Published on September 20th, 2017 | by Ann Rickard0
Coming back to Australia after a long break in Europe is always a cultural surprise. It hits me the moment the plane lands at Brisbane airport.
In truth, it happens about half an hour before while still in the air. On comes a video, warning all passengers of the dire consequences of bringing an apple off the plane. Returning Aussies enjoy that, I don’t know what newcomers make of it. Then upon landing – although this has not happened in quite some time – on comes a further warning to sit still and wait for the plane to be fumigated.
“The cultural differences keep coming after my return, some obvious, some subtle, until a few days have passed and I no longer see them.”
I used to wonder what first-time visitors must have thought as they waited on the tarmac while a couple of polite blokes in navy shorts and knee-high socks would come on board, walk up the aisles spraying something scary (but non-toxic) into the air while they sat tremulous and trembling and trapped in their seats.
Now each time just after landing, I know I am back home where I belong, and I like it. It is not just the twangy accents of the immigration and customs people that makes me feel Aussie all over again. It is, and I can’t overstress this, the overt politeness of airport officials. And helpfulness. Our airport people, in my experience, are among the most cordial, civil and obliging in the world. And they smile at you. That is rare from airport officials in most countries.
The cultural differences keep coming after my return, some obvious, some subtle, until a few days have passed and I no longer see them.
Where just a week ago I awoke each morning in Tuscany to the throaty buzz of a Vespa racing out of the piazza below my bedroom window, now I awake to a raucous greeting from a flock of boisterous kookaburras. Where I looked out from my terrace just a short time ago to ancient buildings that radiated history and elegance, now I look up to tall trees and blue sky that radiate space and freedom.
Perhaps it is in the children I notice our cultural differences most. Obviously, children are the same all over the world, and a joy to watch in every country, but it is what is in the background that forges the differences.
In Les Baux de Provence in France I watched school children on excursion, learning its long history by doing little quizzes and drawings of a fortified medieval village. In museums in Italy I saw children study Renaissance
sculptors. At Malmaison in Paris where Napoleon’s Josephine lived for some years, I sat by a group of school children looking down a long-gravelled avenue to the luxurious Maison, watching them sketch what they saw and then fill in a child’s crossword of questions about Napoleon’s Egyptian art collection.
Back here in Australia, this past week of school holidays, I have watched our own children also learn. Mostly how to pet a python. Now, isn’t that the most marvellous cultural contrast?
Our children can not only drape a python around the neck, feel it, pat it, giggle at its serpentine slithers, but they can do it at the local hardware store. Where else in the world?
Medieval villages, grand maisons and elegant old buildings we may not have, but we have Bunnings. And thank-you to them for bringing the reptile display to our local store during the school holidays. It entertained and informed my grandchildren for an entire morning.
It’s all about differences and that’s what makes travel essential to me. I’ve never met a European yet in all my time there that hasn’t listened to my accent and said: “Australia, I would LOVE to go there, I would love it very much. Kangaroooooooos.” They usually accompany this outburst with a hopping motion…but let’s not go there.