About a week after arriving the in Melbourne for a survey trip in 2004 Missionaries handed me a book about Australia’s culture and strongly suggested that I read it. Partway through chapter two I read something that absolutely blew my mind and seriously doubted it was true, but after five years on the field I can guarantee you it is. The idea is that Australians don’t give respect to a person based upon their title or popularity, instead they dig deeper to find the person’s character, and make a decision based upon that. To put it simply “respect isn’t given, it’s earned.”
This emphasis on a person’s character instead of their title or reputation leads Australians to develop something they refer to as “having a go” at someone. Basically this means if an Aussie likes an individual they will give that person a hard time by making jokes about them, laughing at their mistakes, bringing up an incredibly controversial subject such as politics, or asking a very personal question. It’s easy to think they hate you in these situations but actually they are trying to see how you respond to stress. If you become angry then they take it to mean you are a person who can’t handle a little pressure, but if you play along and keep your cool then they will give their respect.
When I think about having a go at somebody my mind immediately thinks about the infamous girl truck story. In 2007 I went on a ministry trip to New South Wales in the northern tip of Australia and one of the activities was going on a kangaroo hunt. There were two trucks going on the hunt that night, one in the front with the hunters and the second with those who weren’t hunting. Since most of the young men in our group had grown up in the country and killed roo’s all their lives I decided to spend my time in the second truck and allow them to have more time hunting.
When telling that story to people at my Church a few weeks later they thought the idea of me sitting in the girl truck (most of the girls didn’t hunt) while all the other guys were shooting was absolutely hilarious. In three years since the “girl truck incident” they have taken great pride in bringing up the story and have no problem embellishing it greatly (don’t remember wearing a dress or cowering in the fetal position). At first this bothered me since staying in the girls truck wasn’t exactly my proudest moment in life, probably would have at least shot once if I got to do it again, even if I did only kill a leaf. But then I realized this was a moment when they were testing my character and response to humiliation.
Today I love it when my Aussie friends have a go at me because it shows their respect is based upon what kind of person I am not my position or title. And my friends have made it clear if they give a person a hard time it means they like you (evidently they REALLY like me in Melbourne). So to all my American friends coming to Melbourne make sure to pack your camera, laptop, and full size American flag (just kidding), but don’t forget to pack your sense of humor as well. Trust me, you will need it.