During the course of my travels I’ve met a lot of people from the United States of America, it could be fellow travellers or other teachers.
One thing I’ve noticed is they all generally ask me the same type of questions, and they all think very similar things regarding Australia.
I should start by saying that all these questions and assumptions come from a place of genuine curiosity. Whether it’s male or female or young or old, people from North America have a fascination with Australians, or so it seems to me. I’ve even been told that Aussies are loved and very welcome in the US, which is great news as one day I plan to travel through every state and territory on a bike.
Is it true that…..?
I find it very flattering and often humorous the things people ask me. Things that are so second nature and normal to me, are things that are so weird or different to them. One of the biggest questions I get asked is “is it true that <insert fact here>?”.
Some examples are:
1) Is it true you have massive spiders there?
2) Is it true that just about every animal can kill you?
3) Is it true a dingo once ate someone’s baby?
I always answer honestly and am very happy to answer with the knowledge I have. And if you’re wondering, the answers to the above questions are:
1) Yes, spiders can be bigger than your hand. They’re called Huntsman spiders.
2) A few things can kill you, yeah.
3) Yes back in the 80’s a young child was taken from a tent by a dingo and killed.
It seems that a lot of knowledge is limited to Crocodile Dundee
I once asked someone what they hear about Australia, and I’m so glad for the blunt and honest answer they gave me. They said “we don’t really hear anything about Australia except a shark attack about once every 6 months. Most of it is from Crocodile Dundee.” To be honest quite a few people have said that.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Crocodile Dundee movies were an astonishing success for Australia, and bought a tide of tourism to the country for decades after the movies were released.
Because of the movies people often think of Australians as charming, crocodile wrestling people who drink lots of beer and go on walkabouts. For sure we’re charming, and a few have bush survival skills, but really Australians are just like any other people from any other country, sort of.
A “walkabout” is an aboriginal tradition
I’ve been asked if I’ve ever been on a walkabout, and I always answer with a “no, that’s not something we really say or do there, unless you’re aboriginal”. A walkabout is a traditional journey that aboriginal people do to symbolise a boy becoming a man. And yes (as far as I know) they literally walk in the bush on a spiritual quest. My knowledge of aboriginal culture is limited, so I’m unsure if the tradition is still practised.
The majority of Australian people are sensitive to hijacking or offending aboriginal traditions, so you’ll never hear a white person talking about going on a walkabout. It’s not part of our culture and simply doesn’t come up in conversation. It’d be similar to me asking an American friend if they ever dance around a smoking campfire going ‘hay yah hah-hah, hay yah hah-hah’.
Lots of people go exploring in the bush (the word we use for outback Australia, or the desert), and go camping and 4 wheel driving, and probably lots of them go for long walks too, but we’d call it that: camping, hiking, trekking, off-roading etc.
“I’ve heard Australians are racist”
This one, I’m sad to say, has an element of truth. The majority of Australians aren’t racist, but in all the countries I’ve been in, and all the people I’ve spoken too, Australians are definitely the most racist.
In 2005 Australia experienced a dark day, in December we had the Cronulla riots. These were a bunch of race riots in a town near Sydney, lasting several days over several suburbs involving several thousand people.
People were stabbed, rioters were armed with baseball bats and guns, and people were arrested. It got so bad that other countries including Great Britain announced travel warnings to their citizens for Australia. This news made its way to the US, and it’s probably all they’d heard about Australia for the past six months.
Australia is a multi-cultural country and relies heavily on immigration, and some Aussies don’t like that. I know racism exists in all countries, but it seems to be more casual and common in Australia.
it’s nothing to worry about when you travel to australia
Racism is looked down upon by the vast majority, particularly the bigger cities. The chances are you won’t experience it when you travel there, but do know it can happen, more so in the smaller country towns. Generally everyone is really friendly though.
Americans think they’ll be eaten, stung or killed by the wildlife
Quite a few people have said to me that they don’t want to go to Australia because they’re afraid of the local animals, or bugs, or sharks that might eat, sting or bite them. Or they simply ‘hate snakes’ so they don’t want to visit.
It’s unfortunate they think this, because while Australia does have a lot of dangerous animals, the chances of you getting killed by one are almost too small to mention. You’re far more likely to die from a lightning strike than by a shark attack. And no one has been killed by a Funnel Web spider or Redback spider in decades.
People do die from sharks in Australia, but its very uncommon. If a surfer decides to go for a surf at dawn (sharks feeding time) in an area that has had shark sightings, then yes it might happen. But your average swimmer on your average beach will be fine.
Remember Australia also has some of the most unique wildlife in the world, like the kangaroo, kangaroo rat and koala.
most of the deadly critters are in the northern tropics, not in the cities
Sometimes our slang confuses the hell out of everyone
When I first started meeting and talking with people from the US I’d always say “how you going?” Meaning ‘how are you?’. And I’d always get the same response back which was a confused look and something like: what do you mean? How am I going to the shops? I’m walking.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the slang I’ve had to explain:
How you going? – How are you/how have you been?
It’s been a cruisy day – it’s been a relaxing day (like a cruise on a ship).
It’s pretty good, but – it’s pretty good though, isn’t it.
Ah wicked! – Oh wow, that’s amazing.
And here’s a breakdown of some of the words I’ve had to explain:
Rubber – eraser (in the US “rubber” means condom, so I’ve been told).
Jug of beer – pitcher of beer (US: jugs means breasts).
Thong – flip-flop (US: a thong means underwear).
Bike – bicycle (US: a bike is usually a motorbike).
For some reason whenever I say I’m Australian some Americans will laugh and smile and say “g’day mate” to me. It’s ok but it does get old after hearing it for the hundredth time.
I do use this phrase, but almost exclusively with people I know well. When I speak to my best mate I usually say “g’day g’day”, or “g’day matey”. It’s the same with my family, but usually with them I’ll say “alright!”.
I never use it with strangers, but that’s just me. However Aussies will say “g’day” to each other.
it’s personal preference to say “g’day”
I love the curiosity
I love chatting to anyone from the US about the differences in our languages. I also love to tell them about my experiences in Australia and answer their questions.
When I do it’s always met with curiosity and fascination, and we both learn a lot about each others culture.
Maybe next time I meet someone from the US, I will encourage the notion of me being a charming and modern croc wrestler, who’s starred in the face of danger a hundred times. I don’t think they’d believe me though as I’m so skinny.
Catch ya later!
(see you next time)
(All the photos in the post were taken by my brother Brad, as I’ve travelled to a new country I’ve had to empty my computer of my Aussie pics. He’s an amazing photographer and you can see all of his work at Brad Baker Photography.)