Sunday, 20 July 2008


I did not give much thought to my Australianness when I nervously anticipated how I would be received as a new student in Oxford way back in 2004. I thought about my first days of high school, and about not having my brothers and sisters around. I wondered whether I would be able to continue to say to myself, 'It doesn't matter what people say about me or my personality, I have loved-ones who have said worse things about me'.

What I did not prepare myself for in the slightest was the barrage of balls that would be thrown at me for being Australian and therefore either (or a combo of) competitive, brash, obnoxious, entitled, unintelligent, anti-intellectual, backward, racist (a cab driver asked me only the other day whether Australians were hateful people), unsubtle and therefore unfunny. The most persistent comments come from the English, but I've got to say, the New Zealanders are up there... Even a South African man came up to me last week (having only met me once) to let me know that South Africa beat New Zealand in rugby union and that it made him feel 'good that the Aussies would get smashed.' How did the Aussies come into it?

Our energy and enthusiasm is seen as crass and annoying or evidence of stupidity. A Danish student remarked to me recently that she'd never hurt such vile things said about a population than the comments her British friends make about Australians. I tried to explain that it was only because of our special, parent-child relationship (where the child leaves the parent) that Brits felt so stridently comfortable about making comments that they never would about Africans or Asians, for instance, or even Canadians (the good son who does his own thing and does not cause trouble). It did make me wonder though. And come to think of it, an English guy recently told me that he could not tolerate 'Colonial women' because they ( were too aggressive and upfront.

I have been trapped in awful, drunken conversations at 2am about shrimps on barbies (caught by trying to explain that no one in Australia uses the word 'shrimp'), Fosters (same thing), backwardness (our literacy rate is higher than that of the UK!), convicts (the proportion of convict descendants; the intentional policy of enforced labour in the colonial period), the arrogance of Aussie males (sporto jerks everywhere; you're projecting because you're smaller than them), The Ashes, our Olympic medal tally. The list goes on. And each time I engage I just feel depleted, infantile (like when your brother used to upset you with the same bait each time) and silly. Usually and increasingly, I concede to a few points - Australians can be too much sometimes in some contexts (especially on Contiki buses) and the male, macho culture (bushman, Anzac hero, sportsman) is intense and sometimes nauseating.

But I still don't like the conversations. I don't like being patriotic. It's akin to loyalty to 'houses' at school. But I must be. How else can I explain why I have to force a smile after the third Aussie-bashing joke in almost every Flight of the Conchords episode?

I didn't even consider that I would be representing Australia in the UK. But I am. I would prefer to represent myself and maybe my family. Apparently I am here to prove or disprove the very strong, prevalent (and most often not jokey) viewpoint that Australians are crap.

What's your problem with Aussies, mate? (eager, but not aggressive tone)


Kate said...

I entirely agree. But my experience has been much more negative with British people than with American. While British want to diminish sporting achievements or claim that having so much sunshine would be 'boring' or that we're all criminals with convict past, I have found that Americans are, on the whole, much more chipper!

Perhaps it is because Americans are far more brash and (as tourists) can be quite offensive! Or perhaps it's more because they tend to like our larrikin spirit. But British friends and people who I've come into contact with in the UK are far more hostile than I expected But in the US, I was treated like an endearing novelty: a little "Au-ssy" (no "z"!) who needed a bit of leading in this big world...

Patronising yes, but not as hostile...

Keep up the good representing of Oz, J-Ro! I often found that the best way to handle those comments was to stay quiet, pause, and say, "do you really believe that?" and when they invariably said "yes", I would say, "oh..." and look away. At least it made them think, and it made me feel as though I wasn't rising to the bait!


ihatemornings said...

I love the shrimp photo, btw. ;o)

ihatemornings said...

In defence of the Brits,... oh no, wait a minute, it's true. Brits and Aussies do invariably get into nationalistic squabbles.

I thought it was my semi-Canadianity that stopped me from engaging in such confrontational situations, but my brother doesn't mind a bit of a Test match tussle, so I guess I'm just not the squabbling type.

It's not that Australians are annoying, just that there's something about them that makes us want to get annoyed when we're near them. ;o)

Don't worry about me. I'm just digging myself an enormous hole over here. You carry on with your discussion...

Monkey Mind said...

The boring, brain-sapping sunny weather! I forgot to mention that little chestnut! Thanks Kate!

Ben - we can talk about this later.

KT Lindsay said...

Hello my little Aussy ;-)

Just as a "Brit" (and sadly I am not one who actually considers herself a Brit, although Born and Bred I am, patriotic I am not..."European" is perhaps more apt). I would just like to say that I am rather embarrassed on the behalf of my "fellow Brits" who make stupid comments as you mentioned above. Saying that however, I do wonder if it is a bit of a male thing rather than a nationality thing. Something that largely resides in sport and the representation of the alpha male as having to be the best at that sport to be all king-like in order to win the women and the beer. I've been witness to some of your Aussie convos but usually it's a bloke dishing the dirt (and you giving as good as of course). Are the ladies as bad?

Of course you have to also remember that literally the only education us Brits had in terms of Australia and Australians was completely and utterly down to "Neighbours", "Home and Away" and "Prisoner Cell Block H" - honestly there was nothing else, nothing!! The more stupid of the nation of course think that the stereotypes in these programmes are symptomatic of the entire race. Unfortunate. Saying that I'd have the Mangles and Alf and Alisa as my neighbours anyday!

Monkey Mind said...

I must confess, KT, it's rarely women who make such comments, unless they're referring to our lack of 'culture' etc. And I am sure I make some pretty ridiculous comments as well, but generally only when up against the ropes and without the presence of mind to use Kate's approach.

Nell Mangle (Joe's mum) is a legend.

Alice said...

Jud, I love your description of Canada as 'the good son' - So true! People always say Canadians are like Australians, only nicer.

I agree with all the points raised about the fact that it mostly comes from men and that said 2am discussions are never going to be constructive. Often it's just friendly/passive aggressive sporting banter, which comes with the territory of being awesome.

I do worry about the characterisation of 'colonial woman' as aggressive and upfront. This coming from the country that has brought us the ladette!? Can we not be seen as enthusiastic and articulate?

An interesting issue about not wanting to be patriotic. Why do you think that is? Obviously there's little point being so when it's 2am and you're trying to explain that we don't call them shrimps for godssake! But more broadly? Have we been scared off by the Cronulla brand of nationalism?

Monkey Mind said...

like these

Monkey Mind said...

Lots of goodies in there Ali. Some of the time these conversations are quite playful, even beneficial, but often I receive a surprising hiss of venom at a certain point (or maybe it's the hiss of booze). And then I become frustrated because I don't want to represent what you call a Cronulla brand of Aussie nationalism in return (or start defending Shane Warne or our immigration policies). But, all in all, I've just got to stick with my new plan which is to avoid conversations like this after midnight. I've been very good at using this to disarm 'Sydney sucks, Melbourne rules' conversations thus far.