The Fine Print in Your Passport

If you look closely in your passport, you’ll discover the fine print. The tiny declaration that somehow lifts from the page and lands firmly in the centre of your brain as you step foot on foreign soil. The fine print that declares that you have just become a self appointed ambassador for your country.

It will begin slowly. You’ll realize in your travels that with every new meeting and discovery, the question will be asked “so where are you from?” Or maybe it will come in the form of “what’s that accent you’ve got there?” It’s the beginning of a conversation.

If you’re Australian the conversation will soon turn to kangaroos and koalas, sharks and snakes. You’ll be defending our waters and reassuring potential visitors that they will not be killed by a deadly snake or a killer spider within moments of landing in our wide brown land. You’ll notice that even though you haven’t watched a one day game for years, you’ll make small talk about the cricket with the taxi driver on your way home. At a party you’ll apologize for Pauline Hanson, talk about the introduction of the GST, and defend the merits of vegemite on toast for breakfast.

And then, there’s the events.

The Australia Day Barbecue, The ANZAC day ball, the visit from the government dignitary that was passing through town and offered a chance for free lamingtons. You’ll sing the anthem to your children to make sure they know each word, and shed a tear in the kitchen when you hear them teaching their Canadian friends how to sing Waltzing Matilda. You’ll set the alarm for 1am and put on your guernseys to watch the AFL Grandfinal. You’ll perfect the art of pavlova making through sheer necessity and host Australian themed parties to raise money for bushfire victims. For your house has become a mini embassy. There’s a sign at the front door that reads “Australia 16,776kms – it’s a bloody long way”. You will take it down and re-hang it with each move.

You’ve learnt to stock up. You have a special cupboard full of Australian stick on tattoos, caps, t-shirts, flags and tea towels. Your children will wear them when the socceroos come to Doha, they will wave them at the wiggles concert in North America, and drape themselves in flags for the parade on International Day at school.

“Where are you from?”

I get asked at least once a week. I think about where I’m from all the time. Do you?

When you think of us, when we’re far away. When you think of us in our foreign lands, doing our foreign things, so far away, almost impossible to see. I understand that you could be mistaken for thinking that we’d packed up and moved on. Only residents need apply.

“But she/he doesn’t even live in Australia?!”

I’ve heard it.

All over the world, expats are tuning in to foreign television stations desperately seeking a flag or a familiar band of colours. Frustrated Scots in China, Kiwis in America, and Australians in Japan. “All I’m getting is badminton and archery” said a frustrated Aussie in Thailand. “All we have is swimming, gymnastics and volleyball” said a Scottish girlfriend based in China. A Kiwi girlfriend in the States is pretty sure that America is the only country competing at the 2012 Olympic Games because no-one else is getting a mention. Dare I say it, we’re no different in Australia – and I’m LOVING it. The indulgence of knowing exactly which lane the Aussie is in, the interviews, the stories – in english!

And then there’s the ad. The one that screams out to every Australian expat who has stood in a room and declared “I come from a land down under”. The Wandsworth Demons and the London Swans kicking the footy, the collection of Aussies in a London pub, and then on the boat along the Thames.

I know, fancy using them? They don’t even live in Australia!

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