7 Unique Things Learned While in Australia

Australian flag

Having been an Afropolitan in Australia for close to 6 years, 6 year anniversary on 31st June, I have had the privilege of experiencing two nations with two very different cultures up close and personal. Today I thought I would talk about 7 unique things I’ve picked up, observed and learned from the natives-well-not-really-but-rather-the-majority-population of this land called Australia.

1) Courtesy

Thank you

Before I showed up “please” and “thank you” were myths from medieval times. You only held the door when someone had boxes of your stuff and giving people room to pass on the road was for suckers who didn’t want to get to work on time.

Australians, by default, are the most polite people I have ever met in my life. Now, I have basis for comparison: I have been to every continent except South America. So I can tell you, folks get way ruder than people from Australia.

Here folks are taught from very early how to say please and thank you. It’s not uncommon for them stop what they’re doing and help folks with directions or guidance. On many occasions, we have actually had people who were passing us on foot or by car, stop, double back and come help us because we looked so lost. I mean even the criminals and alleged “riff raff” of society are pretty courteous. In short, when I say Aussies are nice people, it’s not hyperbole or optimism, it’s my experience.

2) Hardcore binge drinking

Whoever says Africans are the heaviest drinkers is clearly drunk on something else. You see, when Africans drink, a lot of the time it’s to relieve stress or as part of something social ( I wrote an article on this one a while back if you are interested). But no no no no, a lot of Australians drink for entirely different reason.s

A huge chunk of Australians drink with two simple goals: get hammered and pass out.

Now, the fact that passing out could actually be a goal behind drinking was a shocker to me when I first learned about it. And to be clear, Australia is not a particularly church going nation (93% of folks are not regular) and so binge drinking is part of the culture from the ages of 10 – 100, from the “goody two shoes” all the way to “the bad boys”. These folks showed me that Africans are really very conservative in a lot of ways, including drinking.

3) Nerds and Jocks Stereotypes are Way Off

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Skip this section if you have outgrown caring about high school politics (Do we ever really do this?)

As a result of being about as popular as SNM at a church bakesale (if this reference passes over your head, don’t worry, I was in some zone when I wrote it) a lot of my high school career, together with moments of extreme popularity, I had the good pleasure of spending time with that the TV shows would call “the loveable nerds” as well as “the big dumb jocks”.

Let me tell you now ladies and gentlemen, if you see a jock on one side and a nerd on the other…..RUN to the jock, hug him and never let go.

But Why?

But why, Mwangi, you might ask, would I ever want to abandon the nice, loveable nerd in favour of the big dumb brutish jock. First of all, I was in school with a lot of footy players and one of them even ended up on the national league and they are truly good people. Laid back, very open and welcoming. Sure they like being naked with each other waaaayyyy too much and a lot of their pranks and humour is weird, but they showed me love for the most part so I must reciprocate.

Understanding the Nerd

Now nerds are an entirely different kettle of fish. Now I want you to get a clear picture of a nerd in a Western country. This place is on information overload 24/7. Everyday through the Internet you have access to all sorts of quirky facts, figures, videos, beliefs and so on and so forth. Now take someone, completely isolate them from people and make them feel lousy and inadequate mix them up with this random information that bombards them 24/7 and you end up with a group of people with very weird beliefs and practices.

Now I know, y’all have heard of 2 girls and a cup. That’s a typical nerd’s dream. They love to watch things like Bum Fights, perform witchcraft, watch and obsess over movies that can give one an imagined sense of power such as Fight Club. In short, dudes are very scary. These folks need a hug. I now understand why stuff like Columbine happens……trust me, those were nerds. Anyway I don’t want to go on about this one for too long because it’s not that important really. Definitely came as a surprise though

4) Races I never knew existed

This place is MULTICULTURAL. I have hung out with Arabs, Indians fresh off the boat, Indians who grew up here (more on Indians later), Asians from all over the continent, Africans from Zimbabwe, Botswana (Lord women from Southern Africa are gorgeous, now I understand…now I understand). We have a plethora of mulatto and half black/half Asian kids. African Americans, Greeks and the list just goes on and on.

