Saturday, October 4, 2008

It Might Seem That Way But Maybe It's Not

I read two blogs this week that made me think of perceptions.

One was from someone who declared, in their comments, that  the whole world loves to believe in Israel's myths.   This is in terms of the whole Israeli-Palestinian thing. It seems, in his eyes, we're all on the side of the Jews and have no sympathy for the Palestinians.

The other was from an American living in Australia who believes Australians are Anti-American.

The Israeli thing kind of surprised me because in MY perception, I've always felt that most people are on the Palestinian's side when it comes to that conflict. The exception would be right-wing Christians, who are waiting for Jesus to return, and Zionists.  I thought it was kind of funny that this guy thought one thing and I thought the opposite.I decided to Google to see if I could find statistics, and it ended up that I was more right than him.

More countries, as a whole, support the Palestinian side and not the Jewish side.  Unless I'm reading the statistics wrong.   ?????

As for Australians hating Americans..... Let's suspend reality for a moment and pretend that Australia and America are NOT made up of individuals who have a variety of beliefs and opinions. Let's just make one blob called Australia and one blob called America. We'll pretend they're people.

I see the relationship of Australia and America as being very similar to my relationship with a certain person.  I shall not mention any names. In our relationship, I feel like the Australia while she is the America.

We are both totally cool people. We're both smart. We're both creative. We're both talented. We both know we're awesome.

 The difference is that I notice her.  She doesn't notice me.  Or at least she gives me the impression that she doesn't notice me. I'm very resentful about this. I feel hurt that she doesn't notice me or appreciate me.   Not only do I resent her lack of attention towards me, but I resent that she's noticed by others while they ignore me. Like America, she tends to be the center of attention. If she's not around, I seem to exist. If she is around, I feel invisible.

A part of me hates her. I'm angry at her.  I don't like certain parts about her, and it bothers me that not only does have these bothersome traits, she doesn't seem to realize it.

She is very high on herself. Sometimes, I really want to send her a mean and nasty email.  You are not as great as you think you are!  Get over yourself!   The thing is, though...another part of me thinks she IS incredibly cool. I just wish she'd act a little less stuck on herself, give me some attention, and fix some of the negative aspects of herself.

I think in very general terms, Australians resent America because while they know so much about us, we pretty much ignore them. We pretty much ignore everybody until they're doing something that bothers us, and we feel we might need to invade them. We can be pretty damn ethnocentric.

The relationship between us and Australia would be less complicated if we were just that annoying powerful country with the evil president that started a war that was killing thousands of innocent people.  The problem is that while Australians are angry about this, they're getting our music, they're reading our books, they're watching our TV shows, and they're watching our movies.    
It's a total love/hate thing.  And when there's a love/hate thing.....I think sometimes the hate part becomes even stronger. If our culture wasn't so infiltrated into their culture, I think they could just ignore us and hate us a little less.

Before I came to Australia, I worried (I guess from reading the Internet and hearing the complaints of expats) that Australians hated us all. I feared as soon as I opened my mouth and let my accent be heard, I'd be shunned.

So, here I was thinking that Australians were going to be making negative assumptions about me because I'm American.  Okay, but who was REALLY making the negative assumptions?

I don't think it's fair to generalize and say all Australians hate Americans. BECAUSE if you say that, YOU are the one generalizing.

I know I provided a little analogy in this post about how Australians feel about Americans. But it represents only how SOME Australians feel about Americans.

I think there's a huge variety of Aussie opinions regarding Americans.

Some might fit the analogy above.

Some might love Americans. Hell, they might even love George and all who voted for him.

Some might not give a crap or have an opinion. They might not have any prejudices.

Some might hate American government, but understand that Americans are not their government. As individuals, we DON'T have that much power in who becomes the president.

Some might be nice to Americans and say nasty things behind our back.

Some might hate Americans and will automatically hate me as soon as I say I'm American.

I personally am not offended when someone makes critical remarks about my country.  I think people have a lot of valid complaints right now.  Our government IS causing a lot of problems.  Some of us ARE very ethnocentric. We DO spread yucky things like McDonalds around the world.

