A Yank or an Aussie?

The overall feel of Australia (or at least my small corner of it) is so vastly different than America that it’s truly hard to even describe. Sure, there’s the stereotypical bit about how they are more laid back and easy-going, etc, but it goes even beyond that. There’s something deeper amiss here and I’m finding it terribly hard to succinctly express it. So maybe it’s best to just give some examples of my experiences and you can form your own opinions.

Here you don’t really split bills. Restaurants don’t allow for it (good on them, less work), and the culture seems to just accept it. So this automatically promotes this sense of “no worries, you get the next round.” So whenever you go up for drinks, you are hardly ever paying for just your own, and no one here even gives it a second thought. There’s no mental tally of ‘you spent $10 and I spent $15’. You just assume, as friends, eventually everything works out about right and if it doesn’t, no problems.

The other weekend I was in china town with some friends and we went to this upscale restaurant. While each of the individual meals would have been quite pricey, we ended up just ordering a round of dishes for the table and everyone had a taste of everything. When the bill came, we all had cash and paid out our share. It was so simple, and yet so foreign to me. Maybe I’d have done that “family style” dining with my FAMILY back home (even then maybe not, we like having our own plates), but outside of potlucks where we are making the food, I’ve never had an experience like that.

One thing that’s taken some getting used to is the need for cash. You always have to be carrying a fair amount of bills around because a lot of restaurants and bars will have a minimum spend for a credit card. I’ve been to a couple places in the states like that, but here they are the norm, not the exception. Since restaurants won’t split bills between credit cards, once you all order on the same tab, you all throw in some cash to cover it. Back in the states I never had cash on me because there’s just no need for it. Here, on any given day I’ve probably got a 50, a few 20s, 10s etc. Always be prepared.

I heard before I came here that Australians are all really friendly on the surface, but just because they are nicer, doesn’t mean they think of you as a friend. They are just that nice to anyone. This intrigued me. In America I wouldn’t say everyone is friendly or not friendly (though most of our American cities adorn the top 10 list of least friendly cities), but it’s pretty easy to tell if you’ve got a friend in someone or not. Overall, I’m going to have to disagree with this stereotype of australians as I haven’t seen much evidence for it. I’m still under two months here (not near enough time to truly feel settled in a new world), but I already feel like I’m meeting really genuine people. You can’t expect to have an entire social network built up in a matter of months, but if you have a couple good people willing for you to tag along with them, you can start to grow your social group.

Every day I feel a bit more settled here. I look around some mornings and still can’t believe I’m here. For the last 17 years I lived in a 30 mile radius in North Carolina, and just under 2 months ago I packed my life away and moved as far away as physically possible. I look around here and still can’t quite believe it’s Australia. Maybe when I fly back to the states in May, it’ll hit me that I really am a day away from my other world, but for now it just feels like this is my world. It is not my Australian holiday, it’s my Australian life.

This post was a bit more loosely put together than mine usually are, and I apologise for that. I think it’s a direct reflection on what is happening in my head right now. I’m taking in so many new experiences, people, cultures, etc that it’s hard to pinpoint one or two things to share.

I’ll leave you with a fun side story. A cabby who drove me back from the city this weekend couldn’t place my accent and asked if I had lived in the US for a bit. I laughed and explained of course I’m American and I’d only been in Australia for 7 weeks and he was shocked! He thought I was an Aussie who had just lived in the states for a bit. Really?? Well, after being called a yank multiple times at the bar this weekend, I’m going to take my semi-Aussie status as a compliment and call it a wrap for this weekend. Cheers!

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I’ll take a cuppa

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Life is slowly moving forward here in Oz. Things have sorted out at the Uni (for the most part). By next week I should be officially a staff member (sessional for the unit I teach), and I SHOULD have access to buildings and to the bike locker (and not be entirely dependent on the tram system). Teaching is becoming easier as the rush of the start of the semester has slowed down, and I’m finally feeling like I can breathe a little with regards to the structuring of the unit. I know how to get around on my trams and have even ventured onto the train system as well. I no longer require my GPS navigation on my phone to be constantly running, and have generally learned where I need to go to get my groceries, cosmetics, clothes, etc.

Overall, I feel pretty good. But of course there are moments where I sit back and think “how on EARTH did I get here?” It’s completely overwhelming for me still, even now nearly 6 weeks in. Every minute of every day I need to be tuned in. I need to think about every step, every action and every conversation because if I don’t, I will miss something.

