Pet Peeves in “The Lucky Country”
Often, being born in a particular nation means we are, either wittingly or unwittingly, more critical and judgmental of it. It also means we can be more prone to blind jingoism, but anyone who knows me well would know that I fall in to the first category, not the second.
Here is the list of things that drive me mad about the place where I was born; the things that, when I arrive at the departure gate at an airport, make me roll my eyes and say “yep, that’s the flight bound for Australia”. These are the things that, when I’m in Australia, make me sigh and for a moment think that maybe I’m in the wrong place.
1. Complicated get-togethers
I do get the feeling that it wasn’t always like this – that once upon a time, it was easy to organise an outing with friends. In fact, it mightn’t have even been organised. But that, if it was ever the case, was way before my time. Now, we can’t go to that cafe because Cathy heard that their food is nothing special, and this restaurant is a bit low-rent, don’t you think we could do better than that? What about seeing that new movie? Nah but Mike heard it has bad reviews, and Pete isn’t really into American films, so we can’t go to that other film that’s out…
2. Semblance of civil duty – or people not minding their own business
My brother, age 13 at the time, once sat on a coin-operated kiddie motion ride in a Sydney shopping mall. He was fooling around, not doing anything rough, reckless or dangerous, but just being a typical 13-year-old. Both my mother (who was present) I and laughed, until some old tart went out of her way to comment; “Don’t you think you’re too old for that?” Apparently, he didn’t. Or maybe he did, and that’s why it was a bit silly. Either way, we didn’t ask for her opinion. I could list a zillion examples of this type of thing if I had bothered to dwell on them. “Don’t you think you should mind your own business?”
3. Obsessed with rules and regulations
If Australia was a character in and erotica novel, it would probably be bound up in red tape. Australians seem to love rules and regulations; especially procedures if things go wrong. Hurt your hand at work? With your injured hand, write an incident report – it’ll make you feel better, and it keeps someone employed. And you’ll still have an injured hand. While people complain about rules and procedures like this, I get the feeling many people secretly believe this is what differentiates them from the “uncivilised world”.
4. White saviour industrial complex
Even in today’s multicultural Australia, people talk to anyone without white skin with a well-meaning sense of pity. It seems racism is to hate Asians, while ethic conduct is to help them. While colonialism might be almost over, the mindset that other races need saving is still there. I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of other races, but the impression I get from many is that they would rather just be left alone. The above Western Sydney University advertisement is a moving story, but the telling of it is riddled with White Saviour Industrial Complex.
5. Freaks in the streets
This is not their fault, but rather the failure of wider society and successive government to reduce/prevent alcoholism, drug addiction, desperate homelessness and undiagnosed mental illness to be the norm. Either way, I get tired of being intimidated and yelled at by disturbed people on the streets, having things thrown at me, or even assaulted by people on my way to work, at a frequency noticeably much higher than when I am not in Australia.
6. Pride in mediocre food
It’s not that all of Australia’s food is bad – in fact, some of it is quite good. But a lot of it is average and overpriced. Moreover, I get tired of hearing about how one city or another is home to the world’s best food scene. There might be variety, but trust me, Indian food is better in India, Italian is better in Italy and so on.
7. Challenging shopping
Seriously, what is with the shopping hours? If I work from 9 – 5, and shops are open 9 – 5, how can I get anything done before Saturday? Things are getting a little better in some cities, where department stores might stay open until 7pm, but it’s a far cry from Asia and the Middle East where things often stay open (and busy) until into the evening. Then, when I arrive at the shop, it often doesn’t have what I’m looking for anyway – a friend of mine recently went to a money exchange counter that was out of Australian dollars. In Australia. Getting anyone to help you is a bureaucratic nightmare, and refunds are often an endless story of getting sent from department to department, only to be asked to call a help line…
8. Tall poppy syndrome
Mamamia columnist Mia Freedman hit the nail on the head when she wrote singer Delta Goodrem, and about Australian society’s knack for celebrating success up to a point, but then destroying anyone who tries to excel. Called Tall Poppy Syndrome, it ensures that only the mediocre is celebrated. Why do Australians hate people who succeed?
