Category Archives: Australia

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.

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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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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.

It’s an honour

The end of 2012 was a bit of  a blur for me – I got back from Australia in mid-November and then can’t remember what I did until the last two weeks of December when I descended into a Christmas decoration frenzy.  Evidently during that hazy period I started this blog post, so today I have finished it and – voila – here it is.

Look, look at me – my blog was nominated for an award and won an honourable mention amongst the thirty six blogs on the list for the USA. Not bad for someone with only six months on the ground in a new country. I may have to admit the local fan base wasn’t perhaps as extensive as others – something about other countries I have lived in before. Lets not quibble though, I will graciously accept the honourable mention as my mother tried to teach me to take a compliment where one was offered, with as little mitigating comment as possible.

That was one gold, one silver, one bronze and two honourable mentions. Top 5.

blog-award-2012-usa-honour

There are literally millions of blogs you can find on the internet. There is even a name for it – the blogosphere. A quick check will give you various figures for how many blogs there actually are. As I tell my kids constantly you can’t believe everything you find online but one number I found was ‘over 164 million’. Reference for this is is a site that popped up in my google search called Blog and retire – obviously I trust their figures implicitly and will be back to read the fine print later.

Another number I found (same site reference) was the number of people that read blogs, over 123 million people. That feels wrong, but hoping it means that there are several people with multiple blogs and that every blog has at least one reader – generally the author.

Given there are over 2 billion internet users, that is a lot more potential bloggers, readers, fans and haters for the blogosphere.

There are blog conferences, blog superstars, blog fans, blog fan pages and even blog haters (as in blogs dedicated to dissing other bloggers).

There are blogs about cats, kids, cancer, cooking, crafting, traveling, technology, finance, fashion, gossip, grammar and even expats. If you can think of a subject there are likely to be at least 75 hundred million blogs about it (not sure if that figure correlates with the ones I have listed above from my viable internet sources but lets just say its a finger in the air figure).

Even if you think you’ve never seen a blog, except this one, you probably have, even read one one a regular basis. Of the world’s 15 most popular blogs listed on ebizmba.com as of January 2013 I would be very surprised if you had not visited at least one of the top five, Huffington Post, TMZ, BusinessInsider, EndGadget or PerezHilton.com.

Given the number of blogs about the gazillion things there are in the world to interest people, it makes sense there are about a billion types of recognition of bloggers, or maybe just a million, or even a few thousand.

No matter how many forms of recognition there are I won a prize badge and I shall display it with pride. 2012 was low on upside for me, I will take what I can get. Thank you to all my readers who stopped by the site to put in a good word for me.

I love youse all.*

* the former catch cry of an Aussie boxer that became part of our culture, we do generally understand it has spelling / grammatical difficulties but use it anyway

It’s not all beer and skittles

We had not yet moved into our new house in the ‘hood but were making use daily of the community pool, given the scorching Hotlanta summer and the seemingly endless school holidays. The accents used loudly across the pool by brother and sister made us a stand out and the small community targeted us as the ‘new people’.

Introductions were made and stories shared, friendly folks who oohed and ahhhed at the countries we have lived in, shared their love for all things Aussie (a welcome change to our last country of residence) and admitted to having always wanted to live in another country.

‘But we couldn’t do it, our parents are here, they’re getting older, they could get sick and we wouldn’t take their grandchildren away from them’

Stab, stab, stab.

Unintentional stabbing of course, but it hurts all the same.

A quick chat with any expat will reveal many reasons why they love the life they lead with its swings and roundabouts, ups and downs, opportunities and experiences they and often their third culture kids would never have had if they stayed ‘at home’.

By extension this often also applies to family and friends who visit the expat adventurers in a new and different country, one they may have never been to with no good reason to visit, or just needed an excuse to return to a favourite destination. These are special and cherished times, when the visitors get an insight into the life of their hosts, sharing experiences they may never have otherwise had. We as hosts push the boundaries of our day to day to make sure everyone has a most memorable trip and send them home to sing the gospel and  spread the word to make sure our calendars with penciled in possibilities become concrete conversions into visitors bearing jars of Vegemite and Strawberry Freddos.

There are so many special memories from the visitors we have had in our time away, friends who honeymooned with us in Hong Kong – delaying their trip so we had time to return to our flat from their wedding in the Blue Mountains, my cousin who swore to never live anywhere else but her home town became a regular visitor for ‘the shopping’ and since then has moved twice overseas with her husband and kids. To this day she remains the only person I know who shopped Stanley Markets from opening until closing.

Then there was the travel pack who visited and required a mini van to ferry around. My cousin (of course), her two kids and another of their cousins, her husband, his aunt, her parents and my grandmother, 88 at the time. It was a special day shopping over the border in Shenzhen introducing her to all our regular shopping haunts and telling all the shopkeepers about her very auspicious age. I think we got actual real discounts that day in deference to her age and agility and gracious charm with the locals.

