Category Archives: Americans

He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich……

Recently someone asked me what were some of the silliest things people had ever asked me about Australia. I didn’t have to dig too deep for the most recent.  A couple of weeks ago a lovely American (bolded because it is relevant to the story) friend had been imbibing some grown up beverages for several hours and came up with

‘If England settled Australia in the first place why don’t you all have British accents?’

I did VERY well for me, because he is really a lovely person and my reply was very restrained.

‘I’m just going to let you sit on that for a while .’

And walked away. Smirking.

Today I was reminded of the VERY best I have ever been asked, if not the best then definitely in the top three.

When I was 15 I went on a semi-exchange to Canada. What a semi-exchange is, because you’re all dying to know, is when you go for 5 months to live with your Aunt and Uncle in Canada and don’t have to miss a school year, because you go over summer and miss all your school holidays instead.  My semi exchange is how I get all my winter street cred, because I did a winter in Saskatoon.  A WINTER in Saskatoon, with temperatures hovering around -40 Celsius, which co-incidentally is -40 Fahrenheit, the magic moment where Fahrenheit makes sense before it doesn’t again, and announcements on the radio about small children and the elderly not going outside while I was trudging to school through the snow drifts. Anyway, that’s how I remember it and you’re not taking that away.

So in my Grade 11 history class we had a circle time where you could ask the Australian girl anything about Australia.

‘Do kangaroos just, you know, hop down the street?’

Of course!

‘Are Olivia Newton John and Elton John brother and sister?’

Not sure how that is relevant.

‘How big is Ayers Rock?’

Do not know. (with all the shame of a 15 year old, none)

It went on and on, round and round and then the time was up. I was off the circle time hook.

After class in the hallway a couple of kids cornered me,

‘Umm, we have one more question’

Sure

‘ummm, you know the song by Men At Work?’

Yes

‘Well, umm, we were just wondering, umm, is a Vegemite sandwich a blow job?’

Can you please repeat that foreign teen who I do not know very well?

‘Well it says ‘He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich’. So what we thought was, that it was a, umm, blow job.’

No, it’s just a Vegemite sandwich.

wpid-20150211_174438_1.jpg

Showing all the correct ingredients for a successful Vegemite sandwich. Fresh white bread, butter and the mighty spread.

Canada wins my friends.

What is the strangest question someone has ever asked you about your home country?

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Axis of Imperial aka learning about Gallon land

Who does not love a good story about Queens, Princes, Princesses and many many cats?

My son has recently completed CRCT testing. What is CRCT testing I hear you ask? Great question, let me copy and paste something from the internet for you. Thank you as always Wikipedia.

The Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) are a set of tests administered at public schools in the state of Georgia that are designed to test the knowledge of first through eighth graders in reading, English/language arts, and mathematics, and third through eighth graders additionally in science and social studies.*

The thing is this, for Fifth grade, you MUST pass two of the exams administered Reading and Math (oh look I’ve gone all local and used no ‘s’ on the end there) to move into middle school.

The teachers don’t expect parents to spend a lot of time on these as it is based on work they cover during the year. However there are some, do at home pre-tests that I had to assist in administering.

It was then, looking over a Maths pre-test, I discovered the horrors of the imperial system. Seriously, for someone born and raised on the metric system, which really, just makes sense with its whole 1 to 100 or 1000 stuff and move the decimal place backwards and forwards – the imperial system is a house of horrors.

I would have preferred option e

I would have preferred option e, in fact I may have added it myself

I spent the next few weeks moaning and ranting to anyone who wanted to listen (and many who did not) about the ridiculousness of it all. Who uses this system I asked? Turns out there are three world powerhouses still married to the British Imperial System and none of them are Britain. The USA, Liberia and Myanmar, or as I prefer to call them, the Axis of Imperial. Although to be fair Britain still partially uses it – which kind of makes sense ’cause they invented it and all.  Apparently it’s used for very important things such as sizing for beer and cider glasses but schools, government and most sane other people use the metric system for the whole measuring thing.

Then I began to rethink. Was I just being old, crotchety and closed minded? Did I need to be more open and embracing of a system or cultural norm of a country I am living in? I asked my son about it, he explained it to me, and I discovered a magical place called Gallon Land.

Gallon Land can be seen in this VERY amateur video as described by me. There is a giant G, Queens and a lot of cats – complete with poor commentary and shaky screen.

I still don’t love gallons, quarts and fluid ounces, but I don’t know how many more years we will live in one of the Axis of Imperial countries so I’m just going to suck it up for now. As long as no one asks me to embrace fahrenheit I think I’ll make it.

