More than anything else, Aussies (as Australians call themselves) are an incredibly nice and relaxed nation. In Aussie English the one and only popular answer to sorry, thank you, please, and practically anything else is, the ultimate Australian expression – no worries. And they indeed do not have much to worry about.
Thriving economy, reasonable social welfare, pleasant weather (in most inhabited areas) and a relatively peaceful multiculturality ensure that most Australians can just focus on enjoying their lives.
Who is a modern Australian?
Contemporary Australia is a beautifully colourful and diverse nation. About half of Aussies have at least one parent that was born out of the country and about a quarter came from overseas before getting their citizenship. 85% of them live in cities and the same amount of 85% by the coast (the second biggest Australian inland ‘city’ after Canberra is Toowoomba – a rural town of 110 thousand, same as the country’s capital situated 1,5 hour drive from the ocean). This makes the big coastal cities real melting pots full of different skin colours, languages, customs and cuisines. And with the Australian minimum wage sitting at over $20 per hour, they can enjoy their cafés, restaurants, concerts and shows to the fullest.
Australia is full of cafés. They are not cheap, it’s hard to get a lunch below $15. But when you order one, you can be sure the food will be of the highest quality. The coffee will be fair trade and it’s taste – the best in the world (Melbourne is known as world’s coffee capital). On the freshly baked Turkish bread you’ll get fresh avocado, free-range chicken, home-made hummus and Greek haloumi cheese, plus a salad made with Italian vinegar, French mustard and chia seeds. Did I mention it’ll all be organic? And this might be out of range of a European visitor’s wallet, but well within range of a working-class Aussie’s.
And back to Aussies. They are really, really nice. In Melbourne, if you’re getting introduced to an alternative guy in his mid 20’s, instead of a handshake you might receive a proper hug. Even in a big city you’ll sometimes encounter people greeting you on the street, just like this, because you’re a passer-by. If you are served at a shop or café the person who serves you will give you a big, warm smile, friendly greetings and a nice chat. So rarely is the service not like this, that anyone less than enthusiastic about you walking into their shop seems to be a bit rude. This is because you get so used to waiters and shop keepers being happy, cordial, outgoing. And relaxed. Sometimes I wonder how they do it – they must be tired sometimes, have their problems and worries. Or do they?
Another aspect that comes with the no worries philosophy is an apparent tendency that Aussies aren’t really keen to go deep below the surface of their nice chats. A typical questions people in Australia ask each other just after nice to meet you is where you’re from? or where’s home for you? And this doesn’t apply only to people speaking with foreign accents or looking like tourists. Aussieland is such a big land that people might come from very distant and exotic places, though still within the country. Hoping this will be the beginning of a fascinating conversation, starting from your place of origin and ending with what you and your interlocutor are passionate about, will most of the time leave you disappointed. The nice and relaxed, sunny and wealthy lifestyle creates a situation where people generally stay away from challenging topics. Despite the great kindness and hospitality of Aussies, it is hard for many newcomers to find good friends.
Land of Plenty
Being in a country so full of stunning nature, always near a beach and rarely with an empty wallet, Aussies love to spend their free time on outdoor activities. Surfing is as popular as skiing is in Europe (it’s funny seeing surfing schools for kids while you’re relaxing at the beach), and camping’s a big thing. But don’t think Australians love to take their heavy gear and go hardcore bush trekking.
Whilst not everyone gets to this level, for some the ultimate camping means parking the ute 5 meters from the desired camping spot and recreating their apartment there with camping chairs, camping tables, camping canopy, camping fans, sometimes even a camping TV set and god-of-consumption knows what else. And of course an eski full of beers. Did I mention that Australia is full of public, free-to-use electric barbecues?
Moreover, Australian market is very overpriced. Traders make excuses that the country has a small market and similar stuff. But they just manipulate average customers into buying things that elsewhere are really from the top shelf, tricking them into a false sense that there’s no solutions that are affordable and at the same time of high quality.
Having their bank accounts full of money, when even the best food is affordable for almost everyone, Aussies don’t really realise how rich they are. Being so cut off from the rest of the world, they think they’re a normal country of average wealth. Thus, they surround themselves with heaps of stuff and don’t really care for it. If something’s broken – buy a new one, if you’ve got leftover food, even the most delicious and of highest quality – throw it away, we can buy more. That’s the stance that shocked me quite a few times down in Aussieland.
