During my first parent teacher conferences at Le Fevre High School, I met with the parents of my one British student, Jessica. They had just moved to Adelaide, and, like me, they were adjusting to the Australian school system. So we discussed our observations about the differences in education.
For some reason, they seemed to forget with whom they were talking and shared an interesting insight with me. “Well, I don’t know what to think many days. Australia is getting closer and closer to a new America,” Mrs. Ford confessed while shaking her head. I believe she actually wrung her hands, too.
The observation didn’t seem quite charitable toward the US nor Australia.
Despite that mild statement, which one would generally expect from a British subject, I never encountered any outright US bashing. Always, I felt welcome and accepted in Oz.
In the beginning, I was aware of being a “Yank,” and Australians have some definite opinions on Yank tendencies as well as our activities. For the most part, Aussies strongly dislike American football, which they have dubbed, “Gridiron.”
“Ah yeah, a bunch of pussies out there with all that armor. They think they’re these bloody gladiators, but then take all those breaks,” said my colleague and friend Brad. “Sooks!” he calls American NFL players.
I pretty much agreed with Brad’s sentiment, especially after seeing a nonstop, high adrenalin game of Australian Rules Football or “footy,” which I didn’t necessarily understand, but I enjoyed watching because of all the action.
But, really, I was curious about Australian thoughts on Yanks in general.
“So do you guys think Americans are pretty much into ourselves and only concerned with the US?” I asked my fellow teachers once in the staff lounge.
A unanimous “Yes” accompanied by adamant nods was the reaction. Fair enough. Again, I can’t really disagree.
Once the principal of Le Fevre delivered a motivational speech to the school and he opined about how everything was taking on this unhealthy competitive edge in Oz.
The consequence, he implied, was that Australian society easily could go down the loo. As an example of this undesirable scenario, he mentioned the competitive kids’ version of the wildly popular cook-off show “Master Chef.”
“Come on folks,” he said. “We don’t want to go the route of America.”
I laughed, thinking his assessment was quite funny, and several students who sat by me in the auditorium leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, Miss, he didn’t mean you.” And I didn’t worry, because I get why people may think the US is a frenetic 24/7 Darwinian place.
Australians may not like mini Master Chefs, but, for the most part, they full on have embraced reality shows both American and their own. And there are plenty of Aussie reality shows like “Australian Idol,” “Australia’s Got Talent” and “Football Superstar” to name a few. I often tuned into the compelling “Bondi Rescue” and “The Outback Farmer Wants a Wife.”
In fact, many Australians I met confessed to appreciating American pop culture and, surprisingly, our accents. I’ve always been under the impression that American accents are like heavy metal military torture to most of the world. We either have a nasally, twangy, drawn out or in-your-face way of delivering our version of English.
At a certain point during my teaching exchange, I didn’t notice that Kurt, the kids and I had American accents anymore because the Australian English dialect sounded so normal to me. I realize this sounds strange, but everyone I listened to sounded normal — Americans and Australians.
In fact, sometimes I forgot I was a Yank in Oz. (For example, eventually incorporating the ubiquitous “I reckon” into your lexicon definitely qualifies as being oblivious to your American nationality.) After all, “I reckon” in the US is usually followed by an assertion like: “that’s some prime shine, y’all, and we better git to drinkin’ it ‘fore the Po-po come.'”
If I didn’t remember, plenty of people reminded me — especially when I shopped at Coles, a popular Australian supermarket. On more than one occasion, I would get to the checkout lane and drone on to the cashier about the money, food or a totally mundane topic and something like this would happen.
“I’m finally getting used to your coins,” I began while getting out correct change during one visit. “It sure took a while, but now I know that your smallest coin is not ten cents like it is at home.”
Encouraged by the cashier who seemed riveted to my currency conundrums, I rambled on…”And I really love your two-dollar coin. It’s so cute and shiny.”
Then the cashier stopped scanning items, stared directly at me and asked me in a somewhat hushed tone. “Where are you from?”
“The United States,” I answered wondering whether she would approve.
“I really LOVE your accent,” she blurted out and then exclaimed, “I so want to go to America some day.”
While a growing line of customers formed, she finished with my transaction but continued to talk about the US and listed some of the celebrities she’d like to see. “You must run into them all the time,” she gushed, ignoring the line of people.
Her impression about Americans was not unlike that of my students. It seemed younger Aussies thought we waited in line at Starbucks, chatting it up with Beyoncé, Justin Bieber (who’s actually Canadian) and the cast of “Twilight” every day.
I don’t blame anyone for thinking we mingle with the rich and famous, because the US publishes heaps of magazines with features like, “Stars: They’re Just Like Us” with photos of Kim Kardashian sipping a smoothie (They Like Smoothies!) or Bradley Cooper pumping gas/petrol (They Get Their Own Gas!).
My friend Nicole enlightened me on why Australians may like the accent. “Steph, I just love listening to you talk. I feel like I’m at the movies.”
Even the mother of a girl in my year 11 care group was intrigued by my accent. Her lovely daughter had been wagging school and yelling at teachers. It was time to tell mum what was up. Generally, I detest making calls to parents about their kids’ bad behavior, because in most cases, they inevitably blame you. So, basically, I did not look forward to the phone conversation.
“Hello…Mrs. Anderson?” I said, clearing my throat. “Hi. I’m Stephanie Glaser, Morgann’s care group teacher. So first, I just want to mention that Morgann is quite polite in care group, and I have only had good interactions with her.” I have a tendency to plow through several statements when I’m uncomfortable. “However, apparently, she has had a run-in with Mrs. Korreng.”
