Australia, February 28, 2000
Better get your shopping done early in Oz
The other day, around 18:00, I went for a run. I figured I
could pick up photograph's I'd put in to be developed the day before, on
my way home, so off I went on my run. Around half an hour later, hot, and
sweaty, I ran up the front door of the newsagent shop. There, I was to
receive one hell of a shock. Staring me in the face was a
"closed" sign. Closed at 18:30 on a Tuesday. Closed!!
I was in such a state of shock that a convenience store would close so early; I stood outside for a few minutes yelling, "closed? What the f#*% is going on? Its f#*%ing closed! Why the f#*% is it closed?!" The proprietor, hearing my commotion, came to the door and politely gave me my photos. I was still in such shock, I could only stammer in disbelief as he explained that his day started at 6, so he was entitled to go home then to have a life.
Mystified by this lack of customer convenience, I shared my experience with Sean's friends. They all agreed that a store should close early, so the owners could have a life. They even agreed with the Russian practice of closing a restaurant or cafe for an hour at lunch and dinner, so the staff could eat.
Confused and confounded by this blatantly socialist bent, where somehow the staff is more important than the customer, I walked around in a daze for a few days, until one day when I was riding a city bus. The Scania bus, straight from Sweden, got me thinking. Right there, on the 370 to Coogee, I realized that Australia is not modeled on the US or the UK as I'd expected, but on Scandinavia!
A quasi-socialist/capitalist economy, with high taxes on the rich and high benefits for the poor, Australia is not the pure capitalism I am used to. It's not capitalism with a few rules of America, or capitalism without rules of Russia, or capitalism only in cities of China. Australia has taken its own path to industrialization, a middle path between capitalism a socialism, which has effected the entire country.
I've yet to see the stressed out consumer culture so obvious in America. When the going gets tough in Oz, they head to the beach. Everyone is relaxed because they would be taxed if they tried to hard and given a pillow if they didn't try hard enough. So they float along, making enough to stay happy in this warm worker's paradise.
For me, this worker's paradise is shockingly expensive and consumer unfriendly. I am so used to the cheap eats of Asia, and the great service of Southeast Asia, Oz is quite a shock. Also, as one of the locals, not an interesting foreigner, I feel a little too ordinary. I am used to the room coming to standstill, like in China, or at least dealing with the owner directly, like in Thailand. Here, I am just another American.
My desire to spend time with Sean keeps me here, for now, but I can feel the more exotic and inexpensive roads of Asia calling again.