There are no kangaroos in Austria…

7 Feb

Almost every day in my travels around the world I am asked by friendly and inquisitive people ‘Where do you come from?’

When I respond with ‘Australia’ they invariably smile (because everyone likes Australian and Australians) and say ‘Kangaroos’ to let me know they get it. I’ve learned to not be surprised when people living in small mud-brick huts in isolated villages in the middle of nowhere know what Australia is and where you can find it on a world map. We are a big Country with a big reputation; that big island continent down under overrun with marsupials.

‘That’s right!’ I say, smiling and nodding in approval. ‘Comemos!’ (‘We eat them’).

‘No!’ They are stunned and amused that we would dine on a symbol of our nation.

‘Yes! Kangaroo meat tastes a bit like beef and I like to put it in spaghetti’. It’s a fun conversation. Both because it’s amusing that a gringo can speak Spanish and because who would of thought of eating kangaroos!

People are even more interested (or disturbed) when I continue to tell them that there are so many wild kangaroos in my adopted home town of Canberra that the Australian Government has had to round hundreds of the buggers up and shoot them dead, and that we also run them down with our cars, not on purpose of course, but it happens when the kangaroos wake up at dusk all tired and disoriented and hop right on to the busy motorway smack bang into the windscreen.

I was surprised when those Cubans who did know about Australia didn’t mention kangaroos but instead the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. You weren’t expecting that were you? I certainly wasn’t. Well it turns out that Cuba won a whopping 11 gold, 11 silver and 7 bronze medals in the games coming in a strong 9th place (beating Great Britain who ranked 10th) in the final medal tally. Amongst Cuba’s gold medalists were the heavy-weight boxing champion and national hero Félix Savón. For many a Games to remember.

But for every single Cathy Freeman fan in Cuba, there must be at least another 100 people who have no idea what or where Australia is, or at least confuse it with Austria, which is that German-speaking country next door to Germany that gave the world Hitler and Josef Fritzl.

I realised that Cubans were confusing Austria with Australia when they commented, with perceptible sympathy, ‘it must be really cold in your country right now’.

I didn’t want to be rude and correct people, but then again I didn’t want to be mistaken for an Austrian, or allow people’s ignorance to the existence of my country continue unnecessarily.

So I would tell them ‘No, it’s actually really warm in Australia, just like in Cuba. In fact the weather is so warm that we grow sugar cane too’.

Confused looks stared back at me. How can one cultivate sugar in the Alps?

I think people understood me a little better when I explained that Australia is south, near China, and that like Cuba was a colony of Spain, Australia was a colony of England, and in fact it still kind of is. The ugly head of the Queen of England still appears on all of our currency because we don’t have revolutionaries like Che Guevara to replace her.

I’ve been told by my fellow travelers that outside of Cuba, Austrians are frequently confused for Australians much more than vice versa. Fed-up with being forever in the shadow of our Commonwealth, many Austrian travelers have taken to wearing t-shirts that read ‘There are no kangaroos in Austria’ in an attempt to clear matters up. Very clever.


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