Tuesday, April 12, 2011
K is for Kangaroos and Koalas
As well as a host of considerably less friendly creatures that hang out in Oz.
I figured as Americans are always telling me I'm Australian I might as well blog about it, even though I've never set foot in the place and I missed the chance on "A".
The conversation usually goes something like this.
"Whereabouts in Australia are you from?"
"Oh so you are...."
"But you sound like the Geico lizard."
It amuses me that I could pass myself off as an Austalian and most people would believe me. I could even adopt steroetypes, wear a hat with dangling corks, say "g'day mate" and carry a boomerang around sure in the knowledge that not everyone would realize I was taking the piss.
I can understand the confusion. Australians do sound a bit like the inhabitants of certain parts of London. If you are from Britain you can tell the difference but it's harder if you are from far away. When I first arrived in America the accent of Alabama didn't sound so different to that of New York.
Still Australia must be one of the strangest places on earth, an enclave of sunburned Anglo Saxons amid the swamps and deserts, snakes, in short the most seriously un-Anglo Saxon place on the planet.
It's the most popular place to emigrate to from Britain but Brits can sometimes have a culture shock.
I remember talking once to a mildly spoken couple from up north who had never dealt with anything more sinister than the next-door-neighbor's Jack Russell.
Suddenly they were going out in the garden and finding themselves dodging venemous snakes and large hairy spiders dangling from the washing line.
They returned to the dank terraced streets of Barnsley and lived happily ever after.
There's also a strange kind of tension between Brits and Australians. Brits are derided as "Whinging poms," a claim that seems to have some merit judging by a few ex-pats sites I have visited.
The Brits usually exact their revenge by pointing out the Aussies are descended from the prisoners and undesirables who were shipped centuries ago from England to Botany Bay.
In The Happy Isles of Oceana, this giganic island is treated none too kindly at times by the American writer Paul Theroux.
"Most of its people live at its shores and beaches, so its edge is bricked and bungaloid, the rest an insect haunted wilderness of croaking wind and red desert," he writes.
"The Australian Book of Etiquette is a slim volume, but its outrageous Book of Rudeness is a hefty tome," wrote Theroux who said the knack is being intensely rude in the right tone of voice.
I've never found going up to a colleague with a big smile on my face and using my most pleasant tone to tell her: "Your hair simply sucks today," has lessened the impact of the inevitable slap, but then I guess I'm not Australian.
In reality Australia has a lot more culture than Theroux gives it credit and there's genuine talent on this vast island once you've purged yourself of those frightening childhood memories of Rolf Harris and his didgeridoo.
As an aside adults must have thought I was retarded as a kid.
"Keep digging and you'll get to Australia."
It was enough to make me put down my spade and scream: "Not before I get to the molten core of the frigging earth."
It was like those adults who told you Santa would come down the chimney when it was readily apparent to me that we didn't have one.
So I'd like to visit Australia, but not in the sense of a friend of a friend who went camping in the outback and never came back again.
It's assumed he was eaten by a croc but Australia can be unpredictable like that. Go further out to sea and the Great Whites might get you, or the invasion of deadly jelly fish.
In many ways Steve Irwin with his ill fitting shorts and macho snake and croc grabbing antics came to typify Australia to the outside world, even though more traditional wildlife documentary makers cringed at the sight of him.
And there was a curious irony that a man who handled the world's deadliest snakes in the heart of the outback was killed by a sting ray, an animal kids are encouraged to pet at aquariums.
So while I'm often mistaken for an Australian, I'm not sure I'd make out out there. I'd probably resort to being one of those whinging poms, complaining about the dust and the heat and the lack of Mars bars.
This post on an ex-pats site made me sit up and think, not just about Australia but also my periodic homesickness in America.
"I have just returned from the UK nothing has changed - it is cold, it's grey, everybody still whinges and looks miserable - thank God I left.
"When I read the comments on this site -- do they sell Cadbury's chocolate, can I buy Branston Pickles, if these are the type of things that worry people about coming to Austraia then stay in England. Yes we do sell these things in major supermarkets but I hardly think they warrant a chat forum."