(asked by Megan from Brisbane)
As an Australian myself, I am curious as to how the French generally perceive my country and our culture. What do French people think of Australians and Australia? Do they just perceive us as another group of English-speaking barbarians or do they see us in another way? Also, how do the French regard our culture, with regard to our films, artists, literature, gastronomy (or lack thereof) and so forth? It does not seem that Australia is a popular tourist destination for many French people but I would like to know what your countrymen think of us (both the good and the bad, so be totally honest!)
Well, the French don’t really know Australia and Australians, so there aren’t that many preconceived ideas about the country and its people.
Generally speaking, I guess the French have a roughly positive opinion about Australia. The country is perceived as one of the last remaining “natural” countries, where nature laws still prevail in most places. Australians are perceived as well spirited people, a little rough around the edges, but generally nice and fun. I want to say that this stereotype was most likely created by Crocodile Dundee as it in –in my memory- the first mainstream incursion of Australian culture in France. On a more geopolitical level, they appreciate that Australians are not imperialistic like Americans, also Australians are perceived as leaders in environmentalism.
The French don’t really know anything about Australian culture (and I admit that I seriously lack knowledge in that field myself). The only two Australian films French people know are the aforementioned Crocodile Dundee and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (and maybe more recently Baz Luhrmann’s Australia). Famous Australian actors are Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman (yes, I know Russell Crowe is half New Zelander, but most French people don’t).
On the music side of things, the only famous Australian bands are Midnight Oil and AC/DC (very recent stuff as you can see). Oh, and Kylie Minogue! She’s Australian, right?
Actually, one of the main problems Australian artists have in France is that most people don’t even know they’re Australian. I mean, I think I know English-speaking culture quite well, and I often have serious doubts of the nationality of most famous Australians, so you can imagine French people that don’t know much about Anglo culture.
I don’t think any Australian writer is famous in France (I even wonder if I have ever read one).
Australian gastronomy? Is there such a thing? I mean, apart from kangaroos?
I guess this previous line is a typical French response to the words “Australian gastronomy.”
Australia is not a big French tourist destination simply because it’s very far and most likely one of the most expensive destination from France to go to (I’m talking air fare here, although I’m not really sure, but the only place in the world further from France than Australia is New Zealand). I have the feeling that most French people would love to go to Australia, although most of the ones that say this will never even try.
So all in all, French people don’t really much about Australia, but they have a roughly positive -yet blurred- image of the country and its people. I guess that sums it up.
Kangaroo…huh. I have been to Australia (totally worth the trip) and I don't remember that, but it's apparently quite common. Google says so - therefore, it must be true. Blame it on my culinary cluelessness. I did notice lots of lamb…way more than you'd find anywhere in the US.
I had kangaroo in France! So I assume it's not exactly uncommon to eat in Australia.
Not many people I know eat kangaroo, almost all I know have tried it but it certainly is not a “main”
we are a very diversified nation and as such you can get almost any food here I have friends that, Mr. comes from the Baltic area’s, Mrs. comes from Indonesia but they only ever eat Thai dishes? Australia is a very welcoming country, the people who have grown up here are usually the same!
Save your cash and come on down, some one will buy you a drink and a feed guaranteed !
I was by no means implying that kangaroo was a “typical” dish in Australia, just that it was not rare.
And yes, as soon as I can afford it (in time and money) Australia is definitely on the top 5 of my list of countries to visit.
Thanks for replying to the first of my questions. To answer a few points, well it seems most French mainly know of Australian popular culture, from those musicians and films. I guess that is understandable as only one "serious" film, My Brilliant Career, has ever been nominated at Cannes.
We haven't made much of a wider impact in classical music either though we did have a distinct body of Australian impressionist painters last century.
By the way, you may not know that Tina Arena is Australian. I understand she has had a lot of success in France in recent years.
As for cuisine, yes we don't really have a distinct one, sadly. As someone said in another comment, we are a young country and didn't have the peasant culture over centuries so we are self-consciously now drawing on a blend of European and Asian but it is not an "organic" process. Few native Australian foods are eaten, with an exception being Macadamia nuts.
