Category Archives: American

Giving Thanks

Change is hard for most people, some more than others. As an expat for the last 11 years I have been through my fair share of countries and changes. Recently my belly button contemplations have centred around when the change becomes the norm. When things that used to stand out and confuse, surprise, unsettle or just plain irk you, don’t any more.

When using an everyday greeting or words in another language that used to make your tongue twist in circles or make you cringe a little bit on the inside in case you were saying it wrong comes out feeling perfectly normal – to you and to the people you are using it with.  When you stop getting headaches from concentrating so hard from driving on the wrong side of the road and the turns you make across traffic are reflex rather than strategically planned maneuvers. When someone says ‘Wow, you really walk a lot in this city’ as they duck and weave following you along a crowded footpath that you used to find overwhelming and you forgot you ever did, like you also forgot you never used to press the close lift button in the elevator (recognizable by being the only button you are unable to see the symbols for). When checking the local paper for the upcoming power outages (should they feel the need to list them) is as natural as using terms that drive you crazy but you now feel the need to spread the crazy – see use of ‘just now’*. You get the idea.

To me giving thanks on Thanksgiving was always ‘too American’ to contemplate. I certainly was an interested and engaged participant the past two Thanksgivings we have been lived in the US, watching friends post on all forms of social media what they were thankful for, even those Americans (and Canadians who do it a month earlier) living overseas, but I always thought it was ‘for them’. Now on our third Thanksgiving in country while preparing some tasty traditional side dishes for our own Aussie / Austrian (the one with no kangaroos) Thanksgiving feast later in the day, I popped a cork and posted my own spontaneous thanks. It felt quite normal and probably something I will do from now on, wherever we live as we incorporate it into our multi-cultural lives and rituals. A nod to when the change became the norm.

thanksgiving

When was the last time you realised a change had become the norm?

*just now is one of the most used and most difficult terms to define in South Africa. It means, not immediately, but that could be a time between 5 minutes and 8 hours (or lets face it three weeks) . After the initial shock telling me that the repairman would be there ‘just now’  used to drive me crazy, almost as crazy as it drove my children and family when I used it with them.

Promposal

It’s called a Promposal and it’s a pretty big deal here. There are hashtags on every sort of social media you can imagine to seek out the best and the rest in the #promposal world. Instagram, tumblr, youtube and Pinterest #promposals are everywhere.

We’re racing to the end of the school year here in Murica, which means Prom time, and promposals are flying thick and fast. It doesn’t matter if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, apparently it’s not a given they will attend Prom with you.  No longer the assumption that you will go together or an idle conversation at lunch. The new normal is a slightly elaborate and more formal request of some kind, generally filmed or photographed by your friends or others standing by.

No. pressure. kids.

Last week my own 7 year old daughter was thrilled to be involved in such a scheme. Her Under 9 lacrosse team was playing at our local high school in an exhibition scrimmage (5 minute game amongst her own team) between the Varsity (Grades 11 and 12) and Junior Varsity (Grades 9 and 10) games.

One would imagine this would be an excellent opportunity to watch the bigger and much more experienced girls playing lacrosse and looking at ways to improve their own game. Not so, the U9’s were under the bleachers fighting over who would be the P,R.O and M. My own junior LAXer* was at first the M, but was later reassigned to O. I’m not sure of the difference but apparently all letters were debated over at length.

The coach’s son had a girlfriend in the Varsity game. After that match finished the U9 team ran on and this happened

#PROMPOSAL (click for video)

Thankfully for all involved – she said yes. We must also have some respect for the U9 team who followed coach instructions and dropped and ran back to their game immediately.

Notes on the Promposal

– The team in purple were the visiting team. They had just been beaten 17 – 2, so that may be why they were not so enthusiastic about the exciting on field events.

Heard in the bleachers

– High School girl ‘I want that relationship’

– U9 Father in attendance ‘Glad I never had to do that, I had enough trouble with the marriage proposal’

I hear you, U9 dad. Amen to that.

Additional general notes

– Every teenage girl in Georgia has waist length hair apparently

*LAX being the accepted shortened form of Lacrosse

The 'after' shot

The ‘after’ shot

Summertime

Summertime and the living is easy hot, humid and one very long school holiday break – or vacation as they say here in Hotlanta, USA.

There’s a 104 days of Summer Vacation,
And school comes along just to end it.
So the annual problem for our generation,
Is finding a good way to spend it.

So starts the Phineas and Ferb song that rattles around my head as I panic about the weeks ahead and how to fill them.

Thankfully there are not quite 104 days ONLY 77 phew.