When you go on holiday somewhere, it doesn’t really matter if you meet people or not. If there’s a bit of a language or cultural barrier, well, that’s annoying for the two weeks you’re there, but it’s not really going to slow you down. On holiday you have a plan. Places to see, hotels to lodge at, and a checklist to work through. When you are living somewhere, there is no “plan.” The plan is just, living. Living where you have always lived is easy enough, there’s a pattern and rhythm you’ve adopted. Living as an expat is hard.

Even at the young age of 25, I feel like I had really developed strong ties to my home country and state. My “roots” were deep, you could say. Moving to Oz has kind of felt like I’m still this full grown tree, but with all my strong roots chopped up and carted away. I’m confident in myself and knowing who I am and what I want, but all the ties and connections I had in the states are nonexistent here (well technology makes it work, but you know what I mean). I’m starting entirely over, and it’s a bit overwhelming…but then exciting as well. I feel a bit like, if I can make a go of it here, I really can do absolutely anything.

I’m making friends at the Uni (though none of them are PhD students as my course still doesn’t start until April), but it’s hard being the one that doesn’t have an established world. I know I will. I have no doubts that I will EVENTUALLY, but it’s a challenge for me right now. So I’m learning to take it day by day, but then know that in the grand scheme of things, I don’t need to rush my new life here. I’m miles ahead of where I was just a month ago. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve made some really good connections.

I can now enjoy a good cuppa (cup of tea in Aussie slang). I’ve learned that candy is a completely unused term here and that they consider anything non-chocolate to be a lollie. Then there is the less descript term “treat” which my Aussie workmate demonstrated for me by bringing in chocolate covered strawberries. Evidently treat can be used for anything, but I rather like it when it describes things that are chocolate covered. I also finally figured out the word “partner” here can mean a boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, and (unlike in the States), does not automatically suggest a homosexual partnership. That one was a weird concept for me. It’s just a term that isn’t used in the states too much outside of that one way, and here it is a very general term used more than any other title. This week I also learned how to open and close a binder (trust me, it isn’t easy when the rings have mechanisms that remind me of a mousetrap). And it’s good to note that a binder is not a binder here. What we Americans call a binder, Aussie’s call a folder. The obvious question that follows this, what do they call a folder? Why, a manila folder of course!

So yes, friends, they speak English here, but this is NOT the English I have grown up with. I truly am learning a new language, and I love it. It’s frustrating, overwhelming, and sometimes a bit ostracizing, but it’s also a challenge. And I love challenges. I’ve laughed this week more than I have in quite a while. I laughed mostly at myself and my inability to perform the most basic functions (like opening a binder-folder), but also with my work friends as they take on the challenge of understanding my Americanisms (how’s that for a word). I even had one of them ask me if I wanted a “cup of joe” yesterday. I responded that I think I’d prefer a cuppa.

Being an expat is hard, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Eight Questions I have for Australians and Eight things I think Aussies do better

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So, recently a family member posted an interesting link on my facebook page. It was a list of 21 questions Australians have for Americans. It had me laughing, agreeing, disagreeing, and questioning everything that I’ve experienced in America and Australia. See link:http://www.buzzfeed.com/lanesainty/america-is-really-bloody-weird?bffb&utm_term=4ldqpgp#.xyWJ0qM4N

I was asked to make the reverse list, and I have happily obliged. I tried to match some of my complaints with what the list above said, but some are of my own creation entirely. Without further ado, eight questions this American Expat has for Australians:

1. Why do you not have bills smaller than $5? I get that you guys like coins (and good on you for doing away with the worthless penny), but my backpack and purse are heavy enough without adding a two and one dollar coin to the mix.

2. What is with the internet data caps here? Do you realize how hard you are making it for me to accomplish the Netflix season binge-watching feat that all Americans tackle? House of cards was released DAYS ago and I’m only a couple episodes in!

3. Speaking of the internet….what is up with that? We are in year 2015 and 3-7mbs speed is just crazy when the US standard is right around 30-50.

4. What is with the stores closing at 5pm? Ok, sure, they stay open later Thursday and Friday, but when do Aussies actually shop? When you’re in town on the weekends, you’ve got to get all your shops in early because when 5’oclock rolls around, the only things you’ll be buying are drinks and food.