* The Georgia Department of Education website has a note to say that due to budget restraints there is no testing of first and second graders in Spring 2013 (we’ll assume they were saving website update funds and apply that to Spring 2014 as well)

Snowmaggedon – Tales from the ‘hood

The snow event-  pretty if at home

The snow event- pretty if at home

If you don’t know about our little ‘snow event’ in the ATL  (formerly known as Hotlanta-  new name pending)  you must be living under a rock. Or not residing  in America, although I know it has hit the news internationally as several Aussie friends have posted screen shots from the local news to my Facebook wall.

There will be many stories written,  because there are so many to tell. It was  almost the perfect clusterf#ck*.

Picture this

Atlanta a city of endless suburban sprawl, 6 million residents, no public transport system to suburbia, no winterization of roads or cars (because it NEVER** snows) , sends EVERYONE – schools, businesses and government employees, home the same 30 minute time slot on a road system that already has one of the worst reputations in the country, experiences snow that drops 2-3 inches everywhere in below freezing conditions and pretty much turns immediately to ice on the roadways.

The result – mayhem, that included too many car accidents to count, children stranded overnight on school busses and in schools, people sheltering in service stations, supermarkets, cars and homes of friends and strangers, commutes of up to 18 hours and many abandoned vehicles, giving the producers of the Walking Dead and anyone planning on filming the next post apocalyptic movie some free perfectly staged shots.

When the lady slammed into the back of my car after failing to stop on ice that was barely there, a mere 20 minutes after it had started snowing and 200 metres from home (after I had taken a cheeky trip to the supermarket less than a mile away to stock up for Snowpocalypse) I called my husband perched in his office watching car accidents happen out the window and told him to not come home. Stay in the office overnight, we didn’t need two damaged cars, or worse.

It was then that our neighbourhood sprang into action. Our ‘hood that I often make fun of for it’s Home Owners Association rules and regulations, welcome cookies and being more manicured than Wisteria Lane amongst other things is really a genuine caring community that dived head first into assistance mode.

There are many amazing stories from all over Atlanta, these are a few from our ‘hood.

At least 20 people stopped to offer assistance to the young lady and myself who were perched in our cars precariously close to the neighborhood entrance. After being able to get off the main road, her car was unable to be driven – cue neighbours walking down the hill and pushing her car deep into our ‘hood for safety purposes.

Gee, you’ve got a lot of friends she said.

Just a lot of super friendly, helpful neighbours I replied.

One of the car pushers insisted on waiting with me, until the Police had established due to a State of Emergency they wouldn’t be coming and we had concluded Insurance company reporting and other formalities. Thank you again Adam.

Just a little bit later when it became clear the hill outside our enclave was becoming impassable they went out by foot to help push cars and offer assistance to weary drivers deciding it was too late, dark and icy to get home.

Other’s with 4×4’s were heading out into the night to rescue those abandoning cars and bringing them home over the icy roads.

Our neighbourhood clubhouse, generally the location of birthday parties, book

Food arriving by the minute at the clubhouse

Food arriving by the minute at the clubhouse

club and Bunko nights was thrown open to keep stranded motorists warm, dry and safe.  There was a constant stream of people arriving with sleeping bags, blankets, food, drinks and toiletries to make those inside comfortable for the duration.

When it appeared there may be excess people to couches they just started taking them to their houses – total strangers, come on over. It was happening all over Atlanta, quite amazing.

The next morning people were quickly out to the road to find anyone newly stuck or who may have arrived later and direct them inside for bathroom relief, steaming coffee and breakfast casseroles.***

One woman had high heels on and didn’t want to leave the car for fear of slipping on the ice. No problem, the guy hiked home and took a pair of his wife’s flats back to the car and escorted her safely down the hill. S is now down a pair of shoes but to a great cause!

Abandoned vehicles on the road outside the 'hood

Abandoned vehicles on the hill outside the ‘hood

I was out taking photos and an acquaintance was walking past checking on her husband’s car. We had just heard one of our neighbours, with three under 5 and a husband away was nearly out of formula for her baby, she offered as it was on her way, to go and check if the supermarket was open and buy the formula (if not much left) and put it behind the counter or bring it back. For someone she didn’t even know.

Sometime mid afternoon my husband arrived home from a night on the office floor, no couches there either, and transitioned directly into a snowball fight with the kids.

