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(Ex-)expats anonymous: on Oz talk March 19, 2008

Posted by oblia in Peregrinatio 1.
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The Arrow started it on her own blog. Smartly so, too, I’d say. For here we are, Romanians migrating from their poor, dodgy country to the wonderful likes of Canada, Australia or the US, and yet grumbling about such fortunate fate. What is it that makes us carp even when we’ve entered a new life in an admittedly better society?

Well, cultural differences, in brief. Nasty little differences that make stuff difficult for us over there. What stuff? Why, communication, interpersonal relationships, socialising, friendships. Quite enough, eh? And basic, too. So basic, that not being able to do it eventually leaves you feeling utterly alone and alienated.

Let me focus on communication, at The Arrow’s request. A Romanian’s communication with Australians. Back then, in 1997-2000. More specifically, mine with the Aussies I met and eventually befriended (yesss, it can be done, but then again not without slight changes to the home-based meaning of “friendship”).

I have nice and nasty things to say. I’ll start with the latter, so I can gracefully leave you on a positive note at the end, okay? (I’ll also be self-ironic throughout, as it’s only fair.)

Nasty thing number one: questions. You don’t ask questions in Aussie speech. Not during the first (second and third) contact, anyway, unless you’re totally lost somewhere in the city and need to get directions.

But here I was, at my chattiest on my first day in an Oxbridgish student residential college full of new people, Aussie people, asking whoever I happened to come across: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Is that a nice place?” “Is that where your family lives?” “Is that family name Greek? I once had a great-uncle-in-law who was Greek!”

Not only did they avoid answering, but they shunned me for the following 4 or 5 months. Meanwhile a Romanian friend who’d been living in Adelaide for a couple of years took pity on me. She recommended a satirical book on “how Aussies are,” which I duly read.

And that’s how I learnt that asking Aussies questions, especially about their family and origins, makes them feel uncomfortable. For reasons I later understood and accepted perfectly well, given the rest of the (“Western”) world’s still pervasive – and very unfair – bias towards them.

Nasty thing number two: in regular day-to-day (and sober) socialising, use only impersonal topics of conversation. Top of the top of all times: the weather. How so very British. But how on earth am I, a poor Romanian, supposed to carry on about the blooming clouds and showers and droplets and drought and pale-or-not-so-pale sun rays for minutes and minutes and minutes? I just don’t have that kind of immeasurable meteorological finesse.

I reckon there comes a point in any “normal” conversation when you do want to talk a little about your troubles, your worries, your lifelong dilemmas or, for Chrissake, the merely human fact that you miss your dog. You know, more personal stuff. That’s one Aussie (sober) socialising speech taboo that I still don’t get. It must be related to their notorious shyness. I have no other explanation.

Final nasty thing: Beethoven. Yep, Beethoven. Plus all the rest of those grand European names that you drop in a conversation with the sole purpose of humiliating the decent bloke you’re speaking to – or, rather, “at”. And make your bitchy point about how uncultured and despicably innocent he is! Whow, mate. I just wanted to talk about the kind of music I like.

Which brings me to the nice things I liked about Aussie speech. Their input in conversation is not prrrrecious. Not prissy, not smug and not snobbish. They don’t use fancy words like “indefatigable” just to impress (or put down). They don’t go to extreme ego-boosting lengths to make their being right the very topic of the conversation.

We Europeans do. And, tempting as that always is, I find it highly repulsive. Aussies just want to have a good yarn – the simplicity and no frills of which I absolutely loved! Because conversation should be about relaxing, getting comfortable and enjoying yourselves, basically…

Nice thing number two is modesty. Self-containment, reserve. Ultimately, decency. Surprising as it may seem, not everyone’s happy or interested to hear that you’ve just won a great prize or special medal, are the (self-declared) best in your job or whatever, and have just bought the showiest car or five-hundred-pound pair of shoes. That’s actually rather cheap to say. And, God, don’t we Romanians blurt out such magnificent achievements everytime we can, in superb self-aggrandisement…

I saw or met very rich, very intelligent or very accomplished Australians who were splendidly normal people in conversation. In Aussie speech, when you do have to either mention your achievements, or praise someone else for their success, you do it in a lower voice, discreetly. “Well done, mate.” Three simple, substantial words. That’ll do. And, by God, they feel like the whole world to you, when you hear them.

(I can’t help mentioning one more related thing: as a consequence of modesty, ass kissing – which would, I guess, still be the national sport in my country – is purely out of the question in Oz. Three cheers for the alleged extinction of a potent emetic from at least one of the planet’s continents.)

Finally: self-irony. I liked the awkward, droll and awfully cute way Aussies described themselves performing things. Whether it was cooking a scrumptious dish or finishing off a great piece of academic writing. Belittling themselves in a good-humoured fashion, so the feat is well seasoned with delightful sarcasm. That’s a hard one to explain further than that, but trust me: it’s really enjoyable in Aussie speech.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for me to rest my case, I think. Did I appreciate Aussie speech, communication in Australia? Well, clearly, yes and no. Have I transferred some of it in my native language communication? Yes, I have. At times I sound mongrelishly weird… But you know what? Weird is good.

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Comments»

1. Family Tree Online Notices » (Ex-)expats anonymous: on Oz talk - March 19, 2008

[…] PattynH“Is that where your kinsfolk lives?” “Is that kinsfolk think Greek? I erst had a great-uncle-in-law who was Greek!” Not inner did they chorus answering, but they shunned me for the accumulation 4 or 5 months. Meanwhile a dweller someone who’d … […]

2. friendship day - March 19, 2008

[…] Home A Lot of Jelly Fish at the Black Sea NZ dolphin rescues beached whales Caseehere.blogspot.comEx-expats anonymous: on Oz talk The Arrow started it on her own blog. Smartly so, too, I??d say. For here we are, Romanians […]

3. Allo - March 19, 2008

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4. alt.L - October 8, 2008

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