Monday, June 30, 2008
First and most important were my introductions to the Handsome Australian's family. While the Handsome Australian was born and raised in Australia, his parents actually immigrated here from Lebanon some years prior to his birth. Yes, the plot thickens...So not only was I dealing with adapting to the Australian culture, but I had to take a crash course in the Lebanese culture as well. I would say the Handsome Australian's family were very assimilated in their adopted homeland by the time I met them, but there were many Lebanese traditions, values and beliefs that they still held very dear.
The Handsome Australian took me home to meet his parents and family on my second night in Australia. I think they were all intrigued to see what I'd be like--this American girl the Handsome Australian had met in Argentina of all places who'd come all this way to be with their son/brother. I wasn't sure what to expect myself. It's always a bit nerve racking meeting your new boyfriend's parents, but because of our situation, this particular meeting seemed more intense.
When we got to his house, his parents were both in the kitchen preparing dinner and his various brothers were in different rooms studying or watching TV. They were all very warm and welcoming to me. I felt at home in their house almost immediately. When the Handsome Australian introduced me to them he said, "So everyone this is Catherine*." And he went through and named his parents and all his siblings. They all greeted me with a kiss on the cheek which is an Australian way to greet friends and family and would have seemed completely odd to me had I not just spent a year in Buenos Aires where the custom was very much the same.
And then it began....His father said, "Cathy what will you have to drink?" and I was thinking, Poor guy, he didn't hear my name properly and he's calling me Cathy. Instead of correcting him, I just went with it and told him what I'd have to drink. Then one of his brothers said, "So Cathy how are you finding Australia?" Again, I'm thinking, Wow this family really must have a hearing problem--I know the Handsome Australian said my full name as Catherine but they all keep calling me Cathy--or maybe they just really feel like they know me. I proceeded to answer his question and still didn't correct him on my name. Didn't want to create too many waves on my first night. I was trying to make a good impression after all.
The night carried on and things went smoothly. We were all getting along quite well, but as the night wore on, my name kept changing. As they got to know me a bit better I wasn't Cathy any more it was, "Hey Cath would you like some more wine?" My name had metamorphosed through the evening and was getting shorter and shorter by the minute. It was bizarre.
A few days later I went to meet the Handsome Australian's mates (that's Aussie for friends--but you already knew that didn't you?) down at the local Cricket club. Now Cricket players in Australia aren't known for their intellectual abilities and quite a few of these guys were a bit rough and ready, but they were friendly just the same. Again we went through the introductions, "Guys I'd like you to meet Catherine." Then as they introduced themselves to me, it went something like this, "G'day Catie, how ya goin'? I'm Haydo good to meet ya." Um, did he just call me Catie??? And what kind of name is Haydo anyway? Everyone at the Cricket club had different versions of my name--to some I was Catie, some Cath, some Cathy, some Caz, but no one called me Catherine. No one.
I'd never really had a nick name before and I wasn't that keen on the shortened versions of my name either, but it wasn't something it seemed like I had any control over. The Australians love to shorten everything, particularly names. Turns out Haydo is short for Hayden.
Names don't get shortened willy nilly either, there aren't any hard and fast rules, but there are some guidelines that are loosely followed:
Names with an "r" somewhere in the middle will have the "r" substituted for a double "z" and an "a" added to the end. Confused? I know, it sounds bizarre, but it's not that hard once you get the hang of it. Let's take Sharon for example, "Sharon" (a perfectly respectful name) becomes "Shazza" (respectful name taking a walk on the wild side). Now people that know Sharon really well will even drop the end of "Shazza" and simply call her "Shaz". "Shaz" sounds like an unusual name if you're just meeting someone, but really it's just run of the mill "Sharon".
The same rings true for "Barry"--it becomes "Bazza" or "Baz". Harry becomes "Hazza" or "Haz", Lauren becomes "Lozza" or "Loz". Warren becomes "Wazza" or "Waz".
Other common names will be shortened or changed by adding an "o" to the end. For example, "Dave" becomes "Davo". "Steve" becomes "Stevo".
The "ie" ending is pretty popular as well, although it sees more use with every day words such as breakfast, which becomes "brekkie" or biscuit which becomes "bickie".
Call them casual, call them laid back, call them lazy, call them creative, call them colourful (that's Aussie for colorful), but whatever you do, just don't call an Aussie by their proper name. And be prepared, because once you set foot in the country, your name will never be the same again either!
Learn the Lingo
bickie (short for biscuit)=cookie
*Note: My name isn't really Catherine, Cathy, Cath, or Caz, but I'm used to having a different moniker now that I live in Oz.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
When you first approach the sandwhich counter, you need to be scanning the area behind for a bread selection. It is very rare that you'll find a list of the different breads available, but you can often see them in baskets or stacked up somewhere behind the counter. Check out the selection and see which type of bread you'd like. If you can't see the bread, just have in mind the type that you want your sandwhich on so that you can ask for it FIRST.
