The first So Your Character is From Another Country post is finally here! Whoo hoo! I've been hard at work for the past two months getting these together, but it is well worth it. The content here is pure gold. This is a new monthly or bimonthly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. Though these posts are going to be longer than my typical ones, this is a wealth of information. You don't want to miss it!
Let's welcome Cait, Imogen, and Ely to the stage!
Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.
My name is Cait and I’m the evil mastermind behind Paper Fury and a rabid devourer of YA books. I live in Australia on the East coast (about 80% of Aussies live near the coast!) with my family and my highly opinionated puppy. I work from home as a writer and blogger and etsy store owner. Books are my everything. Well…books and cake.
Imogen is a writer, musician, and full time consumer of tea and chocolate. She lives in a little village hidden in the bush somewhere in New South Wales, Australia, with three cats, a dog, and a. incredibly patient family. When she’s not writing or making music, she enjoys reading, running, and practicing her evil laugh.
Hi! I’m Ely from Tea & Titles. I’m from an outer suburb of Melbourne, which is the capital city of the state of Victoria. I do a lot of writing and reading, and travelling—when this is live I’ll be flying back to Melbourne from London where I’ve been for the past 9 months. I’m a full-time student. You can find me on Twitter here.
What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Cait: One of our biggest cultural celebration is Australia Day on the 26th of January, where we eat lamingtons and pavlova and complain companionably about the summer heat.
Imogen: Well, there are our unique, crazy animals. We have some pretty strange wildlife here, such as kangaroos, wombats, emus, and the like. While they’re unique though, many of them are considered pests, and most of them you don’t want to meet in the dark in your car. A wombat can take out a truck if you run it over.
Some of our landmarks, include the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Sydney Opera House, which are probably the two most famous, as well as the Three Sisters rock formation in the Blue Mountains region. This one has a pretty interesting cultural story behind it as well. Then there’s Ayers Rock/Uluru and The Great Barrier Reef, to name a few landmarks.
Ely: I think we’re a very unique country. Flinders St. Station in Melbourne is quite popular with tourists, as is Federation Square (known locally as Fed Square). We celebrate Australia Day on January 26th, which was the date the first fleet from Britain arrived in 1788. We also have Anzac Day on April 25th, which is our national day of remembrance (and New Zealand’s too). In Victoria specifically, we have Cup weekend—a public holiday in the first weekend of November when the Melbourne Cup, a huge horse race is on.
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Cait: Australia is pretty huge, so we have just about a zillion (very accurate statistic there) types of climates and environments. In the middle of Australia, the huge deserts and sparse population is pretty well known. But up north we have rainforests and tropics. Down south, hellooooo to the snow and mountains. I’ve lived all over Queensland and in the tropics and at the beach, and I have to admit – the beach wins every time.
Imogen: Australia has a reputation for being very hot and dry, and for the most part that’s fairly true. We’re often in drought, and the threat of bushfires in the summer is pretty much a universal concern here. But we do have a lot of different climates, being quite a large country in area. In the mountains, we get snow (one place I know of almost had snow at Christmas one year!). I live in a very temperate climate, while the top of the country is all tropical, and we even get rainforests. Also we’re known for having absolutely gorgeous beaches.
Ely: We get a little bit of everything in Australia. Most foreigners just imagine deserts and beaches, but we also have rainforests and snowy mountains, vineyards, cities, suburbs, and tiny little country towns. It depends what state you’re in as to what you’ll see. I’m very biased towards Victoria—I love the beach front towns, specifically a place called Queenscliff where I spent all of my childhood summers. I also really like the little arcades we have in Melbourne.
|Gondwana Rainforest (Image not mine)|
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Cait: We basically eat everything you’d find in any other Western country (like Britain or the USA), and basically…we eat just about everything. Australia is extremely multicultural. If we see a dish we like? WE EAT IT. And then we adopt it for our own. You’ll see the average Aussie family eating lasagna, tacos, meatloaf, pizza, sushi, curries, fish and chips, pasta, and steaks.