Game meat like kangaroo is eaten but rarely. I have only had it about 6 or 7 times in my life at the very most. Lovely meat though.
The good news is that Australians are becoming more conscious about food and are gaining an interest in good eating. Unlike you, we are a long way off discerning the different parts of the chicken; gastronomy is not yet that integral to our culture. However, whilst cooking was once seen as a purely feminine activity, both genders now enjoy it, due to changing work patterns and the popularity of male television chefs over the past decade. In general, we are slowly becoming a more cultured society but there is now a wider generation gap than before. Young people are very Americanised, even after the dreadful events of the Bush era but older people and the better educated are turning towards the higher arts somewhat and away from a consumerist culture a little.
Anyway, the good news is that, since originally posting those questions, I have organised my first ever trip to Europe and I will see France as part of it. Going with a friend and will see Avignon and a little of Paris. Only going to be there briefly, though. Trips are just as expensive for Australians going to Europe as those going the other way.
By the way, a few more things. If you are interested in some famous Australian writers try
Marcus Clarke - For the Term of His Natural Life. Lots of insight into early days in this country but slightly melodramatic. Recognised classic, though.
Rolf Boldrewood - Robbery Under Arms. Famous colonial era novel.
Miles Franklin - My Brilliant Career (as per film mentioned in previous post) Early feminist novel.
Patrick White - more modern author
Richard Flanagan - Death of a River Guide. Very good modern author.
Tim Winton - Cloud Street. Another contemporary novel.
Most famous poets are Andrew "Banjo" Patterson and Henry Lawson. They are both from the colonial era.
Yes, Kylie Minogue is Australian, as are Midnight Oil and AC/DC. If you like either of those latter bands, try to track down albums or songs by Cold Chisel, a very famous rock band who didn't make it internationally. They capture the "spirit" of Australia in their music though and sang about Australian themes.
Thanks once more for sharing the French attitude towards our nation. Can't wait to read the answers to my other questions and really excited about going over there soon!
Thanks for the extra info Megan and sorry I took so long (your two other questions should be answered in the near future).
I've met a surprising number of people in France with a fascination/obsession with Australia - such as one who wanted to transfer there with his company, one who wanted to do his internship there, and one who wanted to move there after graduation with his friend who was going to move there to open a restaurant. Then there's also the Oz bar in Paris which gets its fair share of French patrons along with Australian and other Anglophone expats/students.
As far as culture, in my class about European nationality we were having a discussion about how culture forms the idea of a nation and the French students brought up Australia as an example of a country without any real culture. The one Australian in the class stayed silent but she was fuming about it afterward.
As a frenchy i don't much about australian culture, but i do know a great australian band: "The John Butler Trio".
I saw them in Paris in "La Boule noire". I found them even better (if it's possible) in live.
Just my two cents
Ps: by the way, INXS was a very famous australian band.
"the French students brought up Australia as an example of a country without any real culture"
sorry for that …when you don't know or understand a foreign culture it doesn't mean there isn't a decent one …
by the way 2 small things to add about Australian culture in France:
"Heartbreak high" in French "hartley coeur à vif" a nice tv series that many young French people have watched between 1995 and 1996; and …. the race riots of 2005, a sad event common to many countries, before that time i naively thought that australia was spared of that phenomenom….
Great blog !!
and sorry for my english
As an Australian living in France I think that Crocodile Dundee and kangaroos are the image most French people have, but I see that our local winemakers particularly are interested in what Australian winemakers are doing, and the more adventurous and lucky young French people go out to Australia to learn more about the industry and to improve their English. I had some business at our local college one day and discovered that the young French man I was talking to spoke English with an Australian accent.
I have met quite a few French people who have visited Australia and loved it. They love the wildness and the heat and find the people friendly and honest.
