“When I was in Dublin I pissed all over that statue of Molly Malone,” James from the Gold Coast once told me at a hostel in Estonia. He thought it was hilarious.
Gold Coast James was a genuine idiot.
I spent all of last year travelling, and like many Australians abroad I did enjoy the odd foreign beer and a night out. And yes, at times I did get drunk. But unlike Gold Coast James I didn’t desecrate any national icons and then brag about it to every traveller I met.
Every now and then an Australian commentator (normally a freelance backpacker) will question the increasingly bad alcohol-fueled behaviour of young Australians overseas, and time and time again the response is overwhelmingly negative. It’s not because the commentator is necessarily wrong, but because to criticise an accepted Australian pastime immediately results in accusations of being “un-Australian”.
Europe is a playground for many young Australians. It’s no surprise, really – Australia is a nanny state compared to the liberalism of Europe, where drinking on the street doesn’t result in hefty fines and travellers can find cheap prostitutes in Eastern Europe or legalised marijuana in Amsterdam. So it’s no wonder young Australians feel they can let their hair down.
But how far?
If you have ever participated in a Van Tour or the 100 Club, you’ll probably be on the defensive as you read this. Van Tour involves 70 to100 spray-painted vans full of Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans convoying across Europe. The unofficial beginning of the tour is during the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona and ends at Oktoberfest in Munich. Normal rules include consistent drinking, getting obscure haircuts and using handheld excretion devices such as the “she-wee” or the “shit-box” so you don’t have to leave the van for toilet breaks.
The vans stop at various festivals and party destinations across Europe, before terminating in Munich for the 100 Club celebration. During this event, participants drink 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes. With rules such as “judges can put anything in beer bongs” it is not uncommon for participants to consume rotten food or their own urine. Unsurprisingly, cases of Hepatitis C were reported during the 2009 contest.
I stress only a select few Australians participate in this. Nonetheless a documentary that aired in Germany in 2009 of the event prompted some highly negative responses from insulted Germans. How can you blame foreigners for generalising when some Australians actually behave like this?
And it’s not just Europe. Asia, with its cheap flights, alcohol and accommodation is another loose destination for Australians. Only what many Australians often forget is that Asian cultures are incredibly respectful (and therefore more sensitive) compared to ours.
Remember Annice Smoel?
She was jailed for four nights in a Thailand prison for allegedly stealing a bar mat, fleeing police and accused by authorities of being loud, obnoxious and arrogant. It’s incidents like these that leave foreigners with a bad impression of Australians, especially when they make the headlines.
However, I don’t believe big acts of misbehavior are the problem. It is the little ones that eat away at our image over time. Each year, on average 1000 Aussies are arrested abroad, mostly for minor drinking offences. I met an Australian who urinated in a fountain in Krakow while drunk and still found it funny the next day. In Estonia I met a man from Sydney who had to get off the bus on the way from Krakow to Auschwitz because he had to throw up (he then passed out in a paddock and was woken up by an old lady spitting on him). At a hostel in Austria I saw an Australian who refused to put clothes on and punch a Dutch man who was trying to help him to his room. I also heard a story about four Australian women who had been jailed overnight in Santorini, Greece for stealing a flag.
Alcohol-fueled behaviour is one thing; drug use is even more irritating. I reserve a profound disgust for the backpackers I met in South America who bought and used cocaine (which to be fair, were not just Australians). Call me no fun, but when you think about the 50,000 people killed in Mexico alone over cocaine-related violence in the last five years it’s disgusting to think fellow Australian tourists are condoning this.
I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t travel to party and I’m certainly not saying people shouldn’t have fun while overseas, I’m just saying to be mindful of the country you’re representing. And don’t urinate on anything that’s not designed for it. If there’s any advice I can give to those who feel the same it’s this:
go to Iran. Alcohol is illegal there.