As I return to New York from a blazing summer in Australia with bushfires burning out of control across much of Tasmania and NSW, I ask myself, what is it about Australia and Australians that is so hard for Americans to work out? Is it because we are from "down under" and that seems so remote that we must be a different species? Or is it because we have weird animals that hop instead of run, using their tail for balance? Is it our accents? Our desire to take more than 2 weeks holiday every year? Jealousy of our beaches? Fear of our top 10 poisonous snakes?
Don't get me wrong. I love living here and I love (nearly) every American I have the pleasure of meeting. But after 2 weeks in the laid back, happy, uncomplicated place I was born, I do always notice a slight condescension creep into the voice of my colleagues when I return. And certainly a questioning look of disapproval that I could have even considered not being back in the office on the day after New Year's day let alone actually not be there.
This year, instead of asking how my beloved country is faring in this headline-making dry and fire-driven season - and Lord knows we have asked America enough about their politics or gun laws - I am asked two fatuous questions on my first day back at work:
- Did you bring back Tim Tams?
- Do you have quokkas as pets? Apparently they are the happiest animals in the world!
How am I supposed to answer this second question? Yes! They sleep at the end of my bed in a basket! Just like there are kangaroos hopping down main street! I couldn't believe this was even a serious conversation until sure enough, I see The Huffington Post - which I have always applauded for interesting journalism up until now - wasted a whole article on informing the American people of a rarely mentioned or seen Australian marsupial who is apparently, the happiest animal in the world. This lovable creature has now replaced our other furry mascot, the koala, as the cutest thing in the world for Americans.
No wonder we aren't taken seriously. What with a PM like Julia Gillard - who is just a running joke here and at home - the media covering our "adorable" furry animals and inedible food outside of Oz such as Vegemite, it's hard to position ourselves as a cultural or economic world leader. Instead, I just get, "You Aussies, you're so funny!" But when we do crack a joke, they rarely get it! Maybe we're just funny weird instead of funny ha ha.
Which brings me back to my original question. What is there not to get about us? Perhaps it's our laconic attitude to life that alot of career-driven Americans aspire to adopt but can't because of the relentless pressure to get into an ivy league college and then get paid millions before you can afford to send your own privately-educated kids to the next generation of unaffordable ivy league college and so on. Or maybe they are just completely baffled by us; our customs, attitudes, humour etc so it's easier to treat us like a joke rather than try and understand us in order to take us seriously. It certainly doesn't help when you see Warney turn from a great Aussie sporting icon into an over-tanned, primped and emasculated handbag. However, in the interest of spreading the positive things about Australia, I will continue to fly our flag proudly and try and educate my colleagues about elements other than quokkas and Tim Tams.
I can only hope my 2013 will get better.
image: white gadget, huffington post