Three life lessons learned from living abroad

Every stage in life, ever chapter in our own journey’s book offers many opportunities to learn and grow. I think I’ve always embraced the power of knowledge, but it wasn’t until I lived abroad that I truly embraced the power of self awareness. When you live abroad you are forced to confront a wealth of insecurities that you probably didn’t even know you had. While creature comforts are ever changing as we move through life (new cars, new houses, new city, new school), nothing strips them away quite as suddenly and completely as moving across the world. I’ve learned many many things about my new country, my home country, the research world, etc, but some of the most valuable things I’ve discovered are just about myself and how I interact with my world. So here we go, three of the life lessons I’ve learned since living abroad.

  1. The way things are done at home isn’t THE way of the world. Adjust your perspective because it’s the only thing you can control.

This seems like a funny one, but hear me out. I spent my first 6 months in Australia comparing absolutely EVERYTHING to how things happen in North Carolina. It was as if my little state (and more specifically my 40 square miles of “home territory” within it) was the standard by which everything “should be done.” Because of this, I initially spent a lot of time being pretty frustrated. The pace is slower, the customer isn’t king, and pretty much every word can be shortened to something ending in “o” (ambo, servo, salvo, avo, etc). The things that week one are hilariously entertaining, quickly become infuriatingly frustrating when they constantly conflict with your expectations. So I adjusted. This is the reality. There’s no “should, would could,” it just is. And you know what? That mindset shift changed everything. All of a sudden I started seeing some of the things that were actually better here than home. That slower pace forced me to find more of a balance. Losing the “customer is king” policy forced me to find a patience with the service industry (that to this day I still battle with, but I’m working on it), and all the Aussie slang has just made for some hilarious moments.

 2. My identity isn’t entirely tied to being an American, and it’s not my job to defend it.

One of my biggest struggles when I moved was finding out how much I unconsciously identified with my country. So much so that I personally internalized any and all negatively charged comments toward Americans (and trust me, there were plenty being passed around). I felt that since I was a part of the stereotyped country, I was being branded with the judgments being cast on my nation. Because of this, I found myself in this constant frenzied state of defending my country. It was painful, emotional and soul crushing because I turned every discussion into something personal. It took probably a year (and a lot of self work with patient guidance and understanding from a friend) for me to break free. I don’t mean to say that I don’t identify as American. Far from it. I embrace it, body and soul because where I grew up and the culture that raised me has a profound impact on the way I think and how I first see the world. BUT, it does not entirely define my personhood. My country of origin isn’t the whole me and while the culture and stereotypes that envelop it it have passed through me, so have many other moments, memories and teachings. I am my own person. And I am American. Those things aren’t the same, but neither are they mutually exclusive.

 

3. Language can be one of the most powerful connectors. Learn it, use it, be thankful for it.

I never realized just how powerful a shared language was. A vast majority of my friends here in Australia are fellow expats, but mostly from non-english speaking countries. Literally the only reason we can communicate is because they decided to study a second language (English). How incredible is that? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved the idea of studying different languages. I continued my French studies all the way through college, but studying a language and living in that language are two entirely different things. One night I was out for dinner and drinks with four French girls. I remember having this intense feeling of guilt as we all sat around the table speaking English. All four of them would have had a much easier time speaking French, but they all went to their secondary language so that I could be included. It stands out in my mind as such a powerful moment of social inclusion and acceptance that resulted in this intense feeling of gratitude. I walked away determined to devote some more time to my second language (if you can call it that). Whilst I’ve studied it for years, without having a need for speaking it, my vocabulary has dropped to an infant level. I’m very self-conscious now that I’m trying to resurrect my lost language, but it’s a feeling I’m working to embrace. Language is an incredible tool and connector, and I want to have the ability to connect with another culture using the words they connect to innately. I’m headed to France to close out 2017, so the clock is ticking. 🙂

I plan to continue expanding upon these musings, but for now I think I’ve hit the highlights. Until next time…

Turkey Day in Oz

Being an expat is exciting. Every day has some element of “newness” to it. Even today. Even ten months into this whirlwind of an adventure I find something new each day. There are the lunchtime debates surrounding the proper way to eat a sausage (why do they not like hotdog buns here??), the horrible screeching sound some of the birds here “sing,” the highly suggestive ice cream bar commercials, the animal character adorned icy pops, the tongue twister worthy outer suburb names, and so on and so forth. It’s all new. It’s still new. And as fun as it is…it’s also challenging.