Iconic Australian Foods:
- · Vegemite. Please don’t eat it by the spoonful…just…don’t.
- · Pavlova: This is a cream and meringue dessert.
- · ANZAC biscuits: Which are “cookies” made on oats and coconut.
- · Lamingtons: Sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut
- · Weet-bix: I have no idea how to even describe this. JUST GOOGLE. It’s breakfast.
- · Tim Tams: Chocolate covered biscuits that are divine.
Imogen: Our culture is really made up of immigrants, from the time of settlement, so eating multicultural food is pretty normal here. Typical Australian dishes include the pavlova, which is like a huge meringue which you cover in whipped cream and fresh fruit, like berries or passionfruit. I will add a word about Vegemite here. To eat Vegemite correctly, you spread a very thin layer on top of hot buttered toast. Otherwise the flavor is very strong and nasty.
Ely: We have a lot of diversity in our cuisine in Melbourne—Mexican, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian etc. We like to borrow a bit of something from everywhere. As for some Aussie classics—vegemite (of course), tim-tams, fairy bread, prawns, any type of seafood really.
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Cait: I promise we do speak English but…we have a bucket load of slang. Aussies like to shorten words. You don’t say “barbeque” if you can say “barbie.” We do this with names too. Anyone named “Madeline” will get shortened to “Mad”. Watch this video and be in awe. We also are severely sarcastic. People with red hair can be nicknamed “Blue”, tall people are called “Shortie”…etc. I told you: SARCASM.
You can check out this article on slang (and another one here!) but don’t go overboard while writing. The average Australian doesn’t heap on the slang. I, for instance, as a proud Australian since forever, barely use slang.
And there are SO many words Australians use instead of what other countries might say.
Here’s a youtube video comparing Australian versus American words.
Here’s a list of everyday ones:
- · Arvo = afternoon
- · Barbie = barbeque
- · Cuppa = cup of tea
- · Doona = quilt/blanket
- · Petrol = gas
- · Maccas = MacDonalds
- · Lounge Room = Living Room
- · Mozzies = mosquitos
- · Pram = stroller
- · No worries = it’s okay, no problem
- · Fair suck of the sav = exclamation of frustration, wonder,
- · Chockas = something is full
If you’re a writer attempting Australian slang and you’ve never been to Australia…BE CAREFUL. My incredibly wise advice would be to use it sparsely or the Aussies will sniff you out and laugh. #truth
Imogen: One of the big things to remember about Australia vocabulary is that a lot of what you’ll hear being called ‘Australian’ is not actually how we speak. All those movies with Australians calling people ‘galahs’ and saying ‘strewth’ is not how we speak. The best way to write an Australian is to write ‘normal’ dialogue. Then, to make sure it’s correct, check that you’re using the Australian words for things.
A lot of our general vocabulary is a mix between American and English. Take chips/fries for an example. We call fries ‘chips’ like the English do, but we also call crisps ‘chips.’ Everything’s just chips. Also, here we call pickup trucks ‘utes’, short for ‘utility vehicle.’ ‘Tradies’, or tradesmen also have a tendency to call people ‘mate’, but that is not used as commonly as you’d think. Another Australian quirk is to shorten words. ‘Firie’ for fireman, ‘sickie’ for sick day, etc.
Ely: Oh god, Australia is the kingdom of slang words. Australia is Aus/Oz. If you’re (or something is) Australian you’re an Aussie. Chips are both potato chips and hot chips. Peppers are capsicum. Soda/pop (whatever) is soft drink or fizzy drink. We will never say the words ‘I’ll put a shrimp on the barbie’—they’re PRAWNS. We don’t all speak like Australians in the movies. Only really old, creepy men call women “shelias.” That’s just a few basics.
Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Cait: Most adults have jobs, which they’ll get to by driving a car or taking a train/bus. Taxis aren’t used unless you’re rich. Kids and teens go to school from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Homeschoolers do whatever the heck they want, which is basically the truth all over the world, amirite? #HomeschoolerAndProud
Imogen: I find it difficult describing a regular day in Australia, because my regular day is very different to most other peoples’. So instead I thought I’d mention a few features of our days that might be different for people in different countries. Breakfast is a small meal here, usually something like cereal, rather than a cooked meal. Our main meal is most often the last meal of the day. But in between breakfast and lunch, we have morning tea at around 10-10:30am, which is a snack consisting of a cup of tea or more often coffee, and a sweet treat.
Between lunch and dinner, we have afternoon tea around 3:00pm, which is basically the same as morning tea, only in the afternoon. Also, when setting a story in part of Australia, you may want to research shopping customs if you’re using a certain city as your setting. While most places have regular shopping hours, there are still places where the shops shut early on the weekends, often midway through the afternoon.
Ely: A lot of a ‘regular day’ in Australia depends on the question as to whether it’s actually safe to go outside or not. In the summer, most days are about 30 or so degrees in Melbourne. In the winter it could be 16/17 etc. University can run anytime, and you’re not required to go in every day. The usual working hours are about 9-5. During the weekend, AFL matches are usually on. This is our version of football, and in Melbourne especially, it is practically considered a religion. In summer, of course, the beaches are packed. Restaurants, cafes, and shopping centers are usually packed all throughout the year.
How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Cait: Woah, this is a huge question and someone could write a thousand page novel on it! There are tons of differences, but having never been to America myself…I’ll just do my best. Australians have strict gun laws. We have a Prime Minster, but we still recognize the Queen of England as our…erm, queen (I’m eloquent). The government gives you loans to go to university (college), so education is possible for anyone provided they get the grades.
We have lots of natural disasters. Australia is either burning or flooding at some time of the year. SOMETIMES BOTH AT ONCE. Most of the North end of Australia experiences the “Wet Season” during the December/January time. Melbourne has a running joke that you can experience all four seasons in one day. Wear layers, dudes.
Imogen: Humour is really a really important part of being an Australian. We’ll make jokes about most things, and basically we’ll make fun everyone and everything, including ourselves. Sarcasm and teasing are really common forms of humour here. Another thing is that it’s very common to travel quite long distances to go a place.
As an example: I used to travel an hour and a half round trip (45 minutes one way) to go to a 45 minute music lesson, and that was pretty normal. Some of our everyday customs such as doing the laundry are different as well. Here in Australia, we usually hang all our clothes out to dry on a washing line in the back garden, rather than using a clothes dryer inside, which I hear is pretty common in parts of America.
Ely: We’re a pretty multi-cultural country, though it really depends where you are. For example, the cities usually have a Chinatown sort of thing while the further into the country you get the more typically Australian it gets. Up north in Darwin, for example, is where you’d find caves with Aboriginals drawings and carvings etc.
What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you?
- · Most people don’t greet each other with “g’day mate”! I’ve NEVER said that in my life.
- · Think of the typical “Australian accent”…it’s not that common. Go watch The Avengers and listen to Thor who is played by an Australian. If you can’t hear a thick accent that’s because – most of us don’t have a thick accent!
- · When people say “everything in Australia is out to kill you!” Not … really. If you live in the suburbs or city, you barely ever see snakes or spiders. You’ll never see a dingo or emu outside of a zoo (unless you go west). Not everyone has koalas in their backyard (although I do!).
- · We don’t typically wrestle crocodiles. We don’t like to die.
- · Not all Aussies love or live near the beach.
- · We’re not all idiots. I typically see Australian characters in novels presented as joking, stupid people and that’s not the case. You have EVERY type of person in Australia, same as in any other country.
