Australian Cynicism

We have often been accused of being cynics in Australia. This underestimates the citizens of this wonderful nation. We are greater than this – we are perfectly capable of being cynical in every country on Earth…with the possible exception of New Zealand. No-one is cynical in New Zealand, though they have been trying to establish a program to breed it for years.

Some have looked to climate, ancestry, ethnicity, history, and any number of other reasons for the national characteristic. It is all very well to score a PhD or a publisher’s advance upon this sort of speculation but the truth is that it is none of these things. The reason Australians are cynical is geography – we are far enough away from the rest of the world that we figure we can get away with it. We cock a snook at the various Kims, Vlads, Donalds, and Angelas…as well as the unpronounceable leaders of Africa, South America, and Canada and it is rarely sheeted home to us.

Oh, mind you, if we are of certain ethnicities that maintain spy networks here and dungeons back home into which our relatives can be thrust, we tend to be a bit quieter…but there are still pictures of Winnie the Pooh and copies of Charley Hebdo magneted onto the refrigerator in spite of official disapproval. They probably get whisked away when a national festival dinner party is held, but they come back afterwards.

Be fair to us – we are cynical about ourselves as much as we are about people overseas. Indeed, there is no topic more dear to the hearts or the sphincters of the Australians than our own national and state governments. Oh, and the local government, too. We’ll cheerfully discuss how much we despise our fearless leaders at the drop of a beer bottle cap. Our leaders hold us in similar affection.

It is known technically as a Mudgee Standoff – we don’t get to keep machine guns in our houses but Bunnings sells rope and there are trees aplenty  with stout limbs, so the checks and balances of the Westminster government are still in force. We were once told by one politician that ” We’ll keep the bastards honest. ” Actually I think that was just a case of someone making a mistake with the punctuation when they reported it. What he really  said was:

” We’ll keep the bastards. Honest… ”

But that’s just me being cynical.




The Obligations Of A Host…

And the obligations of a guest…

This topic has been the subject of social discussion for centuries. Sometimes it has been theoretical, and sometimes practical.

Societies vary, but most have set the rules of hospitality in a similar way.

a. The guest must not attack the host – the host must not attack the guest. Prior to relationship becoming established, this rule may not be in force. ie. wartime or family birthday parties. If the combatants have not yet surrendered, all legal force my be exerted against them. Once surrendered, restrictions apply.

b. The guest must fed, watered, and bedded in an honourable manner. This means that the host must exert some effort to achieve comfort for the guest. The guest must accept what is offered with gratitude.

c. The guest must be protected from attack by third parties.  The host becomes responsible for the health and safety of the guest. The guest must not overstrain the resources or attract contumely upon the host in this process.

d. The host must provide hospitality for as long as necessary. The guest must make this as short as possible.

e. The guest and host must not plague each other with unpleasant wrangling – even if this is contrary to their normal nature. They must both assume the appearance of polite persons.

And this has been brought to you by the Backstabbers Guild of Australia – who encourage everyone to behave well and to extend charity and graciousness whenever they can. And to mark the positions of their host’s magazines and troop concentrations on an ordnance survey map as soon as they learn of them.


I Think Of You As A Good Person

But I’ve been wrong about these things before…

I try. I really do try. Every day I attempt to have a good opinion of the people I meet. Some days are successful days and some days are just…well…days. But the good news is I am prepared to reset the mechanism at midnight and re-consider your character in the morning.

This means that in many cases you will have a chance to do better – to appear kinder and more intelligent and more honest than on previous occasions. And each time you do, it will raise you in my estimation. You may reach a plateau – like a level in a video game – that means each thing you do is going to earn you extra psychic points. This is wonderful, and eventually you may get to the point where you turn into a princess or a prince and the golden moneybags start to appear on the screen.

Conversely, every time you foist something on me via Facebook that has been supplied by the latest fake news source, you drop down a notch. Please be aware: there are only so many notches before we reach rock bottom.

In case this sounds really arrogant…well it is. It’s part of the mechanism that I employ to navigate through the world. So far I have hit remarkably few rocks and shoals and I’m willing to attribute this to the personal cynicism about which you are reading. As long as I keep it inside, it is not going to do you any more harm than you deserve. If you behave as a lady or a gentleman should, you will be treated as such.

And we will have a successful day.

Note: Unfortunately this sort of philosophy requires me to be a good person as well. It is annoying, but there you are. You can’t make omelettes without breaking expensive kitchen utensils.


