George W. Bush Notwithstanding, There Are Still no Kangaroos in Austria

Opinion | Matthias Wurz | October 2007

One might assume that Americans are now aware of the existence of Austria, at least  since Austro-American actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California. During a recent visit to Australia, however, U.S. president George W. Bush spoke of "Austrian Troops" stationed in Iraq, in the context of a visit of Australian Prime Minister John Howard in 2006.

As one of the U.S.’s closest allies, Australia has about 1,500 troops stationed in Iraq. Needless to say, neutral Austria has no military personnel there. In the transcripts, of course, this error was carefully corrected.

However, the video excerpt on YouTube is unmistakable.

The president’s slips of the tongue are notorious, and an excerpt of his "colloquialisms" is published in a series of book-lets, entitled Bushisms, currently in its 5th volume. One should, therefore, not be surprised.

But Bush’s speech at the APEC Business Summit on Sept. 7 in Sydney had other errors as well.

"Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction," Bush said to Prime Minister Howard. "Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit." When the statement was met with laughter by his audience, Bush corrected himself and joked that he had been invited by the Australian Prime Minister to the OPEC summit the following year.

One might have hoped that a U.S. President in his sixth year in office had acquired a wider knowledge of international affairs that would foreclose confusing the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with its head office in Vienna, with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), founded in 1989 on similar economic ideas as the European Union, and chaired this year by Australia.

Surprisingly enough, the Austrian media or commentators– in a country that is often mistaken for Australia by American tourists – took no notice. But then again, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Vienna the same day, and international politics had suddenly vanished from the news.

At souvenir shops all over Vienna, T-shirts are for sale with the text, "There are no kangaroos in Austria" against a background of a yellow traffic sign.

Maybe it’s time for another T-shirt: "There are no Austrian Troops in Iraq."

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