J’aime la France….Oui Oui!

I must admit, the past couple of weeks have me feeling very cultured. While I paid homage to my good ole U.S. of A on July 4th (and had some great friends joining me for the American fanfare), the celebrations for Bastille day seemed to one up everything just a bit! Admittedly, having a limited supply of fellow Americans makes it a bit difficult to have a big throw down, but I think next year I will step up my game a bit! For July 4th,some friends and I went out to a couple of bars with American themed food and drinks. The Aussie’s put up a good attempt, but they do not quite understand how to whip up a GOOD corn dog (yes, I was disappointed). However, bar number two was a winner with an apple pie drink that EASILY wins the title of my all time favourite cocktail. Delicious. Please also note the pie crust placed ever so carefully atop my glass.

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Anyway, back to France….What was meant to be Bastille day turned into Bastille week here in Melbourne as we found French-inspired fun almost every night that week! On the “real” Bastille day, I visited a French night market in South Melbourne. Though the weather was a bit dreary with some rain and cool temperatures, it was apparently eerily representative of Paris (so said the Frenchies), and thus a perfect way to celebrate France. The evening began with Mulled wine, had a lovely “never tried this before” moment with the tasting of a Raclette, and finished with an espresso martini (get off my back…I know it’s not French, but it was GOOD).

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For those (like me) who have no idea what a Raclette is, let me endeavour to enlighten you. Evidently it is both a cheese and a dish (because that’s not confusing). The cheese on the dish is called Raclette (a very tasty cheese), but the dish itself is comprised of the cheese atop either a baguette or potatoes. On a cold winter’s night in Melbourne, this dish paired with my wine was perfecto (oops, not french).

At some point during this evening venture, a wine and cheese night was planned. I can’t remember how the event planning began, but somehow it ended up at least becoming partly about convincing me that goat cheese really isn’t as horrendous as I think it is. I likened my experience of first tasting goat cheese to the time I tasted vegemite. The Aussies are still trying to convince me that that black paste can be tasty, just as the french are trying to entice me to give goats cheese another go. They also really didn’t appreciate having their cheese compared to vegemite…

So wine and cheese night happened that weekend. I know nothing really of cheese, so I stuck with bringing wine, and my own American twist…baked mac and cheese. Don’t judge. It was delicious and paired wonderfully with the wine. I call it wine and cheese night, but technically the french were sharing their evening with Italy as the theme was France and Italy (and apparently other nearby countries as well). I was explicitly told American cuisine did not fit the bill, but I claimed my mac and cheese as “italian” pasta, brought some homemade macaroons for the french, and I somehow got away with it! Those macaroons caused quite the stir, however, as we had a bit of a language barrier when trying to define what a macaroon was.

To the french it was this:

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To me it was this:

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But apparently the answer is both….we just need better ennunciation

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Who knew?

The wine and cheese party was heaps of fun. And, yes, in case you are wondering, I did indeed try goat cheese….and more importantly, the french were right. It was good….and….it is not as bad as vegemite. Sorry Aussies.

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As if two French days weren’t enough…there were MORE french festivities on Sunday over at the city Library. I must admit, this event was a bit of a letdown following the other two days as there wasn’t a WHOLE lot going on. There was no time for whining (whinging as the Aussie’s say), however, as I was quickly placated with a salted caramel crepe…. Happy with my food selection, and with my Parisienne PIC (partner in crime…I’m getting the hang of all this aussie brevity) deciding we had seen enough, we departed the festival portion and wandered around Melbourne in search of a new scene.

The arvo (afternoon) continued with a delicious coffee from a place you would never find without already knowing it existed (these are the best places). Captain’s of Industry was its name, and shoemaking, hair cutting and dress making was its game…well, sort of. I couldn’t actually figure out if this place functioned as any of these things, or just showed off antique equipment for artistic flair. Either way the coffee was on point.

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Not quite wanting the Sunday to end, we extended the adventuring into the early evening, hitting up a bar called Section 8. It had a very cool vibe, situated out in an open courtyard off a small side street. The heaters kept the place warm enough that the winter jackets came off pretty quickly.

There was no set DJ (at least from what I could tell?), as people seemed to just go up and drop a record on the table. It made for some very interesting song choices…

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I was told to take this photo. Nothing more to say on that..

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I’m done attempting to smile in these pictures. I’m just going to make ridiculous faces as well because somehow I feel like I’m the one losing this photo battle?

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Well I did have this one from wine night…actually I think she still one….zut alors!