If  some Australians say ALL Americans are horrible, and if they hate me automatically because I am American, than I say that minority of Australians are not worth my time or energy. And I DO think it's a minority that feel that way.  There are ignorant closed-minded people in every country and culture.  But if I assume that because some Australians said some negative stuff about Americans, that MOST Australians feel that way about Americans, then I think I'm being unfair and hypocritical.

Anyway, if you think there's tension between Americans and Australians, it aint nothing compared to the tension between Palestinians and Jews. Hey, but even there we have no absolutes.   Not all Palestinians want to blow up Jews. And not all Jews want to make the Palestinians vanish from the earth.  I personally think that NO people should live on that little tiny piece of land.   I think it should be like Antarctica. Scientists and tourists only. The Israeli's and Palestinians can go live on the moon together. Wouldn't they look cute jumping around in their spacesuits?!


  1. I think you are broadly right, but there is a long history of holding stereotypes against people without actually applying them to anyone you know, in Australia (and quote possibly in lots of other places, for that matter).

    So in other words, lots of Australians hate America, and Americans, but not actually any Americans they know personally. At the same time, all South Africans are bastards, except the ones I know. All Asians are (I don't know, can't think of an appropriate stereotype - oh maybe bad drivers) except the ones I know. And so on.

    If you consider the tall poppy syndrome here, add to it the stuff you mentioned, our massively different political stances (the last 12 year aberration notwithstanding) and the fact that we keep getting sucked into American wars, it isn't surprising.

    Much like how it isn't surprising that we harbour animosity towards Asians because they work harder than us and drink less. How dare they! :)

    But for some reason, the strength of our stereotypes doesn't translate into as a high a level of prejudice. The stereotypes seem to only apply to the nameless masses, not the person standing in front of you. This is possibly why ex-pats see so much anti-American sentiment - nobody counts the ex-pats amongst the nameless masses, so they don't think to restrain their remarks.

    I'm not defending this, I guess it is just another reflection of our inherent laziness as a culture. Too lazy to think of a nation as anything more than a stereotype. But also too lazy to apply the stereotype to you personally. :) Stupid culture we live in really.

  2. Ariane,

    I think you are SO right about having stereotypes about groups, but not applying them to people you know personally. I don't think it applies to only Australians. I think it's pretty damn universal.

    I think we all do this--or most of us. This certain type of people is so and so. But you're okay. You're different from the rest.

    When we were in Australia, I personally found most people to be very positive and welcoming. But maybe that's because my expectations were low.

    No, but seriously. People were very friendly and welcoming. I never felt disliked because I was American.

    I think it is along the lines of we might not like Americans in general, but individuals are okay.

    It could also be less about disliking Americans and more about disliking the stereotypical American. And there ARE Americans who perfectly fit the stereotype. If you fit the stereotype, you're going to be disliked. If you don't fit it, you might be liked.

  3. Dear Dina, as an Arab Palestinian living in Jordan and lived in many countries around the world including the US, I'm a bit surprised of 2 remarks:
    1. Most nations support Palestinians
    2. Palestinians and Israelis should move to the moon

    First, it might be true that some nations support the Palestinian cause but the actual facts say the opposite. The US gices Israel 50 Billion of US tax payers as aid, in addition to weapons, war planes, tanks, technology and Nuclear strength. So far Palestinians live under an israei embargo, employees havent been paid their salaries for the past 2 years, and so far I havent see any Plaestinains plane, tank, army jeep or weapons. All I see is kids throwing stones and the light klashinkof that Hamas and Fateh carry. So the comparison is not fair at all. One last thing, the UN has issued more than 20 reolsutions condeming Israel for illegal occupation, illegal settelements and resolutoins to wthdraw to pre 1967 borders, what happened to to these resolutions? did the international arena force israel to comply, just like what the UN did in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea? Double standards

    Finaly, as for your second remark, i find it realy silly as yopu make it sound as if this land didnt have any inhabitants before the creation of Israel in 1948, but it did, it had Arab Christians, Muslims and some Jews. After 1948, the Jews were as much as the otehr Arabs. Ok, so now we have one factis that one can't get rid of the other, what shall we do about it?
    we either learn to live with each other or throw ourselves in the ocean. I own this land and I choose the 1st option.

