‘WHERE ARE YOU FROM MY FRIEND?’
Travelling in Egypt, this is one question from the locals you hear all the time. Egyptians mostly assume I am American, German or French, as presumably the majority of tourists are. (Whilst staying in an apartment in Cairo, the circa-12 year old daughter of the manager came up to me in the lobby one morning, and with a serious expression and the utmost courtesy said ‘Bonjour’). When I answer that I am from Australia, most replies begin with ‘Australia number one…’ and then ‘Melbourne? Sydney?’ Considering about 40% of Aussies live in these two cities, it’s a fair question.
I was taken aback when one bloke in Sharm El Sheikh listed off all the State capitals and then said ‘Wagga Wagga’. For the many thousands (if not millions) of international readers of this blog, Wagga Wagga (often abbreviated to simply ‘Wagga’) is a regional town in New South Wales about half way between Melbourne and Sydney. I said ‘Mate how on earth do you know Wagga Wagga?’ Turns out he had an Australian girlfriend for a while.
After asking if I am from Sydney or Melbourne, the next most frequent comment is ‘kangaroo’, sometimes accompanied by some interesting interpretations of kangaroo postures and movements. Then comes the occasional ‘g’day mate’, all of which is fun.
I was, however, mortified when one taxi driver said ‘From Australia? Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi, oi, oi!’ I froze. I cringed. My head dropped in shame. Whoever started this mindless, moronic, embarrassing chant has done a massive disservice to Australia and they should be stripped of their citizenship and sent to an uninhabited island somewhere in Bass Strait where they can never humiliate us as a nation ever again.
The most interesting, and unexpected, reply to me stating that I was from Australia was ‘Oh Australia? Captain Cook’. Now although Cook is significant figure in modern Australian history, I was staggered that anyone in Egypt had ever heard of him. That is not to say that I believe Egyptian people don’t know about world history, but I imagine Australian history is not big on the school curriculum.
I expect more Australians, fascinated as many of us are with Egypt, would be able to name an Egyptian historical figure (Tutankhamun or Cleopatra, for instance), than an Egyptian person is likely to come up with Captain Cook. In hindsight I should have asked the bloke how he knew of Cook, but I think I was too taken aback at the time. Presumably a tourist mentioned him, although it’s a little hard to imagine the context of the conversation. Unless of course the tourist was John Howard.
Considering that Australians have not been permitted to travel overseas for about a year, there are not many of us about. I met two South Australians in Tunisia who had been travelling by private yacht for years, and another bloke in Aswan who had also been on the move since before Corona struck. That’s been it in 15 months. Considering the distinct lack of opportunities, you certainly can’t blame the Egyptians for busting out the kangaroo moves when the rare chance arises.
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