Archive for April, 2012
“Kathy Dorn has cancer.” My parents told me the bad news when we first met up on their European trip last year in Florence, Italy. While you may not know that name, Kathy Dorn has been a friend of my family’s for my entire life. She’s one of those acquaintances that is a great representation of small-town living: She’s someone you get to know incrementally through run-ins at the grocery store of high school football game. She’s even continued to read and occasionally comment on this blog (hi, Kathy!). She’s also in the process of writing one of the most beautiful end-of-life blogs I’ve read. You should probably read it, too.
“Uncle Malcolm is in the hospital.” Again my parents delivered bad news, this time over e-mail. If you’ve read this blog for long enough you’ll remember that Uncle Malcolm is my great uncle, the last living relative born in Ireland, and my father’s namesake. We’ve connected in the last five years and I got to chat with him on the phone his 88th birthday this year. He’s been recovering from a fall and has been in the hospital for quite some time now.
“Amie had a seizure,” my sister told me over Skype. Amie is our dog of nearly a decade who my dad found this week walking around the living room with symptoms of a stroke. Luckily, those symptoms seem to have gone away with time, but it was our first scare as the family dog entered her geriatric years.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the dynamic part of my life be isolated in my travels. My home life has remained blessedly static over the past two and a half years. Every time I return home, everything is pretty much how I left it. I suppose that’s why these reminders of mortality have such such an effect on me.
If you’ll allow me to butcher one of science’s most famous equations, Einstein theorized that time spent traveling at great speed was experienced differently than time spent at home, so if you travel around at light speed for seven years you’ll return home to find hundreds of earth years have passed. As I get dispatches about family, friends and pets from home I become more aware that even though I’m out here living my own adventure, life and time continue to go on back home whether I like it or not. Damn you, Einstein.
Before I say anything on the subject, you must know one thing: I did not move to Australia for a girl.
That said, the idea of moving to a new country for romance is an intriguing one. Falling in love while traveling has such a storybook element to it, it’s easy to see how one can go against the advice of their friends and society and move to a new place on the promise of romance.
Of course, that’s not what happened to me. I moved to Australia for so much more. I came to Australia for the chance to get away, the chance to see a new country, the chance to experience summertime in December. I came to Australia to connect with all those people I met this summer in Europe. I came to Australia to see kangaroos and koalas; to hear people greet me with “G’Day, mate” and to learn the difference between a pint, a pot and a schooner. And maybe just a little bit, I came to Australia hopeful that I could peruse a bit of a romance that started with an Aussie girl I met last May. We stayed in touch after going our separate ways and I was finding myself thinking about her more and more.
But you must know that I did not move for an Aussie girl. That would be ridiculous.
Last November after I returned to Minnesota, I had to decide what I would do with myself after Christmas. I had six months before I was needed back for work at my tour guide job in Europe. Working at my old high school job and living with my parents wasn’t my idea of a fun or productive six months. I thought back to the advice a fellow tour guide gave me: “If you’re not spending all the money you made during your season on traveling during the off-season, you’re doing it wrong.” I thought of all the people I knew in Australia. I thought of the extremely cheap plane ticket my friend had offered me using his frequent flyer miles. And yes, I thought of The Aussie Girl — but only for a second.
As I sat in front of the computer staring down the “purchase” button on the airline’s website, not much thought went through my head about it. There wasn’t much to think about. I didn’t have anything keeping me in Minnesota, so why not give Australia a try?
Before I knew it, I was checking into the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, passport and Australian visa in hand.
The Aussie girl for whom I most definitely did not move to Australia was the first person to get the news of my move. Upon arrival, on my first full day in Australia I met up with her. Before long we were hanging out quite a bit. A few weeks later we laid in the grass in a park near my house, overlooking a beautiful view of Melbourne’s skyline and I told her I was thinking of not returning to my tour guide job this summer. I wanted to give my Australian experience more than a mere few months, I told her. I said I wanted to live here for a year, at least. I wanted to settle and in become a resident of Melbourne, not just a tourist passing through. I had found two promising opportunities with an ad agency and a film producer. I had a job at a cafe that was flexible on hours to support me traveling and finding extra work. I called my boss in London and told her I wouldn’t be returning to Europe to work this summer.
One thing I need to make crystal clear though: I did not decide to stay in Australia for a girl.
Weeks passed, and things started to go south with The Aussie Girl. There’s more to this story than belongs on a public blog, but suffice it to say some circumstances changed. I was seeing less and less of her and thinking more and more of the job opportunity I had passed up.
Now we’re driving home after a weekend getaway together. I asked one of those questions that in a relationship, if you need to ask it, you probably already have your answer. “Is this going to go anywhere?”
A long pause.
Now I’m back on the phone with my boss in London. “Will you take me back?”
