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Some cultural comparisons and sweeping generalisations

***warning*** the following post contains rash generalisations and assumptions made on limited experience. things will change, i'm sure of it.

Regular readers will have read my post on Dubai. And while I obviously didn't completely nail cultural comparisons, I received so much insight into Emirati and Indian culture that it blew my mind. When I arrived in London, about 3 weeks ago, I tried to get the same level of insight. I tried to understand London and Londoners (as opposed to the English in general. I understand they’re different species), to get a handle on what I needed to ‘know’ as quickly as possible in order to ‘fit in’ and not make any awful social fuck-ups. I focused on the differences between us, hoping to overcome them and that just got me all tangled up in a psychological mess. Thankfully, last week, I let go of trying to figure it out all at once and as soon as I did that, it seems I’m settling in nicely.

The funny thing is that the cultural differences between Londoners and Australians are so subtle and the whole point is that they don’t really want to anyone to know the intimate intricacies of their eccentricities. I can kind of understand a little more now – thanks to reading DH Lawrence’s Kangaroo, actually. [English writer guy emigrates to Sydney and Wollongong in the 19th Century]

I don’t know whether this is the purpose of travel, but the longer I’m here, the more I totally love Australia and what I have there. Tarty, mouthy, rank Australians still give me the shits, but they did back home, so I haven’t become that wildly patriotic, but I have fallen in love with things about home that I didn’t expect to.

green is for garden waste, the litte red one for rubbish and the yellow one for recyclables.

For a start, I’m proud of how much Australians and Australia gives a fuck about the environment. London can’t seem to get basic home recycling in order, which, for a city of 12 million people, is fucking appalling! They waste electricity like nobody’s business and water wastage..holy crap! Not as bad as it was in Dubai, but still, pretty bloody shameful. And every Aussie I know here (which is quite a lot, considering I’ve basically come from a city of 180,000) is similarly appalled. We actually care about the environment and resources and we’re years ahead. I’m so proud of that!

I’ve also become incredibly proud of our lack of bureaucracy. While it may be misconstrued as a lack of order, fucking hell, we just get things done. And for the most part, we kick arse at customer service. You get your off days back home, where you hit a couple of rude bastards behind the desk, but here, oh boy, it’s a big deal if someone actually smiles at you when you hand over the cash! Yes, rash generalisation, because I’ve lucked out on a few gems recently, but when I first arrived here, boy was I shocked.

The other thing people seem to just ‘totally do’ here, which I’m so unimpressed with, is to hit the cocaine like it’s fucking candy. Most of the Australians I know here have been on it or are on it and it’s fucking filthy, really. I’ve never been anywhere where drug culture is just so cheap (in every sense of the word) and it’s pretty unattractive. I’m glad I don’t do the stuff and by the same token, I’m making sure I just let people do what they need to do. I’m surprised, for such a huge drug culture here that the support services or public service announcements aren’t more visible. Even the Australian government managed to bang together a totally shit campaign about party drugs.

On the good side, the other night I went to the Surrealist ball at the V&A Museum with a birdsnest in my hair, and what I totally loved about it was the people were there, dressed up, only mildly self-conscious, enjoying a museum/performance/cultural experience on a Friday night, without any hint of pretence or snobbery. That’s just what you do, it seems. Which is totally ace. Doing something to extend your mind or elevate your experience is seen as something positive, not something to be looked down upon, like it is in Australia. Little wonder that half our intelligentsia are in London.

And of course, you can’t compare cities with London without mentioning transport. London really needs to congratulate itself on the Underground. Not only is it efficient, but the design of the system, the map, the logo, everything is neat. OK, so some aspects of it may seem filthy compared to people having lived in cotton wool, but it’s fantastic. Even when there are delays on the circle line (which is practically all the time), it means that trains run every 5 minutes, rather than every 2. And if there are major delays on the system, you can get around it. If something fucks out on the systems back home, you’re screwed and waiting for at least 20/30/50 minutes for trains and/or replacement buses. I haven’t had a chance to research the design history of the Underground, but I really want to, because they’ve got the details down pat – even down to the hand rails on the Victoria line trains being Azure, the same colour as the line on the tube map. Fucking brilliant.

While a lot of that may sound like I’m whinging all the time, I’ve actually snapped out of my culture shock quite a bit, and these are only the glaringly obvious bits that still rub me up the wrong way. The fact of the matter is that I’m traveling. I’m actually engaging with seeing how other people live and I can’t understand those that don’t. It is a great way to have a complete opinion transplant and as an opinionate geek, I need that, regularly.

UPDATE: I am actually having a really good time here and living totally in each day and moment, just in case it sounded like i wasn't. While I may rant, it's very rare that I cannot find some good times to live - just in case you were concerned.



At 28 May, 2007 02:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Ms Generalisation ...

