From the very first time I was asked whether I had ever had a snake in my house, I wondered why Europeans, and Austrians in particular, are so convinced that the solid parts of Australia are infested with reptiles and hairy-legged arachnids, and that the surrounding waters are teeming with sharks, piranha-stylee. My standard response for a long time was “um, there was once a little green snake in the kitchen at my friend’s place in the blue mountains”, at which their expectant little faces would crumple, leaving me slightly confused.
The mystery was solved as soon as I spent a few weekends indoors with the telly on. Every fortnight, on average, there is some documentary or other on Australia, showcasing not only our red-bellied blacksnake friends, but everything from yer stingrays (RIP Steve) to endless varieties of sharks, redback spiders, crocs and box jellyfish. As a result, many a EU citizen is extremely well-versed on the finer dangers of the blue ring octopus and the brown snake, but still isn’t sure what language most Australians speak (“You know, I thought it was English, but I wasn’t sure”). A personal highlight was watching a doco in which a dude was walking BAREFOOT through leaflitter, on the hunt for funnel webs or somesuch. I remain convinced that it was a satire.
So, I figured, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Otherwise known as ‘if you can squeeze an extra weißbier out of someone by getting creative with the truth, give it a good aussie go’. Nowadays, I particularly enjoy describing the size of urban cockroaches in sydney, and the sound their filthy wings make when they are airborne. I tell people that my mum taught me always to check my shoes for redbacks (true), to lift the toilet seat up for a quick inspection in the thunderbox outside (also true), and that my dad lets huntsmen crawl up his arms (also true, and a true act of heroism to an eight-year-old).
The extended version includes the facts that any responsible parent teaches their rugrats to avoid long grass, and that bluebottle stings can be alleviated with vinegar from the lifeguards (NB no longer considered best practice, I heard), or by weeing on the area in question (apparently). These facts appear to correlate with their mental image of australia, and my audience generally walks away satisfied, or coughs up for said weißbier. Everybody wins. I do, however, neglect to inform them that I sustained far more injuries from bindies and asphalt than from anything that walks, swims or crawls. No point in muddying the waters.
So, feeling tough for no reason other than that I hail from the same continent as some fairly dangerous wildlife, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out there are DEADLY TICKS in Austria. The same Austrians who recoil at the almost-cute bluebottle seem to be unperturbed by the existence of these tiny, gross neighbours. But just LOOK AT THEM! Not only does the thought of an insect burrowing into my skin make me want to convulse, but they are pretty much like the insect version of voldemort. They can infect mucous membranes you didn’t even know you had, cause encephelitis, paralyse you, leave you with permanent injury, change your personality or, you know, KILL YOU.
Luckily, you can get vaccinated. I’m going to the doctor next week before I stroll anywhere with even a hint of greenery.