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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Winter Summerland

Over the past 6 months temperatures have slowly taken on a new meaning to me. I’ve adjusted my Fahrenheit brain to recognizing 30 as hot and 20 as a lovely day. I’ve learned a Melbourne 3 feels a heck of a lot like a North Carolina 15, and anything below zero here might as well be frozen tundra weather because I will NOT be going out in it. While I’ve finally learned the Celsius scale, and even swapped my iphone to the new system, I’ve recently started to take notice of a much more mentally taxing weather woe of Melbourne-the seasons here are completely and utterly flipped.

Ok, before you go off at me for stating the obvious, and discovering a “known” fact, hear me out. Before I came to Australia, I obviously knew the seasons here were reversed as compared to the states. I’d heard of “Christmas in July,” and I knew that come December I’d be trading my usual white Christmas for a very sunny, sandy one. However, knowing this and experiencing it are two very different things.

Being an international also poses its own unique challenges in relation to this topsy-turvy weather. Whilst I experience frigid winds, gloomy drizzles and overcast skies in my Melbourne winter, my friends and family back home are cheerfully posing in their bikinis whilst lounging beach-side with fruity umbrella drinks. So strong is my weather envy that I’ve joked on more than one occassion about avoiding social media through my winter months.

Taken my weather-induced trauma a step further is that while I expected the switcheroo for my winter and summer seasons, and even came here thinking a sunny sandy Christmas could be good fun, I didn’t even consider the months in-between. The end of August, for me, has always marked the start of cooling Fall weather. The transition into September was welcomed cheerfully as North Carolina summers could be quite brutal with intense heat waves lasting for weeks at a time. Besides, it’s no secret that Fall is one of my favorite seasons. Septembers, Octobers and Novembers back home were full of red and orange leaves taking over the trees, bonfires, pumpkin flavored everything, hoodies, state fairs, haunted mazes, jack-o-laterns and Thanksgiving turkeys. I loved hitting up the local market to find cinnamon scented broomsticks to fill my apartment with the “smell” of fall, and my table was always adorned with at least 2-3 pumpkins by the time October rolled around.

I imagine everyone has these types of emotional ties to certain times of the year. I guess on some level I knew of my attachment to fall, but now that I’ve “lost” that season, it’s taken on a much deeper meaning. Ok, I know that I haven’t actually lost the season. Obviously in the most literal sense, Fall still exists, it’s just been misplaced at the start of the year. So I may not have lost the season, but I did lose the connection between the season and the time of the year. I also more recently made the horrifying discovery that Halloween is not a “thing” here…And when you talk about pumpkin carving you are met with “she’s a crazy person” stares.

While these realizations have obviously been quite a shock to my system, I’ve accepted them as a challenge. I may not be able to find the giant perfect-for-carving pumpkin on a pumpkin patch hayride like when I was back home, but I can surely find A pumpkin somewhere in this country that I can slice and dice into a makeshift sort of jack-o-lantern. I may not be able to show everyone in Australia the amazingness that is a proper Halloween themed party, but I can surely convince some friends to dress up, eat good food, and enjoy some Halloween festivities. And I definitely won’t be sitting at home surrounded by my family for Thanksgiving (a holiday I have never missed), but I can surely round a few people together for a friendsgiving to share some delicious, homey, American dishes (who doesn’t love a good pumpkin or apple pie?).

There are many days here when I completely forget that I am in Australia because life here is just, well, life. But then there are those days when you realize the things you have always just accepted as givens, are no longer givens. The norms are not the norms. Your life becomes a constant state of adjusting to a new normal. And as with most things in life, you have two choices. You can choose to be bogged down by the differences and overwhelmed by the unknown, or you can take it as a challenge. Sure, my home country had holidays and traditions that have always and will always have a special meaning to me, but that doesn’t mean that what I have here will be any less. Every day, every month, every holiday, tradition and norm will be redefined and reshaped by my experiences here. I’m not losing something by being here and not home. I’m adding a whole new layer of depth to how I have always experienced my holidays and seasons.

The holidays away from home will be hard. I know they will be, even though I am months away from facing the reality. I hope when the time comes that I can keep my same big picture perspective that I am preaching now, but who knows. For now though, I’m choosing to look at it as an adventure. I won’t be bogged down by the differences. So go on and keep posting those August summer pictures my friends, because come December I will happily be sharing beautiful pictures of my Melbourne Winter Summerland.