Thursday, 30 April 2009

Two Grandmas and 3 Teeth

My grandma met her first husband singing in a jazz band. She loved music and singing, and when I was a little girl, she used to play her electric organ for me and sing. The most memorable song, which I remember listening to her sing from the living room while I was laying in bed getting ready to go to sleep, was 'All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth'. Both my grandmas were special ladies, and many of the women in my life have taught me how to be a strong woman myself. My other grandma once fell down the stairs of her house going down to the basement and had to lay there with a broken arm all night because there was no one to hear her call. I had my first big fall this week, right down the front steps, landing face first on the concrete driveway. I started bawling just like a little kid does after I tasted blood and ran my tongue along my broken teeth. It looks like I may be getting more than 2 front teeth, and well before Christmas, but it could have been much worse. I've had a lot of support from the ladies back home, and the new friends I've met here, so as much as it pains me to have to go through this, there is some positive out of it.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Australia v America

Not a football match, but the differences in communication and culture, are to be discussed, yet again. Yesterday I went to Lush to pick up some shower gel which I've been coveting since Christmas but being thrify about. I couldn't get to the shelf that Sonic Death Monkey was on as there was a woman sniffing and obviously trying to decide which gel to buy. When she took a sniff of Flying Fox I said to her "That one is really nice." and her response was "It smells awful. I thought something in it had gone off." Truly Australian, the honesty there. Had the same conversation taken place in the US, which is unlikely to start with because we don't talk to each other if it's not out of necessity, she would say smiled and said "Yes, it is." then gone home and told her friends and family about the crazy lady who talked to her at the store. You see, us yanks are suspicious creatures, who are keen to show off, but don't always look for the true connection.

On that note, I got a copy of Yoga Journal in the care package from my mother that came yesterday. As I was reading it on the bus this morning, it struck me how 'American' the magazine felt, and how I really don't enjoy it the way I used to. Half of the magazine is adds for things that will allow you to practice yoga whilst looking better, and most of the articles which aren't about yoga positions revolve around things like finding oneself or how to be a better person.

What's wrong with us yanks that we don't know who we are without reading a magazine, and that we need to show a good front, but are wary of talking to and/or getting to know our neighbours?

Friday, 17 April 2009


I'm referring to the actual physical beings, not the television show. Yesterday I had lunch with a small group of expat women, who came from places as far as the US, Canada, China, Colombia and Singapore. One of our main topics of conversation was that of friendship and the feeling of belonging/identity. Three of are married to Aussie blokes, and for us, this poses a particular challenge. Not that Aussie lads are inherently flawed, but more so that fitting into their circle of friends is a hard path to go down, at times. This could be said for anyone moving to their partner's country and trying to find their way into a life already begun. If I haven't mentioned before, when I got my spousal visa for Australia, a part of the application was a form titled the 'Australian Values Statement' that I had to sign, saying that I agreed to accept Australian values. While I thought the while thing was highly ethnocentrically biased, I did get a slight laugh over the value of 'mateship'. Since then, I've found that it's no laughing matter. I was warned about this by a fellow expat who'd previously lived in Oz, but paid it little attention at the time. My husband's mates go back many, many years. It's wonderful that he has had some of those friends for 15 years or so, and majority of them I have no objection to. In fact, I even like some of them;) What has not been so comfortable is that, in true incestuous Adelaide nature, some of those friends are also ex-girlfriends. One of those has been very nice to me and is well and truly over my man, so it's less of an issue these days. That being said, it was a little odd going to a bbq the other month. The scenario: myself, my husband, his best mate, his best mate's wife (who is best mate's with my husband's ex-fiance), hubs ex-fiance, and hub's ex-fiance's new boyfriend. That is a mouthful, hey? Now, as I said, I like the ex, she's been super nice and welcoming to me and actually gone out of her way in doing so, and she's my husband's clubbing partner, which means I know he's hanging out with quality people at least when he does go out amongst the less geriatric crowd;) That being said, there is something about spending your Saturday night with someone your husband has seen naked...a lot. There was a moment that evening when hubs and best mate were chatting away, ex and best mate's wife were chatting away, and ex's new boyfriend and I just looked at each other and had a good eye roll.

