Thursday, 8 August 2013

Week 7: the sunny day

Is it easier to share when the sun is shining?

For week 7 of Our Time of Gifts, I decided to chase up Wilhelmina, the Australian actress whose radiant demeanor brightened our rainy Spring day when she came via Streetbank to help weed our garden. I'd finally got round to finishing the job she'd started, and had uprooted a huge poppy plant, along with several aquilegia. It seemed a shame to consign them to the compost, so, on a baking hot morning, I dropped them round to Wilhelmina's house.

A gift that was easy to give, with a sunny smile offered in return.

Since starting Our Time of Gifts, I've been looking into the collaborative consumption movement. It's based around the notion of a sharing economy, where gifts, favours and goods are exchanged. Sometimes this is done for cash (like ride sharing, where people offer space in their vehicles through organisations like BlaBla Car); at  other times, something similar is offered in return (like a house-swap, where people go to stay in one city while giving their own home up as a 'free' holiday rental). And then there's the good, old-fashioned method of just passing something on for nothing. Through freecycle, for instance.

The 'sharing economy' movement seems to have taken its firmest foothold in relatively affluent countries; places where there is a lot of sun, like Australia and New Zealand, or the Western coast of America. All the people that I've met from these areas shared similar characteristics: an easy smile; a relaxed, optimistic demeanour; and - at least on the surface - an open interest in others. Even complete strangers.

Us Brits, on the other hand, are notorious for our "icy exterior", remarked upon by Shareable blogger Chelsea Rustrum when she visited London for the recent LeWeb conference on sharing.

We are a dour, sarcastic nation who complain when it's cold, then moan when the sun shines too brightly. Our cultural heritage foregrounds the kitchen-sink drama; our cinematic exports include the gritty, conflict-riven films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, and orphaned, misfit wizard Harry Potter, whose teachers and classmates have a habit of dying around him.

We are gloomy.

The free and easy road trip, with its hitchiking and sofa-surfing, has never featured greatly as a rite of passage in this country. It's just too damned damp and drizzly here. In sunnier climes, where the sharing economy is being touted as the next big thing, setting off with a small backback to roam wherever the road might take you, has long been the norm for young adults.

Does this make a difference to these people's ability to trust in the generosity of strangers; to throw themselves into the hands of fate, and offer unconditional help to others?

Or is the UK's manner of sharing just different to that of Wilhelmina and her kind?


  1. Oh Nell I think you are being a bit harsh on the Brits! And I say this as a Kiwi who has lived in London for 10 years and now lives in Australia!

    I understand why you have that impression about New Zealanders & Australians. When it comes to sharing and doing 'good things', I don't rate Kiwis and Australians any better than anyone else. I have found a large helping of cynicism exists - but I think you'll find that anywhere..

    1. Thanks - we're also pretty good at poking fun at ourselves, so my comments about Brits might have read a little more harshly than they were meant! We're good at sharing, but maybe a bit too cynical to adopt wholesale the notion of the 'sharing economy'?