In 1984 my family moved from Melbourne, Australia to St. Louis, Missouri in the good old U.S. of A. I was 8 years old, and “moving to America” sounded like the greatest adventure a kid could have. We flew with Qantas from Melbourne to Honolulu, and then transferred to American Airlines. The very first thing a real American ever said to me was, “Would you like some Sprite?”
We settled into St. Louis, and worked on learning the new lingo. I vividly remember the blank look on the teacher’s face in the cafeteria when I asked for a serviette instead of a napkin, and I remember the righteous frustration I felt when my little brother was marked down in english class because he wrote “bucket” instead of “pail” under a picture of a… well, a bucket as far as I’m concerned. (To this day, the only time I’ve ever used the word ‘pail’ is when reciting ‘Jack and Jill’.)
But the thing that really floored me and my family was the way that the average American seemed to be completely ignorant about the world outside the States. We had people say:
- “Australia? That’s just south of Texas, right?”
- “Is that in Canada somewhere?”
- “Do you folks have roads where you come from? What about cars?”
- “I suppose you had to leave your pet kangaroos back home.”
- “Do you have shops in Australia?”
Those weren’t questions asked by kids. They were all questions my parents were asked by other adults. But things changed in ’86, when Crocodile Dundee was released. Australia was suddenly interesting. Now, I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne. I’d never even seen a croc or kangaroo anywhere except in a zoo . But all of a sudden I could get away with anything just by pulling out the line, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.”
Crocodile Dundee was just the beginning. Although we moved back to Australia a year later, I was confident that with TV and the internet, ignorance had been replaced with understanding.
A couple of years ago, I found myself in Seoul, South Korea for a few days. We’d did all the traditionally Korean things, including going to a Korean club, so on our last night our guide suggested we check out a “G.I. Bar”.
The Bar was at the top of a badly lit staircase. A Korean man indicated that entry was $5 each, and women got free drinks all night. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal. We paid and went inside.
Other than the two men behind the bar, everyone was either from America or Canada. Apparently this was the go-to place for teachers and army guys. And with free drinks for all the women, it was probably the best pick-up joint around.
My companions and I proceeded to enjoy the free drinks and dodgy 80’s tunes, and it wasn’t long before we’d attracted the attention of some of the American guys. I soon found myself talking to a very handsome and muscular young man from Florida. We exchanged names, home towns, and so forth. Then he said, “I don’t normally listen to this kind of music.”
“Me either,” I said, yelling to be heard over Madonna singing Like a Virgin. “What kind of music are you into?”
“Hip-hop,” he said. Then he looked concerned. “Have you heard of hip-hop? Do you get that kind of music in Australia?”
“Uh, Yeah,” I said. “I love hip-hop. I’m really into Australian hip-hop right now.”
The guy looked at me like I was crazy and then started to laugh. “Australian hip-hop?” he said incredulously. “How could you have Australian hip-hop? That’s ridiculous.” Then he started to laugh again.
I don’t remember what happened next, but I didn’t see him again for the rest of the night.
Anyway, in case you were wondering:
Yes, we have hip-hop in Australia. We also have electricity, running water, cars, trucks, telephones, politicians, crime, Simpsons reruns, racism, and all the other modern conveniences.
And if you’ve never heard Aussie hip-hop before, here’s some samples to get you started. Even if you don’t like American hip-hop, give it a listen and let me know what you think.