Where I live, people assume I am English because I am anglophone. Many people now know I am Australian, but only because I have told them or they read the blog. I think I'm seen as faintly exotic, but that I need to improve my French.
Based on my own experience, I would say Frenchman’s assessment is fairly accurate.
PS Forgot to mention that the didgeridoo is a popular instrument here, and other authors you might have mentioned are Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, David Malouf and Thomas Keneally.
Thanks everyone for your responses. Just a few comments:
Alexandre: John Butler Trio are indeed a popular band here. They seem to have inherited Midnight Oil's position as our foremost "political" band. Butler himself is sometimes called the "Million Dollar Hippie."
Anna: Really interesting comments, thanks. I think that Australia has been searching very self-consciously for a cultural identity and we often feel inferior that we do not have the huge cultural legacy of Europe in any of the arts. Unfortunately, such things just have to grow naturally and will take generations. Australians in general can be very embarrassed by what is seen as mis-perceptions of us being uncultured and badly educated though. In fact, when people think of our culture in light of a film like Crocodile Dundee we can be very embarrassed. Look up "Cultural Cringe" in Wikipedia for Australian embarrassment at own culture/lack of culture.
Furthermore, over the last decade arguments about culture have become very politicised. In the USA, there was something called the "Culture Wars" between polarised conservatives and liberals. We have had similar "History Wars" here. Again, I encourage you to look up the Wikipedia article for more information on this if you are interested.
Simon - interesting that a show like Heartbreak High is popular. I must confess I have never watched it but I didn't think it would be the type of thing we would export and would make much of an impact. I just assumed it was very specifically about Australian school life.
Your question about the race riots links to the comment above about politicisation of culture. The Howard Government (1996-2007) were hardline conservatives, who aligned themselves with Bush's US policies and shamefully involved our nation in the Iraq tragedy. As part of this, Howard encouraged a level of nationalism and glorification of military culture, etc, that were unprecedented in this country.
Youth and working classes latched onto this and became much more nationalistic, though nationalism was once anathema to Australians in general. Fears of immigrants taking jobs, etc, led to racism and flag-waving. There is a growing backlash against this now but it is taking time.
Whilst we were once a very egalitarian society, there is now a growing divide between classes, based largely on levels of education, hence this very nationalist surge amongst less-privileged youth.
Susan - thanks for your contributions, too. Yes, they are all top Australian authors. I was actually thinking I should have mentioned Carey and Malouf in particular after posting that comment.
Also, I only really mentioned "My Brilliant Career" as a notable Australian film (because it achieved some success at Cannes.)
Australian film's heyday was the late 1970s. Unfortunately, we don't really have a distinct style or movement here, like say the Nouvelle Vague, which is identifiably French but here are some other "great" Australian films:
Picnic at Hanging Rock - largely recognised as our best. Directed by Peter Weir. About schoolgirls who mysteriously disappear in 1900. Can be read in many different ways such as disappearance of Victorian values, sexual awakening, clash of white culture and landscape to which it has been artificially transported, etc.
Walkabout - actually an English film made by Nicholas Roeg. Surreal film exploring clash of white culture and hostile Australian environment.
Proof - interesting film that shows modern Australian urban life in the 1990s. Made Russel Crowe and Hugo Weaving famous.
Lantana - regarded as last great Australian film before industry went into decline again. Crime drama.
Ten Canoes - about Aboriginal mythology. First film dealing with Aboriginal issues with no white people in cast.
Thanks again to everyone who has responded.
This article (and the associated reader comments) published the other day may interest Frenchman and his audience:
As you can see, a lot of the comments are political, divided between those who think that subsidising a film industry is a waste of time and that we should cater for more populist tastes and those who think that we should make our own art films to resist US cultural hegemony.
For whatever its worth, my own thoughts are as follows: we definitely need an Australian film industry but most of what has been produced in the last 15 or so years has been dire. As Megan notes above, we have had a few gems in that time, like Lantana and the very interesting, though maybe not great Ten Canoes.
