In one of our last camp classes, we all had to get up and do a mini speech on our home country. As the solitary Aussie in class 2, I soon found myself standing at the front of the room, slightly lost for words. The people who had preceeded me had interesting stories of bizarre religions and drug wars and interesting foods and culture, and I had…AFL and ugg boots. So I stood there, and stood there some more, before eventually coming out with “In Australia, no one really says Crikey or G’day”. I know, an absolute work of oratory genius. It didn’t get much better from there. I managed to talk about our relatively small population, our animals (and their edibleness) and how the scary creepy crawlies aren’t as bad as everyone makes them out to be (a lot easier to say from the other side of the world – when faced with a redback, I do a pretty major freak out). I said that we’re embarrassed of our tv shows and tend to be very Americanised, which brought cries of “But Home and Away and Neighbours are from Australia! How could you hate those?!” from the Norweigans who, apparently, adore the utter crapness of Aussie soaps. After a while I ran out of things to say (“We call flip flops ‘thongs’ bought many giggles and outbursts of confusion) and sat down, only to realise I hadn’t even mentioned vegemite.
It’s funny, until you’re asked to define it, you don’t often think of how to describe your country, or how it is viewed by others. Camp taught me a lot about that. Most European’s knew nothing about us other than the stereotypes everyone assumes correct. The number of times I had to explain to someone that not only do we not call prawns shrimp, but we definitely do not throw another one on the barbie astounded me. The same goes in reverse though, I had technically heard of Norway, but other than it being in Northern Europe I was utterly clueless as to what it was.
As I mentioned previously, my accent set me apart, but I was told numerous times it was a preferred accent to the Kiwi one which is apparently quite hard for non-english speakers to understand. I got many laughs at some of the things I said (the words ‘bogan’, ‘bludge’ and ‘feral’ were favourites, as was the use of the word ‘heaps’ as an adjective), and my pronunciation of things such as France (Fraaance as opposed to Frahnce) and example (exaaample, not exahmple). Thankfully, the Kiwi’s won the pronounciation giggle awards with ‘six – sex’, ‘tin – ten’ (basically all i and e words) and the always amusing ‘fush and chups’.
On our final night, I got talking to some Mexican girls in my dorms about our home countries. Until that point, I had never thought of being an Aussie as being lucky. These girls told stories of living in cities with 25+ million people, of gang wars and extreme poverty. Of being ‘lucky’ to be above the poverty line. Of the true horrors that come with a corrupt government (they told the story of how in their last election the guy that lost wouldn’t admit he lost so he just cruises around saying he’s the president. Apparently he’s a socialist and all the poor people follow him like he’s a cult leader. All I could think was how scary it would be if Abbot or Gillard didn’t accept defeat and started a cult movement here hahaha). And then they asked me about Australia, and I was silent for a moment (sense a pattern here?) until I finally said “In Australia, the majority of us live a very good life. We don’t have war or extreme poverty. The closest we come to extreme fighting is arguments over footy teams. We love our sport and our friends, and while we adore American culture, we also have a fierce sense of patriotism. We often don’t realise how lucky we are. We do things like complain about the terrible state of our dollar when it’s buying 90 US cents, and you guys have 18 of your dollars to one of theirs. That’s just awful.” If I came away from camp with nothing else, I came away with the knowledge that I should never take Australia for granted. Sure, we’re the birthplace of the bogan, have no culture to speak of, and, let’s face it, are pretty ignorant (and racist) towards countries that are not our own, but our problems are so entirely minor on a global scale, they’re not even worth the worry. My Mexican roomies would do anything to be able to chill on the couch in Uggies drinking a hot milo through a tim tam while eating vegemite toast. They don’t care that Home and Away is utter crap, or that Neighbours has been using the same storyline for twenty years. They wouldn’t blink twice at the terrible quality of our english or the interesting ‘fashion’ we flaunt. Hell, I’m sure they’d even be happy to share a room with a redback or two, as long as it meant getting away from the gang violence that surrounds their towns. Escaping the utter desperation of many of their fellow residents. Not having to put up with terrible governments and shocking economies. The sad thing is, it’s not just unique to them. It’s everwhere, and we’re just chilling here annoyed because Bindi Irwin is on tv again, instead of actually caring about the fate of our fellow humans.
While us Aussie’s will always suffer from a terrible case of cultural cringe, I’m going to stop being ashamed of admitting to being Australian and all the stereotypes that go with it, and be proud of my heritage (side note; explaining Australia’s convict past to a non-aussie is a very interesting exercise indeed) because we truly are Young And Free (national anthem references ftw) and need to appreciate that fact, for anything could change tomorrow.
frangipani princess xoxo