How ”Crocodile Dundee” helped warp our view of Australia
”Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” opens on April 20, although it’s unclear exactly who was clamoring for further adventures from the leathery Outback hero, who last blathered on about the hierarchy of knives back in 1988. While Americans are mostly indifferent to Dundee’s rebirth, those in Paul Hogan’s native Australia are likely letting out a continental shudder.
The first time Hogan paraded his scaly vest into America, it resulted in 15 years (and counting) of U.S. tourists arriving in Australia and immediately bellowing mighty ”G’day”s — oblivious to the cringing Aussies nearby. ”Imagine if we said, ‘Hello, y’all!’ in a drippy American accent every time we simply wanted to greet you hello,” says Rachelle Unreich, a writer / editor in Melbourne.
I recently vacationed in Australia, and found that its citizens are amongst the friendliest people I’ve ever met,. But the only time I saw them breathing vegemite scented fire was when any American (including me) said something that proved that all we know about Australia is what we’ve gathered from Crocodile Dundee movies, ”Survivor 2: The Australian Outback,” and Russell Crowe. ”We grow up knowing how many states you have and could pretty well name your last 10 presidents and all the capitals,” says Sydney web designer Bronwen Davies. ”And yet you guys know nothing about us and expect to see kangaroos hopping down the street.”
Aussies’ chief pet peeve is Hogan’s terminologically unsound catchphrase, ”Throw another shrimp on the barbie,” which he said so often it made you long for the verbal unpredictability of Michael ”Let’s get ready to rumble!” Buffer. Americans trumpet this culinary demand at restaurants, barbecues, or even in public bathrooms, ignorant to the crucial fact that Australians call these fish ”prawns.” ”If you’re going to come over here and go on about it so loudly, you’re not really that welcome to share our [prawns] at tribal gatherings,” says Sydney editor Helen Martin. ”You all should go away and learn the lingo, dingo.”
Then there are the soft, fedora like Outback hats, which tourists sport proudly while outdoorsily browsing the postcard stands at their hotels, thinking they’re blending in. Jerri on ”Survivor” wore one, which she likely bought in the duty free shop as soon as she touched down. ”They have to be beaten up if you want any cred,” says Davies. ”Any city types wearing these hats are, for the most part, wankers.”
”Survivor” is a hit in Australia, but viewers there rolled their eyes (albeit counterclockwise, just like the draining water in their sinks) when the merging tribes called themselves ”Barramundi,” after a local fish. ”That’s like us calling a tribe ‘Hot Dog.’ It’s not an exotic name to us, it’s an entrée,” says Unreich (who lived in the U.S. for seven years, and confesses that regardless of her complaints, she’s actually quite the Americophile. Score one for us!).
Much of Australians’ frustration stems from our seizing upon their culture like it’s a quaint discovery, albeit slightly backward and rustic. Their desire to be recognized results in collective wincing when any of their countrymen makes a misstep that could be possibly perceived as ”weird” while on the American stage — such as Russell Crowe’s scowlathon at the Oscars. ”I think he could go about his business with a little more dignity and grace” says Martin. ”Like our lovely Geoffrey [Rush] does, even when he’s smeared with excrement and prancing about in the nuddy [in ”Quills”]. Now there’s class.”
Sure, at first I thought these Aussies were a bit oversensitive. But then I thought, what if every day on my way to work, a posse of Australian tourists bumrushed me, cheerily hollering a 15 year old catchphrase like ”You look mahvelous!”? Let’s just say after that epiphany I learned to stop whistling Men at Work’s ”Land Down Under” awfully quickly.