Thursday, March 8, 2007


One thing that's struck me in the week that I've been in Australia is how polite and friendly everyone is. I know that's a major cliche; before I went to Australia everyone kept telling me, "oh, Aussies are so friendly," and I remember thinkng to myself that it was such a trite generalization. However, now that I'm here, I have to add my hat to the pile because it's the one trait that keeps continuously overwhelming me--Australians ARE friendly, and to risk generalization, almost uniformly so. In fact, I couldn't imagine a country where people were friendlier and not have it come off as inhumanly creepy.
A case in point: having two and a half days of time in Melbourne, I decided to check out the University of Melbourne's anthropology graduate school. After several false starts (turns out there are many outdated maps of the campus, all of which place the anthropology school in a different quadrant) and an hour in the boiling sun, I ended up, sweating dripping down my beet-red face (in Australia, make that beetroot-red), wandering the halls of the anthropology and population science building. After about 10 minutes I had failed to find the main office, and finally a professor stuck his head out of a door and asked if I needed any help. I explained that I was an American who happened to be in Melbourne and had heard about their graduate school, and he immediately invited me in. Not only did he spend about 45 minutes talking to me, he took me around the department to meet with some of the anthropologists who specialize in China. They were in the middle of a meeting, but agreed to put it on hold to talk to me. After I protested, they agreed to continue their meeting, but apologized for making me wait 10 minutes to speak with one of the professors. After all, you've come all the way from America, they said. Again, I stopped by another professor's office. She too was extremely apologetic that she was in the middle of grading papers. "I don't really have time to meet today, but since you're only here today, I can of course fit you in," she told me, again apologizing for her lack of availabilty. In comparison, if a hot and sweaty foreigner showed up unannounced in America (or as I did at the UC Berkeley), professors not-so-subtly let you know that you are imposing on their time. After spending about an hour outside of one professor's door, he finally agreed to meet with me, letting me know with a sigh that I should have made an appointment in advance.
And this level of politeness seems to extend to all the areas of Australian society I've encountered in my brief time here. Waitstaff, while generally friendly in the US, cannot come close to rivalling the seemingly genuine friendliness of Australian waiters and waitresses, none of whom work for tips. In my 7 days here, I have yet to encounter one surly or rude person anywhere, not in any shop, bank, restaurant, cafe, hotel, bakery, or office building, or even on the street or the bus. I don't know if that a more laid back attitude to life makes you more tolerant of other people in general, or if it's a giant snowball effect, or if somehow the Aussies managed to maintain British politeness without the reserve or what, but it's been a pleasant element of culture shock. Now if only there wasn't vegemite to contend with...


src said...

Hi B! No comments censorship down under!

Cathy Danh said...

Dear Britta,

What the heck are you doing in Australia?!

Please post soon.


Cathy Danh

Dan said...

Hey Britta,

Keep the posts coming. If only there were a way for your wedding-advice groupies to know about this weblog, and get even more Britta-prose. By the way, is it weird being able to read the comments on your own weblog?


Britta said...

Thanks for commenting everyone. After China, it is truly strange to be able to read your comments (and my own blog). Cathy, I owe you an e-mail, and a phone call (thanks to skype out) can you send my your phone number again?

Anonymous said...


It's great that you put up your blog so soon
! Keep those details coming (even though we just don't want to think about biting spiders).

My travel comment from New York: I did not experience rudeness there either--very gratifying after years of horror stories about tourists in NYC.

Keep in touch!

Love, Mom

Kelly said...

You know you're going to have to try the Vegemite eventually...but I guess you can work up to that.

Britta said...

Yeah, for the vegemite, apparently the way to eat it is on toast with LOTS of melted butter, so I guess you're really just eating the melted butter. Maybe I could handle that.