Here's a test: What do you think when you hear an Australian accent overseas? When you're far away from home, when you're in a foreign land doing foreign things, how do you feel when you catch a few words of that familiar Strine?
Most people claim to hate it. I'm overseas right now, and it's definitely jarring. I was standing outside a craft beer bar in northern Spain a few days ago and overheard a bloke saying to his mate, "Let's just grab a coupla crafties ay?". Shudder.
There's an inevitable cringe when you hear our own accent while travelling. Part of that is the sound itself, which seems to grate when you haven't heard it for a while. It sounds ridiculous. Another part, however, is cultural; it's the realisation that some of your countrymen are in your midst, that the Australians have officially invaded, and you know what that means.
There's a stigma about Australian travellers – mostly among other Australian travellers. There's an idea from some people that you don't want to be associated with your compatriots, that you're somehow not doing travel properly if you make friends with other Australians. There's also a feeling, I suspect, that by acknowledging their presence you're acknowledging that the things you're doing and the places you're going are not original or even different in the slightest.
No one wants to be one of those classic Aussie travellers, the type who used to move to London and just hang out with other Aussies all the time; they'd work in pubs together, they'd go to the Walkabout and get drunk together, they'd go on little jaunts into Europe together. What's the point of even leaving home, you could say, if you're just going to hang out with people you could meet at the Brekky Creek in Brisbane?
But I don't buy that. I don't think it's a great idea to move away from home and just hang out with people you already know. But the basic idea of becoming friends with other Australians when you're overseas? There's nothing wrong with it.
Australians might occasionally be annoying, but sometimes that familiar accent will be music to your ears. Sometimes there will be nothing better than finding someone who instantly understands you, someone who's having similar experiences to you, who's feeling similar things to you, who gets all of your cultural references and who most definitely wants to go out for a beer and a chat with you.
That's a good thing. Sure, you should be making an effort to mix with locals and expose yourself to foreign cultures. But the idea that you're going to go travelling and just hang out with residents of the countries you're visiting is misguided. Locals don't always want to meet new people. Travellers definitely do.
And you'll meet travellers from around the world. It will be one of the greatest pleasures of your travel experience. You'll meet Swedes and Spaniards, you'll meet Argentinians and Americans. You'll find common ground with these people from such disparate cultures. You'll learn about fascinating parts of the world without even having to visit them. I love that.
Sometimes though, hanging out with people from other countries is an effort. Speaking to people whose first language isn't English is an effort. Making basic small talk is an effort. Your determination here will always be rewarded, but still, it takes energy.
Talking to Australians doesn't take energy. You can dispense with the small talk and the worry that no one will get your sense of humour or your cultural references or won't be able to understand you at all and just let rip. You'll form an instant bond. They'll get you. You'll get them.
And besides, Australians are good people. Most of them. Yeah there are some idiots out there, particularly those travelling together in large groups. But I can almost guarantee that if you're travelling somewhere off the beaten track, if you're hanging out in a hostel in some far-flung part of the world and you catch the strains of another Australian accent, you will enjoy spending time with that person. You'll probably become friends.
As I said, I've loved meeting people from all over the world on my travels, but some of the best friends I've made – the ones I'm still in contact with, the ones I still see – have been fellow Australians.
That doesn't mean you have to talk to every Havaianas-wearing booze hound you see out there. I elected not to join those guys in San Sebastian for "a coupla crafties". But there's no need to run from fellow Australians when you're travelling. There's no need to beat yourself up for not doing travel "properly" just because the friends you're making live just down the road back home.
Australians are good people. Same as you.
What do you think of other Australians when you travel? Do you try to avoid them? Or have you made friends with your countrymen?
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