By Dan Hayn - 02/12/08 07:36 PM EST
When Ruth Cain referred to another Hill intern’s questionably professional footwear as “thongs,” everyone looked at her oddly.
“I was surprised [at that choice of footwear],” the new Australian intern to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said. “That’s why I brought it up.”
After pointing out what the average American might call “flip-flops,” she quickly remembered that “thongs” had an entirely different meaning in the company of her colleagues. The occasional “bit of mistranslation” is a part of the 25-year-old’s participation in a competitive internship in which only six people from her university are accepted. It is a specialized research program through Australian National University.
Besides answering phones, giving Capitol tours and sorting mail, Cain is researching the U.S. healthcare system during her internship.
By and large, Cain has found her fellow staffers to be a polite and helpful bunch. “They’ve been really good about not joking that I’m Australian,” said Cain, a tall, slender brunette. Well, she clarified with a laugh, at least until those funnier moments of cultural translation.
Some callers are caught off guard when the Aussie answers the phone with her confident and charming accent. “Cong-resmin Rohrbacka’s office, how kin Aye help you taday?” she asks.
While fellow staffers can be tense and pressure-filled, Cain finds the office to be an amicable environment. The Tim Tam cookies (an Australian favorite that’s not easy to find stateside — a layered chocolate-covered wafer) and boomerang clips (aboriginal devices used for hunting and sport) that she brought in on Jan. 26, Australia’s official national day, helped her likeability.
“Everyone likes souvenirs,” she said, chuckling.
Cain, who will intern for Rohrabacher until mid-February, quickly noticed the surfboards that the congressman keeps in his office, though she smirked, admitting, “I’d fall off the surfboard if I tried to get on one.”
Cain immediately noted a subtle, kindred connection between the congressman and her coastal hometown of Canberra, Australia’s capital. “I was fascinated by the fact that he’s a surfer,” she said.
Although her internship involves the rather wonky subject matter of healthcare, she also wants to have a good time. “I’m very keen to absorb as much of the culture as possible,” she said.
While that would naturally entail strolling along the National Mall, visiting the museums and enjoying the local flavors, Cain said that absorption also involves “staying up late most nights” and tuning in with friends to Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report,” two of her favorite television programs. “We don’t get that in Australia,” she said.