Whenever Americans learn that I come from "the Land Down Under," they mention Crocodile Dundee, kangaroos, koalas, surfing and throwing “another shrimp on the barbie.”
But there is much more than just kangaroos and koalas when it comes to the Aussie way of life, something that is enjoyed by 22 million people spread across 3 million square miles.
On Australia Day – January 26th – the day my country commemorates the establishment of the first settlement in 1788 at Port Jackson (which is now part of Sydney) Aussies take time to celebrate our unique spirit and culture. Here are my observations about some of the lessons my adopted country the United States of America could learn from Australia.
1. Don't Lose Your Sense of Humor
Aussies love to laugh and make fun of themselves and we don’t mind being silly occasionally; we take our work seriously but not ourselves.
2. Don't Get Hung Up on Politically Correctness
Because we are willing to laugh at ourselves, we can tell it like it is and call each other ‘bloody idiot,’ ‘bozo’, ‘bonkers’ and much worse! But we don’t cry or run to a lawyer.
Once, when I was interviewing an Australian Prime Minister he said -- live on network radio -- “You bloody Tasmanians have had it far too good, for far too bloody long!” His words made headlines but no one complained about the cussing!
Our libel and slander laws are much stricter than America’s but we are okay speaking the truth when we get mad at each other and we work it out between ourselves – not in court.
3. We Never Give in Without a Fight
We share this in common with America, but we don’t have the global muscle and even on a personal and individual level, we don’t run away from any Goliath – we prefer to die on our feet than live on our knees. We fight for what we believe and we will walk home with a bloody eye but we won’t run away.
4. We Are Comfortable with Traditional Roles for Men and Women
In some ways, Australia is still like the United States of the 1950s – plenty of women still do all the cooking at home and not as many women compete directly with men – although they are still highly successful and educated.
Just like in America, many women are happy and proud to be mothers and housewives; the man is allowed to be a man – to protect and provide and yes, be rough around the edges. He is not told that he is supposed to be feminine or PC and a woman doesn’t feel stupid, inferior or threatened if she decides to ask a man for help.
Aussie men are physical; on the rugby, soccer fields and football fields we will fight -- literally. If you don't believe me watch some YouTube videos of Australian Rules Football – no padding, no helmets and we punch each other.
Yes, it’s very primitive behavior but it’s also a reflection of the extreme Aussie way – do or die – everything at 100%.
5. We Work to Live, We Don't Live to Work
It was the greatest shock and disappointment to me when I moved to the United States and saw American people working so hard and achieving so much but not taking enough holidays each year to enjoy their harvest.
The Aussie ethos is we “we work to live but we don’t live to work.” We enjoy playing and having fun, free of guilt, and we love our annual month-long holidays!
6. We Go on Walkabouts
A "walkabout" is a rite of passage for Australian Aboriginal male adolescents who venture into the wilderness or outback for months.
Likewise, most Aussies love to explore the world even if it's just with a backpack, for years at time, and often right after high school and before college.
7. Wear Sunscreen
When we go on a walkabout in Australia we wear sunscreen. Australians are very aware of the dangers of too much sun, and are much further along in this area than most Americans. They understand the threat from melanoma and how deadly skin cancer can be. School kids can't even go outside without wearing a hat.
8. Immigrants Assimilate to the Aussie Way of Life
My family migrated to Australia but like most Australian immigrants, we never tried to change local tradition or anything about the culture. While the majority of my family knew English when they came to Australia other immigrants, in my experience, take pains to learn English. They speak it outside the home but also speak their native language at home; children are allowed to grow up bilingual.
9. "Mateship" is Everything
“No worries mate!” We call everyone "mate" but we take mateship seriously; "friend" is not a word tossed around lightly. We would die for our mates.
And on television, we are not interested in ridiculing people, even bad singers on "Australian Idol!" Instead we want our TV participants to look like heroes.
10. We’re Still Learning
Aussies are not perfect. There’s still racism in our country (though not as bad as when I was growing up); Australia continues to export raw wool, livestock and iron ore instead of processing them ourselves, and the country is selling off precious agricultural land to foreign companies and governments.
We also suffer from what's known as the "Tall Poppy Syndrome." We like to cut down really successful, rich or wealthy people who stand out like a tall-poppy because we feel small and inadequate, and cutting them down helps us momentarily feel better about our own mediocrity. -- It's the opposite in America and that's a good thing.
Of course, Aussies have much to learn from Americans, too. Among these lessons they need to learn are these, they need to encourage scientific curiosity and innovation and also that it doesn’t matter from where you came, all that matters is what can you contribute.
That’s how both great nations were developed – by the contributions of their settlers and immigrants.
Happy Australia Day!
Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. is a therapist and human behavior/relationship expert. For more visit his website: PatrickWanis.com.