The best man from our wedding and his wife and baby – discovering en route that the baby had inherited his father’s peanut allergy, my brother and his then partner, her terrified of bird flu every time we stepped out of the house, my husband’s sister and brother-in-law came and we popped off for a blissful grown ups only trip to Kota Kinabalu.

My Dad and his wife on more than one occasion – once sailing through the harbour on the Queen Mary and of course my Mum.

South Africa was lighter on the visitors but again my brother and Mum put in appearances. I am pretty sure my brother will never forget the elephant that just wanted to say hello, his first lion spotting or sidling up to the penguins in the Cape for the best photo opportunity.

My mum was the first visitor we had here in the USA, arriving the same day as the container full of boxes. Our first two months in the new house was experienced together. The drama of the pre-school vaccinations and medical checks, the first day of school, the slight changing of WASYO’s accent to move to a short ‘a’ sound and a rolling of the ‘r’s, drop offs and pick ups at a real yellow school bus, weekly drinks on the street corner, WASYO learning to read, Mr 9 saying he quite liked the new school (relief), introducing the local kids to fairy bread at the event where WAFYO became WASYO, she experienced it all at the same time we did. She arrived armed with my childhood set of Winnie the Pooh books and read them to her eldest grandchildren each night before bed, she did jigsaw puzzles with WASYO and talked to Mr 9 about his views on life and video games and became our personal laundry lady – daily collecting the clothes from various baskets around the house and returning them later washed and folded – apparently I have to get used to no ironing (that’s a story for another time).  After proclaiming to get lost in the house on the first few days, as we pulled away last Monday on the way to the airport she said she’d come to like our home. It has been a lonely week since she has left.

Regardless of what happens next, the choices to be made about visits, before or after operations, when, where, how and who with, all five of us will have that special time in our memories. Two months where she was part of our everyday life. Daily this week more than one resident has said ‘When Mumma was here…’

It is hard to be away from family in another country, especially when every phone call or text message could be news that puts everything on hold while you plot a course home, but if we lived in Australia, an hour and a half away by car it is unlikely we would ever have spent so much time together or that our kids would have kissed their Mumma goodnight every night for two months (except for those two pesky hospital visits).

Life goes on here, next week is my husband’s birthday, the following week my Dad and his wife are visiting, Halloween is shaping up to be bigger than Ben Hur and there’s some marathon in New York on November 4th I’m running in, but family near and far are always top of mind. You take the good with the bad and hope the decisions you make, when you make them, are the right ones and that holds true no matter what country you live in.

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*

A stands for …..

It had to happen didn’t it? Come up with the longest blog title in the world – then include something about continents with starting with ‘A’, some day, at some point its going to bite you.

Australasia (remember we went old school there and didn’t reference the now taught Oceania), Asia, Africa & now introducing America (North). I think that can sneak in as a legitimate A continent.

Atlanta definitely starts with an A – and in two short weeks (yesterday) that is where the small people and I will be heading to via Dubai and New York to start our new life as Australians in Atlanta – or more specifically Cobb County expats. The husband already has himself a social security card and is working on his accent, sourcing moonshine and loving living in a country where they actually like Australians (not that he doesn’t miss his near and dear South African friends too).

The Third Culture Kids will have another reference point, likely move from one slightly horrifying accent to another – and their mother will have access to a shop that sells Vegemite, Freddo frogs and meat pies! It was not a prerequisite that we move to a suburb with an Australian bakery but handy that its worked out that way.

Leaving Durban and 320 days of sunshine a year is a tough call – so I had to first investigate what it meant to swap the balmy days and bright blue skies with ocean views, endless options of South African Sauvignon Blanc and ‘African’ time for.

Initially it seems a bit of a mixed bag.  Atlanta has 185 days of sunshine on average per year – so I’m down an ocean (have never lived away from the ocean except for a stint at University and a year on a farm in Germany) and 135 days of sunshine.

On the plus side its got the world’s busiest passenger airport and is the 7th most visited city in the US so I am thinking we have got to get more visitors there than we ever got here.

There are 65 streets with the name Peachtree in them – that’s got to be a bonus when I am negotiating the other side of the road driving with two screaming kids in the back. Wherever I am trying to go will always surely be ‘near Peachtree’. Perhaps that can be a good car game – Kids, listen for the proximity alarms on Mummy’s car and any streets that are called Peachtree.

Atlanta is the home base for the fourth largest number of Fortune 500 companies including my absolute favourite – Coca Cola!