Part of my not feeling like I fit in here, or in with the hub's crowd more specifically, is my own insecurity, part of it is that I have little in common (could be perception) with the mates, that they have this bond that I'm going to have to be patient to wait to be any part of, and part of it could be that I'm not trying hard enough. I'm hopeful than when the porch is done, the dining room is cleaned up, and the heater is in, I can actually begin to entertain a bit more and rectify some of this. In the meantime, it's an other example of the patience and flexibility needed in the expat lifestyle.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

In the Grand 'Ole English Tradition

Australians, at least here in Adelaide, seem to relish in holding onto certain English traditions. Cuisine is a prime example, fish 'n chips being on every pub menu, servings of Christmas pudding and/or fruit cake placed on every holiday table, and ridiculously huge chocolate eggs everywhere you look at Easter. Taking a public holiday for Boxing Day and celebrating the cricket is standard, and of course keeping the Queen as the head of state....for now anyway.

The most English, and to my mind most offensive 'Briticism' is the tradition of being sick in the street. As I may have mentioned once or twice before, it doesn't take until the end of the night, but vomit starts to appear on the pavement around 10 or 11pm. Happy hour may have something to do with this, so too may alco-pops, which fuel binge drinking. The thing about binge drinking is that is causes no embarrassment to those who partake here. I'm not sure if this indicates a lack of values impressed upon Australians whilst growing up, or if it is truly a part of the national culture. I am not the only one who thinks this tradition needs to be curbed. The local politicians, headed by Julia Gillard, are pushing to have the tax on alco-pops increased. As alcohol here in Oz is expensive as is, many are crying out that this is an infringement on their right to get shit-faced at a reasonable price, and appealing for public empathy by decrying the measure as revenue raising. I for one am all for it, particularly if the extra funds are used to bring on more police persons and night-time street cleaners!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Hobart - A Tale of Two Heads, part 2

The new plan is to do a write up on every city/location I visit as a tourist, in a vain attempt to progress as an amateur (travel) writer. I've been doing some writing on topics such as travel, the expat experience, and marriage over the past few months, all for free of course, and submitted to various web sites and blogs (links are on the left hand side if you haven't already seen). Hobart is next, so I think I'll just play around here to begin with.

As my third city to see in Australia, it was a toss up between Melbourne and Hobart. With four days off for the Easter holiday, adding a couple more on wasn't a problem to extend the 'respite' from the rigours of life in Adelaide a bit longer;) The budget airlines were competing for our business, and as Tiger managed a bit better of a deal to Tassie, we decided to save Melbourne for a time when we could afford a week or more, and do the trip properly by going the Great Ocean Road. So we booked our flights, sorted out a private room at Hobart Hostel, looked through the Lonely Planet and spoke to a few mates, then shelved any further plans until about a week before the trip. Feeling too cheap to pay for a rental car, we decided on doing it all by foot and public transport, which worked out surprisingly well.

Landing in Hobart at lunchtime on the Wednesday before Easter weekend, we dropped our bags at the hostel and headed out to have a look around the city and grab some lunch. After a wander through the Elizabeth Street Mall, we decided to go for the $7 foot-long special at Subway and listen to some street entertainment. Not your typical buskers were these few young lads playing classical music. A further wander around the waterfront brought us to the Lark Distillery, recommended by one of my workmates for a good nip. Although what they have on offer is expensive, even for Australia, you can get a good range of tasting samples for $7.50. The key is to do like us and share, as well as ask for more of what they have out than what they initially offer. If you don't behave like a twat, and the bartender is nice, which they all seem to be there, you can happily enjoy enough to get slightly warm. On offer is a range of scotch whiskey, gin, apple and cherry liqueurs, as well as some lovely pepperberry bush liqueur, made with an herb unique to Tassie.

On Thursday we attempted to make the best of our last day with public transport, so we headed off to the Cadbury Factory. About 4 hours and $40 removed, each, we came back into town with bags heavily laden with chocolates etc. Although the costs were extremely reasonable on the chocs, we both agreed that the $15 charge for the 'factory tour' was the biggest rip off we'd encountered in our history as tourists. For the fee, we were sat in front of a TV screen for 1/2 an hour and given the tiniest box of Favourites you ever did see. Apparently the factory has been closed to visitors for over a year, due to health and safety reasons. I strongly encourage you to take public transport to Cadbury ($4.40 all day bus pass in Hobart) and skip the 'tour' at Cadbury in favour of spending the extra cash on the important stuff. A more worthwhile tour is the $10 Hobart Penitentiary Ghost Tour, which we went on later that night.

Unfortunately we didn't make the best use of our all day bus pass, and forgot we wanted to go to Richmond, a pictueresque little town about a 1/2 an hour from Hobart. After a long walk through Battery Point and Salamanca Place on Friday, we called around and found out there was a means of transport, for $25 each, that would get us to Richmond. Although it killed us to shell out, it was well worth going. The oldest bridge in Australia was awaiting our viewing pleasure, and various other architectural beauties took us about 2 hours to see, after which we stopped at the Richmond Arms Hotel for a pint. The Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens was a must see on the way back into Hobart, where we quickly made a path across the lawn to see all we could in the 1/2 hour we had left until closing. That evening we headed off to Axum Ethiopian Restaurant, which also doubles as an internet cafe. We were the only diners there, and it wasn't the best Ethiopian we had, but after a day of hiking around, it was a welcome meal.