For every new discovery, there’s an unfamiliarity. There’s no history, experience or memory associated with at least half of the things I’m experiencing here. Which is great! Talk about a crash course in broadening your horizons. Consider me officially dunked in the proverbial pool of cultural awareness. It is hard though. The best way to describe it is like being on the outside of a constant stream of inside jokes. Only the jokes aren’t jokes–they are a candy. And they aren’t called candy. They are lollies. And then when you go to share your “insider information” on your country’s oddities, there are blank stares and you become very aware of the fact that you are an American. And you are not in America.

I’m sharing this not to make the expat experience seem less exciting than it is, because, as I said, it’s pretty exciting. I just wanted to shine some light on the other side of things. Sometimes we get so caught up in sharing the new and exciting that the whole experience loses some of it’s authenticity. Hopefully by shedding some light on the challenges associated with this expat life, the other moments are able to shine just a little brighter and carry a bit more weight. Take Thanksgiving, for example…

This was my second thanksgiving that I spent without my Papi who passed away last year, and my first without any of my family. Let me take a second to say how blessed I know I am to have had 25 years of never missing a thanksgiving meal with my family. I was so worried about spending this time of the year away from home because I have been completely spoiled with love, memories and amazing food on thanksgiving for 25 years of my life. I am very thankful to say that absolutely nothing changed this year. Well. Sort of.

I am in Australia, not the US. I was homesick for the first time since I got here. I spent my week working at Uni rather than sitting at home with family. I had to track down a turkey. When they only had frozen ones (and TINY 4kg ones at that), I had to thaw it out over the course of a week. I actually had to COOK the turkey, and not sleep in while my mom or Nana did the work. I had to bake the pies and organise the food, drinks, dishes and people. I had to plan ahead and do a grocery shop at the only american food store in Melbourne to collect a few “key” turkey day items. I had to host the meal outside because I had 16 guests and a small apartment.It was work. It took time. And I could stop here and leave thanksgiving as this, but let me back up and tell it properly.

I am in Australia, not the U.S. So every time I spoke about thanksgiving, everyone just got really excited about this whole holiday they never experienced. Expectations were high, and it honestly made my holiday mean a bit more to me to have so many people so excited about it too. I was really homesick. There’s no way to sugarcoat that one. It was a hard week and in years past, the week of thanksgiving is the easiest most relaxing week because you just sit at home with family!

I did have to find a turkey, but when I did and realised they were only 4kgs, my other American friend here stepped up to cook a second turkey. Then I ended up grabbing another quarter turkey. So all in all, thanks to Australia and their teeny tiny turkeys, I set a new personal record for number of turkeys at one thanksgiving at 2.25.

At home the pies are one of the highlights of the meal (duh), so I was very nervous to take on this task. Luckily I didn’t do it alone. One of my best friends here spent a very late friday night baking pies with me. It was quite a task because the ovens here are 1)in celsius (boo!) 2) are fan forced (which just really destroys any confidence I have in my cooking). I also did not make the process any easier by proclaiming the pies burnt every 5 minutes. I was entirely obsessed with “oven watching”–I swear that night it might as well have been my television. You know you have a good friend when there are flowers, cookies, wine and patience in response to my complete and utter pie meltdown. They turned out delicious by the way…

I did have a long trek to the one and only American food store, but, as is the theme of this story, I wasn’t alone in that either. Not only did one of my guy friends drive me down to the shop, but he even walked away with a few goodies too (though I did advise against the twinkie purchase). ha. Here are some of the items only available at the American food store!