It also has Home Depot, UPS, CNN and AT&T. I am looking forward then to excellent internet access for my online shopping which will no doubt be couriered to me in a timely fashion while I am catching up on the latest news. Things are looking up!

The moving process has not been without its hiccups, you can see I am already using American spelling – although I have asked the school if my kids can retain their ‘ou’ words I am not too optimistic of that outcome although I absolutely draw the line at ‘mom’ – and I have a handy stack of posts to come when regular wifi access once again makes itself available.

For now – this brief introduction to our new American home and to let you know we’re off to be brave in the land of the free, or free in the land of the brave – I’ll get back to you on that. Watch this space.

How many degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Do you remember six degrees of Kevin Bacon? If you can that means you can remember back to 1994 which according to that impressive reference site Wikipedia, is when the ‘small world experiment’ game first came into being.

The small world theory meaning you should be able to prove that there are six degrees or less of separation between you and everyone in the world, as well as six degrees or less between Kevin Bacon and everyone in Hollywood.  There were some studies – based on people’s ‘social networks’ – in a time before what we commonly currently use the term social networks for. It was before Myspace,  Facebook, Twitter and even before the first blog which was apparently circa 1997 (using the same solid reference point I found the term ‘web log’ was apparently coined then so lets say the practice wasn’t widely spread prior to that point.)

Recent events have made me think about the Kevin Bacon game – who by the way, the whole world can now follow on Twitter (@kevinbacon has the magic tick) so if he replies or RT’s you does that count as being one degree from Kevin Bacon?

Last week I reposted a photo on facebook – it was this one.

I know, I know you’ve seen it before, but it is still gold (and so true, my 9 year old asked me what was that thing above the pencil).

A friend of mine from Hong Kong commented that they still had all their car mixed tapes from 1995 but nothing to play them on, then another friend admittedly another Australian in Durban (I know I said I’m the only one, its a long story and you really need to hear her accent – if they did a spoken test I worry about her ability to renew her passport, she has been here a VERY long time)  asked how many blasts from the past was I supplying in one day? Turns out the previous commenter was her neighbour from the 80’s and a suburb in Melbourne I have never visited.

One in Hong Kong and one in Durban – both many miles and many years from home, reconnected, through my facebook page. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Remember my first blog stalker who prompted me to put an email contact on the blog? I am happy to say I have corresponded since via email with several people who were seeking information about moving to the Durban area, some making comparisons, some thinking about it and some actually doing it.  One of those doing it – was living in Kenya at the time and wanted the feedback of someone who had gone before in dealing with a whole range of things, schools, neighbourhoods, internet connections etc. I was happy to provide any info I could, after all I had found it very tricky in the beginning for a number of reasons.  I followed her progress with interest, maintaining a semi-regular email contact about plans, schools, suburbs etc. Then I found out she had moved, turns out into the same suburb as we live and the same street.  Our street has FOUR houses! What a coincidence – no really it was, well, I have no proof she previously knew where we lived… Maybe one day, now we know each other in real life, because I always take my new neighbours wine and chocolates, she might become my facebook friend and when I am living in another country she may find I have met a friend of hers and so the connections will continue. Or not – who knows?

The world is a small place and ‘social networks’ are making it smaller. Over Easter I met someone who wasn’t on Facebook (or Twitter before you ask), a girlfriend of a very good friend of mine, someone I would normally probably  pop a facebook friend request to after spending the amount of time together that we did over the term of her visit coupled with the fact she might end up with my friend forever more. If she accepted – then I would get to keep up with her news – even if she chose to mute my news stream (I’m sure it happens to the over-sharers amongst us), if not – well, I may never see or hear from her again. It occurs to me I didn’t even get her email address to send the photos that I took of our kids on their Easter egg hunts. Note to self – sort that.

I know some people are nodding their head and saying, yes – thats right, that’s how the world should work. Who would jump into someone else’s life so quickly and start sharing pictures of their kids, dentist visits and what they had for dinner? These people may not have heard of variable privacy settings, or they might not have friends and family on just about every continent there is.

I can’t remember why I joined facebook, perhaps it was because I wanted to see what it was all about, but once in I was hooked. For someone like me who has lived in several different places at different times of my life and has grandchildren separated by an ocean or two from their grandparents and extended family – its a good place for me to be. I have at times prefaced photos or posts as ‘Grandparents only need read / see’, these kind of things include ballet recital videos and judo belt presentations ceremony photos. I didn’t opt out like some of the cool kids who decided to ditch it in preference for Twitter only. Its a place I keep for my friends and family, pretty much people I know in real life .  Now I know two people, in real life, who live on two different continents, who knew each other long ago – I think that’s a nice thing, not a freaky one. I’m not sure where that leaves Kevin Bacon but it may leave me just where Mark Zuckerberg wants me.