5. Why do you not use hot dog buns? Why is the standard way of wrapping one’s hotdog folding a slice of white bread in half?

6. Let’s chat about these abbreviations. I get Uni (university), I love sunnies(sunglasses), and esky (cooler) is pretty cute…but Arvo? (afternoon)…and Ta (thank you). Like, where did those even come from?

7. Why is your paper a different size? It’s probably different in every country, but why? It took me about a week to figure out why the documents I was saving and printing weren’t fitting well onto the printed sheets.

8. Why are all the American shows here about 6 months behind (at LEAST) their American premiers? It’s like I flew back in time by half a year on all my favorite shows!

And that is my complete list for now. Shorter than you thought? I was surprised too. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and just haven’t been able to come up with much more. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of moments where I’m left thinking, wait, what? That’s different too? But for the most part, the differences make SENSE. Here’s my list of 8 things Australia does better.

1. I love that when I buy something, I know EXACTLY what it will cost. It makes using cash (and lots of coins) so much easier when you walk to the cashier knowing the exact price. Why do we not do this??

2. When I first heard someone say their birthday is “the fourth of the twelfth,” I had to REALLY think about what was the day and what was the month because I’m so used to saying the month first, but actually, it makes quite a bit of sense this way. Why WOULDN’T you say the “smallest” component first? My birthday is now the sixteenth of the fifth 1989. What a different ring that has to it…

3. Centimeters, meters, etc. Yeah, this one is hard to get used to, BUT much easier to learn that 12 inches to a foot and 3 feet to a yard, etc. Whenever anyone asks, I still say I’m 5’7 and xxxpounds, and they all stare blankly. No, I still haven’t memorized my height and weight in centimeters and kilos. But at least their system is easy.

4. No tipping! Aside from the obvious perk of this non-tipping system (mo money for me), it just makes sense. The waiters make a fair wage regardless of the number of people they serve, how busy the restaurant is, and how generous their patrons are. I have found them to be a little less attentive, but I think that’s also just how they go here. They leave you to your food and try not to interrupt you.

5. Their colorful money. It makes so much sense. I can look into my purse and know how much money I have without reading each individual bill. Why DOES all of our money look the same?

6. I have to agree with Australians when they ask about our continued use of the penny. Come on now. When a coin has such little value that you won’t even bother to pick it up if it’s slipped out of your purse, why even have it? Good on you Australia for dropping that coin. Side note–The price of things here can still fall into a range where a penny would be necessary (something can cost 97 cents), but then they just round up or down to the nearest 5. Makes good sense to me!

7. Phone plans here are SO cheap. Seriously. I’ve got loads of data, tons of minutes to call the states, and unlimited calls and texts in Oz. How much does it cost you ask? Let me preface this by saying that my prepaid plan is one of the higher tiers and it costs me a whopping $45 a month. A similar plan in the states would likely cost double that.

8. A typical complaint about Australia is the high cost of goods, and for some big ticket items that is 100% accurate. Cars, homes,property and the like are incredibly expensive. However, things like fruits and vegetables at the market are remarkably cheaper here. Like, substantially so. The other day I went to the market to grab a couple zucchinis to grill–55 cents for two giant zucchinis. Some also argue that eating out here in Oz is quite a bit more costly. I tend to agree, but with one caveat. The price on the menu includes tax and there is no tip. Considering a normal tipping percentage is around 20 in the US and tax is about 7, every item on the menu in the states ACTUALLY costs at least 25% more. When that is factored in, eating out here isn’t really too much more than back home.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some good points for each list, and I’m sure in a few months time I’ll have more to add, but I think this is a good start for the moment. What did you all think of my list? Accurate? Surprising?

If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes

In Melbourne, it’s a well-accepted truth that the weather is unpredictable. I’ve heard the phrase “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes” time and time again (and I haven’t even been here a month yet). The meteorologists claim it keeps them in jobs, the older people complain about it and everyone comes prepared. Always. Seriously, these Melbournians could all be boy scouts.

I, however, am an American. Nay, I am a North Carolinian. We may have 30s one day and 60s the next, but whatever weather is happening THAT day, will continue happening that day. If it’s raining, pull out your wellies because there will be flooding by day’s end. If it’s sunny, throw on some sunblock and grab your sunnies (hehe) because it’s gonna be a great day. And so on, and so forth.