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All in all it was a great evening with friends:)

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And so ends my week of french adventures (frenchventures? frechtures?…I’ll find a good one..). One last au revoir from the city library (photo credit to the french..I did not take this, but it’s a pretty good final shot).

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La fin!

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American Bubble

Have you ever seen those giant bubble balls at fairs and festivals? They are human-sized plastic bubbles filled with air that you can pay to climb into and bounce around on water whilst staying dry and playing bumper bubbles with everyone else in the pool. Heaps of fun, let me tell you. You can run into people full speed, walk on water, all while staying warm, dry and safe.

I think to some extent everyone lives in their own bubble. We are comfortable and safe within the known confines of our home, city, state, and country. You know that even if you bounce over to a new state, you are still in the same “pool” with fellow countrymen. You become so used to having this unifying connection that you start to not notice it anymore. You don’t notice the small ties that signify home and comfort. You don’t notice the words and phrases that are unique to your country. You don’t notice any of it…until it’s not there to notice.

When I came to Australia, I felt like I was taking my little bubble on a trip. I was going on this grand adventure and everything would be new and exciting. And it is an adventure, and everything is most definitely new and exciting, but I have no bubble. Maybe I lost it somewhere over the Pacific ocean on that 15 hour flight, maybe it was when I landed…in any event, I don’t have one anymore and it is both freeing and terrifying. Ok, let’s step out of this bubbliness for those who don’t handle metaphorical imagery well…

There is no “comfort zone” in a new country. Everything you do is new. Every conversation you have is just a bit more challenging, and every relationship you form takes a bit more work. I find myself thinking so much. Should I say that? What might that mean here? Is that offensive? Does this person get that I am being sarcastic? How do these trains work? Why are all the shops closed?…The list goes on.

I had headaches all the time when I first landed in Australia. I thought maybe I was getting sick, but I never got any other symptoms. A few weeks in, I figured it out. I was over-analysing everything. I spent my days literally playing a really twisted game of Mad Libs with Australians where they would say a sentence and at least two or three of the words were complete gibberish to me (almost worse than having a blank space in Mad Libs). Not wanting to seem completely oblivious, I would try and fill those blank spaces in my head with words I thought meant the same thing, but let’s be honest, I had no idea. I finally gave up. If I was ever going to actually understand what people were saying to me, I’d have to swallow my pride and start asking questions. So I did. My go-to response quickly became some combination of “Sorry, what does that mean?” “Excuse me?” and then, when feeling more blunt, “no clue what you said there.” It was hard at first to always feel like that person that was one step behind every conversation, but slowly over the next few months I started to catch up. Thankfully I’ve met some very patient people willing to not only define their odd slang, but to identify my common-place sayings that have very, errr, “alternative” meanings here in Oz.

I have only met one American since I’ve been in Australia, and she’s actually a friend of a friend from back home. So while it was a new connection for me, I have yet to meet any Americans in Australia free of the connections I have back home. I can honestly say I never expected to be in the minority ANYWHERE. And here, I’m in it every day. When I go out, I’m with Aussies, Italians, Brits, French, but never Americans. Every other country will be represented by multiples, but I’m riding solo from the good ole U.S. of A. On the one hand, you feel a bit unique. It’s a completely fresh start. There’s no one to hide away and discuss back home with. All the conversations you have are brand new. On the other hand, you see complete strangers connecting over a common nationality and part of you wishes you had that too…because that’s just a bit easier isn’t it?

But that’s just me wanting a bubble back. That’s me wanting to be in my comfort zone, and while that’s perfectly normal, I think I need to fight that. A couple months ago I was thinking about how I’ve never had so many international friends in my life. But I’ve been here 5 months now and they are no longer “international friends,” they are just friends. I’m noticing the differences less and less as we share experiences. There will always be some language oddities and cultural differences that we have, but those are just good for a laugh.

I’ve had a night with Australians where they literally spent HOURS trying to mimic the American accent (quite badly…I need to train them better). I laughed the entire time as they parroted back phrases that are directly from the most stereotypical AMERICAN movies ever produced. Every now and then I’d give them some good ole country slang as well. Some of the repeatable favourites of the night were hoedown, throwdown, mightcould, y’all, ain’t, fixin’ and any combination of those words (whether it made sense or not).

I had another night at the Queen Victoria market with three French and one Aussie friend where we spent a solid hour trying to figure out what we were each saying as our accents were so vastly different. Sadly none of that conversation is post-able as, like everyone does when learning about a new language, we pretty much only shared words with dirty double meanings.

