Today’s blog post is from Melissa Werry. Melissa is writing all the way from Paris where she is trying to turn herself French, one stripy shirt at a time. Read more about it on her blog: Turn Me French.
Mind The Gap
Australians like to think of ourselves as a patriotic country. We enjoy our own national holiday, we boast our own breakfast spread in the colour and consistency of tar, and many of our citizens sport large Southern Cross tattoos in places that the nationals of other countries would describe as obnoxious or more simply, unattractive.
But compared with its European aunts and uncles, Australia is still in swaddling clothes. With its relatively brief lifespan, modern Australian society has not developed a sense of national identity as strong as those who trail ancient histories. To define “Australian” is a difficult thing to do, because we do not have the benefit of the tens of centuries that some other countries have to develop our understanding of self.
Some would argue – though probably not the residents of Villawoood – that this youthfulness and ultimate lack of defining culture allows us to spread our arms wide to accept change and difference in a way that those with more deeply entrenched national identities cannot. But with all my depth of experience after one week in France, I am beginning to think that the reality is quite the inverse: perhaps the stronger a national identity, the more shock absorbent it will be. Perhaps an older nation will experience less identity insecurity, and engage more authentically with others.
How did I reach this conclusion? By catching the train every day. In the carriages of the RER from Thorigny to Paris L’Est I see Arabic women with glittering hair veils smiling at little white babies in the seats opposite them. And old ladies in pink tweed who offer handkerchiefs to young black men in basketball caps and chains who worked up a sweat to make it through the automatic doors just as they were closing. And African men in suits who leave their cards with young white students in search of a job. And teenaged girls sporting leopard print pants and bright pink hair who allow gray haired women to laugh at them as they overhear their phone calls to their mothers asking them to turn on the washing machine.
I won’t pretend I haven’t seen the pictures in newspapers of young Maghrébins setting cars alight in the street, or heard the debates on the laws against the burqa or the future survival of the French language. But that is not the France I have seen first hand. The French I see in the carriages of the RER are not scared of the gap. They don’t mind the gap. In fact they seem not to notice it.