22 September 2011
The past two weeks have been astounding. Feeling the elevator fall from my honeymoon period and coming to the realisation that isn’t a holiday, but rather my new home is kind of shocking.
Well, home for six months at least.
There’s this realisation now that this European architecture is the norm, the sun setting at 9PM is the way it should be and this constant desire for Stroopwafels must be met. In fact, I imagine my dentist back in Australia has sleepless nights whilst I devour Stroopwafels during the day. I was trying to describe the Stroopwafel to a friend from home recently, but I didn’t know how to.
‘It’s like a wafery, syrupy thing. They’re amazing’
This is an inadequate description.
I pointed my friend to Google and left it at that.
Much like the Stroopwafel, a lot of the things I’ve been thinking and feeling lately are difficult to describe.
Firstly, I have been feeling incredibly Australian. Whenever someone recognises my accent I can’t help but feel a sprinkle of pride. In one of my first classes I met a girl from Germany. She exclaimed when I told her I was from Australia, saying she hadn’t met an Australian before. I suddenly felt like an international delegate representing my country. Be calm, Dale. If you say anything rude in this conversation you could ruin the image of your country forever in this girl’s eyes. Whenever she meets another Australian she’ll think to herself ‘URGH. Not ANOTHER Australian.’
Anyway, the conversation went well. I survived and hopefully didn’t manage to destroy her decent thoughts of myself or my countrymen and women.
We had this really interesting exercise last week in one of my classes: Dutch Present-Day Society. It focused around stereotypes – our first impressions and thoughts of the countries which people in the class had come from. We had to write down the first three things that came to our mind when we thought of the country. This included our own.
I stared down at this list. Australia was at the top. My home nation, I thought to myself, this will be easy. About 10 minutes later and I finally finished listed the three things that came to mind when I thought of home. It’s difficult when you think about it. How do you pin-point exactly what IS Australia, what it means to be Australian? I ended up writing down ‘mates’ (The word which I actually meant to use was ‘mateship,’ but that alluded my vocabulary at the time – this may say more about us Aussies than anything :P), proud and beaches.
Having finally conquered three words for Australia I looked down the rest of the list. My heart was sinking. I honestly knew nothing about some of these countries. My mind was completely blank. I had absolutely no idea about Slovakia or Finland. Except that it’s cold in Finland.
What’s worse than not knowing anything to write for a country is having thoughts of history as being the first to come to mind.
It feels cruel, the height of rudeness, to even think that one of my first thoughts when I hear the word Germany is Hitler. I’m not afraid of the German people. I harbour no animosity towards them. I don’t think they’re rude or cruel or anything. Yet that is the first thing I think of. Hitler and World War II.
The same goes for Poland. I wrote down ‘occupied’ as the first word next to that nation.
As an Australian traveling overseas my major difficulty is confronting impressions of our country as being full of incredibly active, outdoors-loving people who may or may not ride Kangaroos across the Bush on the way to a ‘barbi.’ The only time we stop riding the Kangaroo is to wrestle the Crocodile in the river nearby.
Whilst this imagery is fun to think of, for people like Germans and Polish people who must travel the world and constantly be reminded of historical wrongdoings which they were never a part of it must be incredibly frustrating. In the modern age this also applies to America. I doubt that it would be possible to mention you’re an American citizen without getting a comment about global politics or a questionable look.
Globalisation has brought us all so much closer together, but we can still be so ignorant.
Imagery is about perspective though, and I certain learned that when I received a list of what other Australians had written about our country.
‘Racial tension’ had been put down by one person. ‘Tall-poppy syndrome’ had also been noted by an Australian. Tall-poppy Syndrome is this idea that people from are eager to bring high achievers down to the level of the common population.
Maybe I just feel a deeper indoctrinated sense of national pride, but I was really disappointed when I saw that someone wrote that. If the first things you think of when you consider your home country is ‘racial tension’ then you must have had a pretty horrible experience there.
I don’t know. It made me question my own thoughts about Australia. I guess when you think of our own experiences we have to take heed to a warning which is emblazoned across so many advertisements and products: individual results may vary.
Either that or this person may also be looking back on Australian history. We have a racist past, much like most other nations of the world. No one should be proud of it, but we can’t define ourselves by that. We must pick ourselves up. Move on.
If you’re from one of these countries which has so much baggage – don’t worry. No matter what nationality we all have something which people think about us. Whether that’s the result of history, media or a dodgy tourism campaign depends on each individual country.
Simply become the change that you want to see in the world and wear your nationality with pride.
I have so much more which I want to write, but I think this may have to wait till next week.
I hope this finds you well and happy – wherever you are 🙂