Silence on the other end of the line. Crap. Was she going to go off on me like her volatile daughter?
“Ahh…according to Mrs. Koreng, Morgann told her to go…well…you know. Um..to hell. And Morgan also allegedly used the F-word when she told Mrs. Korreng where to go.” More SILENCE although I could sense Morgann’s mum was still on the phone.
Finally she responded.
“I have to say that I just love your accent.”
“Yes, well, thank you. Indeed…that is flattering. So, yes, just to let you know, I’ll be sending the lunch time detention form home with Morgann so you’ll need to sign it.”
“Okay. No worries, Luv.”
I hung up the phone with her, and I didn’t know quite what to write in my “call-to-parent” record. But I did know one thing: Oh yeah. That’s right. I’m a Yank.
Travelling is such an eye opener. I lived in the U.S for 5 years and so many Americans thought Australia was somewhere in Britain. I loved America and seriously we cannot compete with your beautiful diverse country. The only thing I would say about Americans is that perhaps they should have more education on other countries. I didn’t feel a lot travelled outside of their country. (I did reside in fairly small towns there though)
I totally agree with you Claudie — it’s embarrassing to go abroad and discover how much other countries know about the US and how many other languages people speak. I remember arriving in the Netherlands when I was on a study abroad program and people knew the names all the cabinet members of the newly elected George H. Bush. I wasn’t even sure what classification the of government of the Netherlands was.
You’re right about many people not leaving the country. Some Americans believe there is no need. They have this “Why go anywhere else when the US is NUMBER ONE!?” attitude. It’s that type of mentality and image that many of us who want to discover other countries and cultures have to fight.
Thanks for your insights! 🙂
The American tourists that I run into always seem to be somewhat apologetic for being American, as if they expect people to hate them. It’s really not true. Americans have the reputation for being very ignorant of the outside world, but not arrogant or entitled. Regarding the accents, people seem to be split in Europe – some love the US accent, others prefer the British. When I lived in a French-speaking country (New Caledonia), they told me my accent sounded like music!
I’m glad for your comment, Julie — I’m sure you have a pulse on things since you’ve traveled so much and live in Europe. I think because of the Bush years, many Americans who travel wanted to sew the Maple Leaf on their backpacks and claim to be Canadian. I’d definitely rather be considered dumb than arrogant or entitled.
Wow — by the way, that you were told your accent sounded like music in a French-speaking country. Talk about stereotypes — I’ve always assumed French speakers would rather hear nails on a chalkboard than an American accent!
It’s very interesting to read about your experience with how people view Americans! If I am totally honest with you, I am afraid that most people in Europe are not too fond of Americans. I am not entirely sure why that is. Maybe it is because Americans are perceived as being a bit loud (in Belgium that is the perception at least) or because we have the idea that they are a little oblivious to the world outside America. In any case, I try my best not to succumb to this culturally inspired prejudice and look at individuals rather than cultures, or look at America as I look at Japan, i.e. an interesting place full of cultural differences.
There is one thing that I did notice during my experiences abroad. When hanging out with a group of fellow foreigners and everyone has to say where they are from, all the non-Americans answer with the name of their country, while Americans will answer with the name of their city. Of course this city name rarely means something to the other foreigners, unless it’s New York or LA. I always found it odd that they wouldn’t just say ‘I’m American’.
I can understand why many people are not fond of Americans. We can definitely be loud, as well as oblivious, and I’m afraid that the idea of patriotism for many Americans means emphatically adopting the we are NUMBER ONE philosophy at all times. This is a cringer for many of us who want to be part of the global community.
I think that is interesting that Americans share their city vs. “The US” or “America.” Indeed, most cities wouldn’t register with someone from outside the
US. I’m trying to remember how I answer that question when I’m asked. I know in Australia I always said “The US” or “The States” (which actually isn’t a good answer since Australia has its own states.) I think I’ve probably said “California” as an answer when I traveled in my 20’s. Again, it’s probably a result of being oblivious.
Thanks so much for your comments. I’m always so interested in how other cultures perceive Americans. (So I can dispel the bad stereotypes!)
I love this! It’s been interesting to be on the other side of it while we’ve been here in the US, and to see people try to guess where we’re from.
And I love that last photo – that’s really cool!! 🙂
I’m so glad you liked this. I wasn’t sure how it would be received since I didn’t want to come across that I was offended by anybody’s perceptions. I totally get why people think the way they do about Americans. Also so glad you’re getting a chance to see and experience the land of the Yanks. I love reading your posts and getting your insights on the places and people you encounter. (I wish you were in the last photo by the way) xxxxx
Awww, so do I xoxo
Insightful post Stephanie. We lived in London for 3 years, and it was also an eye-opener. As tourists, we were treated kindly and people couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful. However, it was amazing how the attitude changed when someone discovered that we were residents. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this attitude, as I wasn’t expecting any special treatment. But it’s certainly interesting to observe.
Terri, you know what I’m talking about. I was never offended by any statements I heard about the US, but, dang, I did feel I needed to dispel MASSIVE stereotypes. However, I didn’t experience anything like you did in Greece when George Schultz was there! WHOA…talk about wanting to wrap yourself in a Maple Leaf flag! Thanks so much for reading and your comment. Cheers! Steph