Like maybe …
Building a rocket,
or fighting a mummy,
or climbing up the Eiffel Tower.

Discovering something that doesn’t exist,
or giving a monkey a shower.
Surfing tidal waves,
Creating nanobots,
Or locating Frankenstein’s brain.

Finding a dodo bird,
Painting a continent,
Or driving our sister insane.

In our house we only need one brother to drive one sister insane or the other way around as the case may be.

Come August 7th, which frankly although I may enjoy the first few weeks of the school holidays, I will be willing to arrive quickly with various fibres of my being, I will have a fifth grader and a first grader returning for their second American school year experience.

Between today and August 7th when they depart at 7.24am on the yellow school bus to resume their scholastic activities, they shall be known as a ‘rising 5th grader’ and a ‘rising 1st grader’. I only hope they rise to the occasion and get along for the intervening weeks.

Today is of course a whole lot more exciting if this is it – finito – you are done with the school years that the government and generally your parents think you should undertake for a basic level of educational instruction.  You will be a High School Graduate and good on you for all those years of undertaking learning with various levels of enthusiasm.

As with all things American I am finding this requires special celebratory activities. Not the least of which is widespread acknowledgement of your achievement of graduation by your micro community, the set of streets you live in, known in these parts as your neighbourhood.

I present to you the Class of 2013 High School graduates as seen on every street corner of our corner of East Cobb.*

Big community -all those babysitters heading off to college

Big community -all those babysitters heading off to college

Floodlit for the night time driving crowd

Floodlit for the night time driving crowd

IMG_3208

IMG_3207

Clever - listing high school and college grads on the same banner

Clever – listing high school and college grads on the same banner

Did Steven's parents forget to send in his name or just wanted to go big?

Did Steven’s parents forget to send in his name or just wanted to go big?

Some recycling for next year here and then an individual wall poster for the basement

Some recycling for next year here and then an individual wall poster for the basement

Simple - clever! Enviro friendly

Simple – clever, enviro friendly

Mixing it up

Mixing it up – different high schools and college grads

Questions

Is this America wide or just our little corner?

What happens if you don’t get into College – lots of focus seems to be on where to next? Don’t you wish just one said
Bar tending and surfing for a year
with accompanying picture of a long board or is that just me?

With the exception of a couple of clever recyclers, what happens to these banners after they are used? Do they get cut up and shared by all?

But you just can’t help get caught up in it all. As I left on my walk/run this morning I came across my neighbour decking her home with balloons to celebrate her high schooler’s graduation. Decorations in the colour of the college you will attend is apparently traditional. It was hard not to feel pleased and excited for her and all those thousands of dollars of college education coming her way.**

Georgia bulldog to be

Georgia bulldog to be

Then I went past our own school on my loop, car park was overflowing due to the Grade 5 graduation going on inside –

Reminder - not even a full day....

Reminder – not even a full day….

Last year of elementary school round these parts

Last year of elementary school round these parts

I guess I have 12 months to find out where to buy car crayons

See next photo

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

I guess I have 12 months to find out where to buy car crayons.

* These photos were taken from the road on my run this morning (except the night shot – taken on my walk Monday night to the supermarket) on main roads, I didn’t jump a fence, step in a garden or leave the footpath to take any of these.

** I asked her if I could take a photo to record the moment and she was happy for me to do so.

Cara and Chewsday

One of my new neighbours/bors (in deference to how she would spell it, I don’t know if she is a good speller, just assuming she might be) is called Cara.

When you’re Australian and you’re called Cara, both of the a’s are pronounced with the a sound from car. Car-a.

When you’re American and you’re called Cara, its more like the a sound in can for both ‘a’s. Cara.

When Cara introduced herself to me she did so using the American pronunciation and I have followed her lead, giving myself what other Aussies would term an American accent when I use her name.

I do this deliberately having actually put thought into the process. Why should I change the way she says her name just because my accent is different to hers? My friend Cara in South Africa will remain addressed in the way she introduced herself to me – the longer a sound. Just because we all speak english with different accents doesn’t mean we can’t try to call someone their name they way they say it.

I have an Aussie friend in Durban who has a South African husband called Mark, Aussies again here do the ‘car’ sound for Mark – she has totally converted to the Saffa accent and it sounds a lot closer to Mork to my ears, but to his ears its just perfect, because its how he says his own name and I have a sneaking suspicion he doesn’t love the Australian accent, although he does love his Australian wife.

I only have to recall my time working in an office in Hong Kong with Creamy, Apple, Homer and Maverick* to know that there are obviously many people like me out there, unable to master the Chinese language,  and tired of butchered attempts these clued up individuals have picked themselves a more easily pronounced English alternative.