Imogen: One stereotype that I’d love people to get past is this idea of Australia being a land purely of hot and dry. While that’s true for some parts, it’s actually quite a large country, despite the amount of people living here, and I think it would be great if Australia was recognized for being a bit more a diverse country than it’s currently stereotyped as.
I’d also like to see the stereotypical Australia, beer in hand, with his duty ute, thongs, and habit calling everyone ‘mate’, using obscure slang, disappear. You’re looking at a very small part of the population with that stereotype. Most of the rest of us are not like that. Australians are very varied, especially because we have a lot of immigrants. Those are probably the two stereotypes that bother me the most.
Ely: There are two ways people usually imagine Australians. Either we’re all surfers and the guys all resemble the Hemsworth brothers (unfortunately untrue), or it’s the outback Crocodile Dundee ‘crikey mate’ kind of thing. While these people do exist, they’re a very, very small percentage.
What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
- · Half Wild by Sally Green – features an Australian secondary character who lives on clichés and stereotypes and is just offensive.
- · Nim’s Island – which is a hilarious movie about a writer and I enjoyed it a lot…but the Australians were portrayed as fat, dumb holidayers.
- · And the fact that Australia is so RARELY represented in media outside of Australia is really sad and should be fixed! We are a complex nation, but isn’t every country?!
Imogen: I feel that movies and TV most often get Australians wrong. They make the mistake of writing the Australian character’s dialogue as a slang-filled Strine fest that parodies the way Australians might have spoken way in the past. Couple that with a hugely exaggerated Australian accent, an obsession with sausages and beer, and you’ve got yourself one perfect caricature of an Australian, rather than a balanced representation.
What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
- · Young Einstein – Seriously, go watch this movie. It’s a parody so don’t take it seriously, but it definitely captures the Australian sense of humour.
- · Australia – It’s a pretty decent representation of Australia in WWII, and the scenery is spot on fantastic!
- · Wizards of Aus – I haven’t yet seen this so I can’t 100% vouch for it, but from the trailer it looks like it’s stuffed with our humour and style!
- · Does My Head Look Big In This – This is a great look at life as a Muslim in Australia
- · You’re The Kind of Girl I Write Songs About – is an accurate representation of teens finishing high school.
- · Every Breath – is also a Sherlock retelling, but totally incorporates Australian mannerisms and slang and humour flawlessly.
- · The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl – another one about teens finishing high school, also life in a small town.
- · Nona & Me – contrasts life of an Aborigine and a white girl living in the Northern Territory
- · And check out my Goodreads list of other Aussie books here!
Just remember…if you want to write an Australian character, like any other character, DO RESEARCH! Go read books and watch movies set in our country. Immerse yourself. And get an Aussie to read your writing. But don’t be afraid to have a whack at it.
Imogen: I’ve found some of the best portrayals of Australia and Australians come from books. Some of these books include the works of David Metzenthen, especially Jarvis 24, which portray life in the suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, pretty accurately (and are also really good books all round), and Finding Freia Lockhart by Aimee Said, which is a great portrayal of Australia and life as an Australian teen.
Some of my favourites:
- Tigerfish by David Metzenthen (or really most books by him)
- Finding Freia Lockhart by Aimee Said (and its sequel)
- The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn (The Protected is pretty good too.)
Ely: The Tomorrow series by John Marsden, which is about Australia being invaded but the setting is amazing and just really reflects on our landscape.
Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Ely: Rachel Watts from the Every series, Ellie Linton from the Tomorrow series, and I can’t think of a third.
Me: Thank you so much, Cait, Imogen, and Ely for taking the time to do this! I didn't know a lot of this stuff and it's so fascinating! Come back next month for So Your Character is From Canada!
Are you interested in participating in this project? Slots for Australia, Canada, and England have been filled, but if you are from any other country, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have any Australian characters? Did this inspire you to write an Australian character or set a book in Australia? Do you have any questions for Cait, Imogen, or Ely? Be sure to thank these ladies!
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