Americans: a first-timer’s view

[This post also appeared on Robin Mason’s blog over at]  

Americans, a view from a first-time visitor

Last year, I went to the USA for the first time and landed in Nashville. Not the first choice of US city by a travel documentary crew, but still – I love BBQ and majored in music at University, so it was a decent enough fit.

In the three dozen international trips I’ve made from Australia, none have been in the Americas, North, Central or South.  I’ve always jumped on a plane in Australia and turned left.  This time the pilot turned right.

From the moment I came through customs in LAX, the culture that had occupied my TV set for the past forty years was now living and breathing right in front of me. It was strange to hear the accents on people walking past, instead of walking through the set of a sitcom.

You see, as Australians we are very aware of American culture – our media is steeped in it – but we’re so far away from it that it’s somehow foreign.

So why head to America?  As an aspiring novelist – and finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest and OCW Cascade competition – that’s where my future marketplace is.  (If you think the opportunities for fiction are drying up in your part of the world, we’re in a severe drought in Australia.  Our nation’s bookshelves are lined with lifestyle books from reality TV stars and 21-year-old sport stars telling their life stories.)

That desire to break into a market on the other side of the world is what saw me walking The Broadway with new author friends from the USA (and Canada), breathing in the heady aromas of a dozen BBQs to a soundtrack of bluegrass and 70s rock covers.  And talking over coffees (some things are universal) with people from Indiana to Iowa.

I found some things that I appreciate about the culture – things that challenged the stereotypes that are out there. I thought it would be good to share them, particularly in a time when the US culture is appearing in the world’s media in a different light. So here’s some positivity – what did I find?

  • Your hospitality. Maybe it’s because I was in the south, maybe it’s because I was a visitor in a strange land. Either way, the hospitality of the US folks I met was palpable. It was genuine. It was an honest desire to make a visitor comfortable, and I appreciated it.
  • Your interest in a visitor’s speech. Y’all are entranced by my accent. Every. Single. One. Of. You. I should have charged $20 for every time I had to say “g’day.”
  • Your entrancement of my country. This is nice, as every single person I spoke to wanted to visit my home, enjoy my country and, in some cases, move there.  People told me proudly that they’d visited and what they had enjoyed. Nothing makes you prouder when you’re abroad than hearing that people love where you’re from.  It was also a source of amusement when you peel back the layers about what some people know.  It would appear some Americans think all Australians own a kangaroo or know Hugh Jackman (these were real conversations). And I’m sorry for trying to convince a few of you we’d converted to metric minutes and now have 100 minutes in an hour.  We don’t. Really. But this guy really does live in the trees in the park across from my house.
  • Your parochialism of the state from which you come. One thing I noticed: in introductions, almost every single person didn’t just say the city they were from. It was always “Birmingham, Alabama” or “Cincinnati, Ohio.”  To me, this was more than helping me out with your geography.  I noticed a sense of pride in your roots. I wish we did that more in Australia.
  • Your patriotism. Leaving politics out of it, I admired the fact you wear your patriotic hearts on your sleeves. This is very different to Australia, where we tend to be very self-deprecating about our own country. We love it, we’ll just never say it out loud. It was refreshing to be a culture where you do.
  • Your respect for those around you. It stood out to me just how much US culture is taught to respect others through speech. I heard “Sir” and “Ma’am” on a regular basis, which was heartwarming. Our culture – to its own detriment – has moved beyond the need for such politeness.

So thanks for having me America. It was nice to meet some of you and experiences some of the positives from your culture.  I look forward to being back … maybe on a book tour!

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