You Have To Give The Correct Answer

And you have to give it now. Right now.

There are many situations to which these two lines apply. When you are challenged in the night on a battlefield. When you are performing a surgical operation. When you are in front of a magistrate. And when you are buttonholed at a party by a drunk with a grudge.

With a bit of luck you can avoid the first three but no-one will ever escape the fourth. It might not be a party and it might not be a drunk, but there will be a grudge involved somewhere.

I got this 54 years ago when I came to Australia and was caught with the classic ” So tell us what you think of Australia …”. I’d been in the country a week when I was asked this but that was luxury – most overseas visitors got it at the foot of the steps as they got off the QANTAS or Pan Am jet. Nobody who hadn’t prepared a statement for the journalists was ever treated well – indeed the wise ones went around to the Australian Consulate in whatever country they came from beforehand and got a prepared script to memorize. It was the only way to ensure a good press for the duration of your stay.

It was particularly awkward around the patriotic days; Australia Day, Anzac Day, Melbourne Cup, and Grand Final day. One false move answering the national catechism questions and you were damned forever. Fortunately my Uncle Louie had been here before and schooled me in the proper sentimental expressions so I was able to pass most inspections.

The Australia Day questions have changed, and people can give different answers depending upon who asks the question. Anzac Day conversations have remained unchanged. Melbourne Cup and the football Grand Final generate savage controversy, but mostly amongst the savages of Victoria.

No nation likes to hear bad of itself – though it may be prepared to excoriate others. The best way of getting along in society is to praise wisely – you must be honest and quick about it, and you’ll be best to pick aspects of the place that are undeniable and uncontroversial. Praising the weather and/or the native wildlife is pretty safe. You can even get by with phrases like ” Such atmosphere! ” and ” I’m fascinated! ” and the hearers will think well of you. Then press on by and don’t look back.

If you wish to be thought well of, you will continue this litany during your stay…and long afterwards. Australia has cultural monitoring squads that watch your writings and speeches for several years after you have visited to try to detect anything but fulsome praise for your antipodean experiences. If you avoid giving a bad traveller’s review you’ll be welcome again.

But if you return, you’ll be asked the same damn questions – there is always going to be a sense of uncertainty here that needs reassurance.


Are There Truly Humourless Societies?

We often think of the Puritans in New England or the mullahs in Persia as sober-minded kill-joys. People who cannot be amused and who would not be happy if their life depended upon it. Perhaps this is so, but I can’t help feeling that there must be a quintessential  Puritan or Persian joke that cracks ’em up regularly. We might never have told it but it exists nevertheless.

How about more primitive groups ( Though there will be a little discussion later amongst the cynical about the Persians and primitive behaviour…)? Do the Hottentot laugh it up? The Orinoco Indians? The Inuit? You bet they do. I’ve seen pictures of them yukking it up over songs, dance, and theatre. The humour might be local and pointed, but it’s there all right.

Are there humourless professions? You’d think the funerary ones would be sober, and they are… mostly whilst working…but I’ve seen ’em off duty and they laugh as well as they weep. My own previous professions had their own forms of humour – in one case involving blood and pain and in the other troublesome customer relations. Occasionally they would cross jurisdictions. It will likely be the same with welders, court process servers and people who stuff sausages. And you don’t want to know what they stuff in there…

I think that any group of people – a nation, a society, a club, or a family – must of necessity have some comedy or humour in their makeup. If they don’t they would go mad – perhaps this explains the ones that have done so in the past. As soon as the fun evaporated, so did they.


Every Day In Every Way…

I’m getting bitter and bitter.

You gotta be careful when you get past certain ages. The danger points are 14, 19, 35, and 65. They all expose you and others to the possibility that you will become a menace.

14: Hello, puberty – goodbye manners. You’ll find that you can eat more, scratch more, belch more, crave more, and obey less when you hit 14. Everyone around you who is older will recognise the signs. They will put up with it for a surprisingly long period of time, but beware when they come to end of their patience.

Your mother will take the longest to crack – she’ll make all the internal excuses for you that she possibly can to save her sanity and save you from Juvenile Court. She will feed you, clean you, and tolerate you in a way that would not seem possible. She’s had training – you were once 2 years old and she knows the sort of thing to expect. But beware when she has finally had enough of your bullshit and turns on you. There will be nowhere to hide from the Wrath Of The Mum.