I think I've mentioned it before, the moment you move away, the moment you find increasing levels of patroitism and in your case, it is deserved because Australia is a wonderful place.

I remember when I first moved there I thought EVERYTHING was better in Oz compared to home and whilst in a number of cases that is still true, the longer I lived there, the more I found frustrations with the place.

To be fair, you get that wherever you end up living for a period of time because I had that in the UK, Australia, America and now Singapore - the secret is to embrace what you find, accept it and not compare it to home [as hard as that is] because when you do that, you miss out on some of the elements that makes that city what it is.

Sure London/UK is going downhill [and it saddens me to say I have no real desire to live there again] but I am still proud of many things of the place and still think the spirit of the people - when there is a topic that everyone cares about - is better than almost anywhere in the World.

I'll leave you with this, if alot of Australians stopped trying to turn their country/city into LA, [and the Government stopped wanting to be the 51st state] then it would be Utopia - however as it is, it's a great country on the brink of buggering it up whereas England was a great country that has buggered up too often.

Enjoy it - these are moments you will always remember which doesn't happen in the average day of life.

At 28 May, 2007 10:05, Blogger lauren said...

hey rob,
i totally agree with you!

perhaps i didn't make it clear in my post (update in ensuing), that i decided to stop comparing for that exact reason, i was driving myself bonkers and completely homesick.
i'm not just living life on life's terms here and even getting into the craziness of it all. hell, i went to leeds and back, just for the fuck of it yesterday. who does that? ha!

and believe me, i know that australia is going to end up completely fucked if we don't do something about the bonzai (little bush) in power and the desire to be pseudo-american. the frustrating thing about a lot of australians is that they have it so good and are either unaware or don't care about fighting to keep it that way. and for the moment, i have no intention of hiding away from that over here (like so many australians do).

i am actually having a ball here, i just didn't post it exactly in that way :)

At 28 May, 2007 10:38, Blogger Age said...

maaaan this post highlights the little things I noticed in London too! especially the drug scene and customer service.

Rob is dead right though, look forward to coming home at some stage, but whilst you're there, embrace!

At 28 May, 2007 11:25, Blogger Will said...

They have drugs in London?

I'm very glad you mentioned the differences between London and the rest of the UK - to that end, I'd be interested to know what you think of the difference between Leeds and London (other than the people being nicer/tea/Fish & Chips are made properly.

Recycling isn't that wonderful in this fair city - but I'm pleased to report that it is much much better in other UK cities. Come on London, sort it out..

I always find that whenever I go abroad, I become more proud of my roots. I think it's one of the purposes of travel, to that end.

Great post, and thanks for the insights.

At 28 May, 2007 18:09, Blogger Jade said...

Lauren that is so cute. You know what they say: a bird in the hair is worth two in the bush......or the bonsai for that matter.

At 28 May, 2007 21:46, Blogger lauren said...

trust me age, i'm embracing it.. i promise.
does it really seem as if i'm not? really?

thanks for the props jade... looking forward to that email from you! lol!! and a bird in the hair is worth twice the amount of that in the bonzai.. ha!

i won't do a leeds comparison until i've been back on a less disastrous day. i'll be posting about the nightmare, but it's not really about leeds. i have, however, seen that a lot of the differences between, say, leeds and london are very similar to the differences between, say, sydney and wollongong - satellite vs metropolis. i curated a show around the idea and it's been interesting to see that it's an international phenomenon.

At 29 May, 2007 05:38, Blogger sublime-ation said...

oh jealous I loved that Surrealist exhibition. That ball would've been ace.
Also, to go along with the coke, London is all hash no green.

At 29 May, 2007 05:38, Blogger sublime-ation said...

ps glad to see you have no word verif.

At 29 May, 2007 10:00, Blogger mayhem said...


Patriotic? come back - you've forgotten how bad it is....

like australians flush toilets and hose out factories WITH DRINKING WATER.

australians dredge up and expose the shrinking water table to the unozoned sun with these massive open ditches in order to grow pesticide infested cotton

And for the price of 3 mosman houses, a rare land-titled bunch of aboriginies have just signed over their land to be a nuclear dump for 200 years......

fruit and veg is costing the same as blighty and finding a decent pint of guinness in sydney for less than $5 is impossible

the london underground - is scarily overpriced - and I wouldn't list it as a highlight - and I didn't find any cocaine where I was......

mind you - there are still frangipanis in sydney and it's sunny in winter and the culturati mix it wiht the rifraf lots more so it's not all bad.....

At 29 May, 2007 10:49, Blogger lauren said...

haha! mayhem..did you just get home? take care missy... thanks for the reminder about the shit things of home, even if it just made you feel a little better about the joint :)
that's shit news about land-title... when i was going to leeds and thinking about the history of the place (which i know absolutely nothing about), i was thinking about the difference between the history of here and home, and felt so, so sad that as a nation, we just haven't understood our history and as a result, have done all kinds of shitful things.


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