samedi 12 mars 2011

Stereotypes about Australia

Photo: saqwarrior/flickr

I wanted to do a post on this because I was getting tired of getting asked the same questions over and over again and it became apparent to me that these are some common silly stereotypes about Australia:

1. That the whole country has the same weather everywhere. And that that is sunny, hot weather. Every day. All year round.

2. That it doesn't snow and it never gets cold. (similar to no. 1).

3. That there are billions of sharks in the ocean and if you dare swim in the beach you'll be eaten by one.

4. Everyone is blonde, blue-eyed and tanned.  (geez, are we still stuck in the 1980s or what?)

5. Everyone eats kangaroo meat.

6. That we don't use the metric system.

OK, let me dispel these myths:

1. OMG do you have any idea how BIG Australia is? How could the whole country possibly have the same weather everywhere! We have 4-6 different timezones (depending on the time of year)! As a general rule, because we're in the southern hemisphere, the northern part of the country is hotter than the southern part. The northern part really only has 2 seasons: hot and dry and wet (humid) and dry. Where the largest cities are situated (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide) has the most temperate and comfortable weather (yes they are all along the coast because the inland is a dry hot desert).

2. Yes we do have seasons. They may not be as extreme as some countries in the northern hemisphere but our summers are still hot and our winters are still cold.  I actually think using the temperature as a gauge is somehow misleading because 8° in Sydney feels like 3° here in France. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because it's more humid in Sydney (and a lot windier). Here's some trivia for you: It can get down to -2°C in Sydney!! It's further out in the suburbs but it still happens in mornings in winter. You can get ice, frost and sometimes even snow. Yes, it happens. And winters in Sydney actually feel colder to me in some ways because our houses are not designed well for cold weather and you never have those fancy pipe water-filled heaters in houses (which are everywhere in France and Europe). So usually when I'm at home or at a friend's house I freeze to death because noone wants to spend money on heating and even if they do, it's extremely inefficient heating that doesn't heat the whole room/house. We also have real snow in the mountains, which are about 8 hours drive from Sydney. And yes you can ski there too! (I went once with my family when I was young).

3. How do I put it to you gently? This is not a myth. IF YOU SWIM IN THE BEACH IN AUSTRALIA YOU'RE GONNA FUCKING DIE!!!  (I'm joking :P ).

The way I have explained this to some people is this: You hear about plane crashes all the time in the news so if you are someone who gets scared easily, you would tend to believe that this is a common occurrence, which couldn't be farther from the truth! It's the same thing for murders and basically anything 'bad'. There is a tiny miniscule % chance of that thing happening but in some people's minds there is a 50% or greater chance of it happening to them!! I have read psychology literature about phobias and OCDs and they are basically the same thing: irrational thoughts. People have a phobia of being eaten by a shark (for example) because in their minds they believe there's an extremely high chance of it happening. The irrational thought plays out in their mind over and over again so they believe it's actually true. The same with plane crashes, or snake bites, or whatever. In all the years I've lived in Australia and gone to the beach I've never even seen a shark, let alone been attacked by one and I have never heard of it happen to anyone I know either. And funnily enough, each summer there are still thousands of people at every beach! Even kids! (rolleyes). You'd be better off worrying about rips as they are a more of a threat than any old shark.

4. Australia is WAY more multicultural than France from what I've seen and experienced so it doesn't surprise me that French people (and many other nationalities too) actually believe this is the case. Blame it on the media where it's true. In tv shows and the news etc you'll only see Caucasians 99.99% of the time. In Sydney and Melbourne you would be hard pressed to see only Caucasian people in any suburb. It wasn't always like this though. I remember my childhood as a different scenario where only a few select suburbs had people of different ethnic origins and if you wanted to buy some special kind of food you had to drive a long distance. Nowadays you can find ethnic supermarkets and fast food/restaurants everywhere. And even normal supermarkets have a huge supply of various ethnic foods. And I LOVE that, and I miss that so much here in France. The only ethnic food I seem to be able to find easily are kebabs. Whenever I find a nice sushi shop I am dying to eat there but then I can't because it's so ridiculously expensive and I want to cry. I can count on my hand the number of times I've eaten Asian food here. That's roughly once a month :(

And no, not everybody is tanned. In fact, Australians suffer from the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and most (Caucasian) Australians have very bad sun-damaged skin from exposing their fair European skin to the strong UV rays of 'down under'. Because of this statistic, the news, the and media, most Australians and highly sun conscious and we sell special clothing and swimwear with high UV protection and a huge range of sunscreen, etc etc. I believe the US is similar but it's definitely something that Europe has to catch up on, as I don't think most of them realise the damaging effects of the sun. Here, it's a bit like Australia 20 or 30 years ago before anyone knew the consequences of too much sun exposure. And I guess Nicole Kidman sort of made it 'cool' to be pale!

5. Yes it's true that some Australians eat it but I personally have never tried it and I don't know of anyone who eats it on a regular basis and I have never ever seen it sold in the supermarkets or butchers (then again I never looked for it!)

6. Most French people know that we drive on the left hand side and if they didn't, and I tell them, they would then say, "Oh like the British"... But I've been asked this bizarre question several times straight after telling someone that... "Do you use the metric system?" It's as if because we drive on the opposite side of the road to the French, we must use a different measuring system. But how does that make sense because the British drive on the left and use the metric system, and the Americans drive on the right (like the French) and DON'T use the metric system?  Does not compute in my head. That is definitely the most bizarre question I've been asked! So, Australia has been using the metric system.. since... oh... sometime in the 70s and we also use A4 paper (unlike the Americans). Whenever I bring that up the French people ask me, "Huh? What do Americans use then?" " 'Letter' paper."Not many people seem to realise there are differences in paper size!

Prior to the current school holidays I did some classes on stereotypes because I wanted to educate my kids about the ways of the world. And then I remind myself that I'm so lucky to have travelled all over the world from a young age to learn about all these little cultural ideas and differences. I find it utterly sad when people say they don't like travelling and don't want to go overseas... and then they wonder why people like me think they are so ignorant about the rest of the world!!

This is not something I get asked often (I think I talked about it on a Skype chat at least once) but I happened to find this on
...depuis la ruée vers l'or des années 1850, la plupart des Australiens sont citadins. L'Australie est aujourd'hui l'un des pays les plus urbanisés du monde. 

"Since the gold rush around the 1850s, the majority of Australians are city dwellers. Today, Australia is one of the most urbanised countries of the world."

I think that's another thing that's hard for people of other countries to understand because in their country (except maybe Canada and Russia ;) ) the inhabitants are evenly spread out everywhere... Australia is just this big mass of emptiness with these few large(ish) urban centres...


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