Monday, May 27, 2013

Apples and Oranges

Three months this week, and it continues to be an adventure. Someone asked me what I was finding different and what was the exactly the same and when I considered that I realized there were all kinds of things to share.

Just like in Canada, Australians love their sports. Australian rules football, footy, is the big thing in Melbourne, and nearly everyone has a particular team they cheer for. It’s a very long season stretching from March to September through the colder months with each team in the league playing the other teams twice before finals begin. That usually means quite a few games each week, your team of choice playing at least once nearly each week of the season. Explaining footy could take more than one blog, so we’re not even going to go there. Rugby is big too, with two different leagues. Rugby ala Raymond style is “union,” while there’s a touch tackle, safer version here classified as “league.” That’s the one most school children play. Union gets saved for the tougher crowd, which has been quite a kudo for Sina. And basketball is extremely big here. So for Raymondites, not terribly uncomfortable athletically.

There’s a great deal of support for families over here. Children are generally seen as incredibly important and worth the sacrifice. Society has tried to make time for families and children, and parents are generally pretty active in taking advantage of that. Maternity leave actually extends to both parents which is rather remarkable, and refreshing.

Cellphones are everywhere. I honestly don’t know how they keep them all charged up when mine makes it through a day just barely and I hardly use it. Perhaps that’s just my phone, but regardless, everyone has one and they’re usually using them, although conversations don’t happen as often as you’d suspect. Most of the time people are texting, checking mail, playing games. They seem to wait until there’s a more private location to carry on their conversations. I like that. Australians seem to be trying to maintain some boundaries with electronics. Perhaps they will gradually succumb like the rest of the world, but I hope not.

Church is blessedly familiar. There are some minor differences but generally those are attributed to culture and not religion. However, our ward are big on singing the hymns, which I love. Nothing turns Sacrament Meeting into a real worship service like an entire congregation singing like they mean it. They seem to have grasped the concept that the song of the heart really can be a prayer.

Polite behavior still begets polite behavior here. If you make an effort to be courteous it comes right back to you in kind. Not sure exactly who to thank for that retained social morality in a modern society, but I like it a lot. I wish I could bottle it and spray the rest of the world with it on a regular basis. That’s not to say we haven’t encountered a little rudeness, but hardly any, so it was a surprise when it happened.

The list of things to adjust to is pretty big, so we’re going point form on these:

I’m gradually remembering that I need to look left when I cross the street because that’s what will hit me first.
If I face into the sun, it will rise on my right and set on my left. Yeah, I know, that’s just weird.
A wind from the north will be warm while a southerly breeze is usually chilly and sent from the south pole.
Everything at the grocery store is sold by the kilo. No pounds in sight. So I have to divide all the prices by 2.2 to figure out if it’s a bargain. I’m gradually adapting to the price scheme and should be able to stop that soon.
I haven’t seen a product of Chile/Mexico/USA sticker in months.
There is no French on the packaging unless it’s an import and also has Spanish, German, Arabic, etc.
The furniture trend here seems to be contemporary modern. Clean lines, leather. Squared off. I’ve been craving the sight of an overstuffed, fabric upholstered, rolled sofa arm for a while now. And a room full of arts and crafts furniture might make me drool.
Recipes are formulated by weight in grams and no Fahrenheit cooking temperatures to be found. This necessitated the purchase of a small digital scale and we’re back on track.
Actual blankets are hard to find. The trend seems to be quilts and quilt covers. And a multitude of throws. And throws are definitely not real blankets.
The depths of “winter” are waiting just around the corner in possibly July.

As for surprises, they are everywhere and continue to happen on a regular basis.