Spot the snowball

Spot the snowball

Later that day the same neighbour, now with a fed baby, accidentally locked herself out of the house while stepping out to check on her bigger boys and their snow activities. Cue operation house break. I now know a local B&E team that includes an antipodean 7 year old who can make the climb in the window if you need. Doing her heritage proud declared another cheeky bystander. (I do have a photo but I don’t want to give away the identities or the point of entry)

The day was winding down and we just had one guest left at the clubhouse who was waiting for her husband to pick her up. She told us his name was Leonardo Di Caprio. We felt it was unlikely there was more than one around. Further investigation  discovered that while she had been taking shelter with us during the day, she wasn’t really sure where she was from or where she should be going. Earlier conversations had been put down to extreme tiredness and disorientation from being overnight in her car. A group of ladies stayed with her for a little while and attempted to calmly get some more information that could lead us to calling someone who would be missing her. Sadly, we were unable to so we called for professional assistance and the excellent first responder teams arrived and took her to at least overnight safety in hospital.  I have been wondering about her all day. I hope she and her family have been reunited.

The end result of such an action packed 36 hour period  can surely only be a wine party at someone’s house, so when the Bus Mother’s WhatsApp group buzzed with such an invitation that included hot chocolate for the under 21’s we were quick to accept. About 10 bottles of wine, several bottles of beer later it was time for bed which I gratefully crawled into.

I was just having a warm and fuzzy feeling about our caring and sharing neighbourhood when they went and cancelled school again tomorrow.  Safety first I guess…….

*technical term for when many things go wrong at once

**never being once every two to three years where anything hits the ground and sticks

***so much more on the American love of casseroles later

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.

Lest We Forget

I have never been to an ANZAC dawn service. I can’t say why. I’m sure I have had a good excuse every time, but at my age there is no reason that I should not have been to at least one. I am more than a little bit ashamed. I can feel my friend Kirrin tut tutting as she reads this all the way from Canberra.

Today I have been impressed with the number of facebook posts, tweets and Instagram photos from dawn and other ANZAC services all over Australia, New Zealand and various other locations in the world. Many people of different generations set their alarms, arose, dressed themselves, braved the VERY early morning and continued to remember those who have served.

The first ANZAC day was declared on April 25th 1916, one year after the troops had landed on the beaches of Gallipoli. This year is the 98th Anniversary of that landing.

There was discussion about whether or not we would go, in the end we packed the car with picnic gear, snacks, kids and an esky and headed out on Sunday afternoon to the Australians Within Atlanta ANZAC celebrations, held at the home of the New Zealand Honorary Consul in Atlanta.

It was an hour and half drive from our house, my husband said by the time we got there it felt like ten. Despite being able to successfully navigate a twenty four hour cycle covering multiple flights, continents and airports our kids somehow are not great car travelers. Fights (physical), arguments, ‘I’m bored’ and the famous ‘Are we there yet?’ the first of these being before we had left our street were fairly free flowing. At one point there was a game of ‘I spy’ and the World’s Angriest Six Year Old (WASYO) old spotted something starting with ‘I’, after we all gave up the answer was revealed as ‘idiot’. It gives you a little peek into the atmosphere in the car, this was all before we had to stop for a bathroom break for junior team members.

Burnley Farm, Newnan.

Burnley Farm, Newnan.

As soon as we arrived the mood of all the travelers changed entirely. We were greeted by the sight of  a magnificent house and grounds, filling with picnickers, many other families also far from home. There was kicking the footy (Aussie rules of course), tossing baseballs (in deference to our host nation), catching butterflies in the long grass and fishing in the dam.  The many accents, Aussie, Kiwi, American and various others washed quietly over us as did the wafting smell of bangers on the barbecue.

Setting the scene

Setting the scene

The ceremony was conducted by the NZ Honorary Consul Ian Latham and the ANZAC address was given by Flight Lieutenant Andrew Stockwell of the Royal Australian Air Force. The Last Post, Revielle and both national anthems were brilliantly completed by a very accomplished trumpeter, Hollie Lifshey. It was a short but moving service where Ian spoke of his personal memories of WWI vets from his childhood and Flight Lieutenant Stockwell spoke about what ANZAC day means to him as a current member of the Australian Armed Services. He talked about never having been actively deployed in wistful tones. I chatted with him afterwards as he played on the grass with his two year old son and he told me that he has been scheduled for deployment to the Middle East three times and three times it was cancelled, the last time within 24 hours of departure. He wishes he had been at least once.

It wasn’t a dawn service, but it was important to me as I stood there with my family and others on the lawn on a beautiful peaceful Spring day, that we were remembering our ANZACs and others that have served, as well as exposing and educating our children to the tradition and meaning of the day. Our kids as TCK’s take for granted the many different cultural experiences  they are exposed to which will be with them always, but sometimes I forget about my own upbringing and all the Australian-ness we take for granted and as assumed knowledge. That information that just ‘is’, that seeps into your consciousness over years of living in a country.