It’s opened my eyes man. It makes you realize, first of all that you are this thing called “an African” who is a seperate race with our own seperate struggle and shared culture ( yes, we have a shared culture, like it or not). It also makes you realize how similar we are as people in spite of racial differences.

I always found it easy to relate to minorities here and people from darker ethnic groups such Aboriginals, Maoris, Indians and well, Asians because we felt we had a lot in common being marginalized minorities and all.

Plus, the diversity of beautiful food, women, tastes, music, sights and sounds just makes me happy to be alive sometimes.

5) Blue collar wealth?

Plumber

Now in Africa, this is an oxymoron. The more “industrial age” the job the worse of the job security, prestige and the pay. The more “knowledge economy” the better the pay,the job security and with each extra dollar you get to buy off a bit more of people’s respect.

One of the first things that amazes every African whenever they land here is the fact that a plumber can earn the same as a lawyer. That tends to send us laughing for hours and hours as we talk about how a man whose most famous for showing us a crack-that-certainly-isn’t-of-dawn earns the same as someone who sweats vocabulary in libraries for years to become a lawyer.

If someone here tells me they want to be a hair stylist, carpenter or electrician, I salute them. As long as you make sure you’re money is working for you via investments, it’s as secure as the job market gets: God speed!

6) Racism is a fluid concept

Aboriginal

I wrote an article on this one a while back.

By and large, I don’t believe that Anglo-Saxons innately fear and hate African people. Now a lot of you won’t agree with that, but I base this opinion on two things:

i) My experience of only one or two racial slurs and remarks being thrown at me a year. I can’t even think of one incident that has taken place over the last 12 months that’s been motivated by racial hatred – then again I live in a suburb that looks like it’s part of Asia and don’t get out much, but even from my time in Sydney, can’t think of anything.

ii) If a 78 year old man is pooping into a nappy, has lost all forms of inhibition and some brain cells, and still treats me with love, then there was never any hate to begin with. I worked as an aged care nurse for 2 years and I have spoken with folks who’ve been doing it much longer, racism isn’t something that comes up very often. Scatological humour on the other hand……….

Now, Australians do seem to HATE the people they stole this land from: the Aboriginals. This pretty much came to my attention in my years of high school . On two occasions folks went on a roll spiting out joke after joke to insult the Aboriginal people and by and large people laughed at and enjoyed that. How deep this racism is? What its all about? I’m unclear on. But there’s definitely something there.

Native Australians are also pretty open and HATE anyone who refuses to learn English. You want to drive Australian people mad, walk around like you don’t know a word of English. Wait for the sneers to come.

7) Indians are everywhere

Indians

Indians are kinda like those “extra channels” you get when you sign up for Pay TV. You don’t really think about them or know they are there until you stop and think. That’s when you realize, Indians have always been a fixture in my life.

In Kenya, they were part of the ruling class and I lived close to one and a lot of the shops I used to go to were Indian run. Come to the land down under and they are still all over the place. My suburb literally looks like the Asian sub-continent.

For those of you who may not have heard my baby sisters’ opinions on Melbourne, most of the people they either know or hang around are Indian people. If you are Indian and you are reading this:

If you’re plan is global domination, good job! Y’all have positioned yourself well.

And by the way, Sri Lankan women…..mmm…mmmm…..mmmm

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No Comments

  • By Leeban, June 23, 2008 @ 4:44 am

    I didnt think there would be many african americans there. How do people react upon hearing an american accent. Im canadian, but they probably wont know the difference when i visit. Do you think it will be a positive, negative or neutral reaction.

  • By akiey, June 23, 2008 @ 5:22 am

    This is evidence that it takes lots of effort, tolerance & hard work to build a good, prosperous nation. Wish kenyan politicos esp could realize that but selfish goons never learn.

    You seem to live the traditional African philosophy of ‘travel, see the world and come back a wiser man’. Do that S.American round and am sure it will be equally eye-opening & yep, like u put it, the more different we are, the more alike we all are.

    I agree on the Indians being everywhere note. Some in my close circle of friends & extended fam are of Indian ancestry we all wonder aloud how it happened that they’d be all over the place…yet everyone is often quick to quip that the British are all over the place!