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He also took on the ultimate thanksgiving challenge by tackling the stuffing. After an awkward conversation about what stuffing ACTUALLY was, he emphatically took on the task. (when I said stuffing he thought he was going to make what was going into the bird. I had to explain that in America stuffing is a side dish and does not necessarily get shoved into the turkey. He then started calling it dressing, which was equally confusing, but I’d heard the term before so I was convinced at this point we were at least talking about the same thing)

Stuffing is my absolute FAVORITE part of thanksgiving. He was well warned of the importance of his mission, and I’m proud to say he surpassed all expectations. He left the recipe up to me, so I went non traditional and assigned him a beer bacon and cheese stuffing. That dish disappeared immediately on thanksgiving. So good.

Back to prep. I did have to cook the turkey. There was no getting out of that one. Luckily another friend came over to cook his banoffee pie (never heard of this before, but it was another fan favourite) the morning of thanksgiving (we celebrated on a saturday), so he got roped into turkey baking as well. I played my whole “it’s burning, thanksgiving is ruined” game again for a while, and ended up with a beautiful turkey. I have no idea why I didn’t take a final pic of the turkey, but here’s the quarter turkey (a quarter of a very large bird) and the turkey carving.

Sixteen guests meant the party was not going to be a traditional sit down because my apartment is way too small. Instead we moved the party down riverside. It was perfect. The weather was beautiful, we set up on a picnic table, brought out eskys (coolers), and waited for the guests. Everyone really came together for the event, bringing a dish and drink to share. As is traditional, all guests were required to share a thing they were thankful for before the meal.

As cheesy as it was, we all shared some semblance of a statement about being thankful for each other. But you know, I hesitate to call that cheesy. In that moment, that’s all that came to mind. All week I had been so stressed about not being home and then about making this meal perfect and as I was standing there all I could think about was how thankful I was for that moment. For those people. For that day and memory.

So you see, in a lot of ways this Thanksgiving was nothing like the last 25. I am in Australia. I’m away from family. There wasn’t one giant turkey. I wasn’t seated around a huge table. I wasn’t home. But you know what? Nothing important changed.  I have been completely spoiled with love, memories and amazing food on thanksgiving for 26 years of my life.

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Nous Restons Unis (United We Stand)

There I was standing in solidarity amongst my French friends as we gathered together to mourn a tragedy. For me, it was an attack on Paris and on humanity, but for them it had the added element of being an attack on home. We all felt a sense of loss, but the drive, the history and the emotion behind it varied. No one’s emotions are ever less than another’s, but they are, by nature, inherently different. I was standing in the crowd. It was an almost out of body experience. I was part of the moment but a bystander as well. I glanced around. Thousands had gathered. A sea of voices surrounded me, but they were speaking a language I only know pieces of. Sometimes when I spend time with my French friends, I jokingly remind them to speak in english (side note-very rarely is this necessary…they are all incredibly thoughtful in this way, always opting for their second language so I can speak my first). This day, however, was not a day for them to make adjustments for me. It was a day for me to just be. I could pick up words here and there, but only a few. Someone sang a beautiful rendition of the French national anthem. People sang with her.I didn’t know the tune or the words. But somehow that was ok. I was just being. Being a part of a moment that was far bigger than any individual. Bigger than any country. It was a moment where the world was coming together, I thought. Coming together in response to an attack that was meant to tear us apart.

A year ago I think that moment would have been very different for me. A year ago I did not personally know anyone from France. Today I do. I know amazing, incredible women who, like me, have left their homes on a grand adventure to Australia. What brought us to Australia may be different, and we each have unique personalities, histories and stories, but it is these very differences, and the celebration of them that brings such a richness to every shared moment between us. Today I know people from France. I have friends who spent the day contacting everyone they could to see if their friends and family had survived. I can’t even begin to imagine what that felt like.