On Sunday, our last day in Hobart, and also Easter, we did an hour long hike up to the Cascade Brewery for a long lunch and beer tasting. We decided to forego the tour and instead spent about 3 hours trying a few brews, having a tasty meal and wandering the grounds. It was well worth the walk there, and afterwards we cut across, still on foot, to Wrest Point, where we treated ourselves to a couple of Long Islands and a sit outside the Casino, where we watched a fantastic sunset. A short walk further on was Sandy Bay, where we stopped for Chinese before heading back to the hostel.

As you can see there is plenty to do in Hobart, even on foot. We'll definitely be back to Tassie, and might even get a car next time;)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Two Heads Are Better Than One

We saw this on a cap in one of the tourist shops in Hobart, which also had two little Tasmanian tiger heads on top. Australians are known for their strong tendency to take the piss on other states than the ones they live in, but it's interesting to see Tasmanians making fun of themselves. If you haven't figured it out, Tasmanians get teased about being inbred.

More to come, as we are just home tonight and I'm tired. A list of some places we visited over the 5 days we spent in Hobart are below. Further descriptions will follow.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Things I Said I'd Do Next Year

Because I was too busy, I decided to skip a lot of things this past year, saying I'd do them next year. Well, now is the time to start doing those things, and in order to do so, I need to try and remember what they are and make a list.
  • OzAsia Festival (3-17 Oct 2009)
  • Russian Film Festival (Nov 2009)
  • Mexican Film Festival (Dec 2009)
  • Adelaide Film Festival (Feb 2009)
  • Man Alive (March 2010, I hope)
  • Womad (March 2010)
  • Fringe (Possibly more of it, although to be honest I thought the program was a bit lame) (Feb/March 2010)
  • Indofest & an Indian festival, name of I don't remember (both March/April 2009)
  • French Film Festival (April 2009)
  • Spanish Film Festival (May be able to make this one this year, as it is 14-17 May)
  • Adelaide Festival (reputed to be better than the Fringe and on every 2 years only, 26 Feb - 14 March 2010)

Saturday, 4 April 2009

This Marriage Thing - Navigating Love Abroad

Dina at This Marriage Thing asked me to be a guest blogger back in January. Thing is, there's some kind of script error over on her blog, and you can only see my entry if you have Mozilla Firefox, so I've decided to paste my article here as well.

I’m delighted to have my friend, Susan, guest blog today. We’re kinda kindred spirits. She’s an ex-pat from the States. And, I feel like one from work now that I’ve retired, eh, transitioned, uh whatever. Enjoy!

When I saw that Dina was looking to broaden the focus of This Marriage Thing, I was hoping there might be some room to address the issue of what it’s like to begin or move a marriage overseas. Since meeting on a backpacker tour of Ireland, my husband and I have lived and loved in four different countries, before we were finally able to settle down in his home country of Australia. Along the way, we have faced challenges particular to a marriage on the move.

Starting on the Road

As I said, my husband and I met in Ireland. At the time we were both living in different parts of England, myself while studying and himself on a working holiday. For 8 months, we met up every 2 or 3 weeks on weekends, and for our last 4 months in the country, after my degree was complete, I moved into his London flat. This involved my husband staying in the UK longer than originally planned. In fact, he was away from home for a couple of years longer than he’d expected to be as a result of meeting me and I ended up permanently moving to a country I had intentionally left off my list of places to ever even visit. We found ourselves talking about marriage 4 months into the relationship, much sooner than we would have if we didn’t have to think about how to avoid living 10,000 miles apart. We went from the UK to a long visit to the US, then on to Australia where I got a working holiday visa for a few months, simply because he wanted me to suss it out before he felt ok with my decision to move there permanently. After that, we were off to New Zealand, where we got married and spent the better part of our time there waiting out a spousal visa. Almost 3 years later, we’ve now been back in Australia for about 9 months, where we are being patient with settling back into our home and marriage.

Making Allowances for Excess Baggage

I’ve found over the years that being an expat partner/spouse adds a lot more complexity to a relationship, making essential relationship values such as flexibility and patience even more important. Both partners need to be committed to being open-minded about the challenges they will face when one or both are moving to a new country. New expats need to be a bit more open to trying new things, and those partners who are already in their home country need to accept that flexibility is essential and some things they take for granted may not be (at least immediately) acceptable to their immigrant spouse/partner. Stubbornness and resistance to change can cause roadblocks and unhappiness in any relationship, but can be the downfall of an expat relationship.

