The Australians are a wonderful people. They have, for a number of decades now, encouraged a plethora of immigrants from every corner of the globe to set up home in their vast nation and to contribute towards the establishment of an authentic multi racial and multi cultural society. The first Australians were an indigenous group of nomads, the first of whom appeared some 40,000 years ago when there was apparently a natural causeway linking Darwin to Port Moresby. They were then, and still are, down to earth people… literally.
The rest of the crowd only appeared some 200 years ago on board Her Majesty’s flotilla. These first white seafaring migrants earned their passages by dubious means not entirely confined to the best workings of the English judicial system and the penal law in force at that time. On hindsight, being banished to Botany Bay was probably the best thing that could have happened to these condemned vagrants and miscreants for they succeeded in creating a unique culture and existence which has become the envy of many a fair nation.
Australia has always been a nation of equals. Australians try their hardest to be as equal as everyone else. They discourage any attempt by anyone to be more equal than others. This attitude, affectionately known as the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, is practiced as rigorously as some religions, and is a great leveller. Everyone is a ‘mate’. This means everyone looks out for one another. If your toilet is blocked, your next door neighbour is obliged to stick his hand down your U tube and muck around until it isn’t anymore. He can then be expected to receive a “stubby” (cold beer in a bottle) and a slap on the back for his assistance. If the U tube was really blocked, he might get invited to a barbeque as well.
A first time visitor to the land of the kangaroo may find Australian English a little perplexing. There are certain terms of endearment used which have to be appreciated in the context they are used. If you are referred to as an ‘old bastard’, don’t be offended, this just means you have been accepted into the community with open arms. ‘Well bugger me’ just means ‘golly’. ‘How yer goin mate’ is not an enquiry into the mode of transport you intend utilizing in your travels, but merely a general greeting.
Australians love their country very much but they also love other countries as well. This is why you will find them scattered all over the globe, trotting around in their thongs and billabong shorts. That is their national dress of which they are proud. If they have to attend a formal occasion like a funeral or a black tie dinner, they may wear a T shirt as well.
This down to earth attitude works well for Australians. There is no need for them to address each other except by their first names. Formality is an unheard of word. Informality is their way of life. Even their Prime Minister rides in the front seat of his official car, next to the driver. No one is allowed, by convention, to be important. The less important you are, the more you are accepted. This is all part of the great Australian ‘mateship’ phenomenon.
And bless their little hearts. This is the way they think the rest of the world works too.
So when Tan Sri Fluffy Bum flew down to Perth from KL for a weekend at the Burswood casino, his secretary was entrusted with the task of organizing a limousine to pick him up at the airport. All went according to plan. The chauffeur was dutifully standing outside the arrival hall awaiting Tan Sri’s appearance. In his hands he held a little sign board upon which was transcribed, in bold letters, the words ‘Mr. Tan’. I think they eventually connected.
Meanwhile back in the land of unequals the fervour for recognition persists at an alarming rate. It is very important to be important and the more important you are the better. Whilst Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd are seated next to their drivers travelling incognito from one important engagement to another embroiled in matters that make a difference to the world at large, we are arguing over the entitlement to the number of outriders and police cars on trips between the Sogo shopping centre and the local mamak eatery.
In stark contrast to the established Australian etiquette of social address, which is austere at best, Malaysians spend their lives aspiring to be bestowed with honorific titles so much so the ordinary ‘mister’ in the street is becoming an endangered species. Speeches at official functions take ages as everyone present has to be acknowledged in the pecking order of the multitude of titles available at large. And this is repeated by the next speaker and the next.
Visitations by dignitaries to official openings of humble projects require bouquets of flowering plants and general shrubbery to be attached to the left lapels of all those present in the front line. After the ribbon is ceremoniously cut, our mobile jungles are escorted to a front row of seats which differ substantially in comfort and form from all the rest of the seats set out for the plebs behind them. Now this is where things start to become awesome. Whilst waiting for all those elongated speeches to be made, it is essential that one strikes the appropriate pose for the TV cameras as this pose will distinguish one from the rest of the less important personalities and aspiring wannabes present. It’s all in the slouch. And when the individual interview is being held thereafter, the more important the interviewee, the less he will look at the camera but instead focus nonchalantly on a spot somewhere to the top right hand corner of his peripheral vision, whilst answering questions in unintelligible gobledegook.
Being important does however have its advantages. Parking problems no longer exist. The limit on duty free liquor no longer applies. Policemen would never consider being naughty with you. You don’t have to line up personally at the immigration department to renew your passport and you get to wipe your muddy shoes all over the porters trousers.
To achieve any status of importance, a certain unwritten protocol has to be understood, adopted and adhered to.
Firstly one has to acquire a title. This can be achieved in a number of ways. You can spend a life time climbing mountains in a sarong, crossing deserts on foot, sailing around the world in a boat without a mast, sliding across the Antarctic on a coconut frond or even attempting to swim across the Gombak river at low tide, shouting ‘Malaysia Boleh’ at the same time.
If any of the above appears a little too strenuous for the aspiring but faint hearted prominent citizen, then it would be advisable to look for an alternative and less tiring route to stardom. This involves a commitment to a philanthropic, altruistic and an unselfish lifelong dedication to the eradication of poverty and the general upliftment of the lives of all those have nots in society coupled with an unreserved dedication to the preservation of our rainforests and all the little critters roaming therein, protecting our heritage from the hands of unscrupulous developers, generally looking after the welfare of our immigrant labour force and saving the dolphins for good measure as well. And after being incarcerated at the pleasure of His Majesty for all this anti social and national security threatening behaviour, you just may, as you gasp for your last breath, be called a decent chap.
So let’s get real. No one is ever acknowledged and decorated for wasting time doing silly things like that. It is far easier to just get in with the right crowd, save up and contribute to some dubious charity. That would save a lot of unnecessary hassle.
So once you have achieved your lifelong ambition and people no longer refer to you as ‘eh you’ anymore, you will require some ‘props’ to emphasize your new found position in society. You will need a motor vehicle of the type which would reflect your status. You can’t go wrong with a Mercedes. They come cheap these days, especially those that have been ripped apart on the North South highway and reassembled by an innovative mechanic using proton parts.
Once you have your Mercedes (and driver), you will then need to learn to play golf, join a prestigious club, drink copious amounts of red wine and be seen at all the expensive karaoke clubs in town. A mistress is compulsory as is a developed penchant for havana cigars. You will then have to ensure that you are on the invitation lists of all the beautiful people in town and then develop a swagger to go with your new Gucci suits. You are now on the road to a successful career with the help of your new found friends in this prestigious mutual adoration society to which you now belong, so don’t blow it all by shooting someone with your newly acquired glock 32 self repeater.
So whilst social anthropologists ponder over the unique way in which two countries of indigenous people, complemented by a bunch of immigrants, can develop so differently in about the same period of time, I will continue to sit on my balcony and watch regular processions of the Royal Malaysian Police Force (Traffic Division), scream past with their blue lights flashing and their sirens wailing, in escort of some prodigal high flyer who, no doubt, is in need of some embellishment of his tenuous position in society.