My first trip to Australia was in 2001. Doing a tourist run of the country, I spent three weeks in Sydney and one week in Melbourne. I was not backpacking (we don’t have the concept of backpacking in India) and thanks to a network of friends who lived here and their generosity, I was looked after well. At the end of the stay, I felt a month was not enough to soak in Australia in its entirety. After all, I had still to get oriented to its wines, explore the many, many amazing beaches and I had not skinny dipped!
My memory of Australia in 2001 was of a predominantly white country. I saw very few Indians, quiet suburbs and some of the places reminded me of the Shillong I grew up in. Friends would not believe when I compared the two places but the Shillongites’ love for flowers and garden is something I can identify with the Australians’ love for their gardens. Everyone takes pride in not only mowing their lawns but also the nature’s strip or public property, which is the area of grass beside a roadway lying between the footpath part and the roadway proper.
Eight years later, I had already met the man I would marry. So my second visit to the country further took me to places I had not seen before. The Australian demographics in the cities had also changed to an extent; many Indians had immigrated thanks to a policy that linked permanent residency with education. With it came more Indian grocery stores and hundreds of restaurants popularising butter chicken and rogan josh! In a strange way, I felt quite at home.
Having settled permanently now, the newness factor is long gone. But here are my discoveries and observations of things unique and funny about Australia.
• A Christmas dinner by the beach is no longer wishful thinking. It was part of my growing up Mills & Boons fantasy! I am beginning to love outdoor life – barbecues, walks, treks, and I have acquired a bike. Biking and swimming were two things I was a stranger to. Now at forty-plus I have just learnt to bike but not taken to the waters yet.
• I love the fact that everyone takes care of their environment and no one litters. My own observation is that only most people who live on rent do not take care of their gardens. Perhaps not really true!
• With labour cost so high, I miss the joys of having help in the house or anywhere. If a cleaner comes to the house, she would probably be driving the same car as me and charging top dollar for an hour just like any other profession. Dignity of labour! I am surprised that some of the well-earning professionals are electricians, plumbers etc., as these are specialised jobs. Similarly, retail experience is not as fun as in India. I miss the many salesmen/women who accost me at every step.
• Surprisingly in a country where people openly show affection in public, say, two lovers kissing in a park is not uncommon, people are otherwise very private about their lives. I have learnt it is rude to ask someone you meet the first time especially about whether they are married or single! Funny in India we don’t leave even strangers free of this question. “Aap ki shaadi abhi tak nahi huwi (are you not married till now)?” is something we can blatantly shoot off.
• Women are not generally promiscuous as is generally perceived or shown in Hollywood movies. There is the existence of family despite children moving out of their homes once they are 18 or 19. The common Australian man loves his family – children, parents, siblings and the bond is there. So it is not only peculiar to Indians.
• They have a word for the generally uneducated, beer loving or unsophisticated Aussie. They call him/her a “bogan”. We have our own “gawars”.
• Rich people are generally thin and poor people fat. Like in the US, coke is marketed well here. According to reports, Australia ranks second when it comes to Coca-Cola consumption. The average Aussie tipped back the equivalent of 324 eight-ounce drinks in 2008, up 63 percent from 1988. In India, fat is good impression. You come from a “khatay peetey (well fed) family”.
• Drink driving is seen as socially unacceptable and it is an embarrassing thing along with smoking cigarettes! In India I have heard of less accidents caused by drink driving but more caused by road rage.
• There is no obsession with going to college or universities or discussing results. Children go to school and study up to year 12 after which they take a break travelling round the world, then going back to studies or attending a vocational course. But among my Asian and Indian friends, this is still an obsession. Where there are good schools, the demographics have changed as Asian and Indian immigrants have flocked to the area, in the process upping property rates.
• Unlike Indians who are very status conscious, the Australian society is devoid of any divisions or class. Nearly everyone has the same access to housing, cars or other material possession. Perhaps with credit easily available to anyone just as in countries such as the US, it is nearly a cashless society. I can get by anywhere with just my debit card and no cash.
• People are polite and I get an overdose of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in this country. Nobody jumps a queue and nobody will walk away without holding the lift of a door. Well, they even yell out a thank you to the bus driver after they alight! In India, it was survival of the fittest, we jump our queues and push ahead in our bid to be the first.
• Last but not the least; people openly talk about their sexuality. At university, my classmate told me she lived with her wife. I am so excited to host this same sex couple for dinner, something I’d never imagined before coming to this country!