Wednesday, May 1, 2013

No Worries

It’s been another month, and I’ve been wondering exactly what to say. This place is slowly changing all of us in a lot of subtle ways.

I don’t know where it began for Australians, but somewhere in their past someone started to distance themselves from adversity simply by saying, “No worries.” It’s a part of everyday speech here. It’s a rare thing not to hear it at least half a dozen times a day in idle conversation. People go slower because they seem to have realized the problems aren’t going anywhere so they don’t need to rush. For an anxious Canadian, that’s a strange feeling. And I find myself liking it even though it flies in the face of being a responsible, productive person. Not that anyone here is shirking their duties. Far from it. They’re just not burdened and defeated by their adversity.

“No worries” means a lot of things over here. It’s much more than the Disneyfied “hakuna matata.” It’s more of a refusal to let inconvenience be an irritation. It means someone’s request isn’t as big an issue as they fear. It means someone doesn’t have a problem helping someone else out in a jam. It means there’s no need to apologize. That’s the one that gets me every time, because Canadians are a nation of apologizers. We apologize before the other party even indicates there’s a problem just in case. And an Australian’s instant “no worries,” cancels out the apology. It’s like having a nervous tic sucked away on a repeated basis until the brain perceives the behaviour has no real benefit and adapts away from it. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening. My brain is gradually shifting away from that habit of launching any request with a disclaimer to smooth the waters. Because it’s not going to get the same reaction it has in the past. I’ll just get a standard, “no worries,” and my brain is still trying to compute what that means in this new dynamic. I can already see it in my kitchen experiments with gas and slightly different ingredients. When I try a familiar recipe that doesn’t quite work as it should, I don’t beat myself up as much anymore. I give a mental shrug and take note that it didn’t work. If I can see why, I change it. If I can’t, I take it out of the recipe roster as a possibility. No guilt. Because really, it’s too late to change anything anyway. And I really find it amazing that I’ve spent more 45+ years of my life not understanding this little truth. It’s actually sort of blowing my mind.

Australians generally seem like a pretty secure bunch. Also a distinctly un-Canadian quality. That “no worries” attitude extends to identity quite naturally. People dress the way they feel comfortable. They generally don’t seem to be quite so worried about keeping up with anyone else’s idea of fashion or sensibility. There is stoicism in their approach to life. They make their choices and then deal with what occurs. No punishment or wallowing in guilt. Just pick up the pieces, learn something and move on. Can’t help but like that and want to master it myself, because I’ve been liable to indulge in occasional bouts of self-loathing and recrimination in the past. It’s not a shirking of accountability but rather a healthier perspective on how to make mistakes mean something other than a guilt trip that changes nothing. At the end of these three years down under, I’m hoping I’ll have absorbed enough of the “no worries,” mindset to no longer abuse myself when I screw up. I think it could be a valuable skill to acquire. 

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