Go on admit it, you don’t like surprises.
Sure, you love it when someone unexpectedly gives you a new pair of shoes or a pay rise but if your beer or fruit juice tastes just a bit different, your favourite cafe changes its menu or Facebook introduces a new page layout – well that’s just annoying isn’t it?
There’s a reason we’ve got so little banking competition in this country and it’s largely because most of us don’t like surprises, so much so we’ll let ourselves be bent over and corn-holed on fees and interest rates because at least we know what we’re getting.
It’s also why we have so many McDonald’s and Ikeas and Asian hot bread shops making the same three types of bread: no surprises; just manage our expectations …
Embedded deep in the Australian psyche is a gorgeous little conceit that we’re all rebels, planet Earth‘s likeable rascals who thumb our nose at authority because of a subversive strain of DNA encoded at the Eureka Stockade.
The reality is, though, that Australia is one of the most obedient, homogenous societies in the world: we dress the same, eat the same, speak the same and, scariest of all, we dream the same.
Pick up a newspaper or switch on the TV and there it is – The Great Australian Dream – three bedrooms, bit of a backyard, be nice if it was close to the water and better still if Jamie Durie could do the landscaping so the BBQ area looks like the courtyard at an ad agency.
That’s what homogenisation is all about: it’s the new new thing, globalisation’s most successful product – making us all want the same food, clothes and ideas, whether we’re Japanese, Lebanese or Senegalese.
And if ancient cultures such as those can succumb to the chrome, concrete and corn chips of homogenisation, is it any wonder we do?
Think about our airports and supermarkets, our shopping centres and petrol stations: they’re what French anthropologist Marc Augé has described as “non-places” because they have no true identity, history or relationship to the country they’re in.
I was in the Galeria Krakowska, a shopping centre in Krakow, Poland, a couple of years ago and it could have been in Toorak or Bondi Junction or the Jersey Shore such was the sameness of the architecture, the stores, the products.
The United Nations says that “7000 plants have been collected or cultivated for human consumption. Of these, only a dozen contribute about 75 per cent of the global intake of plant-derived calories”.
More than 95 per cent of the world’s livestock protein derives from poultry, cows and pigs.
There are about 1000 commercial fish species, but in aquaculture fewer than 10 species dominate global production.
So, despite all the choices we have as consumers nowadays, we’re actually eating with less diversity. With so many choices, people make none – they go with the safe: the Big Mac, the can of tuna, the Billy bookcase.
The funny thing is, research into happiness tells us that one of the universal experiences that delights humans is novelty – the new and surprising – which might be why so many of us get a buzz from travelling and foreign cultures (apart from the airports and shopping centres).
In our day-to-day life, though, we eschew the different and the bizarre because we don’t want any ugly surprises in case it disrupts our sleepwalking.
However, if you avoid surprises altogether, you miss out on the pleasant ones as well – such as new foods, music or an author who comes from left field and enlarges your perspective beyond that which you were certain of yesterday.
So why do we do it?
Well, I reckon you can never underestimate the laziness of an Aussie.
I can’t imagine how hard it would be to stage a revolution in this country. Half the rebels would want to know if there’d be parking, while the rest would demand refill stations for their water bottles so they could stay hydrated.
At least we wouldn’t need uniforms; we’d all be dressed the same already.