The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


BTW: No spitting in Sydney or bigamy in Brisbane

Considering Australia for a vacation, study or work?  Prior to passing through avenues of airport scanners you’ll be polishing your English to better interact with the locals and comprehend the culture.

Fortunately advice is available courtesy of a government booklet Life in Australia. The copyright page has a twee symbol indicating the availability of interpreter services but translates more like three beer bottles.  Those familiar with Australian pastimes might consider the image apt.

There are facts about the island continent’s geography; this useful information indicates why walking from Perth to Brisbane via the Simpson Desert is a mite unwise. It also reveals that laws prohibit racial discrimination.  To know more about this advanced legislation ask an Aboriginal person.

There are tips on proper behavior, such as waiting quietly in a queue to be served.  The author wrote this advice after experiencing Soekarno-Hatta check-in counters.

The first queue you’ll encounter at Sydney will be with radar-eyed quarantine officers.  They know with biblical certainty that every wayang kulit souvenir harbors prohibited tropical insects.

Don’t argue – the free speech lauded in LIA doesn’t start till you’re safely beyond the customs hall and can use your cellphone.

Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is recommended.  Particularly to anyone wearing a Border Force uniform, dark glasses and carrying a gun.  Welcome to Australia.

It’s hard to know whether the section on clothing is meant to entice or repel visitors. The brochure explains that some beachgoers wear ‘little clothing’ and that there are designated nudist beaches. 

To avoid misunderstandings these are defined as places ‘where people may swim without any costume or clothing’.

Tourists keen to get the bare facts about the folks Down Under having fun in the sun should not assume that those showing skin have ‘low moral standards.’  What they often have is melanoma.

Imagine your naughty GPS inadvertently takes you to a nudist beach.  You reluctantly stop to goggle and giggle, then find your emotions aroused.  Take care.  Rant and rage, but don’t spit.  Impolite, says the brochure.

If inclined to sing the national anthem praising a land ‘girt by sea’, the lyrics are provided.  You may need to lend a copy to a local; Indonesians know every word of Indonesia Raya. Australians have problems reciting both verses of Advance Australia Fair.

Two lines read:  For those who’ve come across the seas / We’ve boundless plains to share.  Some have taken these welcomes literally and set sail from Cilacap for the promised land. They’re now sharing cramped detention in Papua New Guinea’s jungles.  Never confuse songs with statutes.

Keen to meet traditional Aussie families?  Take your pick from ‘single parents, step and blended families, same sex couples and couples living together and not formally married’.

No morality alert, but a warning:  Although the arrangements above are legal, having an extra wife is not.  Though gay and lesbian pairings are OK, polygamy is off the marital menu.

The contradictions of cultures are well illustrated: Australians have ‘a deep suspicion of authority’ yet are ‘mostly … conformist’. Sounds like Indonesians.

Understanding the language helps so definitions have been added. The world knows  ‘Barbie’ as a doll. In Australia it’s a barbecue. Get it right:  Grilled plastic is not fantastic.

To ‘barrack’ doesn’t always refer to soldiers returning to their huts.  It might be a verb about supporting a sporting team.

A ‘digger’ is an excavator.  It’s also a soldier. A ‘shout’ is a raised voice, – and an offer to pay for all the drinks in a bar.  I hope this clarifies the situation.

An Okker can be either ‘a boorish, uncouth, chauvinistic Australian’ or someone displaying ‘good humor, helpfulness and resourcefulness.’  No need to fly south to meet either group – the first will be in Kuta, the rest in Ubud.

The other good news is that in Australia ‘all jobs and professions are open to men and women’.  This was well illustrated by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Cabinet: Only two were women.

Now the Republic plans to lure more tourists it’s time for a brochure explaining Indonesian values.  It could point out that President Jokowi’s cabinet has eight women. 

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sunday 20 September 2015)

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