In Texas, the Lone Star state, there is an average of four guns per person. As such, my first stop in the USA has landed me smack bang in the middle of one of its biggest controversies. As yet, I have not been shot, so I’m going to attempt to dispel some stereotypes (and confirm some others) about the home of one of the most powerful men on earth.
When most Americans generalise about Australia they think of kangaroos and koalas and the crocodile hunter. (I think they are having a much harder time dealing with his tragic death over here than at home – I have had countless offers of sympathy and am asked daily whether I am in mourning). Yet I fear the average Australian’s perception of America is somewhat less favourable… we picture fast food, guns and sirens, and extreme right political views on things like abortion and evolution. This makes it a little hard for me to honestly answer one of a multitude of questions I keep getting asked: What do Australian’s think of America? After all I am a left-leaning Government and Politics major. Nevertheless, given that I actually convinced someone that we rode kangaroos to school, it could follow that perhaps some of our stereotyped ideas about America are similarly ill-informed.
The first thing I noticed about Texas is that EVERYTHING IS BIG HERE. Their “small” cars dwarf anything a Mosman mother would be proud of, and the big ones could be used as tanks for sure. Everything is also centered on convenience. You can pay for petrol at the pump with a credit card, they pre-cut the carrots at the supermarket for you, and even the toilets have sensors to flush themselves. These may seem like small and odd things to mention but their combined total makes for an extremely lazy society.
So far I haven’t really gotten rid of the stereotypes though, so I want to focus on Austin, and more specifically University of Texas, which is an option with Sydney University’s exchange program. Visiting a friend here I’ve had such an awesome time, for a moment being a part of a city focused on its university population, in such a way that patriotism for the “longhorns” oozes from everything. Austin has a very cool vibe, with people wearing “Keep Austin weird” shirts affirming the city’s desire to show itself as unique, and a friendly face on every corner. It’s a cool option for an exchange, not too big a city, what you would imagine to be pretty traditional America, and beautiful weather. My only complaint? They actually like country music here.
So what have we learnt from all this? There are not guns everywhere in America (I have yet to see one in fact). But it is a lot like being in a movie… yellow school buses, big red frat party plastic cups and all. I am yet to get used to everyone complimenting my accent, as if it is something I have chosen, cultivated, and practiced deliberately. The guy who tried to pick me up by telling me he just got back from Iraq didn’t really impress me either. But most of all it’s the little differences that get you, like the fact they do not have netball over here (crazy). Who would’ve thought that another developed western nation would offer such a cultural experience?! Having just come from South America I thought I’d done it all, but it’s here in Texas that I finally find myself cutting up the rug at a salsa club. Long live dismantling stereotypes!