Continuing with my discussion on my return to Galicia, there is something in Australia that I don’t like and that I could not put in words until recently. It was just a sensation, something in the air that escaped verbalisation.
The closest word I can find is “lifestyle”: the “official” way of doing things, of conducting your life. And don’t get me wrong here. There are many people in Sydney, as far as my experience shows me, that do not live by the “official” way, which is great. But the mere existence of an “official” way is important, and what the “official” way tries to impose is important too. Let me explain.
First of all, all this is extremely subjective and based on my personal experiences in Sydney and in Galicia. Other people would certainly have different experiences and therefore may well disagree with me. It is important to understand that what I am about to explain is not claimed to be a universal truth but something that is true for me, inside my head. Thus, it is probably irrelevant for the majority of Australians, but extremely important for me.
Australia is an anglosaxon country. I know that it is one of the most multicultural places in the world, if not the most, but still, the values of its society are strongly anglosaxon. The people in the power are either anglosaxon (in their values) or are heavily subservient to them. After all, the British Empire has executed colonisation all over the world not by conquering remote lands and winning battles (this too) but mainly by imposing their social structures and cultural guidelines. It is hard to describe these (I’m no sociologist) but I think that saying that the dominant values are conservative and catholic is not too far away from the real thing. In the three years and a half that I have spent living in Sydney I have realised, for example, how the Catholic Church is much more influential in Australia than in Spain, which, to many, is the ultimate catholic lair. Or how an apparently modern and forward-looking culture such as Australian is really quite prudish and squeamish about many things (nudity, swear words, etc.).
I believe that catholic and conservative values are ubiquitous in Australia. I don’t mean that most people are catholic or even that most people are patently conservative (although this might be true), but that the values promoted by these philosophies are extremely common. Some anecdotal evidence:
- When a newspaper or magazine quotes somebody swearing, they often replace the dirty words with asterisks or hyphens, showing “f–k” rather than “fuck”, for example. Why can’t they use the real word? I can’t find a reasonable explanation.
- Nudity in the media is considered undesirable, not apt for viewing and definitely not apt for youngsters. I wonder whether teenagers hide their breasts, penises, vaginas and buttocks when they look at themselves on the mirror after having a shower. Don’t you think that nudity is part of us, a natural component of our bodies, and by making it something “dirty” and forbidden we are distorting a clean and sane view of ourselves?
- Australia is still a colony of the British Empire. The queen is on the coins, the Governor General is around, and the voting for the republic comes out negative. I am sure that many Australians want a republic, but the catholic and conservative values of the guys on top managed to twist the conditions of the referendum so that voting for the republic was really hard.
- There are winners and there are losers. “Loser” is one of the worst things that anybody can be called. If you are a loser, you are hopeless and ridiculous. The much bragged about Australian “fair go” does not fit very well with this.
- What about the large doses of gratuitous violence that the media feeds us? It’s so USA. Nudity is wrong but graphical depiction of shooting, kicking and raping is permissible. Scary.
A consequence of this set of values (i.e. catholic, conservative and extremely competitive) is a generalised cult to economic wealth. Look at this picture:
I took this picture in my local mall in Sydney. The ad is telling you, in 2-meter high letters, that you should live to shop, that is, your objective in life must be shopping. I have not been living under a stone for the last decades, I promise, and I am perfectly aware of the consumerism that is so common in all the western world. In Europe they also try to convince you to shop and spend your money in things that you don’t really need, and many people (myself included) really enjoy getting the latest gadget or a yet another pair of shoes when you really don’t need them. But, when I give in to the consumer temptation in Europe and I spend my money in something that I don’t need, I feel guilty. I do it anyway, but I know that I am doing wrong. In Australia, this feeling does not exist. The “system” tells you that spending your money in things that you don’t need is all right. There is some kind of moral approval that we don’t have in Europe. I don’t like this. I want to feel bad when I spend $2,000 in a new lens for my camera. My hypothesis is that, in Europe, the moral rejection to consumerism balances itself with the urge to spend money, resulting in a chaotic equilibrium that maintains certain order. In Australia, one of the opposing forces is reversed, so no balance exists and the cult of wealth is reinforced. In Europe, the accepted moral rejection of consumerism limits spending. In Australia, only the amount of money that you have available (including your credit cards) will limit your spending.
This cult to wealth can also be seen in the popularisation of stock trading, the abundance of self-help books on how to make more money, or the obsession with having “a career”.
Oh well. Before coming to Australia I read a few books on the country, and one of them said that Australians were laid back and know how to enjoy life. Perhaps that is true if you compare Australia to the USA, but overall that is not my experience. I cannot enjoy the good things of life in a conservative and wealth-obsessed society.
As I said, please don’t get me wrong. I know I am talking about sensitive issues and some people could be offended because they will feel that I am judging them. Nothing further away from my intention. This is a reflection on my own feelings, likings and dislikings, and does not involve any judgement of value of what others like, dislike, or do with their lives.
As usual, your comments are most welcome.