Before my first visit to Australia in February, I came across a humorous blog entry from another American expat on one significant cultural difference between Americans and Australians.
Danielle, who writes at From America to Australia, was waiting on her soy flat white when the barista asked if she thought living in Melbourne was better.
I proceeded to tell these complete strangers what I thought. I said, “Well nobody complains here. Nobody stands up for themselves.” The barista made a face and shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t give shit.” And there it was – they just don’t give a shit!
I’m beginning to really see this now and it’s not so funny after all.
It’s not really true, of course. Aussies do care about many things. Alcohol, for example. But I’m beginning to see that certain things that I value are just not that important to people here.
It was my birthday this week, the most uneventful birthday I can remember. One obligatory gift from my boyfriend, no calls, no birthday lunches or dinners, or cake. Why? Because they don’t give a shit.
Theo’s birthday is coming up. I was thinking of planning something nice, but now I’m reconsidering. In the past, he’s shrugged at the idea. Why? Because they don’t give a shit.
I put up the Christmas tree last weekend. I tried to decorate it, but the prissy Martha Stewart in me couldn’t cope with the ugly, outdated, mismatched decorations. But they don’t give a shit anyway. This family hasn’t even put up a Christmas tree in years. I bought some new decorations, but they don’t give a shit. Theo finished decorating it while I was away engaging in some retail therapy. I quietly packed away the decorations I purchased. I’ve been Christmas shopping, but it’s been challenging because when you ask people what they want or ask for suggestions and ideas, they just shrug. Of course they do. They don’t give a shit.
Australians are laid back and that’s a great quality, but I really don’t understand the apathy towards some of the best opportunities for celebration life has to offer, moments of light and joy in a life that is otherwise filled with backbreaking work, stress, illness, separations, and despair. If Americans are over enthusiastic, and that is particularly expressed in their consumerism, Australians are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The frequently used idiom that captures this attitude is “she’ll be right.” The “she” refers to everything and while this may sound optimistic, it’s frequently a cover for apathy and displays a willingness to accept a low-quality situation rather than seek a more desirable solution and positive experience. In other words, “I don’t give a shit.” Shrug it off.
The worst part is that indifference is just as infectious as enthusiasm. Just as someone can lift you up, they can knock you down. You can try doing things for yourself and your own happiness, but, when nobody around you gives a shit and they keep reminding you of that, it becomes isolating and depressing. I understand now why expats seek out other Americans. What they seek is support and camaraderie, others who will share in their excitement.
Homesickness is the worst part of expat life. Australians and Americans are alike in many ways, but the holiday season is really highlighting the differences for me. No Halloween. No Thanksgiving. No birthday or anniversary celebrations. Not much of a Christmas. Not much of a New Year’s. No parties, get-togethers, big dinners, or gift exchanges. They just don’t give a shit about any of it.