15 Things to Love About Five Countries I've Lived In!
AUSTRALIA 9 years' experience
The mateship culture inspires people to give back through volunteering and charity. Australia was even named 2nd most charitable country in the world, just after Indonesia! Rural fire brigades throughout the country are volunteer-based, and members of the community rush at the chance to join so they can protect the community! The same can be said of volunteer lifeguards, and very popular children's "nipper's" programs start from age 5, teaching kids how to protect people in a beach incident! I recall Sydney beaches being absolutely overrun with adorable kids in uniformed wetsuits for these weekend programs.
The Aussie "Tall Poppy Syndrome" means when someone has shown himself to accomplish more than the the common man in his community, you cut him down like a poppy that's grown too tall. In the American context, this sounds like a negative trait, but it can be a good thing as it cultivates a very humble and understated culture. For instance, I worked alongside a young yacht skipper for weeks and it wasn't until I inquired about what it's like for him living in a forest that he casually offered the info that he's a volunteer firefighter for the NSW Rural Fire Brigade to keep the community safe. In other cultures I've lived, this statement would be the peacocking opening of a conversation with a woman!
Laidback & Total Work-Life Balance
Notoriously laid-back, Aussies know personal life comes ahead of working life. The idea of working overtime everyday, treasured in America like a badge of honour, doesn't make sense to Aussies. You can bet an Australian will take his 3-4 weeks annual holiday (in addition to eight national holidays) to Bali, Singapore or some other exotic location. Calling in sick to work isn't anxiety-inducing like it is in the states, dreading your boss will assume you're not professionally dedicated enough. You can actually take "mental health days" off in Australia and not be scoffed at.
When working at an architectural company, I went downstairs to speak with my hilarious Melbournian barista, Blake. I said, "Blake, after nine years in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, I'd love to know where you Aussies get your laidback nature from?" He replied, "Chelsea, Aussies try to find as many ways as possible to do as little as possible." I laughed, and will never forget this because it was one of the last words of wisdom spoken from the mouth of an Aussie before I left Sydney for London.
Blake said this tongue-and-cheek, but I have to say the Aussie lifestyle of knowing when and how to relax led this formerly Type-A American to learn how to mellow out and be present in a way I never could have learnt in the states or most other first world countries. I find the perfect balance for me is somewhere between the US and AU way; the American work till you drop approach is a no-go for me now, so I'm not interested in working with American companies. However, I pride myself on ensuring the highest quality of work if provided for clients, and never flirt with the idea of exceeding a deadline. Perhaps this balance is more European?
AMERICA (notably West Coast)
Approx 19 years' experience
Ambitious & Self-determined
Think Tony Robbins. Americans embody the "You can do it!" energy. It was founded in the early days of the states with Capitalists like Carnegie and Rockefeller; the quintessential "pull yourself up from your bootstraps" mentality. They love hearing when someone's achieved something great, and it's not a source of jealousy but rather inspiring the feeling of possibility that they can achieve that, too! In a way, it's the opposite of the Aussie tall poppy syndrome. Which can also have its side effects such as the special American brand of cockiness. But, this is a post about things to LOVE, so...moving on!
Warm and Friendly
You can pick out the American in a photo because they usually have the most open smile. They're big on good customer service, cheery greetings and an enthusiastic way about the way they carry on conversations. I'm a West Coaster but have had plenty of friends and colleagues from everywhere from the East Coast to the Midwest and Deep South, and by and large a common theme is effusiveness.
Self-sufficiency and the need to be unique. When I was 16, I dyed my hair all sorts of vibrant colours and wore punk-rock studded cuffs, while attending college classes amongst classrooms filled with 20-somethings. People around me thought it was interesting, and to me I was expressing my creative rebelliousness to show someone can be punk and also hold their own getting straight-A's in college. "Weird" or "different" in the states is good, in other places I've lived it's definitely not good. It points to the idea that you're your own person, apart from your family or community. In many places in Europe, fitting into the community is more important. Each value has its merits, but the good part about American individuality is that it inspires innovation and growth.
ENGLAND 1 year's experience
Listening to fascinating Radio 4 interviews and stories on road trips. Need I say more? The level of intellectual stimulation you get from daily life in England feels like brain porn. Pop into a shop and have an impromptu intellectual discussion with the shopkeeper. Roadside advertisements are witty, and banter is at the ready in any interaction. There is a special British-style smart sense of humour that I just adore.