Here are some examples of the various types of bread you might encounter:
- Sliced Bread of various varieties--white, wholemeal (that's Aussie for wheat), rye, sourdough, etc
- Bread Rolls--Exactly as the name indicates, these are rolls and will take different shapes depending on the particular place and again there will be different varieties--white, wholemeal, with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, etc
- Focaccia--pronounced foe-CAT-cha is a flat oven baked Italian bread, which may be topped with onions, herbs, or other foodstuffs
- Turkish Bread or Turkish Roll--is a Middle Eastern style flat bread
BUTTER OR MARGARINE?
Now that you've made your bread choice, the next thing you will be asked is if you'd like margarine (only they'll say marg-a-REEN) or butter (only they'll say butt-A) on your bread. Personally I never heard of such a thing before I came to Australia. So don't be thrown off by this. Just say, "No thanks" if that doesn't appeal to you and ask for the spread that you would like instead. For instance, now is the time to tell them you'd like mustard, mayonaise, pesto, avocado, cream cheese, etc. Again it is important to look at the ingredients on display because the different spreads will vary from cafe to cafe.
Once you've chosen the spread, you should choose the meat you'd like on your sandwhich (if you are going to have meat that is). Have another look at the display case and see what's available--you'll usually find some ham, roast beef, chicken, tuna, pastrami, salami, smoked salmon, or even chicken schnitzel. Again the selection will vary from place to place.
Once you've chosen your meat then it's time to choose your cheese. Generally there aren't too many cheeses to choose from. You are almost guaranteed that Tasty Cheese (that's an Australian Cheddar) will be on offer and maybe one or two other types.
Now it's time to choose salad toppinngs. To speed up the process of choosing individual salad items, the Australians have come up with a shorthand. So when the sandwhich maker asks you if you'd like salad on your sandwhich this is what they mean: Salad = lettuce, tomato, carrot, cucumber, beetroot (that's Australian for beets), and onion (again this can vary from place to place, but this is pretty much the standard). If you say yes to salad, you should specify if you don't want any of those particular ingredients. You might say, "Yes, I'd like salad, but without the onions please." Now if you forget to specify, the sandwhich makers will generally (but not always) confirm that you would like the more controversial of the ingredients ie the beetroot and onion as not everyone likes these. So speak up or you may end up with something you don't want.
You don't have to have salad on your sandwhich or you may prefer some of the more exotic ingredients on offer such as sun-dried tomatoes, grilled eggplant, etc. If this is the case, just let the sandwhich maker know which items you'd like.
SALT AND PEPPER?
While the sandwhich maker is putting the salad or other veggies on your sandwhich, they will also ask you if you'd like salt and pepper on your sandwhich. It'll be something like this, "Would you like salt and pepper (only they'll say pep-AH)? So just reply in the affirmative or negative depending on your personal preference.
HAVE HERE OR TAKE-AWAY?
Once your sandwhich is complete, the sandwhich maker will generally cut it in half for you and then ask,"Is this for here or take-away?" Which means, will you be eating the sandwhich here at the cafe or will you be having it to go. If you want it to take-away they'll wrap it up for you and if you are having it at the cafe they'll put it on a plate.
Generally the sandwhich maker will ask you if you'd like anything else--this is the time to order your drink, or biscuit (that's Australian for cookie) or anything else that you might like.
Now, as I've said before, I've been here for 8 years, but I still don't understand the pricing system of sandwhiches. Each cafe seems to have a base price that is then added to depending on which ingredients you select. Some ingredients are more dear than others and I've even been charged a different amount for the same sandwhich in the same cafe on different days. So who knows.
I know this whole process sounds quite involved, but once you get it down pat you can get through it all very quickly and maybe even skip a step or two. Here's how I typically order,
"Hi, can I get a wholemeal roll with avacado, salad and tasty cheese, please."
Immediately they know which bread to grab, they know I want avocado as a spread (although they may still ask the butter-margarine question), they know I want the typcial salad ingredients and will most likely confirm the beetroot and onion options, and they know which cheese I'd like. So this means less questions need to be asked and they can get to putting the sandwhich together straight away. Of course the quality of service will vary from place to place and some sandwhich makers have better memories than others. Most can handle having this much information up front while others struggle and still need you to go through the process step by step with them. It's a mixed bag.
Now that you've read this sandwhich ordering tutorial, you can confidently order your lunch at an Australian sandwhich bar and spend the time you've saved pondering the meaning of colourful Australian gems such as "Two Pot Screamer" instead. Enjoy!
Learn the Lingo
Wholemeal bread=wheat bread
Tasty cheese=Australian Cheddar
Salad (for sandwhiches)=lettuce, tomato, carrot, cucumber, onion,
Two Pot Screamer=A person who gets drunk easily. In this case, pot refers to a glass of beer.
