Having a conversation with a friend the other day, we both realised that the majority of our friend circles consists of either international students/people from overseas, or people from the country. Without even realising it, we’ve unintentionally gravitated toward non-Sydnesiders.
Being from the country is like having a sibling who annoys you. You can complain until the cows come home, but if someone who is not in your nuclear family does the same thing, you get defensive. Whilst there are some nuances I don’t have space to cover, I find the same thing works with race. Only members of an ethnicity are able to criticise their ethnicity.
If someone from outside the ethnicity being discussed contributes negative comments, it’s seen as being racist. I feel the same way about being from the country when people from Sydney talk about it. I am allowed to complain about my electorate’s penchant for the National Party, but If someone east of Penrith does the same, I get irritated.
Firstly, they’ve probably not been to the country apart from 21sts, or gold-panning for school excursions (the same way we went on an excursion to Cabramatta in Year 9 too look at ‘multiculturalism’ for Australian Studies). As a result, many — I would say the majority of Sydenysiders — haven’t spent enough time there to form proper judgements. Only upon reflection and living elsewhere is one able to fully appreciate the positives of where you come from.
I once got my hair cut in Potts Point and I mentioned I wasn’t from Sydney, whilst explaining my lack of geography skills. Upon learning that I was from West of the Blue Mountains, the hairdresser shrieked, looked perplexed and added “but you’re so normal!” I’m still not sure if that was a question or not. He’s wrong, I’m clearly not normal, but three-minute judgements on my personality aside, he tapped into something.
Sure, there’s no T2 stores and definitely no Zara, and you’ll look like a pretentious wanker if you order a dandelion chai with oatmeal tea or know what dog yoga is.There’s definitely less variety, which is probably why I go out of my way to order things I’ve never heard of before on menus and measure amounts of money in flights. That’s fine, but there are also things in the country that the city doesn’t even realise it’s missing out on.
Watching kangaroos over your back fence graze at dusk, feeding a family of magpies that appear expectantly at your backdoor every morning. Raising potty lambs. Hearing the cows talk to each other during the day in the distance, cuddling chickens, seeing wide open spaces undisturbed by humans, and all the wildlife they contain. None of the these thing the city has. Seeing life this way can give you a better perspective of some of the crap that cities carry.
The people (forgive me as I head into a minefield of stereotypes here) just tend to be nicer. I can count the number of people who I consider to be sociopaths from the country on one hand. People just care about each other more. Upon visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago, the checkout dude at the register asked me how my day was. It took me back. Generally this type of question from a stranger serving me in Sydney would have been slightly odd, especially from a 16-year-old guy.
The guy had nothing to gain by asking me how my day was, it wouldn’t have changed his life at all, but people in the country tend to go out of their way to make you feel comfortable.
On the other hand, there is a lot that angers me in the country. People tend to be more sexist and are definitely more racist. As a progressive feminist who has had partners from ethnicities that were quite obviously very different to mine, I’ve found this to be frustrating and depressing.Things are changing though, and in time the country will catch up to being just as sexist and racist as the city.That isn’t to say the two are often exactly the same … the city is just more insidious about it.
Countrysiders tend to also be more conservative in their political ideologies. There are feelings that we’re ignored, with the Government tending to focus expenditure on more population-dense areas, which makes sense. In simplistic terms, it will mean more people will vote for you and you’ll be more likely to be reelected.
I don’t think it’s just Sydney though. When living in the UK and travelling to its capital, I’d get my ‘London’ on, which consisted of being much more aggressive and much less warm. You have to, I don’t mean to sound too cynical or jaded, but you’d just get screwed over otherwise. The same thing in Paris and the rest of France.
At home, people stress less about unnecessary things. There’s no traffic jams, the houses are more comfy and spacious, less hours are spent at work. Everything is cheaper, there’s less bureaucracy. Life is more simple, and people live more as I think we were meant to.
Another point is, it can be a irritating that the person you pass in the street may have known you since kindergarten so anything you have done in your rebellious teenage years has probably been discuss around the kitchen. I went to a straight-one-eighty school, and so was erroneously branded a ‘rebel’, on account of having my nose pierced at 15. That stuff is difficult to shake off in a small country town. My mum used to say ‘mud sticks’. Then again, on a positive note, getting to know someone or have a close friend since you were 5 is something pretty special.
The people are portrayed as being unemotional, but I think that’s unfair. Having your livelihood balance on the whim of mother nature can be a precarious existence. Having your crop wiped out because of drought one year and then decimated by floods forces many to breed a harsh acceptance of reality. It’s no coincidence suicide rates of men in rural areas are significantly higher.
Maybe it’s because in cities there is no time to care about everyone, because there’s just too many people, so in daily interactions a distance is maintained with your neighbours, the medical receptionist, your hairdresser.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I love the anonymity of a big city, being able to do whatever you want and no one will know. If you make a particularly bad decision on your choice of a member of the opposite sex on a Saturday night, your aunty isn’t going to find out from the newsagent on Sunday arvo (just joking, newsagents aren’t open on a Sunday in the country!).
At the same time, sometimes it’s nice to belong to a community where everyone knows everyone. If I wanted to go out and none of my friends were free, I could go out by myself and know over half of the people at my town’s only nightclub.
The boys in blue are probably more friendly in country areas. Whilst at times they also have to deal with terrible stuff, there’s sometimes more fear of social repercussions which can include having your name on page three of the local paper for your parents, grandparents or worse, your grandparents’ neighbours to see.
There’s also more mixing of socio-economic levels. I have friends who have never seen any other part of Sydney apart from the Eastern Suburbs, who live in Vaucluse and who exist entirely within the parameters of the top 1 per cent of the world’s of wealth. You can’t do that in the country, and if you do, you won’t have any friends. Whole suburbs in Sydney are shrunk to a couple of streets in the country. You can’t remain too ignorant because you need to go through the dodgy area to get to buy your milk from Coles. I’m yet to meet a homeless person in my town, because people tend to fall through the cracks less in tight-knit communities.
So whilst I maintain a love/hate relationship with the country (and the city), at the end of the day, I’d much rather be friends with the country version of myself (the city version’s a bitch!). To me, it’s often the people who make a place.