13 Sep 2013

Australian Barbecues

Before I move onto this week’s blog, I would like to acknowledge that I made a mistake in my post about Facial Hair. The etymology of the word Barbarian was incorrect. Barbarian actually comes from the Greek barbaroi (n.) meant "all that are not Greek," but especially the Medes and Persians. The Romans (technically themselves barbaroi) took up the word and applied it to tribes or nations which had no Greek or Roman accomplishments.

Picture courtesy of Mattinbgn
A few weekends ago I enjoyed a BBQ at Islington Park with my family and some friends. We had a great time and it reminded me of how surprised I was when I first saw public BBQs in parks. I couldn’t believe that people would orderly use the facilities and share them without any altercations. I was equally surprised to see that the BBQs were kept in such a good working condition!
I can’t imagine having public BBQs at parks in Spain. They would probably be destroyed by vandals. If for some reason this didn’t happen and the BBQ survived, it would be taken over by people who wouldn’t let anyone else use it, keep anyone that approached them scared with their intimidating attitude and leave the place filthy. This would irremediably end with it deteriorating as no one from the city council would clean it. I don’t mean to say most people are like this. It’s just that there are too many people like this to make having a shared BBQ even possible. I asked a Chilean friend about it and his view on the possibility of having a public BBQ in Chile was also negative. ‘People would steal it,’ he said. ‘They would find a machine to pull it out of the ground and take it home.’  
Is being able to share a public BBQ peacefully a marker for a civilised society? I think it is. I remember hearing stories years ago about how in Sweden there were public bikes that anyone could use. You just needed to pick it up, cycle wherever you were going and leave it at your destination for someone else to use freely. To me that sounded like a utopian lifestyle.
To be fair, in making comparisons between countries one would really need to measure a number of elements. So there may be other things that make Swedes and Australians less "civilised", but I like the symbol of the happy BBQ and I think it’s one of the examples of how advanced Australia is.
In Spain we sadly have too much destruction of public infrastructures. Graffiti is definitely a problem. As a teenager I had a school mate who lived in a nice house in a wealthy part of town and who used to spray graffiti on the walls of houses in a more modest part of the city.  I always think of that when people associate acts of vandalism with a poorer socioeconomic background. Utter rubbish. It’s not just graffiti though that affects Spanish cities. Writing gets carved on the walls of historic buildings and most public statues end up with missing parts. Every Christmas, a group from the local ramblers association walk up to the top of the Pico Ocejón, a mountain 2049 m high in the province of Guadalajara (Spain), and set up a big nativity scene. More than once it has been destroyed. There’s a 13 km walk to the top of Pico Ocejón from the closest village, so there must be some very keen vandals out there.

Pico Ocejón. Picture courtesy of Sonsaz

I wonder in how many countries you could enjoy public BBQs happily. I think it’s an admirable trait of Australians which shows a nice sense of community spirit. This makes me believe we should also soon be able to experience another marker of community spirit: drivers peacefully sharing the streets with cyclists and pedestrians…