    Courtesy to me is paramount & there’s absolutely no excuse for rudeness whether verbal of physical. Was taught the 5 magic words as a kid and I’ve carried on with that same concept to this day. For some reason I expect someone to be equally of not more polite & humble towards me as I am to them.
    I’ve denied several people my services just because they were utterly rude to someone else. The idea that it’s just work or business and someone’s character shouldn’t be used to gage them carries no water in my eyes. Bad away from me means bad around me.

    That Blue Collar Wealth? You know am all up for it & I’d encourage everyone to take theirs seriously regardless of whether you toiled in school or you gained your skills through apprenticeship. There’s a gift in all of us, it’s just a a matter of tapping into it & giving back to the community.

  • By meek meek, June 23, 2008 @ 5:59 am

    hmmm sri lankan women huh? just kidding. Courtesy is very important and its almost the difference between the middle class and the poor. There are very many indians in new york too… Most of them are FOB’s too i guess it aint that different.

  • By rags, June 23, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    Cool article. I am learning a lot about life in the the land down under. Keep up the good work. In your opinion, how can an African in aussie land break away from the kawaida health care/immigrant jobs and get into a “jungu” (white collar) type job?

  • By gal africana, June 23, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

    Nice one. Leaves up to my experience of Australian folks. It must be nice to be surrounded by friendly polite folks…Danes are notoriously known for being impolite, they seem to be anyway…It’s not intended. It’s a minority of them that would turn back and help someone looking confused…especially if that person is clearly foreign. One has to have a “How to deal with Danes” manual before coming to live in this country lol They have an assumed air of superiority…even when it’s based on nothing…it’s like a birth right…quite amusing to experience.
    Hmmm…the nerd thing is quite scary…I think most of the nerds here are quite the opposite…they are the ones that grow up into successful adults, while the popular kids end up as nothing….most of the times.
    I must say Copenhagen is becoming quite the cosmopolitan pot…I have friends from all over the world and it does make for fun living :-) and…uhm…if we’re commenting on favorite flavors *blush*…I have to say I just like men, don’t seem to have established a most cutest nationality rating…my :- ) absolute hunks (and good men too) have been from all over.

  • By Kelly, June 23, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

    Mhhh drinking with the sole purpose of getting hammered and passing out…Africans have good reasons to drink in that case.
    I like the courtesy thing…In Kenya you say ‘please’ and people look at you strange…’Excuse Me’ is used like to intimidate (reminds me of high school days) Lol…

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

    @Leeban: Thew African American community here isn’t huge, but its significant. I think it really depends on your age, background and intentions. In the clubs there is no one shown as much love as a tall, black African American. In the workplaces and in the clear light of day, Americans have a bad rep as being loud and arrogant though they don’t always have substance to back it up and their politics in the Bush era haven’t helped things much.
    Overall though, it’s much less about where your from and your accent and much more about you, who you chose to relate to and how you relate to folks. Cliché but true.

  • By Ken, June 23, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

    Mwangi, a great post and concur with what you have learned in Aus… that said still think Sydney is better ;-)

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

    @akiey: As far as I can tell akiey, society has never ever become more compassionate or egalitarian because of epiphanies that are experienced by power players. It’s always been through struggle from the grass roots and civil society. So I think, as much as we want to put intellectual pressure on the Mps, it all eventually comes down to us and our actions. The question is will we have the balls and the intelligence to committ to a cause in spite of the consequences………

    I think I will travel around S. America. I have heard that they have rock solid family foundations that can’t be found anywhere and I’d love to see that for myself.

    The Brits did it by force, Indians and Asians seem to have done it in a much less aggressive but no less powerful manner.

    I do agree about courtesy, but I am such a results fanatic that I’m always willing to tolerate the rude and incompetent as long as the job gets done well. Definitely agree with your approach though, set your standards early and stick to them. One of the pieces of a true leader.

    As for blue collar wealth, there are quite a few gaps in the system. How an office worker can earn more than a cleaner who endures the boredom, monotony, disgust and heavy workload of his job really beats me a lot of the time? I think effort and contribution to society should definitely weigh a lot more into economics and pay, but that’s just me………thanks for yet another insightful, great comment.

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

    @meek meek: It is pretty amazing how openly rude a lot of the poorer folk are isn’t it. I don’t think it’s that richer folks are any more “above these urges”, as far as I can tell it’s that they are much more strategic about where and to whom to be rude to.