When I found out about the attacks, I suddenly felt homesick. Overwhelmingly homesick. I just wanted to be back with my family. Then came a pang of guilt. I’m wishing to return home to the safety of my country and family and yet I think about how my friends here must feel. Their home is not a place of safety at the moment. A rush of emotion takes me back to the feeling I had after 9/11. You can never truly compare two tragedies. They were entirely different. But then again, in their most basic sense, they are entirely the same in that they both compromised peoples’ sense of security. There was an immediate loss of safety following 9/11. That day, no American felt truly safe. We fought off fear, we stayed strong, and we persevered, but in that moment, home was not safe. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the feeling after November 13th is similar to me. The world was attacked, humanity was attacked, and for the French specifically, their home was attacked. Fear will be fought off, the people will stay strong, and they will persevere, but this day will never be forgotten- nor should it be.

While I say the moment would be different had I not known anyone from the country, I don’t think it would be any less impactful. I don’t think you have to be directly affected to experience the devastation of an event of this magnitude. This attack was coordinated. It was meticulously planned and expertly carried out. It was disastrous. And, sadly, it is not unique. Terrorism and terrorist attacks seem to be more and more commonplace. This attack was in Paris. There was another in Beirut. The attacks could be anywhere. It becomes less and less about the where, what and how and more about the who and why. No, not even who to blame…who are they attacking? And why?

Say what you will about the president of the United States, but this quote rang true to me:

“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

–Barack Obama

They aren’t just attacking France or Beirut, they are attacking the the values people hold most dear. The bombs and gunfire struck Paris, but the aftershock has hit the entire world. And the response from the world in the wake o this travesty was overwhelming. Around the globe, landmarks, buildings, media, and Facebook profiles lit up in support of France. In support of the people. In support of peace.

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So on Monday, November 16th, Melbourne organized a peaceful gathering for the French community and supporters. Federation square was set up, guards were in place (just in case) and the French community (as well as official representatives) came together to mourn for the lives lost, not just in France, but around the world. One by one speakers shared their thoughts on the tragedy. Some highlighted the loss of life, others detailed the events, but the all-encompassing message of the night was clear: We will not live our lives in fear. We are one world united.

 

After the speakers, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” played…and for a few minutes, we all just listened. For me, the lyrics rang truer than any other time I’ve heard them.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

As the official part of the program ended, one of the most poignant moments of the night began. The community joined hands forming a circle and slowly, one by one, people walked to the center and laid down tokens, flowers, candles, shirts and photos in remembrance of the lives lost.

image3Aside from the gentle music in the background, the only sound in the entirety of Federation Square (a city center spot normally abuzz with daily happenings) was the soft clapping as people laid down their offerings. For a moment, time stood still. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of.

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By the reactions of those walking through the circle, you knew who had lost a loved one. There was one man in particular who broke down completely. I don’t know his story (he was interviewed so maybe at some point it will be released) but in that moment, the details of his story didn’t matter. We all knew. We all felt it. And it was heart breaking.

The emotional crescendo of the evening was when a man walked into the center of the circle and lifted high a shirt with #notafraid written on it. I can’t remember if the symbol above the words was the Eiffel tower or the French flag, but in that moment the words spoke louder than any image. The crowd erupted in cheers. It was the loudest moment of the night, and a beautiful end to the evening.

Overall, to me, it was an experience that was respectful to the community, mournful of the loss felt by all, and yet it was permeated by this sense of strength and unity. In that moment, we were one people. Race, religion and country were all secondary to the one thing we all share: a sense of humanity.

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** Disclaimer– The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. I don’t pretend to know or explain how this event impacts anyone but myself. All pictures were shared with permission from my lovely French friends.**

 

 

 

Australianisms

Back by popular demand, here is another post on the aussie-isms I’ve experienced as of late. I feel all of these lend more support to my continued stance of Australia having it’s own language.

One of my more constant battles here is in regards to measurement systems. Since arriving here I have learned and accepted the use of the Celsius scale. While it had it’s challenges, after using conversions for the first few months to know what the day was in Fahrenheit (it’s approximately celcius x 2 +30 if anyone is curious), I’ve finally learned to recognize what the actual Celcius redings mean without having to convert back.

