Monday, May 21, 2007

G’day cobber owya garn flat out like a lizard drinkin’ etc etc

I’ll probably come across as an elitist snob with this, but here goes…

A German work colleague recently told me he thought I seemed more European than Australian. While I’m not in the least ashamed of being Australian per se (though I am ashamed of quite a few things that Australians and “Australia” have done), nor did I take my friend’s comment as an insult (nor was it intended as such). I felt it somewhat complimentary.

I know a lot of wonderful expat Aussies, but I also regularly encounter Australians who make me cringe. Some are obvious – the loud, drunk yobbo stereotype. Some are not so obvious (and the cringing not so severe) and are generally people I like. But I’ve noticed a tendency – especially when there are several Aussies in a group of mixed nationalities – to be a bit overbearing with “Aussie culture”. The Oz culture clichés (which are partly truthful, as tends to be the case with clichés) tend to fly a bit thicker and faster in such groups. Or maybe they fly just as thick and fast (i.e., maybe they are really representative of “Oz”) when it’s just a bunch of Australians sitting around by themselves, but they’re more noticeable when there are non-Australians present. The tall-poppy knocking, the knockabout brashness, giving each other shit, the antiauthoritarianism, etc. And there is much (from my point of view) to like about these traits, but I sometimes get a sense that Aussies – whether consciously or not – play them up for the crowd.

The other thing that makes me cringe is when the Aussie clique gets enmeshed in Aussie in-jokes (including Aussie vernacular, some of which is rarely or never actually used by Australians at home) that the non-Aussie contingent has no hope of understanding. In-jokes that exclude a group of people are at best rude or thoughtless and at worst cruel, in any context.

My discomfort with all this may have more to do with me than the other Australians. I guess I tend to be a bit self-conscious and self-analytical. Maybe my countryfolk are simply being themselves and I’m just too uptight to do the same. Still, to me it smacks of this naïve desire that much of Australia (including some of mainstream political, media and corporate Australia, as well as portions of the Oz community at large) has to be recognised and/or liked by people from other countries. This was exemplified when Steve Irwin died. One of the biggest stories I saw the say after it happened was the presentation of all the front pages around the world that featured the Croc Hunter’s untimely demise. It was in part documentation of how phenomenally famous and popular he was – and as such was legitimate reporting. But it also seemed to cry out: “HE WAS AN AUSSIE! WE’RE DOWN HERE! YOU KNOW US! YOU LIKE US! (You do, don’t you???)”

So, having presented myself as a culturally cringing, snobbish, elitist wanker, where did D and I eat on Saturday night? Where else but: THE OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE. I played golf at a fancy-schmancy club as part of a fundraising drive for a charity. (I know what you’re thinking: you arsehole, playing an elitist, rich person’s sport in a country marked by severe and widespread poverty, how can you look at yourself in the mirror etc etc – BUT IT WAS FOR WORTHY CAUSE, PEOPLE. That, and I actually really really enjoy golf, damnit. There, it’s out.) On one hole, by hitting the ball closer to the hole than my playing partners, I won a THOUSAND-PESO (around USD$20/AUD$25) VOUCHER FOR THE OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE. It so happened that D and I met after golf near said eatery and decided we may as well use the voucher.

Now, while the Outback can’t hold a candle to the Big Oz (may it rest in peace), it IS filled with LOADS of tacky Australiana. The staff are dressed like Steve Irwin (plus dozens of badges and brooches depicting all things Oz), there are prints of famous Oz paintings (e.g. Tom Roberts’s Shearing the rams), photos of iconic Aussie landmarks, Aboriginal prints, boomerangs and other paraphernalia (tacky at best; exploitative at worst) etc etc. All this in a US-owned and –created chain. Pure gold, people.

To give you a sense of the TRUE-BLUE DINKY DI Oz ambience, here are some poorly taken shots of the toilet doors (poorly taken in part because I’m socially savvy enough to know that being caught taking photos of public toilets is not a good look):

GEDDIT?? Blokes and sheilas! Instead of men and women! So quirky, so Oz.

And that quintessential Oz ambience was heightened by:

1) The TVs showing the English Premier League matches; and

2) The promo girls and guy who came in dressed in saucy “winter” clothes (i.e. tight skimpy dresses and fur-lined boots and hoods – at least the women were dressed so; the guy just had a T-shirt and jeans) promoting some brand of breath-freshener mint that promised to ward off that stale morning breath. They circulated the restaurant, stopping at each table to explain the wondrous properties of the product and offer a free sample. You can see what I mean here:

Exactly what D and I wanted at our secluded Outback Steakhouse dinner for two. When we proffered a “no thanks” before they started their spiel, one of the women held out the free sample. Our second “no thanks” was met with this somewhat confused “But…it’s free…?!?”

I then lamented to D about the apparently unstoppable convergence of marketing and branding upon people’s daily lives and the importance of public and private spaces where we’re not confronted with mass consumerism. But, expecting that sort of freedom – as opposed to the freedom to choose the most attractively marketed breath-freshening mint – in a place that has “blokes” and “sheilas” on its toilet doors was probably naïve.


After the golf, I was in the change room putting on fresh clothes. There was a youngish man next to me (around my age, I’d say – early-mid 30s) doing the same thing. I noticed he had a tattoo (of a butterfly) on his left calf. This made me think he was unlikely to be very socially conservative (this doesn’t necessarily hold true, but I reckon it’s a reasonable assumption). Which made what I witnessed next seem all the more astounding (again, this observation is assumption-laden, but…deal with it). The youngish man painstakingly tucked his shirt into his undies (white briefs). He then painstakingly got hold of two points at the bottom hem of the shirt and pulled it through each undie leg. To help you understand, I’ve skilfully drawn a complex and technical schematic:

Maybe I’m way out of touch and most people do this. It sure as hell insures against one’s shirt coming untucked in public AND SOMETHING MORE IGNOMINIOUS I CANNOT IMAGINE. And I’m in no way condemning – this if it feels good and doesn’t hurt other people, I say go for it. I’m just struggling to comprehend quite how it could feel good.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the ambiguity of this comment: AND SOMETHING MORE IGNOMINIOUS I CANNOT IMAGINE. Either you can't imagine someone pathalogically afraid of going to hospital with racing stripes OR... someone who is DETERMINED that his shirt will hug taut physique OR.. something I am not sure I want to imagine.

AA.Gill, I think, wrote an article a while back about some AMAZING "suspenders" sold in the US. You snap one end to a sock and the other to your shirttail, or front. Then you always look COOL and PRESSED and CRISP as if you've just stepped into the opening scene of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. There's just a small snapping noise when you stand up suddenly. And possibly some damage if the sock end comes adrift unexpectedly.

4:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha, great story SW! And don't be too hard on the ozzies. I am bloody euro trash and I love Ozzies. The truth as a cow. Even the bloody Queenslanders are great. You just gotta stop making fun of those poor kiwi's...

8:25 pm  

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