It’s no secret that I’ve lived in the US for a good while now (just over three years). And for the most part, the questions about Australia have slowed to a trickle. But every now and then I’ll meet someone new and get bombarded with a variation on this list of questions that Americans ask Australian expats.
They can’t help it, it’s not as if they’re constantly exposed to Australian culture on the TV, radio and at the movies. Not that I’m bitter about knowing a lot about American culture exclusively through those mediums from growing up with them. It’s just a fact of life.
16 QUESTIONS AMERICANS ASK AUSTRALIAN EXPATS REGULARLY
Some of the questions Americans ask Australian expats are funny, or just a little confusing. So I thought it was time to share them here. Feel free to send this post to your American mates to get them out of the way in one fell swoop. I’d love to hear the questions you hear all the time as well! List them in the comments section:
1. Are you British?
I’ll let Amy Winehouse answer that question for you
This one is great because it’s always asked with a bit of reticence, like they’re afraid of offending you. And I hear that some Aussies do get offended when they’re mistaken for our Commonwealth Overlords. But I see it as an opportunity to see how far you can take the ruse. “Yes I am British, I actually went to prep with Beatrice and Eugenie”. Make it into a game, and it’s fun. Or just say “Nope, I’m from Australia” and prepare for some of the next few questions.
2. Why did you move here?
I get this one A LOT. Actually much more since He Who Shall Not Be Named became President. People are either genuinely puzzled by the idea of moving to America from Australia, and I’m assuming it’s because they think we have a better lifestyle over there. Otherwise, they just can’t fathom the concept of moving to another country entirely just for funsies. To be honest, I sometimes find it difficult to explain myself. I go with a variation of:
- Because it’s an adventure
- Why wouldn’t you want to live in San Francisco?
- I wanted to see what life in the US was like
- They kicked me out of Australia for refusing to ride my government-issued kangaroo to work every day
I’m interested in how other people answer that question though. Is it one that you get very often?
3. How many snakes and spiders have you been bitten by?
Despite being caught playing right next to a red belly black snake when I was about 4-years-old, I’ve never been bitten by snakes or spiders. And I’m guessing that’s the norm for most Aussies. Tell that to an American though, and they’ll look at you like you’re McGyver. Or maybe Indiana Jones. Because in their minds, there is just no way anyone would survive living in Australia with so many deadly creatures for such a long period of time, and not have many close encounters stories. If you still think that, you need to read this now.
Sometimes I like to throw in stories about how bad ass my grandmother is – watching her dispose of brown snakes when I was a kid. But mostly I just go into the long spiel about how you’re not really likely to come across that many (or any) deadly animals in Australia. Especially if you’re just visiting.
4. Is your family here with you?
Once I answer “no”, it’s usually followed by a little gasp and questions about why I’d move away from my family, how they feel about having me so far away from them, and how often they visit me. It depends on the background they come from though. Those from Hispanic or European backgrounds are less likely to ask the follow-up questions.
5. Are all Australians descendants of convicts?
More often than not, Aussies don’t have convict blood in them. At least not the blood of convicts who were shipped out to the Great Southern Land from the United Kingdom. Australia’s multi-cultural immigration policies, instituted after World War II, have meant that our citizens can trace their lineage throughout Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. We don’t all come from convict stock. So stop telling us that you can’t expect much from us “convicts”.
6. What’s politics like in Australia?
I hate this question, and I don’t really know how to answer it. Sometimes I say that it seems like we have a lot more “swinging voters” in Australia than in the US, meaning that more people change their votes depending on the policies on offer from the different parties. As opposed to my experience of US politics – where most people either identify as a Republican or a Democrat from the get-go and that’s the extent of their decision making.
Having said that, from my vantage point (very far away), it seems like we’re moving closer to the US-style of politics. Our politicians are leaning more heavily on fear as a driver of collecting votes and pitting people and communities against each other. But that’s just my point of view.
7. Do you like the US better than Australia?
My grandfather asks me this every time I go home to Sydney, but I also get the same questions from Americans every now and then. It’s a hard question to answer because I both like and dislike bits and pieces about both places. It’s just a fact of life – you can’t always enjoy every single thing about the place you live. But, I do feel as though San Francisco and Sydney are very similar, so I don’t know that I could pick a “better” place anyway.
San Francisco will deliver everything and anything right to your doorstep, it’s got cool things to do all the time, great rooftop bars, cool people, and so many great places to hike and get outside. But then Sydney is cleaner, has a much smaller number of homeless people on the streets, has beautiful beaches that you can actually swim in, and everyone understands my accent!
