Old World, New World

I have a debt with the government. It’s left over from the Fine Arts degree I did about 20 years ago. Yes, you may be surprised to hear this, but an undergraduate degree in painting did not lead me straight into a glamorous, high paying career at the Stock Exchange – or even into a job paying the mid-level wage that would have triggered automatic debits from my salary to pay off the debt.

Over the years I’ve pondered a multitude of different career possibilities, yet done nothing about pursuing any of those careers. My main reason was the cost of further study, and the added debt I would have incurred from taking it up.

Careers I’ve considered over the years include: teacher, graphic designer, illustrator, interior designer, artist, curator, art therapist, aromatherapist, naturopath. One career that I never thought about until today, however, was that of anthropologist.

According to the University of Melbourne,  Anthropology is the study of the many societies and cultures of the world and their complex interaction. Admittedly that sounds interesting, but I’m not really thinking about studying it. For a start, if it’s at Melbourne University, it probably costs about $80,000 AUD, and therefore is out of my price range by about $78,000.

According to Wikipedia, however, There is a sense in which every human being is an anthropologist, if we accept a very humanistic and generous interpretation.

Hey, I’m happy to accept a humanistic and generous interpretation if it means I get an extra qualification without added debt! I’ll happily accept an honorary degree in anthropology – thanks Wikipedia! I’ll update my CV this weekend.

So, as I am now officially an anthropologist, I thought it would be appropriate to list some of the observations noted on my recent field-trip in Europe.

(Note: anthropologists with real, university degrees place a lot of emphasis on immersing oneself in a particular culture, and then producing long, and – let’s face it – sometimes dreary – treatises on the behaviour and cultural differences they observe. But as one of the new breed of “honorary anthropologists”, I think that a few days is quite sufficient, since the key differences between cultures can be spotted in a day, and that there is no need to write a 500 page book when a short blog post can summarise cultural differences quite succinctly.)

To illustrate, here are some the differences (from Australian cities) I observed in cities in Europe:

Toilets: In Australia, public toilets usually have a toilet seat. In Europe, they were often without a seat. Who knows why this is? – I do not care to contemplate the lack-of-toilet-seat phenomenon too deeply.

Garbage Trucks: In Australia, garbage trucks are, well…..big, like real trucks are. In Rome, the garbage trucks are like big toy trucks!

A garbage truck in Rome (notice it's smaller than the person next to it).....so cute!

A garbage truck in Rome (notice it’s smaller than the person next to it)…..so cute!

Football: In Australia, of course, it’s well known that we have more space than we know what to do with – after all, most of the country is outback or desert. So there are large parks and football grounds all over the place, even in cities. In many of the European cities we visited we saw no large parks, but frequently walked through a group of kids kicking a soccer ball in a small, concrete city square. My field notes suggest that they seemed to be having just as much fun as Aussie kids have kicking it on grass.

The logistics of how consumer goods are moved and distributed: In Australia, food and consumer goods are brought in by container ships to the docks, and/or loaded onto semi-trailers, and driven across the country by truckies on speed. These semi-trailers are backed into huge warehouses, or loading docks, and the goods are unloaded in bulk, into vast, impersonal supermarkets. In many European cities we visited, the streets are simply too small for large trucks to bring bulk goods in, and there is no room to build huge supermarkets. This must make the logistics of getting food into the city tricky, but the advantage is that the food in the many small bakeries and delis is made fresh on the premises, and the locals probably know the baker/deli owner because they drop  in every second day for their loaf of bread and bottle of wine. So the lack of space in these cities creates a whole different culture of shopping – a much nicer culture, in my view.

Coffee: In Melbourne we pride ourselves on doing good coffee. So much so that lately I’ve heard from more than one source, that coffee in Melbourne is far better than coffee in Italy. Well I’m here to tell you that is bulls**t. There is definitely good coffee in Melbourne, but there is also plenty of mediocre coffee. All the coffees I had in Italy were good, and they were also better priced!

Suburban: Yes, it’s true. Despite the image of France that I’ve gained from French cinema, where everyone is thin, and lives in a cool inner-city apartment, or a quaint country cottage, I discovered that cities in France have outer suburbs that look like the outer suburbs  anywhere else in the world: dull, depressing, and filled with factories, truck yards, and daggy, themed restaurants.

IKEA: there is an IKEA store in an outer suburb of Paris. I suppose I should have expected it.

Plastic bags:  In the interests of strengthening the sustainability of the environment, in Australia we are strongly encouraged to re-use bags, and at some businesses, we are forced to buy a bag if we don’t have one. Ireland, where my sister lives, is way ahead of us – there, plastic bags have not been given out in shops for at least a decade. Not so in Italy, Spain and France, however.  It appeared that these countries are on a campaign to give out as many plastic bags as possible, and to do so even in the face of opposition. In Rome, early in our trip, I brought a bag with me, as I’m used to doing, and gestured to the elderly woman, to show that I had a bag to use for my purchase. Her response was a tolerant smile, as if I was being silly. She pulled out a plastic bag and popped my new coffee pot into it. I didn’t like to upset her, so I accepted it in the plastic bag she gave me. I went on to collect about 50 plastic bags over the  trip, which I will now, of course, re-use.

Disability: In Australian cities, people with a disability that affects their mobility are probably a lot better off – as far as ease of travel goes, at least. Naturally, because European cities are so much older, the streets are small and narrow, and frequently made of cobblestones. Lifts and elevators are often non-existent, particularly at railway stations, and when a lift was in operation, it was usually so small that it only fitted one person and one bag at a time – and would certainly not fit a wheelchair. For people with sight impairments there may be some advantages, though. We had cause to buy at least 3 different types of medication on our trip, and all 3 boxes had braille on them – presumably detailing the same information that we could read, about the medication. This is a small thing but seemed significant – a step that pharmaceutical companies selling their products within Australia could surely afford to do, too.

Those are just a few of the observations I made on my recent field trip. Now that I’m an anthropologist, I must write these up for my peers (according to Wikipedia, that’s all the rest of you, should you choose to accept the qualification)  to review. An anthropologist’s work is never done.


INXS – Old World New World

Old world, new world

I know nothing

but I’ll keep listening.

Leave a comment


  1. I have a degree in graphic design and later taught myself to paint, then went on to teach while getting my masters. In the US and overseas. I’ve learned to integrate the degrees and working independently. Not bragging ’cause the money’s still dragging in but it’s going to get better. Don’t worry about the loans. Matter of fact, don’t worry about anything.


    • Good advice! (although i find it hard not to factor cost into the equation). Maybe I should really start to consider what I want to do when I grow up!


  2. Your trip almost sounds tax deductible! Don’t rule out TAFE to start a new career (and avoid the monster debt), depending on the course.


    • Oh I don’t – I often check out TAFE courses. The best year of my life was probably the year I spent doing a Visual Art Course at TAFE back in the day. I love TAFE!



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