Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good old Aussie values

During a recent Sociology class discussion on the impact of Westernisation on India I was asked to describe Australian values and how they differ from that of India’s. Initially I was stumped by this question. You would think that the answer to this question would and should come easily to a born and bred Aussie, but all I could come up with was “um, I guess they are the same as anywhere else.” What a crock!  
I am ashamed to admit my pathetic and un-Australian response but after a few moments I realised that the reason behind not being able to pinpoint our values is because they are so far from the Indian values. This is not to say that the Indian values are wrong or even bad, they are just a far-cry from your average (and I am stereotyping) Australian values. India throws at you challenge after challenge. If it’s not yet another bout of food poisoning, its dealing with the bureaucratic systems, communication breakdowns, cultural differences or pure sensory overload and sometimes it feels as though you are only moments away from drowning in the thick of it all. And this is how you come to forget your own countries values, by being so overcome and overwhelmed by those of another’s.    
So, I went back to my hostel after class and googled Australian values and this is what I came up with:
Mateship: It seems that in Australia we tend to forge lifelong bonds with our mates and they are strong yet ‘easy-going’. In India, it takes a mere 30 seconds to form a new best friend yet these are rarely relaxed. The demands of friendship here can be quite tiresome and almost always require the strict routine of offering extreme hospitality that never seems to wear out and should of course be returned, even if you’ve only ever met the person briefly. A man on the train once offered me some sweets and now in return expects me to house his entire family once back in Australia!  
Respect and tolerance: Australians have a general sense of respect and tolerance for each other and the environment. If you accidently bump someone it’s usually responded with “No worries, mate”. When in traffic you give-way to incoming cars and if you are in a line you wait your turn. If you have rubbish you wait to find a bin to dispose of it and shopkeepers ask “how’s your day been, love?” In India, respect is usually caste or class based. A man may bow to touch the feet of an elder friend but refuse another elderly man of a lower caste a seat on the train. Personal space is unheard of in India and if you are shoved, you shove back twice as hard to ensure your spot is not lost. You yell at the ‘purposefully ignoring’ shopkeeper to get his attention and tell him his product is no good to get a better price. You don’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ and you throw rubbish out on the street because as long as it’s not in your house it’s not a problem.
Equality or our ‘Fair go’ spirit: In Australia, with a small exception, we generally refer to all people by their first names. Women have the same rights as men and religion bears no barrier to your privileges. There is no better class or caste and your plumber is treated with the same respect as your work colleague. In India, there is a complex system of who is better than the other and this dictates who deserves respect and who doesn’t. This complex system is based on but not limited to age, gender, religion, caste and relationship. Women are still hugely discriminated against and Brahmins still largely demand the most respect.
Generosity and support: Some recent Roy Morgan research found that one in two Aussies feel it is their duty to help people in need overseas by providing the tools and training to help find solutions. Although we might be tight when it comes to our ‘shout at the bar’, when it comes to a crisis, whether nationally or internationally, Australians are among the first on the scene or the first to put their hand in their pocket regardless of whether we know the person or not. In India, if you know someone or are of equal or higher class, their generosity and support is endless, but if you’re a beggar on the street, a homeless person or have just crashed your car, it’s unlikely you’ll receive any sympathy, just curious stares.  An Indian friend recently told me that with so much poverty and corruption, Indians need to take care of themselves to ensure they stay afloat in such a country.
My list could go on and on but I think you get the picture. Many of our values are the same in theory but stand for completely different things when put into practice. Australia’s values aren’t better or worse than Indian values they are just simply different and I guess that contributes to a countries culture and unity. If they were the same, I suppose I wouldn’t have had such a strong desire to visit the country.

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