8. What language do you speak in Australia?
I don’t get this very often, but when I do, it’s really difficult to keep a straight face. Yes, we have our own language made up of slang and extremely shortened words. And we also have more than a penchant for swearing more often than not. But the idea that we have our own “Australian language” is pretty funny. I also had someone tell me that I speak pretty good English for someone from overseas. So I guess it’s up to us to either educate people that there are more than just two countries that speak English, or keep the myth alive that Aussies are really good at learning English.
9. What do you do for Thanksgiving in Australia?
This one is a little more concerning, considering it’s a US National Holiday. And I’m more than sure that kids in schools across the country learn about the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday and what it really means. We won’t get into the politics of it here, let’s just agree that it seems to be bigger than Christmas in the US and it’s a day when family gathers together. For some it marks the harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims who travelled to the US. For others, especially Native Americans, it marks the colonisation of their land by a foreign power who introduced new diseases and wiped out much of their community. As such, it has nothing to do with Australia, so to answer your question, we don’t do anything for Thanksgiving.
10. Do you see kangaroos in your backyard over there?
Just as Americans don’t see alligators or armadillos in the backyards of their city or suburban abodes, nor do Australians have the daily pleasure of watching kangaroos or koalas wander through their yards. Animals tend to try to stay away from built-up areas, and the same is true for Australian cities and suburbs. Yes, I have seen kangaroos and koalas in the wild, mostly while driving to uni down a road that was just endless paddocks of nothing on both sides. Apart from that, we don’t really get to mix with the wildlife in our own homes.
11. What’s Australian cuisine?
Meat pies, sausage rolls, lamingtons (wait, are they from New Zealand?) and Iced Vovos. That’s it. Well that’s all I can think of. We don’t have our own “southern” style of cooking. Nor do we have any cuisines that are uniquely our own. I like to say that we’ve welcomed so many migrants from so many different countries that we have the best of every type of cuisine in Australia. I mean, you can get a roo burger, or a croc pizza, but those are just proteins that go on already-invented foods.
12. Why is your money so strange?
Answer: It’s not. I love Australian money, it makes sense. The coins go up in size as their value increases (apart from the $1 and $2 coins), and the notes are colour coded. If I look into a wallet full of Australian cash (wouldn’t that be a dream?) I know exactly what I’ve got in there. Purple for $5, blue for $10, red for $20, mustard for $50 and green for $100. Simple. When I look into a wallet full of American cash, all I see is a sea of green. It could be a bunch of $1 notes for all I know. It usually is.
The other thing is that Aussie bank notes are made out of plastic – making them much more durable and able to go through the washing machine more than their US counterparts. Plus they have pretty designs. We win.
13. What’s a kilometre and why don’t you measure things in miles?
I usually get this one when I’m talking about the distance to a place, or a run I’m planning. I can Google how long a kilometre is, but I can’t explain to you why we use the obviously superior metric system, while the US is stuck with the imperial system. I do have a little sympathy for them though. I’ve been here three years and still can’t get my brain around a mile, pound, ounce, and especially not fluid ounces. Thank God for conversion tables because otherwise I’d be at a huge loss.
14. What does Vegemite taste like/what is it made of?
Beer. Vegemite is made from beer. We feed it to our children and our elderly, to the sick and the ultra-rich. We’re all massive drunkards from the day we can handle solid food. Not at all true, but it’s fun to say. To me, Vegemite tastes prickly, for want of a better descriptor. Every single YouTube video you’ve seen where Americans are asked to try Vegemite is doing it wrong. They all slather the stuff on toast or bread like it’s peanut butter. Every self-respecting Aussie knows you’ve got to build your tolerance to Vegemite. You start with a thin layer – that’s when it’s the most delicious.
15. Speaking of beer, do you drink Foster’s? Does everyone in Australia drink Foster’s?
Foster’s is known around the world as the quintessentially Australian beer. Maybe it was back in the 1950s and 60s, I wasn’t alive so I can’t vouch for its popularity back then. But now, it’s seen as the Budweiser or Coors of beer. It’s cheap, it’s nasty and it’s made in the US. Sometimes, when I’m at the bottle-o and I ask Mr M what beer we should get, some stranger will hear my accent and suggest a Foster’s. And I smile and laugh along, then say I’d rather drink a Coors. I think they get the point. Or else they think I have terrible taste in beer.
16. What’s the Outback like?
I don’t know. I’ve never been there. I’ve taken flights out to the middle of the Great Sandy Desert to write about mining operations before, but that’s not the Outback. It’s the middle of nowhere, where the mercury routinely climbs to 50°C (that’s 122°F) in the summer and there’s not much alive except the miners and a few hardy animals. But I figure they mean more of the “bush” where farmers live and the only entertainment is hanging out in the local pub after work.