And you have to give it now. Right now.
There are many situations to which these two lines apply. When you are challenged in the night on a battlefield. When you are performing a surgical operation. When you are in front of a magistrate. And when you are buttonholed at a party by a drunk with a grudge.
With a bit of luck you can avoid the first three but no-one will ever escape the fourth. It might not be a party and it might not be a drunk, but there will be a grudge involved somewhere.
I got this 54 years ago when I came to Australia and was caught with the classic ” So tell us what you think of Australia …”. I’d been in the country a week when I was asked this but that was luxury – most overseas visitors got it at the foot of the steps as they got off the QANTAS or Pan Am jet. Nobody who hadn’t prepared a statement for the journalists was ever treated well – indeed the wise ones went around to the Australian Consulate in whatever country they came from beforehand and got a prepared script to memorize. It was the only way to ensure a good press for the duration of your stay.
It was particularly awkward around the patriotic days; Australia Day, Anzac Day, Melbourne Cup, and Grand Final day. One false move answering the national catechism questions and you were damned forever. Fortunately my Uncle Louie had been here before and schooled me in the proper sentimental expressions so I was able to pass most inspections.
The Australia Day questions have changed, and people can give different answers depending upon who asks the question. Anzac Day conversations have remained unchanged. Melbourne Cup and the football Grand Final generate savage controversy, but mostly amongst the savages of Victoria.
No nation likes to hear bad of itself – though it may be prepared to excoriate others. The best way of getting along in society is to praise wisely – you must be honest and quick about it, and you’ll be best to pick aspects of the place that are undeniable and uncontroversial. Praising the weather and/or the native wildlife is pretty safe. You can even get by with phrases like ” Such atmosphere! ” and ” I’m fascinated! ” and the hearers will think well of you. Then press on by and don’t look back.
If you wish to be thought well of, you will continue this litany during your stay…and long afterwards. Australia has cultural monitoring squads that watch your writings and speeches for several years after you have visited to try to detect anything but fulsome praise for your antipodean experiences. If you avoid giving a bad traveller’s review you’ll be welcome again.
But if you return, you’ll be asked the same damn questions – there is always going to be a sense of uncertainty here that needs reassurance.