The Australian obsessions that aren't really Australian

There's a feeling that's been growing today just as quickly as the crowd has. And the crowd has been growing extremely quickly.

First there were just a few people around, a few flags hung from balconies and a few yells from the streets. Now the football supporters are streaming into the stadium in their thousands; the streets are clogged with blue and yellow, the air is buzzing with the anticipation of glory, of desperation, and of passion on a grand scale. 

The feeling I have started off as a small suspicion. Pretty soon though it had become something more insistent, and it's about to become a certainty.

As I walk into Estadio Alberto J. Armando, a Buenos Aires football stadium known colloquially as La Bombonera, as I take my seat and look around at all of the people in their blue and yellow jerseys, as I see the high fences around the field that fans are hanging off of to get a better view, as I see the streamers, and the confetti, and the bands, as I hear the singing and the cheering and the whistles, as I watch an entire stadium of people go absolutely nuts for the 11 men representing Boca Juniors football club on that field today, I know it for sure: these guys are crazier about sport than Australians are. 

See: The world's greatest sports stadiums

Definitely. Australians don't go to those lengths. We don't have such obvious and emotional displays of passion for sport. We sit on our seats and we clap. That's it.

Argentinians are crazier. I know this not just because of what's going on at La Bombonera today. I know this because I've seen what happens in the rest of the city when Boca are playing, or when their archrivals River Plate are playing. In Australia we have a horse race that stops a nation once a year. In Argentina they have two teams that each stop a nation every weekend. 

They're obsessed with sport in Argentina. Particularly football. Particularly Boca and River. It's a strange thing to realise as an Australian, to find that a trait we hold as part of our national identity – a love of sport – is something that's done with even more fervour in a country far, far away.

And that's not exactly a new feeling either, because the more you travel, the more you are forced to come to terms with the fact that the things we Australians use to define ourselves are not unique in the slightest. And quite frequently there are people out there who do it better.

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Sport has always been the obvious one to me. Australia is a nation of sporting addicts, but then so is the USA. So is Brazil. So is South Africa. These are countries that grind to a similar halt when the big game is on. 

So if we don't have sport all to ourselves, what else can we claim? Australians love a barbecue, right? We practically invented it. We build social events around the grilling of meat.  

But on this same trip to Argentina I've had to acknowledge that Australia can't claim barbecues as its own. If it's possible, Argentinians might feel more strongly about barbecued meat than they do about football. And they do it incredibly well. Far better than Australians.

They're not alone either. Those same countries I mentioned before – the USA, Brazil, South Africa, among many others – also have long traditions of grilling meat outdoors. They think of it as part of their national character too. It's hardly unique. And they do it better. 

See: World's best barbecue? Not in Australia

Australians love a meat pie, but then you go to England and find that the best meat pies are girt by an entirely different sea. You assume we're world-leading lovers of great pubs and a night on the booze, but again the Poms have us beaten. 

See: Where to find England's best pub and pie

What's left? Australia is proudly multicultural, justifiably. But in New York it feels like the entire world has been condensed into one city. Check out Toronto, or London, or Sao Paulo, or Singapore, and you realise we're not doing this thing on our own. 

Maybe it's a love of travel Australia can claim. This is a nation of passionate wanderers. Surely that's something that's ours? 

But there are plenty of nationalities who travel. Try the Dutch, or the Germans, or Swedes. They're everywhere. They're adventurous.  

There is, however, one consolation we can take from all of these discoveries. It's that there is still something that's uniquely Australian, something we do best: our combination of all of these passions. It's our appreciation of sport, of barbecues, of a land of many cultures, and so many other things. No one else has that. 

That's worth celebrating as passionately as Argentinians at a football game. Or a barbecue.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

See also: 20 things that shock first-time visitors to Australia
See also: Banned: How the fun police are ruining Australia

 

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