I have adapted to many things in this city, but I have yet to get a handle on the weather. In the past two days I’ve been rained on TWICE. One was slightly predictable, but today’s was out of NOWHERE.

Yesterday I made my maiden daytime voyage into the beautiful city center for the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Since the main plot of this post is the weather, let me start by saying that when I first arrived in the CBD, it was a balmy high 70’s with overcast skies. Photographic Proof:

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Sandee (my adventurous companion for the day of tastings and drinks) and I had found an area on Southbank (across the Yarra river from the famous Flinder’s station, Fed Square, etc) that had a group of about 8 restaurants serving $15 tasting plates. Once you purchased one tasting plate, you got a free pass into the free (yes, free) wine tasting along the Yarra river (must have been 12-14 wineries represented).

Well, let’s just say we gained “free” entry into the wine tasting three times over as we managed to hit three different restaurants, enjoying a sampling of appetizers at each venue. Spoiler alert—they were all DELICIOUS.

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Waterfront Restaurant’s Cuisine

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Waterfront Restaurant’s Cuisine

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Bluetrain

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Bluetrain

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BearBrass

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BearBrass

Since arriving in Australia, I really haven’t eaten out too much. Partly because I’m still living off my own savings, as my stipend and teaching pay have yet to kick in, and partly because it’s almost overwhelming how many dining options they have here. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I do feel like yesterday I was finally able to check a few things off my culinary exploration list (and by check off I just mean I got to experience them finally, not that I won’t try them again because oh MAN will I be trying all those foods again). I had oyster, shrimp, crab, kangaroo!!!, tacos (pork, fish, chicken, beef, veg), some delicious caramel brownie, zucchini fritters, steak tartar, and likely other delicacies I’ve already forgotten. All this description without even mentioning the wine, apologies. The wine was delicious. Obviously I was more partial to some (*Cough*cabernets*cough*), but I was always taught to try everything once (thanks Mom and Dad!).I took pictures of all the ones I liked because with 12-14 vendors each carrying 4-6 wines, it’s easy to become confused.

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By now (a few hours after arrival) the clouds had mysteriously disappeared, leaving the sun free to light up the city with it’s beautiful (yet potently strong) rays. Obviously I took full advantage of the city sky line and lighting by snapping a few quick photos.

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A riverboat cruise

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All in all it was a grand adventure in the city-one that we topped off with a quick visit to the Royal Casino.

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Having only been to one casino before (in Saint Louis, Missouri), this one was quite impressive to me. I don’t have much ground for comparison, but the size alone was shocking, never mind their ceiling décor.
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We signed up for their free loyalty program, and quickly spent our promotional $10 credit (plus a little).

By the time we decided it was time to head home, a torrential downpour awaited us outside.

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As I was wholly unprepared for this dramatic turn of events, Sandee lent me her umbrella for my trek to the tram (as she opted for a cab ride home). Well, it was useful and then not. As soon as I popped it open, the wind flipped it inside out and I was so quickly soaked that I folded the umbrella back up and walked to the tram The Casino was at a different part of the city so it took some friendly Aussie’s advice to get me back to my tram home. Every now and then I tried to pop the umbrella open, but the effort it took to hold it sideways (yes the rain was coming for me sideways), was more trouble than it was worth. I made it home safe, sound and soaked. What a night.

This morning I wanted to venture to the market and try out my brand new bike basket. Yes friends, I have a basket on my bike. I paid a pretty penny (well, not a penny, aussie’s don’t have money less than 5cents, odd right??) for a nice bike rack and easily detachable basket so I don’t always have to look ridiculous, but this basket is crucial to my poor back’s survival as a loaded down backpack ride 3 times a week was NOT working.

As I rode to the store I actually noted how pretty the skies were. I would definitely venture around my neighborhood to take some pictures of the houses and trees with this beautiful blue sky later today. I meandered through the mall and gathered my groceries only to return (not even 30 minutes later) to my poor water-logged bike. Well played, weather. Well played. I set a blistering pace back home, but arrived, once again, safe sound and soaked. I don’t like this trend I’ve started…

So I didn’t like the weather…what did I do? I waited ten minutes. Sure enough those clouds disappeared, taking the cold rain with them, and left me with a beautiful afternoon of photography.

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Moral of the story? Weather= 2 Mary= 0. Don’t get too comfortable Mr. Weather…I am planning a comeback.