Now once more I’m staring down the “purchase” button on an airline website. Circumstances are a bit different this time. This time the flight is from Melbourne to London. This time I have a lot more reasons to think about staying versus going. This time I have no money to afford the ticket. What seems like just as rash a decision as the one I made six months ago, I click “purchase” and quickly deplete my credit line. One month from today I will be making my way to London for another season of tour guiding through Europe with my employer from last summer. I’m very excited for the season, but before going any further I need to make one thing absolutely clear.
I am not leaving Australia because of a girl.
A brand of sandles or “thongs,” as they’re called down here. You’ll have a hard time convincing an Australian to wear shoes to begin with, but if there is something on their feet, it’s almost always a pair or “Havaianas” as the rest of the world knows them.
It was enough of a challenge for me to adjust to the metric system after leaving The States, but now I’ve had to relearn how to order a beer. In the UK, you ask for a pint and you get a pint. A half-pint gets you half that. Here you have to learn that schooner equals 485 milliliters of beer — unless you’re in South Australia, where it equals 285mL. Long story short, unless you’re in South Australia a pot is a half-pint and a schooner is in between a half-pint and a pint. Oh, and “schooner” is pronounced “SKOON-er.”
3. Short black/long black/long mac/short mac/flat white
I could write an entire entry on the incredibly specific terminology for coffee in this country, but here’s the breakdown:
If you’re American, a coffee is not what you think. They don’t do filter coffee here, so asking for a coffee gets you a latte by default. A short black is a shot of espresso. A short mac (or short macchiato) is a shot of espresso topped with a teaspoon of milk froth. A long mac is two shots of espresso topped with a teaspoon of milk froth. A long black is a close relative to an Americano. It’s a 50/50 mixture of hot water and two shots of espresso, poured so the crema is preserved on the top layer. A flat white is a latte minus the foam.
4. Iced coffee/Iced chocolate/Spider
Coffee shops also offer some interesting desserts. All these drinks are what I used to know as root beer floats, minus the root beer. An iced coffee is a scoop of ice cream floating in a mixture of espresso, milk and a spoonful of sugar topped with whipped cream. An iced chocolate is ice cream floating in chocolate milk topped with whipped cream. A spider is ice cream floating in “lemonade” spiked with a flavored cordial. (Note: Aussie lemonade is what I would call Sprite. Americans are the only ones I know of who are purists when it comes to lemonade. Lemonade here is a carbonated, slightly lemon flavored sugary drink.) Depending on the cordial, you will have a lime/rasperry/lemon/etc spider.
5. “Old mate”
This one had me stumped for a long time. Calling someone “old mate” is just a replacement for “that guy.” A lot of cultures have an equivalent for informally identifying an unfamiliar person. In Ireland it’s “your man/your wan” for a passing man or woman, respectively. Acceptable use: “Is your man/wan over there in line before us?” In Australia, “old mate” is incredibly broad and can apply to just about anyone. “Watch out for old mate over there, he looks shady.” “Old mate let me in the club without making me pay the cover charge.” “Old mate tipped well.”
6. Lemon Lime Bitters
One of my favorite things in Australia — a delicious summery drink enjoyed by just about everyone down here. It’s a squeeze of lime and lemonade (see above lemonade definition) topped with a slice of lemon and a few squirts of bitters. Ideally, is should be stirred so as to be partially mixed, but still preserve the red bitters-tinted upper layer and clear lemonade layer of the bottom.
Also known as board shorts, these are the only acceptable form of swimwear for men. They’re lightweight shorts that have no lining on the inside like the swim trunks I’m used to. No matter who I ask, I can’t seem to get a uniform answer from Aussies on if you’re supposed to wear anything under your boardies while swimming.
8. Footy/Soccer/American Football
Finally, a country that calls soccer “soccer.” The reason is Aussies have their only version of football called Aussie Rules Football or “footy” for short. The football I grew up with is reasonably popular to watch but needs the qualifier “American football” so as not to cause confusion.
9. Hook turns
Melbournians are fiercely proud of their tram system. It’s their trump card for anyone who claims Sydney is better than Melbourne. The problem with the trams is it complicates some busy intersections in central Melbourne. See, the trams share the road with the cars, so in the downtown area where things can get congested, a car waiting to turn right at a traffic signal would keep the trams waiting for ages (remember, traffic drives on the left side of the road in Australia). Since authorities don’t want cars waiting to cross the line of traffic to hold up the trams, they paint a parking space on the very far side of the intersection. In order to take a right, you have to pull into a painted box on the very left side of the intersection. You wait there until the light is juuuuust about to turn red, then perform your hook turn, scurrying across 4+ lanes of traffic in the few seconds before the light turns red and you’re hit by cars going in the other direction. It’s very confusing.
10. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha (Kookaburra call)
Okay, so this isn’t a word, but you can’t be in anywhere in rural Australia without hearing the constant white noise of the loudest bird call you’ll ever hear in your life.