The same goes for kilos and grams. At first going to the supermarket and ordering 500 grams and 1 kilo seemed very odd, but now it’s second nature to not even need to convert to pounds. I even know my weight in kilos (not sharing). The last, and probably most challenging hurdle for me has been measurements of distance. All my life it has been inches, feet, yards and miles. These units were my norm and never once seemed odd until I came here and was forced into the metric system. Early conversations had me remaining quite defensive of my beloved feet and inches, but more recently I am “seeing the light” so to speak, on the benefits of units that are a set factor difference and therefore easily convertible. Sample conversation:

Friend: but where did feet and miles even come from? I don’t even know how many feet are in a mile.

Me: Oh easy. 5280.

Friend: That’s ridiculous.

Me: Not once you just know the numbers

Friend: Well how many inches in a foot? 10?

Me: 12

Friend: SO DUMB…well what’s smaller than an inch?

ME: ….? Uh…a half inch?

Friend: And smaller?

Me: A quarter of a inch? An eighth of an inch…a sixteenth..etc

Friend: …..*blank stare*

As funny as the conversation was, I honestly can’t disagree with her assessment. It is pretty silly that we can only go to smaller units by fractions. The metric system definitely has some benefits in this regard. However, there is one small caveat to the story. I have caught Australians on more than one occasion refer to their height at 5’4 or 6’2, etc. WHAT? You know your own height in feet and inches, yet you know not what a foot is?? Crazy.

I’ve also had some entertaining lunch chats on the pronunciation of different food items. Apparently, all my life I have been mispronouncing simple words like oregano (or-ay-ga-no), basil (bay-sul), tomato (toe-may-toe). Imagine my surprise when my Aussie friends rattle off “Or-e-gahn-o, bazzle, tom-ah-to.” What? My next question was the ever so obvious “well you don’t call them po-tah-toes do you?” But that only got blank stares, followed quickly by “well you don’t pronounce al-u-min-Ium correctly either.” So that lead to looking up what I call aluminum foil. We had to agree to disagree on this one as it is spelled both ways. My dad pointed out there are multiple spellings depending on country.

An ongoing debate I have with my crew centers around the difference between scones and biscuits, in Australia pronounced scawns and bikkies. To me a scone is dense bread, while a biscuit is soft and fluffy. In Australia, a biscuit is a cookie. Could be sweet or savory but a cookie or cracker like item, and their “Scawns” are more like what I would call a biscuit. For obvious reasons I am perpetually confused when I am offered a biscuit. I truly never know what to expect.

Sticking with the topic of never knowing what to expect…here is my most recent experience with a new Australianism. One afternoon some coworkers came by my office and the conversation was as follows:

Coworkers: Hey do you want to go for a gaytime?

Me: What?

Coworkers: A gaytime. Have you had them before?

Me: No…what?

Coworkers: it’s an ice cream!

Me: OHHHH…sure…yeah. You should lead with the ice cream part….

Seriously guys. It’s a thing….And apparently it’s hard to have one on your own…

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Today is meant to get into the 20’s, so I think after popping over to the store to get a few hundred grams of OREGAHNO, and a couple TOMAHTOS, I’ll walk the half a kilometer back home, snack on some bikkies, and treat myself to a gaytime. Cuz I’m in ‘Straya Mate.

Mary and Mary…taking on the world one country at a time

While I wouldn’t say that I am particularly “well traveled,” I have had the opportunity to venture to a few foreign countries over my last couple decades. I’ve been to Chile (this only slightly counts since I was far too young to remember, but I heard stories), England, France (x2), Italy and now Australia. I think my European adventures have given me a good start, but I have a feeling I will be adding quite a few stamps to my passport over the next few years.

Perhaps what is more interesting than the number of countries I’ve visited (because, admittedly, it’s a relatively short list), is the people I’ve visited them with, or rather, the two people I’ve visited the most of them with.

My Nana and Papi always loved traveling. Ever since I can remember, they were always planning these grand adventures to new cities, states and countries. At one point or another, they stepped foot on all 7 continents and over 60 countries. Their travel stories and pictures are absolutely incredible. And what’s even more amazing was their passion for sharing the experience.