An example from my personal experience – an organisation where I volunteered. They were focusing on upcycling old stuff and providing it to the few people in Australia who need it but can’t afford it. At the same time, every day the volunteers where acting completely on the contrary to the philosophy towards they were working. After lunch they were throwing heaps of great food to the bin, instead of taking it home or giving it to the same people who might need it. It wouldn’t even come to their mind that someone might not afford a decent meal. That contrary is not only the ‘fault’ of Australia’s wealth, but also due to the fact the country is…
Land of the chosen
Getting a visa to Australia is not easy. Outsiders you meet here are mostly wealthy kids from rich countries (there’s heaps and heaps of German and French backpackers), not any less wealthy specialists, or the lucky refugees who weren’t sent by the Government of Australia to one of the concentration camps (I mean the original meaning of the word, not the Nazi kind of camps; still nasty places) in the middle of the Pacific.
Thus, The Land Down Under is isolated from the world not only geographically, but also socially. Being in Australia you only meet the lucky people who made it. It is easy to forget it and fall into this utopia without realising there’s something wrong with it. Moreover, Aussies, as much as they love to travel, usually go either to Western Europe, America or Asia (known here also as Bali) where they either see no poverty, or the poverty is so clad into the history and culture so foreign that it’s far from comprehensible.
And the poverty amongst white Australians doesn’t exist (the case is different when it comes to Aborigines which have been being manipulated into all sorts of dependencies since James Cook ‘discovered’ this beautiful land. But we’ll talk about it in a separate post). Some white Australians do suffer greatly from social exclusion, drastic drop in their wealth and social status etc. But they’ll still have their cars, TVs and heaps of stuff that many middle-class people in reasonably wealthy countries don’t have. Is this poverty?
So, living in a bubble cut off from world’s problems, many Australians indulge themselves in overconsumption, sometimes still thinking they are the poor ones, struggling for a decent life.
Australia is a really safe country. Most of the infamous ‘killer’ animals aren’t actually too dangerous, theft is almost as rare as in Scandinavia and if you get mugged, they’ll likely speak about it on the local news. But, as life can’t possibly be perfect, Aussies, propelled by the fear-mongering media choose to have one worry – safety. There are warning signs everywhere. And by everywhere I mean everywhere.
While the sign you can see above might be really important, majority of the signs saying don’t slip, don’t hit your head, don’t burn your hand, don’t cut your finger, to me all say one thing: don’t think!
This approach isn’t necessarily dictated by the good will of the government, rather the fault of the law letting you sue everyone for almost anything. I imagine if you enter a hardware store, take a hammer and hit your head with it, you could sue the store for half a million dollars for not warning you such action might cause injuries.
The situation doesn’t really make things cheaper in Australia – because of the liabilities organisers of any event have, every event is really overorganised, and this comes with a price. In dollars. A good example of this is a music festival we went to. It was a beautiful, week-long art event all focusing on conscious art often surrounding issues like freedom to speak and act. But if you wanted to use your freedom to act by risking your own health by walking barefoot – you were quietly expelled from the festival grounds (even though you had paid hundreds of dollars for a ticket to this ‘freedom zone’).
Australians love Europe. To them, Europe is the perfect land where everything started. The land that has history, culture and all these things Australia would like to have but thinks it does not. Aussies would like to have a national identity and a history-focused nation-country like Europeans do, unaware that this dangerous idea is only two centuries old even in the glorified Europe. They are so jealous of it that they are eagerly accepting their identity being built on First World War battles. Yes, battles they fought on foreign continents, for foreign generals, loosing their lives for goals foreign to them, are the founding grounds for Australian national identity. Every tiniest town in Australia has a memorial monument dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives for Australia (?! Fighting under British generals in Turkey). This reminds me completely of towns of western ex-Soviet Union, where every each of them has a monument of its liberators (in Australia they even have Eternal Fires, exactly the same as in ex USSR!), thus letting the spilled blood create a fundamental legend for a new nation… the difference is that Soviets actually fought defending their country.
Coming back to the topic, Europe is the Mecca of Australia – every able-bodied Aussie is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Europe at least once in their life. The one difference is that Europe isn’t a place, except in minds of many Australians. The continent is actually a beautifully diverse place full of shockingly different cultures, landscapes, climates etc. But, naturally, being from a place so far away and at the same time so large in area but smaller in diversity, many Aussies find the whole idea of European nation-countries, different languages and approaches to life an amusing idea somewhat invented for fun.
