Why Australians are getting stupider
I was having a discussion with an Englishman about Australia vs the UK the other day. Fortunately, we were both on the same side but where our opinions began to differ was when he argued that one of his reasons for loving Australia so much was because it seemed so much more civilised…
I immediately questioned this and he answered by way of example. He said that when you get on a train in Melbourne or Sydney there are signs telling you how you should behave whereas in London there’s nothing of the sort. Boy, did that tap into some latent frustration I had about some of the laws and rules we have in Australia! This is a subject I have thought about a lot, you see.
I was very quick to retort with the simple argument that the more rules and laws we have in society, the more people try to do the right thing but for the wrong reasons. I took this example, from this now somewhat startled man, and said that from what I have seen most people will be civilised on the train out of sheer common sense. They know not to smoke on there – that’s been drilled into us, but they also know not to be unruly; not to put feet on seats; not to use loud offensive language etc. However, there are also those sorts, usually youths, who feel the need to rebel who will do exactly the opposite to what the laws and rules require because they get some sort of satisfaction out of ‘breaking the rules’. If these rules weren’t there, would they still behave this way if were no satisfaction to be had?
Furthermore, these youths know full well what is right and wrong and they choose to be in the wrong to be ‘cool’. However, I believe that over time they will forget why certain things are right and others wrong. It will be a case of do the right thing to avoid being penalised by the law, not because it’s the civilised thing to do.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time on trains and buses in London now, and in Europe in general for that matter, and I’ve been truly impressed with the way the general public behave despite not being told how to with signs and rules and laws. In fact, I would (and do) argue that they seem to be better behaved and more courteous than Australians (in general).
Now this isn’t just limited to behaviour on public transport. Two other major areas I’ve seen a vast difference is in outdoor public places and with motorists on the road.
Last night I went to an event that was held outside in a park. The rules were simple – don’t bring pets, fireworks and glass bottles; all in the interest of safety. People could be seen out the front pouring their bottles of wine into plastic bottles and I myself took cans of beer instead of bottles. Sounds like it could have been a wild crowd, but no – once again I was amazed at how everyone had such a good time and were perfectly civilised. In Australia the list of rules would be 10 pages long, including things like; no outside alcohol or food, no chairs larger than X, no this and no that. Then once inside people would be forced to pay exorbitant prices for drinks and have to wait in such long queues that when they got to the front they would buy far too much and get far too drunk, not to mention everyone would get frazzled and disgruntled by the crowds and long waits – always a recipe for fights and arguments. They claim these rules are for safety but just sounds like a money-making ploy to me.
This might shock you but driving in London has been a real pleasure. You haven’t seen road rage until you’ve driven in Australia, particularly Melbourne where I think we have the worst road rage in the world. In almost every other place in the world (and I have driven in a lot of places) you find a certain order within the chaos. Drivers will cut you off and they will speed, but it’s all very harmonious and silently understood. In Melbourne if you cut someone off, accidentally or not, you will be subjected to a flurry of honking, beeping and possibly even tailgating. Civilised? I think not.
One of the problems is all the babying by the road laws in Australia. You can get fined for ‘failing to keep left’. Outside of Australia I find motorists will naturally move over to the left (or right depending on the country/side of the road they drive on) to allow faster moving traffic to use the right lane. They don’t do this because the law mandates it, they do it because it’s courteous and civilised. That’s just one example.
Now if you recall, I had been having a conversation with an Englishman who, despite being a little taken back, had been listening carefully to my rant. When I finished (or paused for breath) he simply smiled and said an excellent (and now one of my favourite) quotes by Douglas Bader, a British World War II pilot: “Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”