Can You Face Your Own Nationality Abroad?

by Olivia Hambrett May 14, 2008
Everything you do and say in your language, with your accent (and flag stitched on your backpack) is duly noted by other cultures.

Let’s not lie, in a line up of five travelers, you could easily pick out the nationality of each.

Socks and sandals? Hello Scandinavian. Short shorts and a platform flip flop? That would be the American. Moon tan and neatly laced sensible shoes? Let’s see, the Pom?

Painfully stylish with a permanent snooty look on their face? Clearly French. Singlet and board shorts and a pair of weather beaten thongs? That’s the Aussie, me.

We all know the myth of the Aussie. Laid-back, easy-going, perennially tanned, with a beer in hand. We take it easy, mate, have a smile for everyone and although some of us say g’day, none of us drink Fosters.

But we won’t hold it against you if you think we do. We’ll just pull your leg and tell you we ride kangaroos to school.

For a while now, Australians have enjoyed a pristine reputation as travelers.

We smile at New Yorkers on the subway, which really unnerves them. We try and drink the Germans under the table, refusing to admit defeat despite the fact that our livers simply aren’t up to the challenge. We are everybody’s friend.

The Land Down Undah

There is a new generation of Aussie travelers in town, tarnishing an image our predecessors worked very hard to carve.

Somebody hit the lights. There is a new generation of Aussie travelers in town, tarnishing an image our predecessors worked very hard (drank liters of beer and spun millions of tall tales) to carve.

This new Aussie traveler, whilst probably sun damaged, talkative and not at all averse to having a drink with Duncan (Australian joke … anyone?) is most likely between the ages of 18-25, and sporting a long mane in an effort to rebel against the all-too-fresh memory of school rules.

The new Aussie might grin at you in the check-in line, but they’ll also keep you awake till 3am by trawling up and down the hostel corridors alternately repeating the C and F words.

You see, this is a whole new brash, obnoxious Backpacker Generation for whom world travel is more about beer bongs and swapping hostel beds than it is any sort of cultural immersion.

Look, we’re lovely people, for the most part. And we generally enjoy a good reputation.

All I’m saying is we have to be careful. Because at any minute, the tables can turn. Our larrikin persona can, in the blink of an eye, be construed as obnoxious.

The Eyes Of The Other

Photo by Chilling Soul

Of course, it is easy to forget how we are perceived globally, to step outside our own little national bubble and see ourselves through the eyes of the other few billion that are out there.

And that goes for everyone, not just the little brats of the international family. Hot pants can be too hot, comments too presumptuous and arrogance is never welcome.

In one’s own context, so much is permissible and taken for granted – phrases, manners, social norms – that it is easy to forget that it may not be the case elsewhere.

That people who function in the exact same way we do, just a few thousand miles away, may be repulsed by what we find perfectly okay.

Spitting, nose-blowing, touching – fine some places, absolutely not in others. And nor should you, as a traveler, expect what is okay in your own backyard, to be okay everywhere else (ignorance is one of the most reviled traits in travelers).

Of course, many hang ups and reputations are so deeply ingrained they are nearly impossible to reverse; we can only remedy them bit by bit.

Practice Awareness

At the end of the day, Poms look down on Australians (when they’re not roasting their skin beneath its rays) as being a country of their unwanted convicts, just as they look down on Americans for being loud and generally ignorant.

Americans, for their part, are genuinely surprised the rest of the world sees them any other way than how they see themselves, and are equally as surprised crocodiles don’t live in the backyard swimming pools of Australians.

Europeans had it all figured out a long time ago and so look on with the gentle humour of a parent.

And Asian cultures run the gamut from the Japanese, who are obsessed with anything Anglo-kitsch to the Thai (who are probably sick of all things Anglo-Kitsch).

But, it’s worth everyone’s while to just be aware. Everything you do and say in your language, with your accent (and probably your flag stitched on your backpack) is duly noted.

And whilst perhaps not commented on at the time by a polite local, the reputation you build as a result, speaks volumes.

What do you think of your own nationality abroad? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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