Monday, November 23, 2015

Expat Observations: Anti-Americanism

This morning one of my work colleagues said she didn't like the movie Bridge Of Spies because it was "too American and schmaltzy." I have had other people make similar offhanded comments in my presence without a second thought. In all these instances American is always code for bad. It's like some deeply ingrained prejudice that most Australians have, and it drives me nuts. I'll often respond with "not everything American is bad" which kind of makes them realise what they are saying and apologise.

When I was studying at the University of Melbourne in the mid-1990s I took a few American politics classes. In the first tutorial people were introducing themselves and expressing some fairly prejudiced views about the US. When it was the turn of another American girl and I to introduce ourselves you would not believe the sheepish looks on their faces when they heard our accents.

When I moved back to Melbourne 10 years ago it was during the height of Bush presidency (and post-Katrina) and the anti-American sentiment was off the charts. I got blamed for having voted for him (not true) and I wouldn't dare speak out loud on public transport as I didn't want people to hear my accent. I also had to deal with being called a yank or seppo (septic tank = yank in rhyming slang) at work.

Of course, when Obama became President things improved (although they didn't give me any credit for voting for him). However, anti-Americanism is always lurking under the surface. Any article in the paper about American things will always have a string of really hostile comments under it. Political parties also like to use American as code to scare people, with the Labor Party the main culprits around higher education and health care. It reminds me of Republicans when they would say "San Francisco values" as code to frighten middle America.

What goes around comes around, and it's only been during the past year when Abbott was Prime Minister and trashing Australia's reputation internationally that I think Australians finally got a taste of what it was like for Americans during the Bush years. This may be the first time that Australia is being seen in a bad light politically around the world for its treatment of refugees and views on climate change.

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