Friday, April 1, 2011

Life and The Curious-ness of American Culture

School is still kinda a bitch. The training program to understand GIS took about 14 hours to do this past week, and the lectures are still rapid-fire. The Australian culture prof lectures during tutorial instead of letting us talk. I’ve got a 1500 word essay in geomorph due next week and a field trip this Saturday, neither of which I feel I know enough about to be confident. Communications is by far the best taught class, but unfortunately it’s also the most intuitive for me and has the fewest major assignments, so the only class I could get away with skipping is the only one I enjoy actually attending. It’s not all bad; I love the incredible information power of the GIS programs, and the Australian culture class has interesting readings and points me towards more interesting books and movies. Between all my previous geo courses and Dani taking Grant’s class last semester, most of what I’ve learned in geomorph so far is familiar and easy to grasp. But I'm pretty sure I need to give up this habit of being a good student and just go get out more....

I’m slowly starting to meet more people in class. It’s hard when they’re large classes and, like on public transportation, there is a culture of avoiding the “strangers” and only interacting with your pre-established friends. However, there are a few people who are in multiple classes, so chances are it’ll be easier to start talking to them. 

I went to the Tav, the pub on campus, for the first time last Friday! ^_^ It was fantastic, as expected. I got a lovely pint of cider, and this was more or less my reaction. ^^;; Liiiiiightweight. Despite my status as the Cheapest Date Ever, the pleasure of a social atmosphere and a lovely chemical depressant smoothing out the knotted muscles in my back is not to be underestimated.  There was a silly but reasonably competent band playing too-loud music all dressed in tutus, and one had a Michael Jackson mask as well, so that made me even happier. ^^   

Sailed on Saturday again, where we tried to learn more about sailing “upwind”.  Hilariously, the engineer in my boat that day made it sound like he knew ALL about sailing, had taken power boating classes, etc etc, but when he skippered, he totally took us in the wrong direction, multiple times. Oh silly engineers. ^_^

Saturday night was drinking with my Filipino construction-worker roommates and their friend. I’m glad it was just in the living room, as I had enough Heinekins to turn a little red by the end of the evening. ^^;;; My roommates, one younger and one older, are cousins from Manila and they speak Tagalog (no Spanish practice for me), and sometimes between their accent and my idiocy we don’t communicate that well, so their talkative friend was a welcome addition.  I learned a LOT, as the friend spoke better English and so essentially carried an entire conversation himself talking about the Philippines, Manila, emigration, and Australia. 

He talked about the immigrations offices in Manila, where they only see 500 people per day, so those wanting to get a visa to go work abroad have to wait in line for days. Or pay someone else to wait in line for them. It’s so crowded because it’s hard to earn a living wage in Philippines, but currently it’s 40 pesos to the Australian dollar, so if you save Au$1000, it’s like $40,000 in Manila. Things are cheaper there too; you can get a beer for 75 cents and a pack of cigarettes for a dollar. We talked about favorite actors and movies: all American. My roommates played songs from their laptop: all American. Everyone I’ve met talks about wanting to visit America one day. 

We just had a guest lecturer in my Australian culture class who had done a survey of primary and high school students in Adelaide to find out what young Aussies think of as distinctly Australian. Essentially, these researchers found that young Australians feel national pride, but can’t distinctly articulate what it means to ­be an Aussie, can’t say what makes Australia unique. However, they can say a lot about what it means to be an American. These kids said Americans are patriotic, kind, tolerant, friendly, have good music and tv, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and cool. They also spoke of America as a place of guns and crime, obesity and fast food, financial greed and environmental destruction, big cities and loud people. America is “like living in the future” as well as a “self-centered”, “power-hungry” “place of vengeance”.

Good god. A place of vengeance.

That….. is frightening. It hurts in a way I never would’ve thought would hurt. I mean, yeah, I’d easily say Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are self-centered, power-hungry, vengeful and probably insane to boot. But those characteristics aren’t implicit to a whole nation; everyone has their black sheep in the family, right? The fact that America is being represented, that I’m being categorized, based on people like that makes me feel rather ill. The psychological proximity makes me want to run far away and go scrub my skin off. 


At the same time, everyone here loves American culture. Not even kidding. Those same kids in the survey I mentioned before were also asked about their favorite movies: the most common responses were Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. Every Aussie I’ve asked watches the tv show “How I Met Your Mother” and the radio plays songs I was hearing back in the states (plus rather a few 80s songs…). I went to a sausage sizzle (a rather common thing here) for my department on Tuesday and saw a guy with a tshirt that said “Santa Fe New Mexico Wheelers” with a (American) football helmet and a zia symbol. I walked up and started talking to him, asked him about his shirt (have we ever had a football team called the Wheelers?? Wtf…). Turns out he barely knew where New Mexico is. I mentioned this abundance of American culture; he said he preferred American movies and used to check out the American section of iTunes to find out what was going to be popular in Australia in a few weeks. Adam Sandler is staring out at me from posters at the bus stop and I had to ask an Aussie who won at the Academy Awards. Every time I think I’m telling Nicholas some interesting “American” thing,  he already knows about it. 

I find all this both comforting and a little surreal. My first impression of Perth was that it was like being in Los Angeles, only with more accents and less pollution. So far it definitely still feels like a just slightly different alternate reality. I’m on the other side of the planet and yet still just around the corner from my own culture. o_o Oh Great Internet, truly you are mighty…..

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I might never figure it out either; mystifying and complicated this is. What do you guys think? I’d be especially curious for some feedback on this one…

Disclaimer: I’m just trying to relate what I’ve learned from other people, but sometimes my memory is bad and a few of those people were drunk at the time, so if I’ve said anything erroneous don’t be too offended. ^^; I know I'm making some pretty broad generalizations, so please feel free to enlighten me!

1 comment:

  1. Just remember that the loudest voice is usually not the majority. Also, they are being loud because they are not getting what they want. As for the political and corporate greed, that's basically true. But there are some shining moments in our legislature:

    Stay happy and make sure your pints don't turn into growlers (that would be sad because then I would be the cheapest date in the group)!