Despite all the cries from anti-intellectuals in the article’s comments about recent Aussie films being too political correct and “arty”, the problems, to me, lie at the more fundamental technical level. Recent films are simply not very well made, with things like basic cinematography and lighting being of a very low standard. Since Australians have, in recent years, won many Academy Awards for technical achievements, I suspect all of the talented film makers are heading to Hollywood leaving the younger ones without anyone to guide them.
The same may well be true of the actors as well. Whilst the likes of Judy Davis, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Hugh Jackman have found international fame, as they are overseas (and too expensive to hire for local productions), we are left with hacks like Gary Sweet and Jacqueline McKenzie (who are basically hack actors barely of soap opera standard) trying to carry feature films. Culprits with both bad acting and very poor technical standards include films like Alexandra’s Project and Human Touch.
I also think the other criticism, that Australian films are relentlessly bleak and depressing is accurate. There seems to be some automatic assumption amongst Australian film makers that, for a film to be serious and have artistic merit, it must focus entirely on dark themes. (I guess it is the same assumption that English rock stars make when they feel that, to be taken seriously, they must compose ponderous, bleak songs, leading to the likes of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, Radiohead, etc, being seen as the top art-rock bands.)
This seems to me to be the opposite of the very light and even farcical touch the French inject into many films, even when dealing with serious subjects.
I think the best way forward for Australian film would be something like the approach used by the Nouvelle Vague directors - go out onto the streets with a cameraman, a car and a few actors and do something simple but well-executed that can be built upon with later efforts. Use the money saved from working within these tight parameters to invest in film distribution and marketing.
I don’t advocate totally copying the Nouvelle Vague - Australia needs to find its own cinematic voice/identity but I can foresee something arising organically from such a back to basics approach instead of this self-conscious attempt to make serious, introspective films that is really failing at the moment, especially when the budgets and technical skills are so lacking.
Anyway, hope Frenchman and others found the above article and its comments, in particular, to be of interest. Would such a debate about film making even arise in France? Are there, amongst the French, people who would decry art films and demand the industry be much more populist, a la Luc Bresson? Alternatively, does it show Australia still to be very anti-intellectual and immature, with a lot of growing up to do?
Will appreciate your thoughts on this matter, Frenchman.
Happy New Year, Frenchman. Don’t forget to have a look at article/reader comments mentioned in my post above when you have some spare time - really interested to hear your response!
I totally forgot another great australian artist: Xavier Rudd
He plays guitare and didgeridoo.
He is certainly less popular than John Butler but people who know him usually appreciate his music.
By the way, as Susan said, didgeridoo is a very popular instrument here. Well, at least when i was in high school some years ago…
Alexandre, I have never heard of Xavier Rudd. Definitely not widely known here in Australia.
I can't add anything to the discussion on Australians, but I can say as a Kiwi I get
1) People thinking I'm Dutch or Irish - gotta enunciate néo-zélandaise better! (Sounds like hollandaise/irlandaise coming out of my mouth, apparently). I mean, that's if they actually ask my nationality and don't just guess that I'm English or American…
2) Once we've established that I'm from NZ: Oh là là, c'est loin!
3) Les All Blacks.
4) Sometimes the Lord of the Rings.
5) At this precise moment in time, the occasional comment on our soccer team (officially better than Italy! Woo!)
And that's it!
Gwan - thanks for comments. Yes, huge congratulations to the NZ soccer team for a great effort against all the odds!
Megan - as an Australian who has lived in France and is moving back there soon I really enjoyed your question and Frenchman’s response. I've definitely encountered a lot of enthusiasm toward Australians during my time in France and my French boyfriend hates the fact I was born in England haha.
That's funny re: Xavier Rudd. Everyone I know has heard of him! Maybe he's more popular in WA.
Hey Megan! I'm in Melbourne. I'd really like to make contact. I've enjoyed your question and answers here. I'm looking for writers and commentators for my new site MyFrenchLife.org interested in a chat? a bientot Judy
Thanks for your kind words. I have just been looking at your site. Looks really great! I am about to go overseas to France for the first time next week but I may be able to contribute something based on my experiences when I return.
