Archive for February, 2009

Over the course of dinner last night with some Swedish friends who have lived here in Oz for 2 years, the conversation naturally turned to Sweden. We were listening to Swedish music and talking about Steig Larsson’s books as I just finished the second in his millenium trilogy.

Then I mentioned how much I was enjoying the easy, friendly Australians. I had been for a walk around Lake Burley Griffin and every person I passed either smiled and nodded, said hello or even more. And I remarked how that would never happen in Sweden but that I wished it would – the process may be casual but I enjoy acknowledging my fellow human beings. It somehow makes me feel connected to the world, even if Swedes tend to think that is just a surface friendliness. What I found interesting is that my Swedish friend Sophie felt the same way: she also loves the casual friendliness here. Rather inexplicably, that made me very happy.


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Given that I live in a country that’s not where I am from and am married to someone from yet another country, I suppose I spend a little bit more time than the average person in thinking about where I want to live.

From my first visit to Australia nine years ago, I felt that I fit in. Whether in the city on the beach or in the outback, I found I could relate to the people and that I intrinsically belonged even though I did not live in the country. Maybe being married to an Aussie had something to do with that belonging, but I don’t think that’s the complete answer. My friend Debora has lived in Stockholm on and off for 25 years and is married to a Swede, but still does not feel like she fits in there. “Unlike Asia, you look like you belong in Sweden,” she says. “So you have a false sense that you do belong. But you don’t. I am not from Sweden and am too loud and too American to fit in completely.”
Although I have a fantastic life that I love in Stockholm, I still don’t have that same connected feeling that I get in Oz. And for the moment, I don’t feel like I belong in the US either. I suppose I’ve gotten addicted to the exotic lifestyle of living internationally. It’s an interesting place to be in, but also confusing as it gets down to the question of where I belong in the world. I have not worked that out yet. But this search for belonging is one of the main themes in my book. I will keep you posted on how the process goes.

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Just when I thought I might be done with the witty wisdom from the Wicked Campers, I spotted another van yesterday here in Canberra. The inspiration on it: “I’m not crazy, my reality is different.”

Of course, nothing quite beats my sighting of the ABBA van along the Great Ocean Road. I just can’t get away from all those Swedish influences. Now you will also perhaps have the “Money, money” lyrics stuck in your head. Sorry about that.

Wicked Wisdom, part 2

Wicked Wisdom, part 2

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One of my biggest memories of my first trip to Australia is of Robert saying: “that will kill you.” In visiting Robert’s Dad, I saw a spider, pointed it out to him and was immediately told, “Stay away from that as it will kill you. It’s a brown back.”
Swimming in the ocean, there were not only sharks to worry about, but there were also cone shells, box jellyfish and all sorts of other things that would kill me. And that’s not to mention all the snakes that I encountered that would certainly kill me, from a common brown snake to a tiger snake to a taipan. And if these dangerous creatures would not kill me immediately, they would first cause my skin to turn black and blue and then to fall off in chunks before I would slowly die a painful death.

Australians actually seem proud of their status of having some of the world’s most deadly snakes, spiders and plants. They seem rather casual about living amongst these killers, in fact. While I was running in the opposite direction from any number of these killers, Robert was typically checking it out with fascination.
It reached a point where I began to feel like I was encountering some other deadly animal everywhere I turned. Even those cute kangaroos and koalas could apparently rip me apart with their extremely long talons. So I have to say that I was somewhat surprised to encounter the rather infamous Tasmanian devil the other day. From my memory of watching Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid, this was one crazy animal that would certainly bring harm to me. But the actual Tasmanian devil has rather a sweet black face and small body. As I admired its cuddly appearance, I suddenly heard a rather bone-chilling series of snarls from the next pen over. It was two Tasmanian devils fighting.

As I watched, I was just as suddenly quite certain that these animals could also kill me.

The infamous Tasmanian Devil

The infamous Tasmanian Devil. Cute, isn't he?

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Understanding what the menu means is another entertaining aspect of traveling in Australia for me. Many of the food choices are rather self evident– it’s not too difficult to figure out that a hamburger “with the lot” is a hamburger with everything on it, for instance. But what “the works” means is a bit different here than what it would be in the US or Sweden. Typically, “the lot “will include a fried egg and beetroot (beets) in addition to lettuce, tomato and onion.

Continuing on the fast food roll, a chicka roll is an egg roll type thing filled not with chicken but rather with veggies. A salad roll is actually a sandwich—it’s often a ham and cheese sandwich with lettuce and tomato, not just vegetables as I assumed the first time I ordered one. Pies are not of the dessert/fruit variety, but rather filled with different meats and maybe a few veggies, much as they would be in the UK. The condiment that you might want to put on your pie or roll is tomato sauce, otherwise known as ketchup in my part of the world. And the Lammington that I had today with tea is a biccie or what I would call a cookie made of coconut with a soft sponge cake like filling.

BYO means that you can bring your own bottle of wine in to the restaurant. While your server will charge you a small corking fee, you still will pay considerably less than you would in the restaurant itself. Meanwhile, where you buy your wine would be at a bottle shop, which is also where you can get beer and other types of alcohol.

It’s all rather interesting, isn’t it? And you thought the language was the same…

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Koalas seem to defy gravity: it seems impossible that a small tree branch can support their bulk.

Koalas defy gravity: it seems impossible that a small tree branch can support their bulk.

Seeing kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, emus, parrots, cockatoos and echidnas everywhere is still a thrill to me when I come to Oz. I’ve lost count of the number of kangaroos and koalas I’ve seen on this trip, but even so I almost always stop to admire these exotic creatures in their natural environments. Seeing them confirms to me that I am in the land down under and thus somewhere that is very far from home.

As for Robert, these animals are just part of his everyday childhood memories. Luckily for me, he is very tolerant of my fascination and has indulged me by taking countless photographs of the locals. And since he’s always interested in most every living creature, he is also fascinated by checking out the wildlife. So while the creatures may not be quite so exotic to him, we are getting a kick out of our explorations.

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Part of living or traveling in any country different from your homeland requires getting to know the language. In Swedish, I am at that awkward stage with the language where I can read a newspaper article, but not carry on a conversation for very long. But even here in Australia where the language is my own, there are still communication problems. And that’s in spite of the fact that I am married to an Australian and this is my seventh visit here.
Just this morning, Robert’s cousin used the term dinky di which is the same as fair dinkum which basically translates to the truth or something that’s for real or for certain.
When you order a beer, you have the choice between a schooner (a pint) or a midi. Ta means thank you. Tea means dinner. Agro means aggressive. Uni means university. A pom or a pommie is a Brit. Bloody in front of any word adds extra emphasis. Thus I am a bloody Yank as I am from the US.
S’truth is an expression of surprise at something that is the truth: is that true?
Taking things a bit further, you don’t want to tell an Aussie that you root for a certain sports team as they will wonder what you are up to as a root is what you do in bed.
True blue is what you are if you are a fair dinkum Aussie.
Buggered if I know: that’s a very emphatic I don’t know.
So there’s a start to my Aussie dictionary. I will add more soon.

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