The conversation begins harmlessly enough.
“Where are you from?”
“Austria.” I glance at the speaker and search his or her face for anything - anything at all. I see no comprehension. This has become a habitual problem in discussing where I am from.
When I come across Austria Know-nothings I must decide if I should make them aware that there is indeed a country besides the one Down Under. Furthermore, what if you, the reader, should ever stumble across an Austria Know-nothing? What will you do? After years of observing reactions to various answers, I decided to make it my mission to convert Austria Know-nothings into Austria Enlighteneds!
First, I categorize people by their knowledge of Austria. This seems fairly easy as there are only two categories, the first being “G’day, mate, and welcome to Australia!” and the second, “Yes, I think the word Austria is lodged somewhere in my subconscious.” Here are anecdotes on enlightening people and helpful tips in the event that you stumble across an Austria Know-nothing.
“G’day, mate, and welcome to Australia!”
This category has two subdivisions:
Those Who Think It’s Australia, Not Austria
These are the people who, when you answer “Austria,” tend to correct you by shouting “Australia?”
In the beginning I thought, Do they think I am purposely leaving out two letters to confuse them? Do they expect me to yell, “Darn it, you’re right, mister! It is Australia! I don’t know why I was thinking of Austria since I’ve lived there for years!”
After deciding to embark on my enlightenment mission, I realize these folks are the easiest to convert into Austria Enlighteneds. They didn’t even know about a country named Austria, but once told it does indeed exist, they at least know that it is somewhere in the world.
The next subdivision is:
Those Who Refuse to Give Up on Australia
These are the tenacious ones you’ve got to watch out for. They refuse to believe you are not from Down Under but from the place where The Hills Are Alive. They are very determined and will continue to yell, “Crikey, did you know Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter?” until you want to wrestle them to the floor like he did to shut them up. These people are not easy to convert. It is sometimes futile to say, “Austria! You know, ‘The Sound of Music’?” because they will continue harassing you with useless facts about the Croc Files. It is best to nod, smile and reply, “Yes, well, g’day!” and scurry off - fast.
The next category is more complex. It is:
“Yes, I Think the Word Austria is Lodged Somewhere in My Subconscious”
These are the folks who have heard of Austria but are not too informed. We might call them Semi-enlightened. This category has three subdivisions:
Those Who Try to Convince You Austria is Not in Europe
While at a blood drive, I was brutally rebuffed when the woman in charge accused me of lying about my country’s location. “Austria, in Europe,” I answered when she asked where I had lived before moving here. I asked her if she knew what country I was talking about and she snapped, “I’ve heard of Austria, I’m just saying it’s not in Europe!” If Austria is not in Europe, I wondered, where exactly had I lived? Converting these people is tough because most of the time they just will not believe you.
Ahhnold the Govehnator
This is probably the most nerve-wracking problem. When you finally find a person who knows about Austria and you prepare to embark on a sophisticated conversation, they throw at you, “I am Ahhnold the Govehnator, yah!”
I never know what I should feel at this point. Should I be flattered that they actually know what country I am from, or should I be offended that they apparently identify all Austrians with speaking whale a la “Finding Nemo”?
When you don’t immediately reply to their imitation, they continue, “You know, Ahhnold.” Yes, I know, would you like me to give you a standing ovation and scatter rose petals on the floor?
When you do not look amused at their ludicrous imitation of Austrians, they wonder what is wrong with you. There really is no chance of converting these people, you just have to commend them on their fine imitation of the Austrian accent. Under this heading we have another category, which is:
People Who Think the Population of Austria is Two
These are the people who know about Austria and Arnold Schwarzenegger, yet still ask, “Do you know Arnold?” First, 10 schmoose points for not imitating the governator. Second, minus 10 points for thinking Austria is made up of two people. Let us just get right down to business. You lose people’s attention rather quickly when you say, “No, you know, the population of Austria is actually -” before they cut you off with, “Alright, well, see you later.”
I have learned that the best answer to give when people ask if you know Arnie is to say, “Yes, we play golf every Sunday.” You do not necessarily have to say golf. You can insert any sport you find desirable, such as dodgeball or table tennis.
Finally, we have one last subdivision in the “Yes, I Think the Word Austria Is Lodged Somewhere in My Subconscious” category, which is:
The Oddball Question About Austria
I like these people because although they may not know a lot about Austria, at least they make an attempt to steer away from the Schwarzenegger cliche. Someone once asked me if my uncle were Mozart.
The only answer I could think of to that question was yes.
So, you see, I have made it a priority to inform people about my native land. Thus far I can proudly say I have succeeded in converting eight people. It is important for countries of the world to be informed about one another, which is why I think it is vital for people to realize that Austria is a country, in Europe, that we have many more citizens besides me and Arnold, and, finally, that there are no kangaroos in Austria.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.