It’s Just Me, a Dumb American
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia
“So Becky, you want to go to tea?” my sister, Kristin, asks. I’ve only slept four of the twenty-three hours it took to arrive at Australia’s Avondale College from California. During that time, I gulped down the airline’s disturbing, minuscule versions of four vegetarian meals. I’m a little hungrier than “tea and crumpets” at this point.
“Tea?” When was the last time I drank tea anyway?
Kristin thinks for a moment. “Oh, I mean, what do you call it?” Her whole face scrunches together in concentration. “Dinner! Do you want to go to dinner? Or supper or whatever it’s called.” For a moment she grins triumphantly. Kristin, the “American refugee,” hasn’t had to remember “American English” for more than two years.
Kristin introduces me to everyone we pass while wandering around the campus. I won’t remember their faces, let alone their names, by tomorrow.
Later, while I’m lying on my bed, trying to adjust myself to the screeching birds, neighbor cows, and the absence of Wal-mart, my sister thrusts open my door.
“This,” Kristin says pointing at me, “is my sister!”
I blink. Why is Kristin smiling as if she’s won the Rugby World Cup? And who is behind my sister looking as uncomfortable as I feel? Have you ever felt like a giraffe at the zoo that has wandered too close to the chain fence, gotten its tongue stuck, and sees a toddler coming?
“Kelly, this is Becky. Becky, Kelly.” Kristin’s hands move back and forth expectantly. Kelly and I smile tentatively. While the three of us stare at each other, I could count to ten…backwards…in Spanish.
Finally, Kristin chirps, “Okay, bye!” as the door crashes shut. I lie in the silence again. Maybe I’ll lock the door.
Being on display isn’t always a bad thing, if I know why I’m on display. Maybe Kristin expects me to smile at every passing person I’m introduced to simply because she loves her little sister. Or perhaps, because she’s showing off how “un-American-like” she has become.
After all, in many ways, I am the typical American. I do not like Turkish Delight nor Musk – a chocolate bar and a sugar stick that taste like rose perfume. Vegemite is not my best friend (the sandwich spread is a pretty salty experience that my sister craves). And I like my cereal to be crunchy, instead of absorbing all the milk. Obviously, my attempts to blend in aren’t always successful. But you can’t blame me for trying.
Let’s be honest. As Americans, we haven’t shown ourselves as the smartest sheep in New Zealand – even while we’re in America. When Kristin and her boyfriend, Chris, visited the United States, my brother announced to his high school friends, “Hey, look, this is Chris. He’s an Australian!”
Chris replied with a wave and an “I’ll be here all week.”
“He even sounds Australian!” a girl said with a gasp.
I hate to admit it, but I only added to our reputation while I was in Australia. However, in the defense of the United States, most of my blunders occurred, not because I was American, but because I am Becky Dewey. I have a talent for these kinds of situations.
You know the circumstances don’t you? When you’re invited to your sister’s boyfriend’s grandma’s house on her birthday and you ask how old she is (first mistake). Then while taking another bite of cake, you reply, “That’s a good number. That’s the year I was born.” Or when you’re sure the next person coming around the corner is your friend. You “ROAR!” and spring toward him, only to be met with a shrill scream from a short, curly-haired teacher you’ve never seen before, as she clutches her chest. Or the time you were late to your own surprise party, because you waited until a commercial break. Hey, it’s a surprise party – you’re not supposed to know 25 people are waiting for you in the other room!
Perhaps you’ll be blessed with the suaveness of James Bond. However, in case you’re not, here are some useful phrases when visiting the “Land Down Under”: “chatting up” means “to flirt with”. A napkin is a “serviette”, – do not call it anything else, or they’ll think you’re asking for a diaper. “Sus” means “suspicious,” “dodgy” means “a little odd, not quite right,” a “chaf” is a prank, and “rooting” – a sexual term – should never be used in a religious class discussion. Trust me on that one.