In South of France at least a lot of people know Australia through rugby union ! And I must add people like me know and want to visit Australia for the Abos .
This site is fascinating. i am an Australian considering the move to France, and find what has managed to break out of Australia and enter France fascinating.
Thomas Kenelly wrote the book that became the film Schindler’s list.
Also as a part of the South Australian film industry, we recognize a deep debt to France and the Cannes festival for helping create the recognition of film from Australia that we currently have. The south Australian Film corporation was the first state founded film body in the country (and turns forty this year) and has long been associated with the Canne festival (and produced most of the films on Megans list) and was made possible but a lot of french co-production and financial investment.not have
PS phildange to avoid possible offense the etrm “abos” is now considered a derogatory or racist term, usually more polite to reefer to as them as indigenous, aboroginees was a hangover from the British foundation of the country and is an inarticulate generalization for the 800 some different groups (geographical and lingustic) that they constitute. They are often also referred to as traditional owners or traditional guardians thanks to the special relationship with the land that is common to most all groups, and the current recognition of the fact that they were treated very badly by Australia’s’ forefathers.
I’m french and I love Australia, above all aussie accent (it’s sounds so nice *-*) I’d love to live there.
French people imagine the landscape is like outback, they think Sydney is the capital city, that there are kangaroos and koalas everywhere, that its always sunny and hot..
Blue Montains, Sydney, kangaroos, koala, sun, beach, sea, ocean, surf, barbecue, vegemite, outback, crocodile, sharks, australian football… all these worlds evoke “Australia”
They think australian people are very cool, nice and generous.
The last stage of Pekin Express 2012 (french TV Show) was in Australia, so I think they know a bit more how is it.
That is all.
that was an interesting read. Being such a francophile my ears have detected on numerous occasions people speaking in French (only around Sydney/Melbourne in the CBD). Most of them seem to be young tourists but I’ve seen a few families as well. I even once got to speak to an old french couple, which was rather exciting for me. (I’m such a hopeless francophile )
Meghan, cheers for all the interaction. It has made for some interesting reading. In terms of Australian authors my favourite is Belinda Alexandra. I tried reading Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’ but it was too boring for me.
It’s such a shame that Australian music isn’t more popular, even in Australia. Most of the top 20 charts are filled with Lady Gaga, Rihanna and every other cardboard cut out American artist that will be forgotten in a few years. All of the best music is independent. I saw Something For Kate last Friday and The Beautiful Girls last month and both were so great, really good vibes. Some of my other favourites include Love Outside Andromeda, Sia and Machine Gun Fellatio. After the 1990s everything kind of went to shit. All the good bands went independent and all the mainstream is the same American produced pop. I’ve heard of Xavier Rudd, he always gets lots of airplay on triple j (radio station, mostly plays independent music).
Our film industry has suffered the same fate as our music industry. Australian films never get advertised and never last that long in cinemas. Although when Animal Kingdom came out a few years ago that seemed to break the trend. It even got an Oscar nomination. Some other good ones are Somersault, an early Sam Worthington, Two Hands, an early Heath Ledger, Little Fish, Cate Blanchett and the Jammed which may be hard to find but is my favourite.
It’s interesting what you mentioned about our politics in relation to the Cronulla riots. Indeed the Howard government did fuel nationalist sentiment. It’s still there thanks to talkback radio. The current opposition party is headed by Howard’s protege Tony Abbott. I’ve resolved that if he gets voted in then I’m moving to New Zealand. The man is so backward I’d be too ashamed to stick around. Yay for having our first female prime minister Julia Gillard. Her speech in Parliament against Tony Abbott and his sexism got millions of hits on youtube this week. Highly recommend watching it.
Thanks for your comment.
I was briefly introduced to Australian indie music a few years ago, and I really liked what I heard. I should give it another shot, with the names you mention (I know a couple but most are unknown to me). Thanks for the tip.