Provocative and insightful as he is, after a Skype conversation my friend Simon decided to highlight this amusing piece of commentary by Stuart Lee about the claims of expats to better quality of life and larger prawns. Bigger prawns, he eloquently suggests, do not necessarily denote higher quality of life. But it did prompt some thought on the comparison of London and Sydney from a cultural standpoint.
Some expats have cited a lack of culture in Australia, that has led them to depart for home, where stuff is older than a couple of hundred years and there’s more variety. Much of the reason for this could be that there is more of everything: more people and more cultural influences over a longer period of time. Thousands of years of cultural change, adaptation and influx, compared to a few hundred years. This gives way to a broader expanse of cultural variety and a Darwinian process by which it all becomes more vigourously specialised and perpetually changes.
The argument that the UK media environment is more sophisticated has merit, but is not totally defensible. There are number of reasons why no Australian news institutions have anywhere near the international readership that UK ones do. Because of how remote it is, there’s less focus on world events; some outlets do have a very provincial feel to them; and there’s less competition in the space partly because the country is sparsely populated. The fact that Australia is both younger and has a population approximately one third of the UK’s, is another major factor.
But recent (by the very historical standards I’m referring to) events in UK media – namely with News Corporation taking the beating it has deserved for decades – have hardly left it covered in glory. And the fact that tens of millions of people read the utter rubbish in the Daily Mail arguably reflects the same lack of sophistication that people identify in Australian media. At least columnists for other (equally scrutinised news organisations) are pointing this out on a fairly regular basis.
I certainly take Stuart Lee’s point about the insanity of exchanging intellectual standards in media for perceived quality of life (not to mention those lovely prawns). But the reason for going abroad is to explore and experience a different culture and live in it to get a genuine sense of how it operates, how it differs and ultimately, why home is home. Not to do so is to lay claim to an understanding of one’s environment that lacks an external perspective.