human behavior

When black Americans meet white Australians

Something interesting happens when black Americans meet white Australians.

I was sitting on the ferry today having a quick chat on my iPhone. After I hung up (funny that expression since we no longer literally “hang up” phones), a white Australian man sitting next to me asked “Where are you from?”

“Pennsylvania, originally,” I replied.

And so began his tale.

[I paraphrase in a really bad Australian impression.]

You know I was in Philadelphia 25 years ago. I was on the train to the University of Pennsylvania, to the veterinary school, and I remember I was told to get off at a certain stop. They said don’t get off at any other stop! Well I got off at the wrong stop a bit of a distance from the University. Then a uh… a uh… a bloke approached me [translation: black guy] and asked me “Where are you going? And then suddenly there were 15 uh… blokes surrounding me asking me the same thing.

So I said, ‘G’day fellas, how ya goin’?’ They paused for a minute and then asked ‘Where you from?’ I told’em ‘Australia’ and showed them a kangaroo pin I happened to have pinned on my lapel. One of the guys said ‘That’s cool.’ I told him he could have the pin if he wanted it and said ‘Why don’t I buy you blokes a beer?’ Well, we all went for beers and had a good chat.

After the drinks, they asked me again, ‘Where you headed?’ I told them the University and they said ‘You don’t wanna walk these streets alone man. It’s dangerous.’ So they walked me all the way to the University.

What’s so interesting about this story, is that just two weeks ago, another white Australian man told me almost the exact same story about his trip to the US 20-some years ago, only it was an inner-city neighborhood in the Midwest rather than the East Coast, and the story began with ‘Two white guys walk into a bar…’  The white guys had tried to leave and were stopped by a group of …uh… blokes, and when the black guys heard their accents, they instantly became warm, smiled and bought the white guys beers.

Both of these stories remind me of a black veteran I happened to meet in the US. When he heard I was living in Australia, he told me about a time when he was overseas in the military, and was sitting on a park bench in Perth (Western Australia), feeling despondent and lonely. A bunch of white Australian guys walked up to him and asked him how he was going. When they saw he wasn’t going so well, they said ‘Come on mate, let’s go get a beer.’ That made him smile. Decades later, that black man never forgot those white guys.

I suppose you could extract and analyze all sorts of social phenomena from these stories. Or, if you’re Australian, you could extract a decades-old safety tip: make your nationality known at every opportunity when in the US. But I won’t reinforce the stereotype that being white is dangerous in black neighborhoods. We’re good people.  I suppose you could also extract from these stories that Aussies are damn good people too.

And, as Obama and one satirical article about the Nobel Peace Prize illustrated, you could also extract something about the power of beer.

Obama_beer

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One Response

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  1. Condor said, on October 15, 2009 at 6:48 am

    As a black woman visiting Australia I found Australians to be very charming and warm.

    Being from the U.S. it was engrained in me to never speak to anyone I didn’t know; a habit I took along to Sydney. But after a few ferry rides, sightseeing tours and meeting Aussie men and women quick to ask ‘how I was going,’ I realized that Sydney was not Kansas. It‘s more like OZ.

    You have my vote that Aussies are good people. Now if I can just die my eyes to match my gown.


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