The 8 Conversations Every Australian Has In A Hostel
"Oh, you haven't heard of Drop Bears?"
Australians. We like to travel. We do it a lot. Our adventurous spirit and thirst for wanderlust prompted 31 out of every 100 of to us hit up foreign skies in 2012 (at 8.2 million heads, that’s fairly impressive).
While many of us opt for the comforts of quality accommodation when abroad, those of us travelling on a shoestring tend to find refuge in more ‘perfunctory’ surrounds. Backpacker hostels provide the base-level budget travel experience, where Maslow’s primary biological needs reign supreme. In every hostel in every nook of the planet, you’ll find at least one Australian lurking about, and with that, a suite of conversational staples as common as we are that tend to delight, terrify and sometimes repel our international counterparts. Here are a few of the most common.
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One of the great hoaxes of contemporary Australian folklore, drop bears remain a sure-fire way to shock fellow hosteliers while reinforcing their already well-honed wariness of ever traveling to our country due to ‘things that can kill you’. On ‘mythic par’ with the bunyip, jackalope, hoopsnake, gunni and snipe, the drop bear is an effective hostelling chat point, aided by the fact that the Australian Museum lists them in faux seriousness online as “large, arboreal, predatory marsupial(s) related to the koala, of leopard size … with as powerful forearms for climbing and attacking prey” (don’t forget the tendency to attack anyone with a non-Australian accent).
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As well as a rose in every cheek, Vegemite puts a good few quips into every Australian tourist’s conversational artillery. In the great spectrum of nationality archetypes, ours remains synonymous with a dark-tinted yeast extract, and the world just loves to remind us about it. It’s always an experience to find yourself explaining with care how to spread it evenly and lightly on toast, and not overdo it.
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Most commonly indulged in when passing through places where the weather dips well beyond freezing point, extreme temperature disparity provides another wholesome chinwag between international compatriots. “I would die in that,” the common response from more temperate climate dwellers, after an obligatory rundown on the intensity of the Australian summer and its roasting 45+ degree afternoons.
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The old tyranny chestnut. “Yeah, nah…it’s just such a long way away, Australia. That’s why we stay around for months at a time.” Indeed, the Great Southern Land is a fair hike from many parts of the world, and air miles travelled is always a sound, ever dependable foundational point.
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Small things that can kill you
You don’t have set foot in a hostel to find yourself racking up more than your fair share of diatribes pertaining to the ‘little things’ in our country that can end your life when you least expect it. To inexperienced foreigners, the smaller something is, the more menacing: redback spiders under the toilet seat always send eyebrows skyward, if not white tails in the bed sheets, snakes in the tent, or funnel webs in the shoe – and that’s just on land. Things tend to get quite hectic when you delve into the shoreline. Regale your menaced audience with anecdotes of blue bottles, box jellyfish and blue ringed octopi. For a final encore, throw in a few mentions of the Cassowary, the Bird Eating Tarantula and the Common Death Adder, and voila! Consider your ambassadorial duties complete.
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Australian travel culture (aka “yes, we are everywhere”)
Often, the biggest talking point when it comes to Australians is exactly the fact we do travel so much. “Australians! You guys are everywhere,” is the common quip from characters of all nooks of the world, not limited to, but particularly the backpacker circuit.
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“What is your second language?” queries the backpacker from Poland, the tourist from France, the student from Morocco. “Uh…?” Not to say all of Australia is a linguistic laggard, but comparative to more densely populous and culturally diverse regions of the earth, polyglots, and even duel-linguos, are still a minority breed in Australia. Tyranny of distance notwithstanding, we’ve got our work ahead of us in this department. And don’t even get us started on trying to explain Australian slang to others. Referencing “servos”, “sunnies” and “cossies” will leave you on the receiving end of some puzzling looks.
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Not specific to Australians, but certainly correlated – and endemic to all hostels, domestic and worldwide. Some may find themselves on either side of the fence on this one, but as prolific as Australians are in hostels, so too is the four-chord backpacker denominator and cross-cultural standard, Wonderwall by Oasis. Performed with profusion by any of the countless in-house strummers you find yourself sharing quarters with at any given time on the road, Wonderwall is the cross-nationality sonic equivalent of any of the above verbal conversations. Co-running the reception desk of a busy inner Melbourne hostel years back, my colleagues and I agreed on – and enforced fiercely – a $1.50 AUD fine with any and every breakout of “Today is gunna be the day.” The kitty spilled over that summer. A fair and equitable, if not underpriced, rule.