve met has been. We’ve got ourselves – fairly, I think – a reputation for being easygoing, and as capable drinkers, although I would argue that any 22-year-old American could drink his or her Australian counterpart under the table, but I digress. Overall, I’d say I’ve been more warmly welcomed as an Australian here in the U.S. than I was in many places in Europe in 2011/12.
I mentioned in my column last week that I joined, out of morbid curiosity more than anything, an “Australians in America” group on Facebook. In seemingly every discussion thread, there’s someone complaining about how “a Yank” (a term which really rubs me the wrong way) asked them a “dumb question” about home. I might be missing something, or again it could be a product of me not having been away from Australia for too long, but I simply can’t get my head around why questions along those stereotypical lines are so offensive to so many people.
Hell, one of my coworkers calls me “Sharkbite” and will finish off his work emails to me with random factoids about the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne and any other trivia he can get his hands on via Wikipedia. Another of my colleagues likes to read aloud little snippets of news off the international wires which have anything to do with Australia, before throwing in a clever little generalization to get a rise out of me. Yet another loves to remind me that “this is AMERICA, and we don’t do things the smart way here like they probably do in Australia, so don’t go thinking that way.” All of this keeps me laughing in the office on a daily basis, and we must check off a dozen awfully obvious stereotypes a week.
It’s the same with strangers I meet here and there. For the most part, and to my surprise, people in Maine have had some experience with Australia – whether it’s a relative who’s visited there, or a kid who’s studied abroad Down Under – so they generally have a pretty good handle on what things are like back home. But people I meet for the first time tend to go straight to what they’ve seen on TV, and that’s totally fine with me.
So maybe I’m the only one, but I get a great chuckle out of it. To my mind, when people ask me things about Australia that might seem obvious, it’s not because they’re looking to give me shit, but because they’re interested in knowing more but don’t have a lot of wells to draw from, aside from beer commercials, Outback Steakhouse menus and that episode of The Simpsons (which I wish more people had seen).
I also think the quasi-expectation that everyone in the country you immigrate to knows everything about the country you came from is nuts, especially here. I just deleted three paragraphs that amounted to a rant, but in summary: life’s too short to be worrying about anyone’s backyard but your own.
Anyway, this post was actually intended to be a lot more amusing than it turned out to be – oops! So as a peace offering, here are some of my favorite ones and my well-used answers that get a great reaction.
“Is Fosters really ‘Australian for beer’?”
Nope. Can’t even find it at a liquor store at home – we send it here because we won’t drink it! I had my first Fosters in Florida in 2008.
“How did you survive 28 years with all those snakes and spiders everywhere?”
They build us tough down there. We’re immune to all that dangerous shit.
“Do you ride kangaroos around?”
Nah, we just eat them. We’re the only country that eats both of the animals on its coat of arms. You can buy kangaroo steaks, sausages, ground meat, kebabs and whatnot in the supermarket.
“Have you ever been attacked by a shark?”
A bunch of times. I actually have two wooden legs and one wooden arm; you didn’t notice? (That’s how I got the nickname Sharkbite).
“Does the toilet really flush anti-clockwise?”
“Flush”? We don’t have that technology back home yet.
“Does Australia use dollars and cents? Like, American dollars?”
Nope. We use a bartering system with shells. Have you seen how much coastline we have? Tons of shells. The beach is like a friggin’ ATM.
Doesn’t cricket go for like 15 days?
Doesn’t the NFL draft consist of a bunch of guys talking on national TV for three days?
“Are you excited for the World Cup? Y’know, because Australians love ‘footy’?”
THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER. SOCCER CAN KISS MY ASS.
*drops microphone, storms off stage*