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

    @rags: A lot of folks here already do that. There are a lot of folks in finance and accounting jobs especially. My mother has been a building developer here and runs her own nursing agency. Here it looks like, cliché as it may sound, decide on your goal in life and go for it. I am yet to see anyone hit a glass ceiling yet.

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

    @gal africana: You know what, it’s a blessing. Like this weekend. The camp I went to was filled with folks, mainly Asians though, who already had their own cliques and crews and people were so open,they reached out to me and my people and made us feel very welcome. I repeat: am thankful and am blessed.
    I wouldn’t expect that of folks from Scandinavian countries. Isn’t Denmark like the happiest country on Earth?
    6 Reasons to Visit the World’s Happiest Country
    Sri women are just beautiful not only because of the outside but because they are so nice and nurturing, and that drives me nuts (sometimes it’s sad to watch). I guess how attractive a woman is depends on the type of relationship I’m after really.

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

    @Kelly: Lol! Yeah, excuse me a lot of the times means excuse you! We Africans, as crazy as we sometimes like to think we are, are actually a very socially conservative bunch of folks. You should see the things that people here will get up to BEFORE they pass out.

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

    @Ken: The day Sydney becomes better than Melbourne, especially in terms of friendliness, courtesy and the human touch to life…..that day will be classified as a wonder of the world in and off itself.

  • By Carol, June 23, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

    Wow, nice learning abit about aussies. Oh so they are polite too, unlike Kenya where those polite words come so rarely, but you I still love it coz pple are more sincere back home. When someone says please or thankyou, do they really mean it? Courtesy is a virtue though that is inevitable in the society, for pple to coexist. Australia is pretty and intercultural too, I will visit, someday.

  • By Mwangi, June 23, 2008 @ 10:54 pm

    @Carol: The fact that people here are taught to be courteous used to bother me somewhat until I moved from Melbourne to Sydney where people don’t even pretend to like you. It takes a lot of effort for someone to be courteous when they don’t want to be and I appreciate it when Melbournians do that. Be sure to visit if you can, it’s a lovely place.

  • By gal africana, June 23, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

    Yup, it’s one of my favorite cities. It’s quaint and charming and especially wonderful in the summer! Everyone should visit. We enjoy it immeasurably but we know very few Danes and the few we meet puzzle the hell out of us. The going out/young culture here is fun and there’s lots of stuff to do and because the city is small and accessible, one always is in the mix. I’ve become immune to the Danish way of thinking, as I work with them…but I notice that I’d be more productive and more creative in an environment that is more allowing.

  • By Mwangi, June 24, 2008 @ 12:00 am

    @gal africana: Me thinks one sweet day I just may visit these Scandinavian countries just to see if life really is as described.

  • By gal africana, June 24, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

    You do that. It’s worth it!!

  • By donthateindians, June 28, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

    Any racism directed against indian students is racism. Period. Indians are racist too in their country, this argument does not justify racism against Indian students who may or may not never have hurled abuse against the dalits (blacks) of India. If anyone argues like that, then they are just supporting racism both in India and Australia and are clowns.They are there to study and should not be exploited mercilessly.

  • By donthateindians, June 28, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    Any racism directed at Indians is racism. Period. That some Indians are racist against blacks (dalits) in India does not justify illtreatment and merciless exploitation of Indian students in Australia.They are just there to study and pay a lot of fees to universities. Just imagine if Australian youth who visit India are mistreated as ‘racists’, how would they feel. People who argue like this want to increase racism worldwide as it benefits them or are plain stupid. Stop exploitation of students from India.

  • By Mwangi, June 28, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

    @donthateindians: Hey man, very unique first name ;) . Dude, I never spoke about hating Indians. You should come to my neighbourhood, it’s Curry central, I couldn’t hate Indian people if I tried, they’ve shown me too much love. The statement that Indians are everywhere was a joke, with an underlying truth yes, but a joke nevertheless. And I stand by the statement that Sri Lankan women are absolutely gorgeous. So in short dude, I agree “donthateindians”. Thanks for stopping by the site.

