The cultural cringe


October 24, 2010 by jessperriam

I don’t apoligise for my country that often. For the most part I’m proud to be Australian.

Usually it involves me apologising to fellow travellers for an Aussie being an absolute twat in a foreign pub… somewhere. It’s difficult to explain how in Australia guys really do drink a stupid amount and do equally stupid things. It’s also difficult to explain that some Australian girls can be incredibly aggressive and not at all backwards about coming forwards. However, that’s the cross-cultural experience we like to call travel and that’s what happens when you melt different cultures in one place.

But until the very early hours of this morning I don’t think I’ve ever apologised on behalf of my country while still in Australia.

It had been a fairly awesome night out as far as Perth is concerned.. Old friends, a new friend who I can just tell is going to be brilliant and, some great conversations and great times.

We’d had gin and tonics, shisha and games of backgammon (most underrated board game on the planet), some games of pool where the boys showed off and the girls were unco, and a promise to all go to Burning Man next year.

A delightful time.

By the time 1am rolled around, we got peckish and we decided to go and have some burgers about 20 mintues East of the CBD. It’s not our area at all.

We arrived just in time to be a captive audience to a big, bearded white man verbally abusing a small Aboriginal woman. Other patrons were sitting or standing around the fireplace just watching, not intervening.

“I don’t see why I should have to pay for your type,” said the man amongst many other generalisations about Aboriginals.

By this stage our new friend was champing at the bit to intervene. As an American she’s no stranger to prejudice, just this kind of blatant racial abuse may have been shamed out there a few decades ago.

“You’re… you’re just a… paedophile!” yelled the woman in response.

She felt the only way she could fight back and shut him up was accusing him of child abuse.

“Dinner and a show,” remarked The Lawyer. We decided his sense of humour only really had an audience within a certain radius of the city. Guildford might just happen to sit outside that radius.

Our new friend was clearly shaken after witnessing the altercation. We struggled to explain why the man felt so compelled to yell at this woman. We struggled to explain why nobody stepped in. Because we barely witness these events in our everyday lives too. We understand the context of the situation but much like her we can’t understand the fierce hatred and prejudice. Even more confusing was the fact that the man was a New Zealander.

Yes, friends – a New Zealander yelling racial abuse at an Indiegenous Australian. Go figure.

But most importantly, we struggled to find words to calm our friend down because we were embarrassed. We were embarrassed that she had to witness that ugly part of Australia where one big, burly man feels perfectly justified in yelling at an Aboriginal because of the colour of her skin.

Later, as we were finishing our burgers, the man walked past us to cross the street.

“I’m sorry I yelled like that – I just had to say it,” he said.

I’ve still no idea why he was apologising to us. Admittedly we’d only heard the last half of the argument.

Once he’d crossed the street the woman was milling around us.

“How are you going?” I asked her.

On the verge of tears she said, “My sister’s just died of cancer and I have to take care of all her kids and I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say in response.

And we don’t have the answers, we don’t have a cure-all. We just have this strange brand of shame and embarrassment. I just suffered cultural cringe in my own country.


3 thoughts on “The cultural cringe

  1. recycledrose says:

    well written Jess, I can’t understand it either

  2. Mandi says:

    I will never understand. The government needs to use their resources to build our people up and not keep them down. So intolerant people like him don’t believe Aboriginals should be kept down. Our people don’t need what the government throws at them, they need their dignity and hope for the future. The GenerationOne project can do it. Well done Andrew Forrest.

  3. Carol Perriam says:

    I wonder if he would be the same with the indiegenous New Zealanders or worse, he obviously hasn’t walk a mile in other peoples shoes.

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