Being American with few other Americans around naturally means I get ragged on quite a bit. Like most countries, America has plenty of stereotypes that make Americans a fairly easy target for jokes. While at first it can be a bit exhausting, I’ve decided it’s much more fun to embrace the experience and respond with a shrug and “ ’Murica” or “we da best.” It’s a bit tongue and cheek, and some of the conversations we have do lead to more serious discussions of cultural and political differences, but mostly everyone comes into the chats open-minded, curious, and non-judgemental.

My experience so far isn’t quite what I expected. I don’t think I could have predicted just how out of my comfort zone every little thing would be. Everything I did for the first month or two took so much energy. I thought Advil and ibuprofen were going to become staple “vitamins” in my days. It got easier though. Every day I feel a bit more settled, a bit less aware of my foreign-ness, and a bit more a part of the culture here. It’s a slow process, and anyone who hasn’t moved abroad long term would never quite understand all of the little challenges, but it’s the little things that keep life interesting. I thought I was happy in my bubble back home, and I was, but you can’t truly appreciate how comfortable a place is, until you leave it. You can’t truly understand your limits if you never push past them. And you can never push past them if you don’t step out of that bubble.

On a non-metaphorical note…everyone should try the literal water bubble balls at some point though…they really are fun!

Get in the Game!

One of the very first “Australian” things I learned about upon arriving in Oz was their obsession with Australian Rules Football (confusingly referred to as footy). From day one, I knew that if I wanted to be able to hold any kind of sport conversation with an Aussie I would HAVE to pick a team. I can’t tell you how many times over my first few weeks here I was asked who my team was. I had to do the old shoulder raise, head tilt, “dunno” response for a solid month or two before I decided I really did need to just PICK one.

So I started asking around. Naturally one of my good friends here was an obvious choice for inside information on who best to support. Surely she wouldn’t lead me astray…right? Well, if you ask most ANY Aussie who their team is, chances are they will have a VERY strong opinion, and my friend was no different. “Collingwood. There’s no question. You support Collingwood.” Well, okay, that was easy enough…I can go with that, I thought. I still felt I needed a second opinion just to be sure of my decision before I locked in my team for life here. (My indecision, however, didn’t stop said friend from gleefully presenting me as a Collingwood fan from that day on).

Over the next few weeks I found subtle ways to bring footy teams into the conversation (it’s not hard, most water cooler chatter starts or ends with whose team won last night). I came to find out that while most people have a differing opinion on which team I should pick (Go Bulldogs because you are a student at VU, go Melbourne because you live in Melbourne, go Geelong because I’m for Geelong), they all seemed to agree on the one team I should NOT pick—yep, you guessed it- Collingwood.

Here are a few of the reasons I was given for not picking them:
“Everyone hates them.”
“They are all bogans!”
“The fans don’t have any teeth”

When I finally met another Collingwood supporter, I was able to tease out the anti-collingwood vibes I was getting. Apparently, they are one of the more popular teams (though, evidently not around where I am!), but you either love them or you hate them. Well, anyone reading this from back home would know that I’m a Duke Blue Devil’s fan at heart, and while we are obviously the best college basketball team around (2015 National Champions *ahem*), you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. There is no in-between. And I must admit, that’s one of the things that I love about Duke. There is never a dull moment in a college basketball conversation because EVERYONE has something to say about Duke. From what I gather, that’s the general feel of Collingwood as well.

Besides, the rebellious side of me just wants to pick the team everyone else says not to….just to keep things fun.

So friends, at long last I made it to a Collingwood game at the MCG Stadium. The stadium was massive, and the crowd was an impressive 70k+.

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We had fantastic seats in the members area of the stadium (thanks to an Aussie friend with connections). Evidently in order to earn the right to purchase member tickets, your name sits on a waiting list for a couple decades. You then still have to toss out a few hundred dollars a year on top of that. Yikes! Thankfully the seats themselves were relatively cheap and we had a whole group of the Sport Science first year PhD students going.

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We downed a couple beers pre-game because, as we found out, beers are not allowed within the members area (what???). They serve them in glass mugs…but I’d take a solo cup that can travel to my seat any day!

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All in all it was a great game to watch, even though Collingwood didn’t pull out the Victory. I now have an AFL team to support. And for the benefit of my American friends back home, you may have noticed I have entirely avoided using the word “root for” when describing which team I support. In Australia they do not say root for a team…and just in general, if you ever come down under, never EVER talk about rooting. For anything. You will get very strange looks and trust me when I say that it does not mean what you think it means….

Go Magpies!