  • By Festy, July 1, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

    Hi Mwangi. I’m an Australian caucasian (born and bred in Melbourne) and am heartened to hear your comments about Australians, and in particular, Melburnians attitudes towards those of other ethnicities. I’m always concerned that, for “new Australians” (how’s that for political correctness?!), racism may often rear it’s ugly head, and I’m glad that this isn’t your experience. By the way, I hope this isn’t breaking the boundaries of your blog, but I know your Mother in a work setting and she is an exceptional lady. The industry that she works in can be quite stressful but she has never been anything other than calm and polite. It is a pleasure to deal with her. I’ve always been impressed with what I know she has achieved (that is to say, I only know a little bit about the success of her business), and wish that she, and yourself, achieve all that you wish for.

    P.S. Your English and turn of phrase is excellent and really enjoyable to read.

  • By Mwangi, July 2, 2008 @ 4:49 am

    @Festy: Hello fellow resident of the most liveable city, how goes it? I definitely restate and reaffirm my statements that this place has been truly a blessing in terms of the race issue, I never ever felt as though I was somehow being looked down on or thought of as less than because of my race…..I actually feel I got some stuff here easier because of my race, but that’s another abstract post for another day.

    My mother is extraordinary: you know what? I think I should interview me old lady….hmm hopefully she’ll be up to it, because she truly is special, and am not just saying that as empty flattery from son to mother.

    Finally, there is actually a very common joke amongst African Americans and sometimes African about how we find it odd that we always get complimented on how well spoken and articulate we are, when we have been this way all our lives. It’s never surprised a lot of us and we find it weird that it surprises foreigners. I think as we continue to bridge the gap to understanding each other a little better you will probably hear that as a joke or complaint a lot coming out of the children or cousins of the African continent.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • By Lewis, November 15, 2008 @ 11:05 pm

    Im a black British guy who will be travelling up the east coast early next year, going from melbourne to cairns, will i have any troubles and will i see many of the same people!

    I also wouldn’t mind learning about Aborigines while im over there, any good places to go where i can learn from these people?

  • By Mwangi, November 16, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    @Lewis: Hey Lewis, welcome to tDA. In response to your questions:
    1) No! Melbourne is one of the most multicultural if not the most multicultural city on Earth, we have every race, tribe, creed, group of people you can imagine, so you’ll see a little of everything and if you are looking for black Brits, I’m willing to bet they have a community down here too.
    2) Nope, you will have no troubles whatsoever. This place has really spoiled me. I walk around at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning as if it aint no thing man. This place is probably 97% safe all the time in my humble opinion.
    3) Aboriginals have their own communities, I believe there is a smaller one in Western Australian but their biggest community hands down is in the Northern Territory of Australia. There you will find homogeneous Aboriginal communities.
    From everything I have heard and seen, prepare to have your heart broken. Apparently, and this came from African people, the way they live is just foul – alcohol, suicide, drugs, child molesting, mooching and generally self-destructive behaviour.
    So don’t go up there with romantic notions, I’d suggest, go there with an open mind and heart and with a willingness to embrace what comes your way no matter how shocking it is.

    Hope this helps.

  • By Lewis, November 23, 2008 @ 1:31 am

    Thanks for your response Mwangi. Sounds like melborne will be the place to be, what i will be doing is travelling all up the east cost of austriaila then off to new zealand for a month, then over to america!! Any places that i should i avoid?

    Id like to learn how the aboringals were back in the day sort of thing, how they are now is not sounding very nice :(

  • By Mwangi, November 23, 2008 @ 4:13 am

    @Lewis: You know the way in the US, outsiders are told to avoid small country towns like a plague because they’ll experience problems, here is the exact opposite.
    At least on the superficial level, country folks here are so warm and nice, and though city folk are still nice, they can’t beat that country hospitality so hit up a few country areas in addition to the cities, which will be like any other cool Western metropolitan city in terms of stuff to do……..
    I really can’t think of places to avoid really. Some folks say avoid areas with excessive numbers of Asians and Africans because of poverty and crime, and whereas this is true, to me it doesn’t seem like its too big of a problem it looks like most gangs here fight within themselves.
    Aboriginals are quite aware and in touch with their history. Nah, man, from what I can see for the most part it is quite sad the way our Aboriginal brothers and sisters live.
    Hope this helps.

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