  4. I wouldn't have described it has a hatred.

    I think many Australians are worried that we are becoming too americanised, that our own culture is being overwhelmed by american type culture/standards/values.

    I know I get annoyed by children knocking on my door at Halloween looking for treats. That's an american thing, not an australian one. What's next? Thanksgiving? lol

    I know that many australians resent the way that some of our political leaders seem to 'suck up' to the american leader and commit australian lives to things that many australians wouldn't have considered.

    But still I wouldn't have said a hatred. Generally speaking the idea of hatred goes against our culture of mateship.

  5. Ali,

    I think there's a difference between what government and policies do...AND what the actual citizens of a country believe/support.

    I was responding to what you said in your comments about the world wanting to believe in Israel's myths.

    If you looked at the link to the survey, you'll see most nations (the people....not their government) support both the Palestinians AND Israeli's. By this, it means the people when asked which country they think their country should side with, they picked both.

    Out of the people who supported one group over another, it was always the Palestinians who were supported more.

    I don't know how I sound like I don't know the land was occupied before 1948. ?????? I know it was occupied.

    As for what we can do about it? I don't think there's anything. I don't think there can ever be peace there. Anytime, someone fairly reasonable and peaceful comes along--someone else messes it up.

    Yes there are a lot of wonderful Palestinians and Jews who want to live in peace--who know how to SHARE.

    But there are also way too many Jewish and Arab fanatics who have no interest in sharing. They don't want to live in peace. They want to live without the other group. They want to fight, exclude, kill, and control.

  6. Bettina,

    Do you think you'd feel differently that while Australian children start going trick or treating, American children started doing something Australian?

    Would it be better if it were more balanced?

    Do you get equally annoyed/bothered if Australian children start bothering from other countries that are not American.

    How about if Australians started celebrating the Chinese New Year? Not just Chinese-Australians, but other Australians as well?

    You guys DO have a lot of American television. I was very surprised at that when we visited. It wasn't something I expected. I can imagine how the young might borrow from American culture and how that can be a bit alarming.

    I'm thinking about it though and seeing how trick or treating might not be a good comparsison to the Chinese New Year--just because one is more intrusive.

    A family can decide to celebrate the Chinese New Year and not bother anyone with it.

    Trick or Treating involves disturbing people who might not wish to be disturbed.

    Although I wonder if it's more about

    A) not wanting to be disturbed by people ringing the doorbell.
    B) not wanting Australian culture to be overshadowed and changed by other cultures
    C) antagonism towards American customs because there's anger towards American government regarding the war, politicians kissing asses, etc.

    If trick or treating was Swedish instead of American, would it be less annoying, more annoying, or equal annoying.

    As for the word "hatred". I think some people feel it and some people don't. Some people feel it and prefer to call it something else because the word has very negative connotations.

    I don't really think a culture of mateship protects against some of its citizens feeling hatred. I guess though it all depends on how you describe hatred.

    For me, hating just means very strongly disliking something.

    For others, hatred might mean an EXTREMELY passionate dislike of something--obsessive, dangerous, and murderous.

    So, no....I don't really imagine Australians feeling that much bad feelings towards Americans. I don't even think most Australians feel MY definition of hatred.

    I think most of them have criticisms of America (which is fine) but are not against Americans themselves.

  7. I think it's a mix of B and C.

    Yes I'm worried about Australian cultue being swamped out. Not just by american culture either, though the sheer volume of american culture introduced on a daily/hourly basis into many australian homes through tv/movies and music is a big thing to counter.

    It's not just american culture though, Australia has set itself up as a cultural melting pot where all cultures are welcome and free to be practised (within australian laws), but in the process of embracing our differences I think that many white australians of european decent (like me) are losing their heritage. I think that combining cultures is a much more difficult thing to master than our government would have us believe.