Pavs and ANZAC biscuits

Pavs and ANZAC biscuits

The day progressed, there were pavlovas and ANZAC biscuits on the dessert table. The afternoon moved onto cricket, did I mention the grounds included a fully mowed paddock and rolled cricket pitch for the occasion? The ANZAC spirit was alive and well as the Aussies with greater numbers assisted the NZ team with fielding, the eventual result of a Aussie victory probably had something to do with this.

The supportive and knowledgeable cricketing crowd watches on

The supportive and knowledgeable cricketing crowd watches on

We left as the late afternoon shadows were forming after a wonderful event, happy, content and having shared part of our cultural heritage with others from our homelands, new family members and importantly our children.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

Bus stops, ANZAC biscuits and a new friend

When we arrived six months ago our neighbours showered us with gifts.  Giant chocolate chip cookies, homemade brownies, sidewalk chalk, colouring in books and pencils and a book about South Africa that was 20 years old (that gift from a neighbour who was cleaning out her basement and had misheard the part about us being Australian but having moved from South Africa).

This is the actual giant chocolate chip cookie we received

This is the actual giant chocolate chip cookie we received

You name it, they bought it to our door with their best wishes and curiosity about who exactly it was that was now in the house that had lain empty for so long.  In our special new ‘hood there is also an official welcoming committee chairperson; they bought a big hamper overflowing with supermarket items and vouchers for local restaurants.

I had my children write the thank you notes and return the door knocks as I was busy unpacking and arranging and being overwhelmed by a country move that was knocking the polish off my expat princess ways by actually having to do it all myself.

Even so, I was excited by the house for sale a few doors down; when it sold I was determined to be a first responder in the welcome cookie stakes. I didn’t know the current residents, they had not been door knockers at our house, but I didn’t wish them ill – just a speedy sale so I could bake for the new guys.

The house lay empty over the summer and the autumn/fall and some of the winter and then a couple of weeks ago there was moving trucks. Within a week one family had moved out another in.  I was excited, I must make those biscuits I thought. What kind? Should I do brownies? What might they like? Did they have kids? Are they going to be Paleo or GF people? That could be a problem. Then I kind of forgot, filed the thoughts in that place in my brain called ‘do that later’.

One morning last week after we had walked a full five houses to the school bus stop in 2 degrees and icy rain at 7.24am I was trudging home only to see the bus stop outside the new house, RIGHT AT THEIR DRIVEWAY. This did not make me happy. I was cold and wet and wondering why did they get a new bus stop and not us? I tossed the options; perhaps my cookie making would be better served to bring around Miss M the bus driver. Could I get my own bus stop I wondered?

It didn’t look good for their chances to experience my amateur and limited baking skills. First impressions count, forget the part where I hadn’t even met them yet.

The next morning I did meet them at the bus stop. Paula and her two lovely children, one in Kindergarten just like WASYO and one three year old. Turns out they had missed the bus and Miss M was doing them a solid and stopping to pick them up on the way.

We chatted all the way back to our house and then stood at the mail box for forty five minutes exchanging life histories; me in my pj’s (remembering its dark and cold at 7.20am when we leave the house so pj’s with some kind of cover up work well then, not so much at 8.30). They moved from New Jersey, she gave up her job to move with her husband’s work, she was not loving it so far, there had been tears. Relate, relate, relate. The cookies were definitely back on. I could have another friend in the street, a drop in, keep my kids kind of friend.

I was eager to help my new friend Paula immediately, so I shot off an email to our class mother at school to ask about the class parent for her son’s class; she didn’t have any email or phone contacts for other parents and her son wanted to set up play dates.  I copied her on the email to show my speedy action and thoughtfulness. I soon received two replies, our class mom was right on it and included contacts. Paula replied to say her name wasn’t Paula – it was Donna.

Tricky.

It made perfect sense of course because her email address did start with a d.

It was a set back but I wasn’t totally deterred, who doesn’t make a mistake with a name every once in a while? Right? I pushed on to the next project – the biscuits. I thought I could recover if we scored points there. I made ANZAC biscuits for the first time in my life, they weren’t terrible and so were deemed acceptable to pass onto Paula/Donna and family that afternoon after school.

Thank you, lovely, no allergies, no special dietary requirements – all looking good.

Had an email later to say that they were so good the three year old had been found in her closet after being AWOL, finishing a few extra above and beyond the ‘one before dinner’ she had been allowed. This perhaps should have produced a sense of foreboding but somehow did not.

The next morning at the bus stop Donna appeared – exhausted, she hadn’t slept all night because someone who had eaten all the cookies had been up all night vomiting and was now at home sleeping it off.

I am still hopeful, what do you think of my chances? Any tips for what not to do next?

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*