Connected with point 8 is the phenomenon of Australian businesses and society thinking that the silly, backward, hokey and twee are desirable traits. Like the tendency to put the word ‘little’ before everything, in an attempt to endearingly understate something’s importance (eg – “there’s a little shop over there where you can get some stodge!” or “she’s a good little one”, referring to a grown woman). Like one of Australia’s proudest sporting moments, when Stephen Bradbury won a Winter Olympic gold medal by accident. Like Australia’s apparently cute unofficial nation song, Waltzing Matilda, which actually describes a criminal who commits suicide in a lake. Or, as Australians might like to call him, a “larrikin“.
10. The food and restaurant ‘scene’
When I go to a restuarant, I go there for food and good service. I don’t go there to be told to wait for a hour for a seat to become free (that’s what I do at airports), or to need a snooty waiter to condescendingly explain ingredients on a menu (like a deconstructed dirty chai latte, or a foraged mushroom), or have the wrong thing brought to me because the waiter doesn’t believe in writing orders down and forgot. Presumably this is what happens in the absence of a national cuisine. And the national obsession about eating; how much fat is in your lunch, whether beef is killing you, if sugar is the enemy.
11. Insects everywhere
In many places, insects invading houses, places of work or even public events is a matter of concern, and a call to get the insect spray out. In Australia, among much of the populace, there seems to be an acceptance and tolerance of the natural world coming inside. Gigantic spiders, snakes, lizards – they all provoke bemused, acccepting “Oh! Only in Australia!” reaction. I understand that we are encroaching on their natural environment, not the other way around. But I’d still Mortein the shit out of them.
12. Bad drivers
I often hear complaints in Australia about how bad drivers are in other countries. But when you see the traffic in a place like Mumbai or Karachi, and consider how proportionally few accidents there are each day, you begin to realise that actually drivers in these cities are pretty adept at avoiding crashes, and in fact, rather skilled drivers. And then, meanwhile, we have some person in Coburg trying to delicately manouver their family wagon into a car space where anyone else could park a 747.
13. Petty, navel-gazing entitlement (First world problems?)
Again, not exclusive to Australia. But really, will you die if your phone isn’t working for a few hours? Is it such a big deal if your neighbour’s tree hangs over the fence? Will anything really catastrophic happen if I hang my washing on my balcony? I understand why people are concerned about these things. I don’t understand how a lack of after-dinner mints in a restaurant could constitute a major crisis for some. (And before anyone mentions it, yes, I realise half of the things on this list are first world problems.)
14. Distance from everywhere
All of this perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if it were easy to escape – but it’s not. How many times have I fallen asleep on a flight out of Australia, only to wake up four hours later STILL IN AUSTRALIA? So far from civilisation, both metaphorically and geographically, perhaps no wonder things don’t change.
15. Parochial arrogance
One of the worst things about a lot of the above is the parochial arrogance that comes with it – an unwillingness to accept fact, no matter how clear, if it flies in the face of the nation’s collective ego. “Well then, go to Asia – see how you like it there” is a common refrain. However many Australians would be surprised to know that actually, things in many parts of Asia aren’t all that bad.
Take internet speed, for example – number 32 in the world by some measurements. Would it hurt to upgrade our technology, and keep up with the rest of the world?
And the panic about a foreign takeover of Qantas, and what could happen to the flying kangaroo. God forbid, Qantas’ service might be improved to the standard of Emirates or Singapore Airlines.
The dialogue surrounding national identity is the perhaps the worst. The notion that “mateship” is a defining national trait is just plain wrong, and even if it were true, Australia would not have a monopoly on it.
In Australia, it seems, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and a lot of people are too arrogant to ponder whether the lucky country might be broken. In fact, such is the parochial arrogance, people are still lovingly referring to Australia as the “the lucky country” without realising where the term originated.