Culture shock and perceptions of America

I’ve now been in Australia for almost two months and living at college since mid February. Recently I’ve gotten to the point where I know and am interacting with Australians enough that all the small culture differences are coming out. Usually it’s not a big deal, just small things like finding out that they don’t use cups as a measurement, not being able to fill out a form because I no longer know my height and weight in the proper units or mentions of a toy that everyone else loves and that I’ve never heard of. Sometimes there are more substantial differences, but I’m finding myself surprised by how much of a difference the accumulation of the little things can

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Found in the local grocery store “American party drink cups”. Significantly more expensive than Red Solo cups of course

make. On days with many of them it can wear on me and start feeling frustrating. No one likes not being in the know and when I feel like I constantly have to ask for explanations or try and explain myself it’s hard not to feel like a total outsider.

I had someone ask me about the culture shock the other day. When I explained that there isn’t much of an issue she mentioned a friend who spent the summer in America and found herself constantly struggling to adjust. I took it for granted that Australia is just incredibly similar to America, but it seems in many ways to be a one way street. They consume enough of our media to not be phased by American accents (some Australians even have American accents from watching so much TV). They know all the US slang and have sufficient knowledge of US geography that’s sometimes better than that of many Americans. We as Americans don’t have nearly the same exposure to Australian culture. Pretty much the Australian stereotypical activity for Americans seems to be throwing shrimp on the barbie — something which I’ve been informed is not a common activity. They love to barbecue, but they don’t often throw prawns on (Australians don’t even call it shrimp).

People have a lot of expectations of America and it’s been made clear that we can never make everyone happy. A woman from China expressed frustration at our lack of overseas spending while others I know think we meddle too much. I’m learning more than I thought I would about how people perceive the US and it’s fascinating. They consume huge amounts of our media, host American themed parties and in so many other ways embrace the US. Despite this I get a lot of questions about how we can be so patriotic. Which is not something I’d ever realized was unique. And the question surprises me, because if anything being in Australia makes me feel more patriotic. America’s clearly producing the most popular media, considered to be a great vacation destination and a source of highly-skilled jobs (so many people I’ve met plan to go to America after graduate school to pursue a career). It’s a topic I look forward to exploring more.

Early Saturday morning I head off to Kangaroo Island and Adelaide for 11 days. One of the biggest pieces of advice I got before coming here was to travel by myself so I decided to do just that for the Easter break. I hope to spend my days lying on the beach, hiking in national parks, doing my 4 hours of field observation for my Australian Wildlife Biology class, going wine tasting and much, much more. I’ll tell you all about it and my past two weekend trips in my next post.

Until then…


P.s. Here’e a photo of me feeding a wallaby


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