No matter how hard we try to resist using stereotypes, they always seem to prevail. Maybe because it is just too difficult to understand the complexities of each and every culture that exists in the world. Maybe because we hate accepting that there is so much we do not know. As Slimbach explains, “…we’re taught from childhood to view strangers with suspicion. By the time we’re adults we’ve learned to reject some and to identify with others by projecting stereotypic images and forming alliances…Eventually we may collect more information and describe [people] more fully. But the tragic consequence of ‘boxing’ is that we relate to people on the basis of the label we’ve put on their box, rather than encountering them as unique individuals” (57). So while we may not be able to totally avoid using stereotypes, we can at least be open to learning when we discover they are not true.
I’m not really sure what I expected when I embarked on my 26-hour journey to the other side of the world. There are quite a few different stereotypes of Australians, the most common being the surf culture and the outback culture. However, I have yet to meet an Australian who truly fulfills either of these stereotypes. I haven’t heard “G’day mate” nearly as much as I thought, and I have never heard someone ask to “put another shrimp on the barbie”. In fact, they do not even call them shrimp here (it’s a prawn), so saying such a thing would make it very clear to everyone around that you are an American. I was also surprised to discover that like the US, Australia is a country of immigrants and thus boasts a very ethnically and culturally diverse population. I have met far more Aussies with Asian or European backgrounds than Aboriginal backgrounds. Some of this is influenced by my location—the east coast of the country is a massive tourist industry, and one in four jobs in the gold coast are based solely on tourism. Thus, it seems to be a popular destination for immigrants first settling in Australia.
The most surprising stereotype to me has by far been that of the drinking culture. Even Australians think they drink more than the average person. However, the liquor laws are extremely strict here. Bars have rules on how many drinks you can buy at once, and will not sell certain drinks after midnight. Taxes are extremely high on hard alcohol, making the prices exponentially higher than they would be at home. As a result, you see significantly fewer belligerent people on the streets at night, even in the city. I worked at a car race last weekend, and was required to get and RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification before I could be employed. The course outlined many of the liquor laws, which are heavily regulated by the government. I found this interesting because Australia bears a stereotype of heavy drinking.
I have also discovered that Australians have many stereotypes of Americans that are not very accurate. I have been asked countless number of times if I own a gun. In 1996, Australia bought back many of the guns in the country, only allowing active members of hunting clubs to keep them. As a result, there have been no mass shootings and gun-related deaths have drastically decreased. Many Australians think that we must all own guns since we have not taken any action to remove them from dangerous hands. Additionally, most Australians absolutely despise Trump. Countless Uber drivers have asked me about the election, and because American politics are world politics, I have watched many heated debates break out. It has been interesting to see than many Australian adults are following the election more than many of the members of my communitas. As a result, we tend to be labelled as slightly ignorant, especially because of our generally poor voter turnout.
The picture I have chosen as an Australian view of Americans is that of people walking in a city. Many Australians see Americans as cold and unfriendly, particularly those from the northeastern cities. I understand where this stereotype comes from—most Bostonians put their heads down and walk, minding their own business and avoiding interactions with strangers. However, I have also seen this stereotype defeated in times of need such as after the marathon bombings in 2013. People opened their hearts and their homes to anyone in need, and the city banded together to get through one of the most difficult events in its history. So while the always-friendly culture of Australia is certainly amazing and different from home, both will always hold a special place in my heart.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.