    And I certainly think that anger towards the american government and our own politicians for deferring to the american government has a part to play.

    I think that you thinking that 'most of them have criticisms of America (which is fine) but are not against Americans themselves' is a very fair summary of the situation.

  8. Bettina,

    I think a lot of groups have the same concerns.

    How do you mix with other cultures and not completely lose your own culture?

    I think the non-European immigrants to Australia probably have the same issues. How do we raise our children in a new country without them completely losing their old identity?

    And look what happened to the Indigenous Australians. They lost a lot of their culture and way of life when the white people came over.

    It's hard to be the new person, but it's also hard to be the old people inviting the new people in.

    Change isn't easy.

    I think this is all something we have to deal with. How do we celebrate and preserve our own culture while at the same time welcoming, accepting, and learning about other cultures.

    I guess maybe we just have to find a balance.

  9. Very interesting analogies, Dina.

    From a purely psychological point of view, Australia has the classic inferiority complex. This results in two types of behaviours: to either overinflate its own ego, or shoot down the resented parties. Unfortunately, I've seen examples of both.

    You're right, change is hard. The interesting thing is that Australia is at a cultural crossroads right now. We're coming out of 160+ years of British-dominated culture and into something of our own...if only we could figure out what, exactly, that is. We're not really a melting pot, not yet. More like a salad bowl with lots of different people sort-of co-existing in the same place, influencing eachother in small ways - because that's what happens when you live with someone, you cannot help but influence them.

    All of this coming together all at once, no wonder some people are resentful. They see things changing and they fear that change.

    I don't mean to generalise, but this is how I perceive the underlying vibe. It's nothing personal. It never is, is it?

    I think we all need to get over ourselves. Americans need to realise that it isn't all about them, and Australians need to realise that it isn't all about the evil American marketing machine. It just isn't. And there are far more worthy issues in this world we can get annoyed about - globalisation, McDonalds, poverty, crime - than whether someone trick-or-treats at our house!! IMHO.

    How do you mix with other cultures and not completely lose your own culture?

    Many people assume that it's an either/or thing. It's not. You don't lose your culture by mixing with others. You change into something new. Ask an expat. :) See, I think that's a huge part of the problem too. Many people simply don't know what it's like to be the new kid in town. And here we are on the sidelines, yelling, "Hey! We're Australian too, you know! It's our culture too!" *sigh*

  10. Dear Dina,
    I wanted to share this book with you, written by an Arab American, it's called "Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts" by Samar Jarrah, currently available online at Amazon, Borders and Barnes and Noble, it has all the views of Arabs (Christians and Muslims) very interesting to read about vocal arabs

  11. Tors,

    I think you said a lot of important things, but I think the most meaningful thing you said was in the last line.

    When do you stop being an "expat" and become Australian? If you're planning to STAY in Australia and become a citizen, aren't you Australian?

    And then yeah...who decides what's Australiain culture and what's not?

    If a large group of people start trick or treating, than wouldn't trick or treating become Australian?

    I guess the thing is it takes TIME for things to be accepted.

    I know in America we a lot of times don't consider Asians, Indians, Arabs, etc. to be American--even if they've lived here for generations. Even if they have citizenship. But I think at one time, the Irish and British felt that way about the Italians. They were the outsiders.

    When my parents first met my husband (who is Korean-born) my dad asked him this question about identity. He asked if my husband felt more comfortable around Americans or Asians? My husband answered Americans. But the thing is my husband IS American. He might not be European-American. But he IS American. And a lot of other Asian people in America are American too.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with European Australians trying to preserve their heritage just like I think it's lovely that the Indigenous Australians try to preserve their culture.

    But by preserve--I mean keep and celebrate all the lovely aspects of it. Teach the children about the past. Use the language and make sure it doesn't disappear. Cook the foods. Celebrate the holidays.

    I don't think preserving has to neccessarily involve xenophobia.

