Alive and Well... The Ugly Australian

August 20, 2010 Bloggies by Steve Martin Edit

It started at the bottom of a wheelchair access ramp in the Colosseum. I had both children in the stroller and was waiting for a family to finish coming down the ramp when a tour group pushed in front of me. I think the tour leader was Italian but at that point I didn’t know the make-up of the group. The ramp led to the lift for wheelchairs, strollers and people with “mobility issues”.

When the family came down off the ramp I started to go up, but members of the tour group barged their way past. They were so determined that I had to stop for fear of crashing into them. One overweight woman in particular seemed to think it was a race between her and us. She forced her way past, almost pushing James off. She clearly had no regard for anyone other than herself and her desire to avoid the stairs.



While she was a reasonably hefty woman, she clearly had no mobility issues and didn’t actually need the lift. At the top of the ramp she again crashed past us to ensure she got in the elevator. By this point James was out of the stroller and Emily was climbing out. Because she forced her way past I moved the stroller slightly and that made Emily fall heavily onto the concrete.

It was then I heard the accents. The lift was full of overweight, over 60’s, self obsessed Australian tourists. My little girl was in tears, but a lazy, fat, pushy Australian woman had avoided the stairs. She was having a good day and it was clearly all that mattered to her.

Unfortunately it wasn’t our only experience of that group. Later while standing on the middle level holding James and trying to explain what the colosseum was all about, a man pushed in behind me to see the view.  The problem was that about 12 inches behind me was a stone wall, and he was more than 12 inches wide. So instead of asking me politely to move a little, instead of saying “excuse me” he just shoved his way in and pushed hard up against me and started taking his photographs.

“All you have to say is excuse me!” I said sharply. “Ugh” was best reply this pig of a man could do. Then I saw the tour group badge. It was another of the same group of retiree Australians, off on their roman holiday with a belly full of self importance. I gave him a mouthful before he left. I don’t know whether he cared or not, but I told him in no uncertain terms that in four months of travel, the rudest and pushiest people I had come across was from his tour group. I made the point that I was also Australian, but he didn’t care. He wanted his photo’s and the other thousand or so people visiting the Colosseum could all go and get stuffed.

Later the same day I saw “Team Australia” walking the streets of Rome. A husband and wife clad in matching Australian flag T-shirts and wearing matching Australian Flag baseball caps. I knew where they were from, but it immediately made me wonder if anyone else did? They were marching down the street in unison and they looked like they were from some weird Pyramid Sales Scheme. The sort of scheme that pretends to sell products, but is really about selling the pyramid scheme. Perhaps the locals thought they were from the sort of company that indoctrinates its employees to such an extent they wear the company uniform 24 hours a day. Maybe the Romans thought they were from some strange Pentecostal religious sect.

Suddenly I was embarrassed to be associated with my fellow countrymen and women.

I am intensely proud of my country. We make a point of letting people know as quickly as possible that we are not from Great Britain as our car and caravan indicate. We tell that that the car is British, but the occupants are Australian. But we don’t wrap ourselves in the flag like some jingoistic nutbag. Nor do we try to do everything the way we do back in Australia.

People see time and crowds differently here. There are simply more people trying to do the same thing. Sometimes I find people are standing a little too close in a queue, but I believe that’s because compared to Australia there is so little space and so many people. Everyone waits patiently for their turn. [The only nationality who give the appearance that they think they have a birthright to queue jump are the French!]

I suppose that’s why the behaviour of this appalling group of very ugly Australians shocked me so much. No one else in that crowd, out of thousands of people, pushed in. No one else seemed to be getting in anyone else’s way. Everyone else seemed to accept the crush and politely and happily make their way around one of the most stunning places the world has to offer.

The Ugly Australian overseas is alive and well, but it’s not a drunken 20 something causing havoc and it’s not an incarnation of Bazza McKenzie. All the 20 something’s I’ve noticed travelling around Europe have been paragons of virtue compared to the Australians I encountered today.Chances are this is the same generation that caused the phrase to be coined in the first place. They obviously haven't learnt anything over the years.

Today’s “Ugly Australian” is an overweight, over 60’s, self obsessed retiree on a bus tour to Italy.