One of the things that sort of annoyed me about working at Ipex was the tradition of having to bring your own cake on your birthday for everyone else to enjoy. It was a very sweet habit to enjoy all year long other than that "special" day of your own birth.
My attitude towards this birthday cake has varied with time. On my first year I brought a cake because I wanted to be a part of the team. I even went as far as bringing two cakes. On my second year I didn't bring anything, in an unsuccessful rebellion against the institutions that wouldn't give me a raise. And on the third year I was established enough to be able to bring a cake and announce out loud that I am against this habit but I still comply because I owe all the friends whose cakes I so eagerly gobbled.
The custom's problematic aspects were quite obvious to everybody, and as a result the "Cake Police" institution was developed in order to "motivate" the birthday victims into bringing a cake. I think the sole policeman was quite successful at his job.
But Ipex is in the past now; I thought I could forget about birthday cake chores for this life.
Back to the present. A couple of weeks ago I heard that my boss had a birthday celebration meeting. The problem was that I heard it through people talking about it; I wasn't invited to anything, which was a bit of a surprise given that my new boss seems like a very nice person.
So I asked around, and it turned out that in my new job there's an institution to rival the ingenuity of the Cake Police: the Birthday Cake Club.
The concept is simple: You join the club for free; you bring in a cake on your birthday; you can only have a go at others' cakes if you're a member.
As much as I find the concept ridiculous, I joined in, mainly as an attempt towards integration. The other club members, 8 in number (now 9) were quite happy to hear that my own birthday was on the following week. They would have preferred May, as there's a hole in the cake calendar then, but no one really minds a cake when it comes along.
So I surrendered and brought my cake the following week. I did, however, rebel and break club rules: I invited non club members to come and enjoy my cake. As I said, I did it for the integration, not just the cake.
The experience of watching people's attitudes towards my cake was quite interesting, at an anthropological level. Club members came and had a piece of cake; non club members came along, stared at the cake, but dared not touch it. Eventually, I managed to talk one of them into having a very thin slice, but that was quite an effort.
So what is the point of this story that I managed to tell so far in quite a substandard way, literacy wise (mainly because I'm very tired and bothered with that eternal quest of finding decent flights)?
I'm basically trying to demonstrate two things that I find negative about Australia.
The first one is the rather masochistic pleasure of establishing rules where they are not really needed or wanted. You can argue whether this applies to bringing a cake on your own birthday, but you cannot argue against its validity in the case of the "cake club" organization: someone had to come up with this idea to start it (I wonder if it started with a couple of people bringing cakes to one another).
The second is to discuss the rather poor benefits an Australian employee receives from his/her employer. Salaries are fine, more or less, but other bonuses that usually surround the salary - things like pension - are superbly inferior to what the European employer receives. Back in Israel I was used to receiving gifts from my employer on my birthdays; nothing astonishing, but still something that's totally opposite to having to bring something of my own.
I guess the ultimate demonstration of poor employee treatment in Australia is the total absence of the well entrenched European concept called "paid maternity leave". There is simply no such thing in here!
What bothers me most about it is that people are not aware of what they're missing. In actual fact, when I raised the issue, I tend to get claims such as "why should my taxes fund some lazy woman lying on her back and bringing babies all the time"?
Aside of the fact that this claim shows a lack of basic understanding on how paid maternity leave works (basically the fact that giving birth is still a major economic loss, even in Europe), it shows that the Howard government's "user pays" policy is working so too well that people have stopped applying their brains. Basically, lovely Howard says that only people who get a service should pay for it, instead of the services being funded by the tax payer. Makes sense, until you realize that that's what taxes are there for in the first place; and as Jo & I don't consume much back as far as government services are concerned, why should we pay tax in the first place? Certainly not to pay for Howard's salary.
Personally, I would gladly pay even more taxes than what I pay now if they come into good use. Good use includes good health services, good education, good public transport, and services that allow people to have a smoother go through life when times are hard - for example, like after giving birth.
Not that I expect Howard to follow my line of thinking. He will continue flooding people's minds with his spin on things and probably getting his way, but I suspect that at least in the case of maternity leave his ulterior motive his much simpler than economic philosophies: being an old fashioned conservative Christian, the guy almost certainly thinks the wife should stay at home and cook for the kids anyway.
I still hold that Australia is probably the best place for an English speaking person to live in. However, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have some major disadvantages, like everything has. My problem is that the disadvantages that I dislike the most look as if they are here to stay, mainly because the majority of people are too well fed by government spin to notice when things are wrong. In certain aspects, we are down under.