9 Surprising Things About Growing Up In Australia, So We Can Finally Set The Record Straight
People have a really weird idea about what it was like for me to grow up in Australia. It seems as though people genuinely believe that people in Australia spend all their time trying not to get killed by sharks while eating as much Vegemite as possible. Which is only kind of true, because some Australians actually don't like Vegemite. And sharks kill, on average, nearly no people per year. Mostly because sharks live in the ocean and people live on the land, so we're not really crossing paths. And if we chance to, it doesn't always end in a bloody massacre of human limbs.
To people who have never been to Australia, it seems like a far of mystery land. Indeed, it's 20 hours of flying away from New York, which I suppose sounds far if you've never flown it before, but which comparatively, in the scheme of your life, is not really that far at all. So the mythology of Australia starts to supersede what Australia actually is, and before you know it Australians are perceived as riding in the pouches of kangaroos to get around. The reality is, we have the Internet. We speak many languages, including English. We live in cities and drive cars. Mostly, Australia is pretty regular (in its unique and wonderful way). Here is what it's really like growing up in Australia:
1. You travel more than most
I don't know if you've noticed, but Australians like to travel. Growing up, my family would drive up and down the East Coast of Australia like nomads. Our family vacations would be taken all over the country, and compared with Americans I've met, it seems that Australians roam about much more. Meanwhile, despite being a million miles away from anywhere, Australians also love to travel abroad, which is why it seems like we're everywhere to all you others. Sometimes I wonder who's at home taking care of the country, there are so many Aussie travelers about.
2. You learn weird skills in school
In school I learned that if you see a shark while you're in the water at the beach, you should completely submerge and open your eyes wide and stare at it. If you're in a group, you should all link arms while doing this to seem larger. I also learned how to suck out snake poison, pitch a tent, and start a fire without matches, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. So yeah, Australian kids learn some weird survival sh*t in school.
3. But it's super easy to not get killed by stuff
Despite the fact that we're taught the kind of skills we could go on Naked And Afraid with, it's not actually as easy as you'd think to get killed by something in Australia. Most of us have never even encountered a life threatening jellyfish/snake/spider in our lives. And even when we do, these things aren't exactly out to get us, so it's pretty easy to just walk away and not get killed.
4. Everyone is from somewhere else
There's this strange notion that Australians are all sun-kissed, blonde haired, British descendants, but that's so far from the truth. When I was growing up, the vast majority of children around me were first generation Australians (as am I!) with immigrant parents from all over Asia and Europe. Australia, as "white" as it is, is also filled with so many different communities and cultures from all around the world. Everyone I knew growing up spoke more than one language too, making Australia a much more diverse place than people think it is.
5. You eat all sorts of things
There's no real Australian traditional food. Sure you associate meat pies and Vegemite with Australia, but most people eat very diversely (see number four). I grew up in a Greek family so ate a lot of Greek food, and lived in a heavily Vietnamese neighborhood so ate a lot of Vietnamese too. Australians, contrary to popular belief, aren't just throwing shrimps on the barbie.
6. You take a lot for granted
When you live in Australia you just kind of think $20 is pretty standard for an hourly retail or hospitality wage. I mean, eventually you get older and learn about the world, but you grow up thinking everyone gets to go to school and the doctor for free and that parents finish work at 5 or 6 p.m. because you never really see it any other way. When you're growing up, you have no reason to think that anything would be any different than it is in your world. Moreover, being any different would be RIDICULOUS. Meanwhile, when you finally realize how good you've got it, you start to feel very, very sore about having taken it for granted.
7. There aren't not kangaroos everywhere
I like telling people there are kangaroos in my Australian backyard. Meanwhile, I live ten minutes from the CBD, which is like saying there are bears roaming about in Soho. What I'm saying is: The kangaroos are in the kangaroo places, like the countryside and bush. Sometimes you'll see one in the suburbs or in the bigger parks, but they're not just running rampant on city streets.
8. It's not a cultural backwater
We have TV. Books. Radio. Newspapers. All sorts of things to learn and be updated by! People assume Australians live in some kind of cultural vacuum and have no idea about the rest of the world. Like when people say to me, "Friends. It's a show, did you have that?" YES WE FRIGGIN' HAD FRIENDS. Maybe we didn't have your local shows, like gameshows and news, but we certainly are aware of, and participated in, just about every global cultural phenomenon. We can our own culture, and we're up-to-date with yours, even in the pre-Internet era.
9. Sometimes it's cold!
Yes. Correct. It's not always hot in Australia. Melbourne, where I'm from, has real winters. And we even have mountains with snow on them, where people go to ski! I just blew your mind with some real talk there, didn't I?