For a few weeks I couldn’t understand why children at church were always walking around after meetings eating bread and rolls. And having bun fights in the parking lot. Turns out a church member works at a local bakery and brings bags of day old baked goods for distributing at the back of the building. So this week we scored a couple of wholewheat loaves to take home. Free bread is free bread, right?
Everyone thanks the bus driver/tram driver when they get off at their stop. A small thing but it never fails to put a smile on my face.
There is an acceptance and enabling of aged travellers here. A couple of weeks ago we watched an extremely elderly Chinese gentleman haul his walker onto the tram (with assistance) and then ride to the market where the whole process was repeated. He had to be in his late 80’s and could barely walk. But he had his shopping bags and obviously an adventure planned and he was going to get there no matter what and everyone seemed to want to make sure he got to. This wasn’t a new experience. Elderly people seem determined to keep moving as long as possible over here. Makes me suck up a little arthritis pain pronto.
I am still on a quest to figure out bread baking over here. I really hope that once I get my hands on some really good bread flour it will all become clear. For now, we’ll accept small increments of progress in texture. But I’m getting pretty homesick for my Bosch. Of course, when there’s an artisanal bakery around every corner, it’s easy to see why more people aren’t upset. But I’m going to get it right. I really am.
Buying and storing food in bulk quantities is uncommon. Now that we have a better idea of our energy costs on a monthly basis, we think we can budget for a small deep freeze and address that issue. Our little freezer in the fridge gets overstuffed sometimes as we try to adjust our thinking on shopping strategy. Of course the climate probably contributes to the feasibility of food storage too. But we’re starting to build up our canned goods slowly, and as soon as I can get my hands on a canning pot, I will probably tackle some salsa because it’s just not the same. And zucchini relish. And pickles.
Morning shows over here are odd. They seem to be slightly North American in format but then instead of regular commercials they’re interspersed with infomercials for vacuum cleaners, blenders, exercise equipment, insurance plans, cookware. It’s like a hybrid Today Show meets Shopping Network. And the hosts seem to just babble. They say some pretty odd things off the top of their heads so it’s obviously not really scripted. They can be a little addictive in their oddity because you have no idea what they’re going to come up with.
Footy is addictive. And defies explanation. It’s become a family tradition to watch the matches on the weekend and we have gradually become Essendon supporters. We haven’t taken the leap and joined the actual football club, but we’ve got our eyes on tickets for some upcoming matches because we suspect that it would be incredible to watch in the arena instead of on the couch at home. Fist pumping and cheering at home usually feels a little awkward somehow. If everyone else was doing the same, we might not feel so odd. And that’s a completely new experience for us. We are not real sports fans. But this is different somehow. All I can say is that seeing is believing.

I still find it remarkable that in a city of over 4 million people it’s possible to walk home at night and feel safe. There are dodgy neighborhoods to be sure, but ours isn’t one of them. We can get onto a train with several hundred other people and travel for thirty minutes and walk through crowds of thousands of people without really feeling threatened. There is crime, of course, but it feels rare. I hope it stays that way.

Enough, I‘d say. I’m sure there will be more to come. But it’s a good place to call home right now. Our last home becomes someone else's home on Friday. A new adventure awaits.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

No Worries

It’s been another month, and I’ve been wondering exactly what to say. This place is slowly changing all of us in a lot of subtle ways.

I don’t know where it began for Australians, but somewhere in their past someone started to distance themselves from adversity simply by saying, “No worries.” It’s a part of everyday speech here. It’s a rare thing not to hear it at least half a dozen times a day in idle conversation. People go slower because they seem to have realized the problems aren’t going anywhere so they don’t need to rush. For an anxious Canadian, that’s a strange feeling. And I find myself liking it even though it flies in the face of being a responsible, productive person. Not that anyone here is shirking their duties. Far from it. They’re just not burdened and defeated by their adversity.

“No worries” means a lot of things over here. It’s much more than the Disneyfied “hakuna matata.” It’s more of a refusal to let inconvenience be an irritation. It means someone’s request isn’t as big an issue as they fear. It means someone doesn’t have a problem helping someone else out in a jam. It means there’s no need to apologize. That’s the one that gets me every time, because Canadians are a nation of apologizers. We apologize before the other party even indicates there’s a problem just in case. And an Australian’s instant “no worries,” cancels out the apology. It’s like having a nervous tic sucked away on a repeated basis until the brain perceives the behaviour has no real benefit and adapts away from it. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening. My brain is gradually shifting away from that habit of launching any request with a disclaimer to smooth the waters. Because it’s not going to get the same reaction it has in the past. I’ll just get a standard, “no worries,” and my brain is still trying to compute what that means in this new dynamic. I can already see it in my kitchen experiments with gas and slightly different ingredients. When I try a familiar recipe that doesn’t quite work as it should, I don’t beat myself up as much anymore. I give a mental shrug and take note that it didn’t work. If I can see why, I change it. If I can’t, I take it out of the recipe roster as a possibility. No guilt. Because really, it’s too late to change anything anyway. And I really find it amazing that I’ve spent more 45+ years of my life not understanding this little truth. It’s actually sort of blowing my mind.

Australians generally seem like a pretty secure bunch. Also a distinctly un-Canadian quality. That “no worries” attitude extends to identity quite naturally. People dress the way they feel comfortable. They generally don’t seem to be quite so worried about keeping up with anyone else’s idea of fashion or sensibility. There is stoicism in their approach to life. They make their choices and then deal with what occurs. No punishment or wallowing in guilt. Just pick up the pieces, learn something and move on. Can’t help but like that and want to master it myself, because I’ve been liable to indulge in occasional bouts of self-loathing and recrimination in the past. It’s not a shirking of accountability but rather a healthier perspective on how to make mistakes mean something other than a guilt trip that changes nothing. At the end of these three years down under, I’m hoping I’ll have absorbed enough of the “no worries,” mindset to no longer abuse myself when I screw up. I think it could be a valuable skill to acquire.