I would never have dreamed of trying to ‘Australianise’ Mvithi, Sanele or Njabulo in South Africa and while not being born in a country that learns to roll their rrrrrs I always tried my best with Birgit and Marga my German and Dutch friends. I mightn’t always get it right mind you but I try with the best of intentions.

Enter the world’s angriest six year old (WASYO – known until just last week is WAFYO) fierce advocate of saying people’s names how they do themselves, her Zulu accent being particularly good and mine particularly bad – but becoming frustrated with the mixed messages she is receiving at school.

‘Your daughter has just the cutest accent, say something honey’ is regular commentary when we’re out and about. WASYO has what is known as an Umhlanga South African english accent and is sometimes paraded before other classroom teachers and visitors to the classroom and told to ‘talk’.

It is precisely because everyone makes a fuss of her accent that she reduced herself to tears the other night saying that no one understands her. Her grandmother was worried six was the new thirteen when she explained the ‘not understanding’ part were the children in her class because of her accent. There was a lot of focus on the word Tuesday for some reason.

‘They say its Toosday and I say it like it has a ‘ch’ sound – Chewsday. But it doesn’t start with a Ch it starts with a T’

Confusing times for a Third Culture Kid learning to spell.

What to do, what to do? Struggling with knowing her current accent is an attention getter (positive in her book) but that her peers can’t always understand her (negative in her book) we decided its OK to have an American accent for school and her ‘other’ accent everywhere else, and its perfectly acceptable for people to say words differently, thats just what happens in the world. Two days since the decision and already the old accent is fading fast – that’s fast with a short a.

* These names have not been changed to protect the innocent, these are real people and real names *waving*

Its just like tv

We were invited to a ‘cocktail evening’ the other night, a sometimes rare treat when you are the new kids in town. Friends of friends from Durban contacted us and we eagerly accepted their invitation to join them at their home for some drinks after 6pm.  When we arrived we found a small but multi cultural group; a french intern leaving after a year working here, a swiss couple new in town setting up a new branch of the company they work for, another American couple which included one real life Atlantan and our hosts. The genuine local offered to pose for photographs with us because it is so rare to meet someone born and raised here in Atlanta.

After the greetings and introductions were done one of the first questions asked was ‘How are y’all enjoying it here in the States?’ My response (after inwardly doing a little ‘he really said y’all’)  was  along the lines of – We are loving it so far, we grew up watching television shows about growing up in the American suburbs and now we are living the dream.

I always think Australians have a little window into both British and US culture through the television of the 70’s and 80’s on our tv screens and on more than one occasion in the past I have used that knowledge as a reference point to provide translation services in a three way conversation between citizens of those countries.

Moving on, after two wines and a champagne I was standing completely still in the backyard and simply fell over while talking to the charming Swiss lady who was five months pregnant, not drinking at all and possibly wondering what she had said that was able to blow me over. Its just my inbuilt ‘clumsy gene’ inherited from my mother’s side of the family and embarrasses me, my husband and my kids (even though they have it too) on a regular basis. After the stunned silence and everyone but my husband offering to help me up – which took a while as though I didn’t break the champagne glass, I did splash it into my eye so I couldn’t actually open it due to the stinging sensation (don’t recommend rinsing eyes in champagne), my other half finally appeared to haul me to my feet and said to our host ‘After we catalogue the injuries here you’ll be hearing from our lawyers’. There was a millisecond of silence before the hearty laughter. Phew. It just seemed like an ‘American’ thing to say and luckily everyone had a sense of humour. It may have been a had to be there moment but it moved the people on from the falling down part to a new conversation about litigious America, and the French intern’s hopes to find someone to sue in the next two weeks before she left town. Thank you husband.

Another thing we discussed which is just like the tv promised it would be are the mail boxes and the mail system here in suburbia.

First of all, every bill you receive comes with a return envelope for you to write a cheque (true story) and pop a stamp on the front and return.

The stamps, could you get any more ‘American’*? Or what us folks that didn’t grow up here think of as ‘American’.

Our mail box looks like this.  See the little red lever on the side?

You put the letters you want to send inside

Then put the lever up like this – the mailman TAKES THE MAIL from your mailbox and posts it.

So cool, too exciting and tres American, to us anyway.

After 9 years living in different countries with no actual stand alone mailbox I may be just excited to have one. If you ask WAFYO what her favourite thing is about our new house she always says the mailbox and she is not kidding. For me it makes it just like tv.

* American – to clarify is not a derogatory term, just a term used to describe something that really has no other way to refer to it, that we associate with the way we see American culture as an outsider. You may have to be not American to truly get it.