Poor Australians often have no clue that the senile Grandma Europe is rotting from inside. They ascribe all the idealistic features to it. In Europe, you’d never advertise something coming from, let’s say, Romania as of ‘high, Romanian quality’ as people would look at you as if you were crazy. Trying to sell a Romanian product in Australia, you can feel absolutely free to advertise it as of ‘high, European quality’ because it comes from Romania which is located in Europe.
Australian cafés and the popularity of organic-oriented lifestyles seem to outpace Europe. Unfortunately, the very poor to barely average public transport, scarce bicycle paths network, outdated rubbish recycling system, small amounts of actual parks and squares (most parks in Australia are actually rugby or cricket pitches; the city of Melbourne was designed in a way that wouldn’t allow space for democratic gatherings) or public areas with modern museums and galleries, place Australian city and state governments years behind European local councils.
Another thing Australia shares with Great Britain but not with Continental Europe is the education system that is elites-oriented. There’s plenty private schools with quality not better than the public ones; the universities are extremely expensive and Aussie students are more and more often replaced by children of the countless Chinese millionaires; student dormitories are often luxury colleges sometimes being exact copies of respective buildings in England. This whole system is strange to me – I thought every country should aim to have an educated nation.
But there’s another side of the coin: a lot of city-Aussies seem to address issues connected with poverty, exclusion and miss-treatment much better than the majority of Europeans.
While on the surface of the society you might feel you’re being met with nice but superficial approach, it’s just a matter of time before you meet the beautiful opposition. Under the outer layer of perfectly clean cafés, food prepared with utmost care and perfectly neat hipster moustaches, there is a mass of young people who’s every action shows an energetic but positive protest against the policies of their government and the First World countries together with powerful grass-roots work for a better world. From supporting organic, locally grown food (there are even permaculture community gardens in city centres and co-op grocery shops where all the produce is grown by nearby farmers), through volunteering in organisations that provide better prospects for refugees, better food for the challenged, better education for the underprivileged, to anti-consumptionist activism, protesting and showing their discontent as well as giving ideas for better future through all sorts of arts. Below you can see a piece by Zohab Zee Khan, the winner of Australian Poetry Slam 2014:
If you meet people from the beautiful opposition, they won’t spare too much time for nice shallow chats – they will engage in conversations about amazing new ideas, take you with them to join all sorts of interesting activities from tension dropping techniques to art festivals.
Australians and racism
Australians keep on telling me that people in their country are much more racist than Europeans. Well, it might be true just in one sense – both the general population of Australian outback (the extremely isolated inland settlements) and a major part of its politicians seem to be very disconnected from the rest of the world, thus preserving very conservative ideas. This makes racism and sexism less intolerated but not more present. On the contrary, I’ve never seen a nation so tolerant and non-judgemental towards other cultures. From my personal experience, Australia is the first Western country where I have never experienced anti-Polish xenophobia nor the annoying you’re great (blue-collar) workers ‘compliments’. That might be partly due to the distance between Australia and Poland but on the other hand in Aussie cities I’ve been meeting more people that know really much about Poland or have even been there than I met in the neighbouring Germany or Scandinavia.
While locally you might encounter racist Australians (especially in the province) and the government might make very xenophobic or sexist decisions, most modern people of Australia won’t let you feel a trace of intolerance, judgment, islamophobia, antisemitism and similar. Instead, they’ll rather be eager to learn from your cultural background.
Why this is a bad article
How can a text that’s generalising on 24 million people be any sort of accurate? In writing an article about the whole nation, I was trying to point out the most important issues in a sort of acceptable length. Thus, I had to skip a lot of significant points and jump from one topic to another, perhaps giving quite an inaccurate image. Once I was describing stereotypical working-class people, another time the alternative opposition while mentioning something about the politics, history, geography and other aspects that have a significant impact on what people in Australia do, are interested in, stand for or unwittingly follow. Just imagine how many crucial aspects I omitted, ignored, forgot or failed to see. At the same time, a lot of my criticism could be applied to any other wealthy country. And speaking of criticism, I blamed Aussies to be consumtion-oriented, individual and detached from each other. But who knows, if the humanity is really progressing and developing in the long run, maybe this comfort-oriented, a bit inward-faced lifestyle is the closest thing to utopia we’ll ever get?