Your father will not put up with the BS anywhere near as long. He’ll grasp you lovingly by the neck, hold you against the stove, and use his fist to explain how you need to behave in future.

19. Well, ain’t we just the biggest thing since the TITANIC?

We’re all grown up. We have opinions. We have a little bit of money. We have a girlfriend or several. We have a car. What more could we possibly want?

Sense and manners for a start. Kewl thuggery is a great temptation. We think that nothing is going to resist us and nothing will be ever sheeted home to us.

The luckiest 19-year-olds are drafted into the military and discover the horrifying truth within two days. Then they can be stripped down, carefully reset, and turned into proper men by their sergeants and petty officers.

Failing that, the ones who enter workplaces or universities where instructors and charge hands do the same thing stand a chance of being successful.

35. I can get away with it. I’ve been getting away with it for years now. I’ll never get caught.

Whether the ‘ it ‘ is adultery, tax evasion, professional incompetence, complacency, plagiarism, arrogance, pride, sloth, gluttony, anger, or any of the other sins, you always think that no-one knows and no-one cares.

You’re always wrong.

65. Well – now that you are 65 you are put out onto society’s windowsill to cool like a pie. But no-one comes along to steal you…

You are in danger of finding this out and becoming angry about it. You’ll cool, harden, develop an impenetrable crust, and a bitter filling. If you are the sort of pie that has that criss-cross pastry top, no-one even wants to look at you.

The secret to overcoming this is to be come self-sufficient. I’m not suggesting that you get a garden allotment and grow your own sparkplugs – though you can if you like. What you really need to do is find out what pleases you, and make arrangements to do it. It may be a case of not buying or owning pleasure, but of finding or developing it.

A caution: if your greatest pleasure is sitting at the bus stop with a catapult and firing ball bearings at cyclists passing by, you will have trouble. Substitute hard round chocolates instead. You’ll still knock them off their bikes, but it’ll be easier to make it sound like a sweet and lovable eccentricity in court.


When The Hand Stops Listening…

That 80’s and 90’s thing:  ” Talk to the hand… “. Was it clever or rude? Was it just a catch-phrase used by a comedienne to make herself sound clever? Was there a need for it and is there a need for it now?

Well, let’s dispose of the question of an act like this in regard to manners and etiquette straight away. It is rude. It’s unpleasant and not the sort of behaviour in which a lady or gentleman within society would participate. But then society makes up only a portion of the population – outside of the polite enclosure, behaviour has more room to move, so to speak.

How do you stop intrusion? How do you stop nagging? How do you stop impertinent enquiry? Assuming that you haven’t been wise enough to avoid putting yourself into a position to be subjected to these annoyances…and that is an entirely different essay…you still want some way of escaping. You’ll also want to be able to avoid even more unpleasant behaviour in the social setting, but may be at a loss as to how to go about it. Here are a few suggestions:

a. In the wider world, keep your ears open. You’ll frequently be able to hear low troublemakers on the street long before you see them – they cannot stop themselves from shouting and making animal noises. Steer yourself away from the sound.

b. In a closed venue, watch to see who is making a disturbance or taking up far more space than normal. They’re trouble and it is best to let the staff deal with them. You’ll be far better away than just hoping for the best.

c. If someone singles you out for unwanted attention and will not accept a polite rebuff, walk to the nearest authority, quite openly, and ask for protection. If caught away from any help, yell or scream continuously for assistance. If you need to do this in a drawing-room or a shop, do so. The nature of the event will excuse any disturbance.

d. If someone persists in unwanted behaviour on social media drop their acquaintance. On Facebook you can do so by ” snoozing ” them for 30 days, unfollowing them, or unfriending them. The Facebook organisation will accept your decision and support you in it. Beware that if you then meet in person, the other individual may ask why you have not contacted them…have an answer ready.

e. If someone rebuffs you or drops your acquaintance, accept it with good grace. You need not pursue further contact. The inevitable chance meeting later on the street, or at a relative or mutual friend’s house alluded to in (d.) will be all the more interesting. Be gracious.

f. If all you need is time to think, recover, or relax in the face of distress or importunity, request it. Good manners and good sense demand that it be rendered. If it is not, then you are perfectly free to drop the acquaintance and walk away from further contact.

No-one wants to be isolated, and no-one should try to isolate others. Equally, no-one need endure unpleasant conduct or be associated with foolish or criminal activity. When in any doubt err on the side of caution and kindness, but remember that you have a right to be left alone.