Budgie 9: Why do Australians behave so badly overseas?

I'm sure they weren't out to cause offence. I'm sure the now infamous "Budgie Nine" were just having a bit of a laugh, getting their kit off in a public place in what they thought was a quirky celebration of Daniel Ricciardo's victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend.

We'll wear Malaysian-flag Speedos, they thought. Everyone will think we're hilarious. We're Aussie larrikins.

And yet, obviously, everyone didn't think they were hilarious Aussie larrikins. Turns out that in a conservative Muslim country, taking off pretty much all of your clothes to reveal the national flag wrapped tightly around your genitals is considered offensive. Who knew?

And so nine Australian blokes were carted off to Malaysian prison for four days, in doing so joining a fairly hefty Hall of Shame of Aussie compatriots who've done similarly dumb, offensive or stupid things while they've been overseas.

Australians have an unfortunate habit of making fools of themselves in foreign countries. If it isn't our TV crews attempting kidnappings in the Middle East, it's others who have been caught running naked through Machu Picchu, or streaking at the cricket in Sri Lanka, or having sex on a park bench in Florence (all true, recent stories).

And for every one of those incidents that ends in a newspaper story and an arrest, every traveller would know from experience that there are hundreds of similar cases involving Australians that don't. Right now around the world there are probably plenty of boozy Aussie larrikins offending local sensibilities and having a great time doing it.

So what gives? Why do Australians get up to this stuff?

Mostly, I think, it's this misplaced idea of "larrikinism". It's the notion that because we don't take anything seriously, neither should anyone else. (Of course the idea that we don't take anything seriously is a complete fallacy, but that's another topic for another story.)

It's OK to wear a pair of Australian-flag budgie smugglers in Australia. You could argue that it probably shouldn't be, but as things stand at the moment, it is. So the thinking for some people is that it should be fine everywhere else as well, even with other countries' flags. If the locals are offended, that's their problem. Lighten up.

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Same goes with getting drunk in countries where that's not the done thing. Or getting nude. Too bad: we're Australian, this is what we do. Maybe you could all learn a thing or two.

You can see the problem here. Just because we're having a laugh, doesn't mean everyone else is.

You'll notice, too, that we're rarely at our worst in other Western countries. There's a neo-colonialist attitude in some travellers, who have the idea that the laws in developing countries either don't matter, or don't apply to them. You see it pretty frequently – it's hard to take another culture's rules into consideration when you think they're all a bit silly.

The other thing that many travellers, not just Australians, are guilty of is the belief that you're anonymous when you travel, and can therefore get away with a lot more than you normally would at home.

When you're on the road no one knows who you are, or where you come from, or the fact that you advise Christopher Pyne on his political decisions for a living. And so you take risks. You let loose. You run naked through a sacred site because someone dared you. You strip your clothes off at a cricket match and dash across the field because it sounds like fun.

Every traveller is guilty of this – we've all done something overseas that we wouldn't at home. Most of us have been fortunate enough not to cause an international incident in the process, but we would all have something we'd look back on and think that that probably wasn't anywhere near as cool as we thought it was at the time.

When you're in the travel bubble you don't care too much for consequences. This is particularly true if you're travelling with a bunch of like-minded friends – you push each other's limits, while at the same reassuring yourselves that no one cares, it's all good, we're just taking the piss.

And so you end up with a bunch of probably fairly intelligent guys parading around Malaysia with the country's flag wrapped around their nuts thinking they're funny.

The Budgie Nine are not the first Australians to do something silly overseas, and they won't be the last. Hopefully, however, the next lot will keep their pants on.

See also: What female tourists should wear in Muslim countries

See also: Ban on scantily clad tourists at Angkor Wat

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