What are the uncivilised things about Australia? E.g. casual swearing (cursing), excessive drinking, informal culture, disrespect toward or suspicious of authority figures, sports obsessed, arrogant, and the list goes on. Am I wrong?

By: | Post date: June 2, 2017 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Australia

Oh, we Aussies, we’re a defensive lot. Not the first time I’ve seen this on Quora. And I did appreciate Alap Arslan’s answer.

Lemme have a go.

casual swearing (cursing)

Yes. I don’t think it’s uniquely Australian, but we certainly pride ourselves in swearing; the subreddit Straya • r/straya seems to use cunt as every third word. We have defined ourselves (mythologically) in opposition to British moralising, and we find American avoidance of profanity ridiculous. (I was astonished, living in California, when two delivery guys said they were looking for a restroom. No delivery guy in Australia would say anything more genteel than toilet.)

Is this uncivilised? Well, it certainly is not genteel, and it prioritises egalitarianism over respect (positive over negative politeness—in this regard; compared to Southern Mediterraneans, Aussies are still a bunch of emotionally unforthcoming Poms). And there is a special boorishness in the business elite, with none of the noblesse oblige you might see elsewhere. But as others have said on this thread, we find scepticism about deference a healthy thing. Just like Israelis do.

excessive drinking

Yes, one of our less helpful inheritances from the UK. An outbreak of drunken violence in Sydney has led to an early curfew there—and to Melbourne gloating about it.

informal culture

Much more so now than thirty years ago. People used to dress up for classical concerts or dinner; they rock up to both in jeans now. Can be seen, again, as egalitarian rather than uncivilised, but it does mean that there is less of a sense of occasion or solemnity. Australians don’t do solemnity. In fact, when I tried to solemnly launch my departmental working papers as a postgrad, I was heckled.

… Well, rephrase that. They don’t do solemnity, unless it’s one of their sacred cows. A Muslim activist raised the plight of detained refugees during Anzac Day, and got attacked for it universally.

disrespect toward or suspicious of authority figures and authority generally

Overstated. Yes, people are contemptuous of politicians, and routinely vote informal. Yes, people are suspicious of ceremony, and are reluctant to offer deference. Something they again are quite proud of, as you’ll have seen here.

On the other hand, their obedience of laws and norms is distressingly reflexive. I had a friend from Eastern Germany, who was aghast at how unquestioningly Australians obey the law; “social consensus” happens very quickly here, and the nanny state finds fertile ground among the citizenry.

sports obsessed

Yes, there is a big sports culture, and sports chews up a disproportionate amount of public discourse. Australia isn’t really unique in that; and Australia does at least have a culture of public participation in sport, which is rather healthier than just collecting stats about it on the couch.

arrogant

Well, yes. Australia is compensating now for generations of cultural inferiority complex and tugging the forelock to The Mother Country, by truly believing they are the best country on earth, and deflecting criticism. (As again you will have noted in this thread.) The post-Howard brand of nationalism is much more po-faced and prickly than the understated wisecracking about God’s Own Country that went on before Howard. And I don’t think most Australians really believe that they have anything to learn from any other countries.

3 Comments

  • John Cowan says:

    That’s because to us “toilet” means the white porcelain article, not the room. “Where’s the toilet?” would suggest one disconnected and boxed up ready to be carted away.

    • opoudjis says:

      Does the Commonwealth use of it to mean “bathroom” ever cause confusion?

      • John Cowan says:

        I don’t know, really; I’ve only lived in comparatively cosmopolitan parts of the US. It certainly wouldn’t confuse anyone I know. And after all, bathrooms do invariably have toilets, whether or not they have baths or showers, so there’s no real ambiguity.

        Who does get confused, of course, is the Yank abroad (always excepting in Canada) who asks for the bathroom when he wants the toilet, and is astonished to find a room without the stool of necessity.

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