Pretty much everyone I know has at least one of those cross-cultural stories up their sleeve. Or at least anyone who’s ever been overseas, which is, frankly, most people these days.
This kind of pisses me off I must say. I love travelling. I mean, REALLY love travelling. And part of me just wishes that everyone else would stay the fuck at home. Because I consider travelling to be a big part of who I am. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who starts every second sentence with “Ah, well, when I was in...”And I’m proud of it, dammit. I should be allowed to show off. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and innumerable weeks overseas, which has directly resulted in me currently being practically the world’s oldest intern. Everyone else in my office is only a year or two older than me, yet they’ve all been working there for seven years and they make a heck of a lot more than me, which isn’t all that hard really, considering I WORK THERE FOR FREE! And, considering I’m working at a travel company, they’ve all been to at least as many places as me and are not in the least impressed by my years spent hitchhiking in Belgium, trekking in Peru, lolling on a beach in East Timor and vomiting up my guts on a 24 hour bus ride in Brazil. I. Have. Been. Completely. Jibbed.
But I do have one or two good stories up my sleeve. You know the kind I mean... the ignorant American in Paris, the Aussie whose nasal tones can be heard wafting over the Mekong Delta, the European who knows nothing about your homeland apart from the fact that there’s this one funny looking animal that jumps there, or that someone once murdered someone else on the other side of the bloody country.
It must be said, most (if not just about all) of these stories are about Americans. I’ve seen a fat man in Venice walk past a spectacular restaurant and moan to his wife, “if only we could find a hawt dawg”, I’ve been asked by a southerner whereabouts in New York Melbourne is, and I’ve been told more times than I can count that I have a very nice English accent.
The thing is, it kind of goes in reverse too. I had, for a long time, collectively referred to all Americans as “Yanks”, until the day my North Carolinean friend shoved me to the ground, sat on my chest and refused to get up until I admitted that she “weren’t no damn Yankee”. Then I had to say “Up With Confederacy”. Then we went and got us some slaves and drank us some iced tea. That was weird, but I had to admit that she got me on a technicality there.
I also had, for the longest time, gotten on the backs of my American friends about pronouncing the word “buoy” (as in, a floating thing in the sea) like “boo-ee” instead of “boy”.
“THIS IS JUST RIDICULOUS!” I exclaimed. “Everyone knows it’s BOY. Derrr.”
Until I looked it up. In fact, the word comes has its origins in Old French, and the pronunciation “boo-ee”, while chiefly American, more closely resembles the modern French bouée.
Yanks: 2. Hannah: Nil.
But actually, my favourite ever cross-cultural travel story comes from the American’s slightly simpler, less often picked on northern neighbours, the Canadians.
I lived in Canada for awhile (yes, that’s right people, lived, I wasn’t just one of those piss-weak travellers who spent an afternoon in the airport there and has ticked it off their list of places to go) and while I was there, a good friend of mine and I had a fantastic conversation in his living room one day.
Him: “Oh Hannah, I just love your accent.”
H: “Yeah, gosh, it must be so much fun to have an accent, eh?”
M: “Aw yeah, I guess so.”
H: “It makes everyone like you.”
M: “Really? I thought that was my charm and wit, and the fact that I buy them beer.”
H: *chuckles at the wit*
M: “Hey, you know, you should come to Australia sometime. That way, you’d be the one with the accent.”
H: “Yeah, you know, that’s not half a bad idea. I guess I would pick up an accent after awhile.”
M: “No, I mean, you’d be the one with the accent.”
M: “You have an accent.”
M: “You speak differently to the people in Australia. If you went there, they would all be speaking with their accent, and you’d be speaking differently. Ergo, you have an accent. Maybe they would like you for that, because they clearly won’t like you for your intelligence.”
H: “But I don’t have an accent.”
M: “Yes, you do. It’s kind of... American.”
(Note: this is quite possibly the worst thing you can say to a Canadian person ever. Usually.)
H: “No, I don’t.”
M: “Yes. You. Do.”
H: “No, YOU have an accent. Americans have an accent. I’m Canadian, I just speak normally.”
M: “Are you serious?”
H: “Yep, now let’s get oot of the hoose”
So, I vote we let the Americans keep their boo-ees and give the classic cross-cultural story award to... Canada! Eh?