Growing Up and Making Space

I’ve matured so much since I met my husband; some of the growing pains including crying myself to sleep when I felt my husband wasn’t being understanding enough. An important thing I’ve learned is that you can’t expect your spouse to fully understand what you are going through if you’ve moved to his/her country. They can sympathise, even empathise, but they will never know exactly how you feel, just as you yourself could not have imagined what it would really be like before you stepped off the plane. One person can never be everything to you, but as an expat, you have to make a special effort not to only unburden yourself on your significant other.

The story of the filing cabinet is a perfect example of how two people can view something in two completely different ways due to two entirely different mindsets. This comes up in any marriage, and as we all know, it’s not always about who is right or wrong, but how to deal with the situation in a way that works for both people and doesn’t hurt anyone. As it goes, I didn’t have a car here for the first 7 months or so, and had to rely on public transport or my husband to go anywhere. One weekend, I asked my husband to drive me to the local shop as they had a great deal on a filing cabinet. He was tired, and said no, so I ranted and raved and cried about how I felt like I was trapped, to no avail. I felt terrible and not understood at all, and my husband had a few choice words for how he thought I was acting. Neither of us truly understood the other. My husband eventually did do some running around looking for me, but couldn’t find that one. I still need the filing cabinet, but I haven’t seen as good a sale since then and I’ve been in between jobs until recently. The moral of the story: buy a car, even if it is cosmetically challenged and 15 years old. And remember, just because two people come from English speaking countries doesn’t mean cultural differences in communication methods don’t exist, but that’s an entirely new story.

Changing your Itinerary

As I tell people, being an expat is a wonderful opportunity to re-create yourself. You not only should but also need to develop new interests in your new home. Talents you’ve always had but perhaps never put into action become more apparent, and important. You’ll need to create something of your own in order to gain independence as well as keep yourself busy and meeting new people. Being an expat is an excellent confidence builder if you treat it as an opportunity. My husband was afraid when we met that we didn’t share enough interests, but as his father said, it’s been a blessing that we don’t, particularly in this situation. His friends are lovely, but I’m enjoying making my own. I’ve been forced to cast away my shyness. I’ve even formed an expat social group that has grown to 150 members in under a year. We meet up once a month for drinks and conversation, and I’ve met most of my new friends this way. You may ask how an admittedly shy person got the courage to begin and host a new social group. The answer is out of necessity. As an expat, you have to get used to meeting and socialising with strangers, unless you are ok with being very lonely. I can almost say I hated Adelaide the first time I was here, and while living in New Zealand, I knew I had to do something to change that, or I’d be leading a very unhappy life. This is home for my husband, and I could see very early on that he wouldn’t be happy anywhere else. I knew I could find things to make Adelaide work for me, so I did.

Arriving at Your Destination

One essential component of any relationship, and a key to successfully negotiating a change or new situation, is patience, and you must constantly remember that it takes time to settle and grow into anything. Marriage is a growing process, and the destination is not as important as the path. My husband and I still have a lot to learn, but we’ve certainly become more flexible, understanding partners because of the extra hurdles we’ve had to go through. We appreciate the very existence of our relationship that much more, I would say, now that we’ve had to work so hard to maintain it’s very existence in the same location. If you can handle a relationship abroad with grace and success, you can handle anything!

Friday, 3 April 2009

One Year In

Today is my 1st anniversary of entering Australia on my spousal visa. I've spent this year job hunting, fixing up a house, meeting new people and attempting to form some new friendships, getting acclimated to my new husband, his friends and family, and developing some new hobbies for myself. It's been full on, and stressful at times, but also good for the soul, as my Aunt Liz would say. I'm still getting used to being a wife (but loving it), looking for the right permanent job, observing the (work in progress) house looking hugely better than it did 12 months ago, inside and out, and I'm doing a lot of things I always wanted to do but never made the time for. People keep telling me I seem to have settled in very well, etc and in some sense I have, but without wishing the next year away, I'm looking forward to being even more settled in this time next year. Let no one fool you with outside appearances; it is loads of work, but it's worthwhile at the end of the day...most days;)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

You Know You're in Australia When...

  • Outlook's spell checker tries to change chocs to chooks:/
  • People respond to your questions by calling you stupid, for example at the post office when you ask for the post code for Brisbane and they say "'s 4000, duh" (Nah they didn't say it quite like that but the tone was the same.)