Location: Minnesota, United States of America
I have a confession to make.
In all my time spent daydreaming about traveling to far flung, exotic and unique destinations, America has ranked low on my list of places to go and see. Urgh ok, ok, that’s not entirely true. I am very embarrassed to say this but, here goes:
I have never had any desire to travel to or through America.
Now before you all get crazy at me please let me explain! Growing up in Australia I’ve been exposed to American popular culture through television, books and magazines, where a large portion of the entertainment I devoured is largely American or American produced. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I grew up with this naive belief that since American popular culture is so ingrained in Australia that it must be pretty much the same as Australian culture right? Wrong! It wasn’t until I met my lovely Minnesotan man, Siu On, that all of that was tipped on its head, and rightly so.
American popular culture is one thing. American culture is a whole other ball game!
What’s exported to the rest of the world is more of a caricature of the country, rather than a true representation of it. It’s the same as the portrayal of Australian’s around the world:
Do I throw another shrimp on the barbie on my weekends? No. And we don’t call it shrimp either.
Do I wrestle dangerous and poisonous animals yelling crikey in my spare time? Absolutely not.
When I met my European cousins for the first time as 13 year old, I couldn’t understand why they were asking me if I had a pet Kangaroo?! (Although my Aunt did work at a wildlife rescue centre when I was a baby and I did play with Kangaroos as a child, but that’s completely different!) It was only when I saw the Australian televisions programs that they watched did I understand how ‘Skippy the Bush Kangaroo’ and ‘Home and Away’ made Australians seem like a bunch of backward bush bogans; definitely not a realistic picture of the inhabitants of this great land of mine.
All the American sitcoms and ‘reality’ TV shows that I had watched growing up only created this false knowledge about a country that, in reality, I knew absolutely nothing about. I learned about European history as a child, and then Asian history through my teenage years as that part of the world began to form a greater international relationship with Australia; but I never thought to learn about American history until I watched ‘12 Years a Slave’ with Siu On, that I really dawned on me just how foolish I had been to think I knew America.
Now that I am here in a place I had never wanted to visit, and that I know virtually nothing about, I’m finding it to be a true assault of all my senses – and I like it! Travel has always been, first and foremost, about learning new things, and here I’m learning more new things than my brain can comfortably process in a sitting.
To America, I send my deepest and most sincerest apologies for my lack of understanding, but also my heartfelt thanks for still giving me an education in your history and culture.
Travel is the best classroom there is.
Photograph by Auyeung Photography.