Monday, October 22, 2007


Is it true that the average North American person is busier, more up-tight, more stressed or even more angry the average Aussie? Is Canada (and the US) more formal, more politically correct than where I am now? Are we less happy, do we laugh less, holiday less, have less fun? Do North Americans work harder? Are Aussies rougher, more rugged people? Do they drink more? Are they more racist? How do schools compare? Most chemists I know feel that the level of graduate school in Canada and the US is very strong. How about primary school and high school? Are kids smarter or happier (or both) here or there? Who am I kidding, kids are happy everywhere. How about the average adult? Are people generally ‘the same’ in all ‘first world’ countries?

Who cares? Maybe these questions don’t matter. We are who we are. What is the point of making comparisons between countries? My impression is that most Canadians are very happy. Most of us inherently find what we need to live a happy and full life. Plus, nobody can answer questions like these with any confidence. It’s all debatable. The thing is, I have noticed a few such striking cultural and social differences that I can’t help but make some comparisons that are interesting to me. Here are a few:

On Friday afternoons at 4:45 we have an event at my work called ‘Beer Club’. Not ‘social club’ or ‘team meeting’ or even ‘party’ but ‘BEER CLUB’. Kate also has two hours of ‘open bar’ every Friday at her law firm from 5-7.

When there is not enough room on the road, people here park their cars on sidewalks on curbs. I know it happens even more in Europe. I like it. There are no complaints. And why should there be? Somebody clearly needed to park. Seems like a simple case of empathy. Unless it has completely immobilized me, why should I care where someone else is parked?

In Brisbane, all children, of all ages, wear uniforms to school. Imagine that. No little ‘Eminems’ or little ‘Britneys’ or little ‘Nine Inch Nails’ look alikes. No ‘gapped out prep school types’ and no dirty old or cheap outfits either. Every kid looks the same. I see a group of kids waiting for the bus and I can’t tell at first glance who’s pop owns a ‘yacht’ and who’s just owns a ‘ute’. It seems to me like it would be easier for kids to learn in this system. Plus, it is probably difficult for the all the angry little boys to organize a ‘trench coat mafia’ if they have to come to school in little pansy shorts, knee socks, and a jacket with the school crest, and the school issue backpack.

Australian radio and television advertising is full of really blatant sexual innuendo. It was both shocking and hilarious at first. Check out this add for a chocolate bar, or this one for nicotine gum (both shown here at dinner time). You can imagine what beer and underwear ads are like. And it’s not just the advertising, it is everything here. We see A LOT of legs and cleavage walking about on the streets in Brisbane (and on local television programs). Downtown Brisbane on any given Sunday afternoon makes UWO campus in September look like a convent. It’s more like Halloween night on Richmond Street (for those that know about that). Kate and I were in total shock and disbelief for our first few weeks here. People here are just desensitized to it, they don’t notice or they don’t care. Yesterday we took a 10 minute evening bike ride along the river to our volleyball game and saw three adult couples, not teenagers, full-on necking. It must be the heat.

And when they want to send a harsh message to the public here they don’t pull any punches either. We drove by a highway sign recently: ‘Tired drivers die. Take a break.’ or “Drunk? Sooner or later you will be caught.” Here’s a television commercial about setting a positive example for children (don’t watch it if you don’t want to see some powerful images). It seems to me that this country is just a little more ‘rough around the edges’ than Canada with respect to public images. I don’t know which is better, but it is clearly different here.

Want more Aussie culture? Kate started work with four weeks of holidays. I also have four and that is absolutely unheard-of for a post-doc in the US or Canada. It also seems very common for Aussies to take ‘unpaid leave’ for months at a time and have a secure job waiting. A LOT of people have traveled overseas for ‘extended’ trips before starting a family. Obviously there are no international borders here, every other country is ‘overseas’.

ALL Australians over 18 vote in the federal and state elections. The turnout is 100% because it is ‘illegal’ not to vote. Offenders get fined, and the fines increase for repeated failure to vote. Does that mean that the average person here knows more about politics? Heck yeah it does.

By the way, I believe all ‘successful’ politicians are inherently devious people. I wish it were different. It is the last thing that I would ever want to be involved in. We are a month away from a federal election here and all I see is ‘negative’ ads and smear attacks back and forth between their top two parties. It bothers me. This type of add must be very effective if it can cause people to be so cruel. Or they make financial promises that are complex to the point of confusion. Don’t you think that every government should provide a yearly ‘one page’ summary of the entire budget that is honest but dumbed-down to a level that 95% of people could follow? Why does it have to be so complicated? Cash in, cash out, interest, debt, bottom line… ummm, done. No deception. Don’t confuse us. It’s our money. One page.

The only thing I know of that absolutely MUST be complicated is physics. I don’t think economics does. Economists can certainly choose to make it complex. I have known many chemistry professors that like to ‘sound smart’. Confusing students makes them feel smarter and better about their chosen profession. Dr. Kerr was not like that. I don’t think there is any reason to pretend that something is more difficult than it actually is.

Oh, and along those lines, wouldn’t it be nice, as a voter, to know what countries owe us money and who we have borrowed from. It’s our money after all. A second page then, and dumbed down please. Wouldn’t that simple information clear up a lot international politics and wouldn’t it make it difficult for a government to ‘hide’ motives for war.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me there. I don’t have any informed political opinions, just na├»ve ranting. I’m just a simple minded idiot. I sat down today and started writing… whatever. I’m trying to ‘lurn to write gooder’ and I got carried away. Not too many people read this. If you still are, I apologise. Just pictures next post. I promise. Here’s a goodie from last weekend. Speaking of Aussie culture. Yep we finally tried it! And not on big long boards either :)

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