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Some observations

May 7, 2010
I just wanted to make a few random comments that have been on my mind about Australia. I’ll start with the slightly more serious, before going into the more silly. I suppose they might come off as a bit negative, but I don’t mean to offend at all, and I would say there are 100 positive observations (every time I pass one of Sydney’s numerous postcard perfect parks counts as one!) I make in each day to every one negative thing.

Creepy spider in the Botanical Gardens

Racism is a hot topic here, and I am amazed by the things people actually say (of course, I’m sure someone visiting the States could very easily say the same thing). In reading about Australia, and even glimpsed in my previous time here, racism against Aborigines seemed to be the big thing. Since I’ve been here, though, I haven’t noticed too much of it. It’s quite subtle, really, and you’ll generally only hear racist comments from someone who feels comfortable enough with you to make them. The Australians I do know well enough that they would possibly say something, haven’t said anything so that’s positive. I would say you notice a higher percentage of indigenous people in the situation of being homeless (and you get racist comments from people in that respect), but they also are working proactively to fix the inequalities (so it would appear) and I often seen a commercial on TV stating the statistics of inequality and promoting fixing that.

In actuality, the big thing I’ve noticed here, that I consider racism (or prejudice in any case) is against Muslims. Aside from little things here and there, the first big in-the-media issue was a woman who was selling her home and stipulated that it could not be sold to a Muslim. I think that’s ridiculous, but what’s more ridiculous was how many people agreed with her or backed her up when the issue became a big debate in the media. I suppose I agree that she should be able to sell it to whoever she wants, but then she can take that matter into her own hands and be a little more subtle about it rather than making it a stipulation and creating this big frenzy about it.

The second thing, which really brought this all to my mind because it was a big debate on the news today, is the issue of banning the burqa. Of course this has become an international issue since the rulings in Belgium and the proposals in France and Italy and surely other places in Europe. I was watching an Australian morning show (side note: I don’t watch morning shows in the US, but I can tell you that the ones here, and also about 95% of their other news shows, are possibly more ridiculous than in the US — filled with fluff and stupid stories, desperate to find any news links to Australia, and filled to the brim with the same gossip, infomercials, and stupid stories over and over and over again — if I see another infomercial for the “Ab Circle” I might scream!) and people were writing in about whether Australia should ban the burqa.

I can sum up for you quite quickly what almost every single person said. They said that the bikini was banned in Muslim countries because it was seen as offensive, and so the burqa should be banned here because “we” see it as offensive. “If we can’t wear a bikini in their country, why should they be allowed to wear a burqa in ours.” WHAT? That is THE most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. How are those two things even remotely comparable? Are you part of a culture and religion where a bikini must be worn? Um, I doubt it. And how are burqas really offensive? Are you seriously offended by a piece of cloth? Give me a break.

They also said bike riders have to remove their helmets when enter a bank, so Muslim women should be required to remove their burqas. Again, what? How is that comparable? Those were the majority of the comments, and I can tell you any others were just as ridiculous. There was maybe one comment pointing out even the slightest invalidity in these opinions and speaking against the banning of the burqa. Of course I can understand people’s recent concerns of safety and identity. There have been issues of criminals using burqas, or of police(men) not being able to identify a woman because she won’t lift her burqa. These things can be worked around without banning the burqa. Unfortunately, the debate on this issue really just boils down to racism, in my opinion, and it’s sad. People try to act like they’re overcoming racism, in the States against African Americans, here against Aboriginees, but it’s really just being replaced by a new form of racism/prejudice against different groups, and it’s like no one even seems to see that. These people seem completely oblivious to the ridiculousness of the things they say. Come to Australia and turn on the morning news or read the comments section of mX and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Well, I had to get that off my chest, but now let’s get on to the silly observations!

The first is food-related. Bagels. It started when we first got here, when Oscar and I really had a craving for bagels so I went on a mission to the supermarket to find some. I searched all over the bread aisle and was shocked to find no sight of bagels anywhere. Then I spotted one lone bag of blueberry bagels hidden down on the bottom shelf between the English muffins. There was a label for plain bagels as well, but there were none to be found and I have a feeling they are rarely in stock. So I happily took the bag home and we had some mediocre blueberry bagels to satisfy our needs.

Then I noticed some blueberry bagels in this cafe that Oscar sometimes goes to. However, they seemed to have some kind of donut-y sugar/icing on them. I thought that was strange, but maybe it was some weird specialty of the cafe. When I started working at the call center, one day I arrived really early so I went into the cafe downstairs to buy a snack. I saw that they also had blueberry bagels, so I eagerly ordered one. I went upstairs to the kitchen and joyfully extracted my bagel only to find the same horrifying fact: it was covered in gross donutlike icing!

Apparently Australians don’t really know much about bagels, and possibly they think they are just especially bread-y donuts? In fact, I was chatting with this crazy Australian who had been in my interview and training group, and he asked me what on earth I was eating. I told him a bagel, and his response was, “A what? What the heck is a bagel?” He proceeded to tell me he had never had, or even seen, a bagel before but vowed to try it if he ever did come across one in the future. Still, I think this is very, very bizarre.

Furthermore, I hold the same complaint about chocolate chip cookies (no surprise, though, as America still seems to be the only place that can do them right!). The only suitable place for a chocolate chip cookie is Subway, and that’s only on a good day. I was tempted to buy some cookie dough at the supermarket until I realized that they had only one sketchy-sounding brand (with just two kinds: chocolate chip or M&M) and it was more than $5 for a roll! As much as I would love to make cookies and have some delicious chocolate chip cookie dough, it’s just not worth it in that case! I guess that is just something I will just have to add to the list of things to miss until I go back to the States.

One of the great things about Sydney: the wildlife. We spotted this wild lorikeet in the Botannical Gardens!

And just to be clear, I am not trying to dis Australia AT ALL. I love it here, there are a million wonderful things about Australia and Sydney and Australians that I could go on for days. It’s beautiful and sunny and full of culture and the people are diverse and friendly and funny. Its much easier to talk about the small negatives, the things that irk you or that you notice for the worse. But of course I’ve had 90% great experiences with everything here. In less than an hour I can be relaxing at the beach, hiking in the Blue Mountains, enjoying a good meal at a great restaurant, hanging out at a cool bar, taking in a show of take-your-pick genre, or meeting a new, awesome Australian (or foreigner) on the street, in the library, at a store, or pretty much anywhere. Or admiring a really cool building. Or relaxing in one of the million picture perfect Sydney parks. Or spotting cockatoos and lorikeets and other really cool animals… 🙂

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