When you travel as an Australian, there are certain conversations you tend to have over and over again. In the 9 months I’ve been in Canada and America, there’s been a recurring theme to my interactions with North Americans. Sometimes, they ask really obscure questions and I end up having to Google the answers – I do not, for example, know which part of the country has the highest proportion of kangaroos to people – and sometimes, someone will come out with something truly interesting or insightful about his or her relationship with Australian culture.
Most of the time, though, people tend to say the same things, from New Orleans to Nova Scotia. “Australia,” you say, and then they go…
“Right, because your accent… at first I thought England but then I thought, no, that’s not quite it…”
I guess it doesn’t help that, with my fridge-door complexion and ginger locks, I look as British as my ancestors. I’ve been mistaken for a Brit so many times I’m thinking of applying for dual citizenship. Usually people realise their error after I’ve butchered a few vowels and let out at least one, “Yeah, nah.”
“Oh, that’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to go there!”
Australia’s tourism department has almost done its job. “Where the bloody hell are you” aside, it seems everyone and their stalker wants to visit. However, they usually have some reservations…
“What about the spiders?!”
I don’t know why spiders always get a mention, but they do. How did we end up with this reputation for having dangerous and/or plentiful spiders? I mean, we do… but the situation is not that bad. Insects aren’t the only objects of fear and loathing but they’re probably the most commonly mentioned, followed closely by snakes, sharks and Collingwood supporters.*
“My sister/cousin/brother in law lives in Sydney/Brisbane/Perth!”
I never know what to say to this. Oh really? Well, all Australians know each other, might give them a call when I get back. One of my 21 million best mates.
(Fun fact: Even though you might be asked, ‘What part of Australia do you come from’, only 2% of questioners are familiar with Australian geography. Just say Sydney.)
“You Aussies are a worldly lot, aren’t you?”
This one tends to crop up when you mention you’ve been away longer than a month. It is, in fact, a bit of a trend for Australians to leave for a really long time to make the 20-hour flight worth it. I still don’t know that you’d call us ‘worldly’, considering most peoples’ idea of a great overseas trip is drinking your way around any given continent on a bus tour with forty other Australians.
I also think it’s funny to call us worldly when Australia is so internationally insignificant; no one gives a single solitary shit about anything to do with us unless we’re trying to dump asylum seekers on them. Canada is bit better than America about this, probably because we’re Commonwealth Bros, but we still don’t really rate a mention. This is totally at odds with the education you get as an Aussie schoolkid, where everything is taught as if we’re a major international player.
“I shared a hostel with some Australians once and they were the craziest partiers I have ever met.”
This is more like it. Apparently we are exporting our most dedicated alcoholics, because I have heard some variant of the above many, many times. We have built a solid reputation as being insane drunken lunatics who’ll back it up night after night. This is great on one level – one Irish friend lamented that if her countrymen were to do the same, they’d be branded sad alcoholics – but can be a trap if, like me, you have an extremely low tolerance but get goaded into being ‘fun like a real Australian!’
“You wrestled a dingo and a crocodile at the same time? That’s the COOLEST thing I’ve EVER heard!”
Australians are crazy, which means people will believe anything. When people A) aren’t that intelligent to begin with and B) don’t know anything about where you come from, it’s super easy to get them to believe the most ridiculous stuff. I’ve watched as several college-aged blokes – one of which had just been accepted to do postgrad chemistry at Yale – nod along to a drop bear story. Not even a particularly convincing one. Just… what.
This is getting two mentions firstly because I hear it every second day, and secondly so I can give a shout out to my exchange buddy who heard this in response to saying she was from New Zealand. Sorry dude. At least you have Middle Earth.
“Have you seen Summer Heights High?”
Crocodile Dundee jokes are so last century. Now, you’ll come across someone under 30 who has seen this Chris Lilley thing and laughed so hard that SHH is all they want to talk about with you… ever. Have you seen it? Who’s your favourite character? Like, so random. Are Australian schools really like that? Puck you miss! I need someone from home to produce something culturally significant so people will stop talking to me about this. Seriously. I don’t care. Oh, and speaking of pop culture…
“Haha! Throw another shrimp on the barbie!”
THIS ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN IS THIRTY YEARS OLD. ENOUGH.
*Not really. As if anyone in America knows about AFL.
Words by ELLEN DANDO is a Law/Arts student at UOW currently travelling around the US and Canada after an 8-month study abroad stint in Toronto. There’s a Tumblr about it. She likes bubble baths and not having to wear 7 layers to go outside anymore. Stalk her on Twitter @ellthemighty