My first trip abroad (not counting Chile when I was only 2years old) was when I was 13 years old. My Nana and Papi had a plan to take each of their grandchildren in pairs to any two foreign cities of their choice for a week each (European ones preferably). My cousin Alex and I were the first up for the trip abroad, and I must say, I think it’s pretty incredible that my Nana and Papi kept their promise to the other grandchildren after dealing with two teenage girls for two straight weeks in foreign countries. Picking perhaps the most predictable, tourist-ridden destinations, my cousin and I ended up in London and Paris for our two weeks.

The trip was filled with inside jokes, laughter, whining, SO MANY photos, at least two crepes a day (in Paris), and memories that will last a lifetime. We returned to the states boasting to our fellow cousins about how there was no way they could ever top our trip. Afterall, we were the FIRST.

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While I wouldn’t say any of my cousins topped our trip, every adventure my Nana and Papi took the grandchildren on had its own special meaning to the travelers. There was another visit to Paris, along with a river cruise to Amsterdam, a flight to the Galapagos islands, and a couple other countries I can’t remember off the top of my head.

Beyond this initial trip to France with my Nana and Papi, I somehow convinced my Nana to be my travel buddy on a vacation to Italy one summer when I was in college. We spent months planning out our dream Italian adventure, and my Papi decided to let us ladies make the trip solo. We flew into Venice, travelled around Rome, and took a cruise along the Amalfi coast of Italy. On board we wined and dined (thanks Europe for that young drinking age), made friends, did daily tours through Sorrento, Positano, Pompeii, and I even became a certified scuba diver. Another amazing adventure with my Nana by my side.

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My other European travel experience was with my small family unit. My parents planned a month long vacation in France where we did all the non-touristy things by staying in two small towns in Southern Provence. We even rented homes within the towns, and spent our days amongst the locals, and our nights eating bread, olive oil and fresh meats. We traveled all around the South of France for two weeks. Surrounded by people whose English was only marginally better (sometimes) than our French, we endeavored (well, my dad and I did anyway) to speak only French. Since we had all studied French as our second language, having the opportunity to put this learning to use was an amazing experience. A couple weeks into our French adventure, my Nana (of course) and one of my cousins joined the family. We enjoyed another week and a half in France, hitting up Paris for my second time because, well, why not?

So you see, I have been very blessed with my travels. While each trip was uniquely special, every single one had one thing in common….or rather, one person in common. My Nana. Every country I’ve ever set foot in, she’s been there beside me.

Well, every country but one.

Australia has been my first trip abroad without any family, and perhaps more significantly, it is my first trip abroad without my Nana. Thankfully, however, our travel streak will soon be back to perfect. My Nana is due into Sydney Australia September 25th of this year, and I cannot wait.

Ever since I learned Australia was a possibility, my Nana and Papi had been planning to arrange a visit. My Nana’s “mum” was a native Aussie who moved to California for love early on in life, but left behind all her siblings in Sydney, Melbourne, and Tassie. While the older generation has passed on, my Nana has many cousins (my cousins twice removed) who now have children who all live in Australia. So me possibly moving to Australia gave my grandparents yet ANOTHER excuse to hop a flight to Oz. Unfortunately, my Papi passed away shortly after I finalized my decision to move here last year. He was so proud of my decision to pursue a PhD and even more so that I had chosen to earn it while living abroad. While I wish more than anything he was here to make the trip to Australia, I know he’d be so happy knowing my Nana and I are adding another country to our buddy travel check list.

Living abroad is an exciting adventure. It is a learning experience I wouldn’t trade for anything…but on those days when the homesickness hits a little harder than usual, it’s nice to know I only have a few more weeks before I will see someone who encompasses all that my home really is. We have conquered five countries together (counting the US, because, why shouldn’t that count?), and I am so excited to add my new home country, Australia, to that shared list. My friends think they’ve had enough to handle with this American Mary….wait ‘til they meet the American I’m named after!

25 days and counting until the Marys take on Australia. See you soon Nana

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!

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!