    As for trick or treating. I don't know about that one. I'm TRYING to see it from both points of view. I'm imagining how I'd feel if some group in America had a date (not Halloween) where I'd feel forced to participate:

    A) by purchasing stuff to pass out
    B) by being disturbed by knocks on the door in the evening.

    I might think it's cool. I might be annoyed. I don't know.

    I think it's totally different for an American in Australia to celebrate Thanksgiving in their home or to celebrate the Fourth of July with a backyard picnic.

    I think it's fine to celebrate Halloween with a party.

    I really can't say I support the trick or treating thing. I think that's too intrusive and a little too much in-your-face....especially if the underlying reason for it is to show those Australians that they're anti-American views aren't going to stop us from trick-or-treating.

    I personally think a better approach to Halloween would be to have a Halloween party where people can trick or treat AT the party. I would figure it would mostly be Americans....but also invite some Australians. I think there's a big difference between unwelcomed people ringing your doorbell at night and being INVITED/welcomed to a party.

    Our local homeschooling group has a Halloween thing called Truck or Treat. People get together at a park during the afternoon and each car has a little game, craft booth, and passes out candy. It was really cute.

    I think that would be an awesome thing to do in Australia.

  12. Ali,

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Honestly right now I'm totally obsessed with Australia and pretty much read only stuff related to Australia.

    I'm actually currently reading a young adult book written by a Palestinian-Australian. It's called "Does My Head Look Big in This?" It's good so far, but I've only read the first chapter.

    Maybe my next obsession will be Arab-Americans ; ) Then I'll read the book!!!

  13. Dina, I'm sure the Australian culture and history is just as rich and beautiful as any other, but I thought since you are Jewish and we alwways discuss the peace process here that you have no hope in, you would be interested to know what Arabs (Christians and Muslims) say about Israel, 9/11, the Peace Process, the War in Iraq, these matters affects us all

  14. Ali,

    I have a tiny bit more hope now which I'll talk about in my next post.

  15. Hey Dina, just catching up here...

    When do you stop being an "expat" and become Australian? If you're planning to STAY in Australia and become a citizen, aren't you Australian?

    Again, I don't think it's an either/or thing. You are an expat by virtue of where you come from and you are Australian by virtue of where you are (and choice, too). You can be both.

    I really can't say I support the trick or treating thing. I think that's too intrusive and a little too much in-your-face....especially if the underlying reason for it is to show those Australians that they're anti-American views aren't going to stop us from trick-or-treating.

    Actually, it's the Aussies themselves (well, a growing segment of the population) who are doing the bulk of the trick-or-treating. Whereas once it was just the American expats doing it amongst themselves, the wider community is beginning to catch on, and I guess that's where a lot of the hostility comes from.

    I don't mind people not wanting to participate. As you say, there are a lot of those people even in America. Everyone knows you don't knock at houses with the light off, right? :)
    But to get annoyed at trick-or-treaters simply because the practice comes from America just seems so shallow and reactionary to me. Just my not-so-humble opinion. :)

  16. Tors,

    If the Australians are the ones doing it, then that would probably explain the hostility.

    It reminds me a lot of Jews in America in regards to Christianity. The whole we're Jewish. We can't have a Christmas tree. There's a lot of hostility towards Christmas--so much that they turned a very minor holiday into a huge holiday just so they could compete with the Christians.

    "Look we don't need a Christmas Tree and Santa Claus, we have a Menorah and potato pancakes."

    Again, it goes back to the struggle in keeping your own culture and still welcoming other cultures.

    I once heard a method/idea that I liked. This was regards to religion. The idea was that you tell your kids that they can help other people share THEIR holidays. So it's okay for a Jewish person to go to church with their Christian friends or celebrate the end of Ramadan with their Muslim friends, but it won't be celebrated in their own home.

    I can't have a Christmas Tree in my house but I can enjoy Christmas trees in other places. Actually, I CAN have a Christmas tree if I want because I no longer see any issues with having one. But now I'm just too lazy.

    See, we're back to the whole issue of me being lazy again ; )