I’m not trying to be stereotypic, but everyone in this world had have one or multiple views of the world.
This is a paraphrase of what my lecturer told us in one of my courses. It’s a course on the Australian and Pacific Exploration. She was telling us about the European expectations when they began their journey to the other side of the world. This quote goes into the views of Europeans while they departed to the – then unknown – Pacific.
My journey to the unknown also began with expectations. What did I know about Australia? Kangaroos, koala’s, wombats, the Opera House in Sydney, the great barrier reef and the Uluru. I’ve seen the movie “Muriel’s wedding” and watched the tv-series “McLeod’s Daughters” and “H2O”, but these weren’t real points of comparison. Honestly, at that moment I didn’t even know who the prime minister of Australia is. Do they even have a prime minister? (Side note: now I know but for all the unknown people out there: the prime minister of Australia is Julia Gillard, the first female prime minister.) In the search for more information about this mysterious country a friend of mine gave me a book: “Down Under” of Bill Bryson. For the people that don’t know mr. Bryson: he writes about his travels to other countries. In a humorous way. A very humorous way. He describes Australia and it’s lifestyle, but also: facts, figures, history, division of territories, flora and fauna; their looks, how deadly they are, how tame they are and how many of them exists. This seemed like a good start for my journey.
Next to my own research on this country down under, the international office of Utrecht organized multiple gatherings on studying abroad. What do you have to organize to go there, what do you have to do there and what do you have to do when you come back. Mostly it was the formal things: finance, airplane tickets, study related-things etc. But a big point on the agenda was: culture shocks. Culture shock is basically when you encounter a situation which is totally different then in your home country. The culture shock can be euphoric or shocking, but after a while you start to accept it and acclimatize to it. But my thought was: since Australia is an English-speaking country, I wouldn’t encounter this. Well, how wrong could I have been.
After a journey of more than 50 hours, I arrived exhausted in Townville. I explored the Strand, Flinders street and the University on my own, but a couple of days later I got a real tour thanks to two real ozzie friends. They drove me through Townsville, showed me my house for the next 5 months and showed me multiple cultural highlights.
One of the places we visited was Riverway Lagoons. It’s a big sized swimming pool. But aesthetically it surpasses a “normal” swimming pool. The different pools are like lagoons nestled between raintrees, with the picturesque Ross River providing a peaceful backdrop. Honestly this sounds just like MTV’s cribs, right? Well I can ensure you, in reality it also looks like it. There were children playing everywhere, and the best thing was yet to come: the entrance was free.
Just like every tourist my first reaction was grabbing my photo camera. Something as beautiful as this must be captured on camera, so the memory can be saved forever and relived as much as I want. While trying to capture the beauty of the pool, the exotic trees and the Ross River, one of my friends ran towards me and stopped me immediately. Because I was about to commit – what is considered to most Australians – a crime.
Because there were children in my picture, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. You don’t take pictures of children in public places, unless you have the permission of the parents. Since there were 50 children playing in the pool, permission was impossible. My friend explained that this “unwritten” rule was made after multiple child porn accidents in public spaces. I felt embarrassed, as if I stole something and I was caught red-handed.
But after a while I started to think about the consequences of this “unwritten” rule. Can I take pictures of my own children if they are playing with other children? No, unless you get permission of their parents. Can I take pictures of my nephew’s soccer game? No, unless you get permission of all the parents including the opposite team. Can I take a picture of a tourist sight if there’s a child in front of it? No, unless you get permission of the parents. With other words: no, you can not do that, ever. If this was implemented into my own life in the Netherlands, Facebook would have been a very boring place.
I couldn’t get the incident out of my head. And then I realized it: I had just experienced a culture shock. Well, it was a shocking one. But if I have to believe the international office, after a while I will start adjusting to it. So in the future I will make sure that all my pictures are children free. But since I cannot withhold you all from the beauty of the pool, I will end this blog post with a link to a picture of the pool taken by Chris Cohen. He captures the beauty of the pool entirely and in a way better than I ever will, but the most important thing of all is that he took the picture children-free.