Brits also love their history. I went to the Castle Rigg Stone Circles in the Lake District, to my luck it was absolutely devoid of people. A half hour later, a sole man walked up taking photos, and I walked up to him to ask if he knows anything about why the stones were there. He rambled off on an intricately detailed description of the history of the 5,000 year old stones, including various academic theories on why they were placed a certain direction, and historical comparisons with other stone circles in the UK. Brits are like walking dictionaries and history books all in one, and as an intellectual geek, I just love it!
Speaking of rambling off, a simple thing I love about Brits is their love of rambling - meaning, going for extended and often slow-paced walks in their Wellingtons through the beautiful English countryside. I feel this highlights a larger but more nuanced point, which is Brits' love of quiet contemplation pointing to an underlying cultural introverted quality. Rambling also showcases their love of nature, conservation and the value to preserve public trusts.
Whenever I tell Brits how much I like them and their culture, they look confused as to why, which to me makes them even more endearing! This understated quality is very different from the Aussie Tall Poppy Syndrome, however it's in a similar vein in that even though (or perhaps due to) the fact they've conquered every land they've historically step foot on, they tend to underplay things. I remember getting into conversation with a gentleman about his expedition around the world by yacht, and he felt a bit embarrassed as he set the scene for his story, trailing off at the end by saying, "Oh it was quite a fun little adventure..."
MEXICO & CENTRAL AMERICA
3 years' experience
Latin nations famously focus on family connection, and I just love this as most of the rest of the world has forgotten this important value. There are sociological papers to explain wealthier countries don't have to rely on family kinship networks as much because their state/government will support them if anything goes wrong. So, as nations get wealthier the less importance is placed on family. Maybe this is why I love the people in places like Indonesia, Myanmar and Mexico, because they haven't "grown out" of their family values yet!
Ah, contentious, no? I don't typify myself as religious, however am as spiritual as they come, in the way that I believe in reincarnation, souls and the concept that everything is energy (which of course is also science, but more on this in another blog post!) Religion is the glue that sticks communities together, which we don't have nowadays. People met at church every Sunday, it was a ritual giving them meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging. In this generation, we've substituted this dedication to the church for dedication to our phones and technology. It's trendy now to chastise religion, when we are all really praying to the church of the iPhone. People say that historically, we were handcuffed to beliefs and customs which didn't serve us as humans, however can't the same now be said for the phones which handcuff us to a false sense of belief and belonging?
Without getting too heavy, I like that Mexicans still have the spirit of religion coursing through their veins, even if they're not practicing. It drives higher purpose, meaning and a feeling of wanting to do the right thing for your neighbour, which I'm sure you can agree we're missing a lot of these days.
Did you know Mexico has TEN traditional dances?! It's incredible! Mexicans are a passionate bunch, and they love to express themselves. Sure, there is the quintessential fiery Latina stereotype which I can vouch for as that comprises half of me, but it's all for a good cause! Life is more fun and vibrant when you are free to sing, dance and yell if you need to!
A little less than 1 year's experience!
Not only is prostitution in Germany legal, but did you know a government stipend actually covers costs for disabled people to pay for a prostitute? And, the said prostitutes can actually receive training in sexual accompaniment for people with disabilities. If this doesn't signal quirky, I'm not sure what does! I love everything about German quirkiness, from the Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp's offbeat jokes to socks with sandals. Okay, maybe not socks with sandals, that's going too far...
Hardworking & Efficient
The Germanic work ethic is always impressive. There is a dedication to quality for the sake of quality that I find so endearing and commendable. In Sydney, I worked with a lovely man from West Germany who lived in laidback Australia for over 25 years. He always retained his steadfast approach to work, and diligently worked at his computer for hours past the time even the boss went home. He never gloated or rubbed it in people's face that he worked so hard and for long hours, which makes it even more important to mention. Germans on the whole value doing a good and thorough job.
If you ask for his opinion, and he thinks you look fat, he will tell you that you look fat. Then you know if he says you are great, he really means it! There is no sugarcoating or beating around the bush. It makes means you always expect to get the truth - even if it hurts a little, at least it's genuine!