Friday, June 27, 2008
My biggest communication issues in the days and months after I initially arrived in Oz (that's Australian for Australia) centered around ordering a sandwhich. I spent a lot of time exploring the CBD (Central Business District that's Aussie for Downtown) of Melbourne and each day I'd pop into one of the many cafes or sandwhich bars that populate the streets. Most of these places have all sorts of sandwhich ingredients all chopped up in trays behind a glass counter--think Subway style. They'd be busy and packed with a lunch time business crowd. Everyone is in a hurry to get his or her lunch and get back to work. There wouldn't be any obvious menu on the wall like you'd find at Subway, just a list of ingredients and some vague pricing. So I'd step up to the counter and the conversation would go like this:
Me: Hi, I'd like to get a ham sandwhich please.
Sandwhich Lady (hereafter SL): What type of bread would you like?
Me (with a furrowed brow searching for a list of bread somewhere and not finding it): Um, what kind of bread do you have?
SL: We've got bread rolls, foccacias, turkish bread, or white, wholemeal or rye sliced bread.
Me (thinking, OMG what did she just say? What's a foccacia? Ahh someone help!!): I'll have the white bread? (I say almost as a question because I'm not sure that's the right choice, but it's the only one I recognised in the list besides rye and I didn't like rye).
SL (goes and picks up the white bread grabs two slices and puts them down on the bench--that's Aussie for counter--and then says...) Would you like maragine on that? (Only marg-a-RIN as we'd say it in America comes out like marg-a-REEN)
Me (What did she say? What did she say? She looks a bit impatient. I'm holding up the line. What did she say?) I'm sorry, what did you say?
SL: Would you like marg-a-REEN on that?
Me (staring blankly, beginning to break a sweat, telling myself this is only lunch it's not rocket science. You can do this, you just have to break the code--why is is so loud in here?): I'm sorry what?
SL (picking up a tub of margarine and a knife and using hand gestures to indicate that she means spreading the margarine on the bread and repeats herself again slowly ennunciating the whole thing like she's talking to a non-English speaker which I must clearly be at this point) Would_you_like_marg-a-REEN_on_that?
Me (Oh marg-a-REEN means marg-a-RIN! But wait a minute, why would I want margarine on a ham sandwhich???): Um, no thank you. Do you have mayonaise?
SL (gets mayonaise and begins to spread it on the bread grabs some ham and puts that on the bread as well): Do you want salad on that?
Me (Salad? Salad? What salad? Just when I thought we were finally communicating): I'm sorry, salad?
SL: Tomato (only she says it to-mah-to), Lettuce anything else?
Me: Oh yes, I'll have tomato (only I say it to-may-to) and lettuce.
SL (looking past me at the long line that is waiting behind me): Anything else?
Me (too afraid to take up more of her time and ask too many questions): No that's fine thanks.
SL: Would you like salt and pepper (only she says pep-AH)
Me: Oh, yes salt and pepper (only I say pep-ER) is fine.
She finally cuts my sandwhich in half and tells me how much it will be. I fumble through my purse (that's Australian for wallet) and try to come up with the correct amount. All the while the line behind me gets longer and longer.
My friends, I wish I could say this was a one-off experience, but I think it took me an entire year of living in Australia before I actually got the sandwhich I wanted and I didn't get there on my own. The Handsome Australian had to sit down and give me a 10 minute tutorial on how to do it. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
"Oh yeah and by the way, we do have a problem with Kangaroos on the runways here. So as the plane is landing, don't be alarmed when the Captain comes on the PA and asks you to look out your window and see if you can spot any kangaroos on the tarmac. They will instruct you what to do if you see one, but I'll go ahead and tell you now. You'll find a boomerang in the seat pocket in front of you. If you do see a kangaroo running loose on the runway, you need to pull the boomerang out of the seat pocket in front of you and toss it in the direction of the nearest air hostess to alert them of the kangaroo's presence and they'll let the captain know. Depending on how many kangaroos are loose on the tarmac, they might have to abort the landing and reapproach, but that doesn't happen a lot...maybe once or twice a day. I know you've probably never thrown a boomerang before, but don't worry--on the back of the laminated evacuation cards are very easy to follow instructions about how it's done. You'll be right."
Yes, I'm serious. Chivalry is not dead. What a thoughtful tip to share. Handsome, thoughtful and full of sh*t. I might have believed him if it weren't for the glaring error he made on our first date--He almost successfully convinced me of the existence of the Drop Bear in Australia.
The conversation started out innocently enough. I was telling him about a holiday my Aunt and Uncle had taken to Australia and all the amazing wildlife they had seen including an unfortunate run in my Aunt had with a leech during a bush walk she took. This is what followed:
Him: "Well your Aunt got off lucky. Leeches are terrible, but they're nothing compared to the Drop Bear. You really have to watch out for those when you are out in the bush."
Me: "The Drop Bear?"
Him: (enthusiastically) "Oh yeah. Haven't you heard of Drop Bears before?"
Me (hanging on his every word and trying to be my flirtacious best): "No, why are they so dangerous?"
Him: "Well, these Drop Bears they hang out in trees out in the bush and you will just be walking along when all of a sudden out of nowhere they will drop from the tree on to your head or upper body and begin to attack you. They've got very sharp teeth and long claws and they can really do a number on you."
Me (starting to get slightly suspicious, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, I mean there could be such a thing as Drop Bears right?): "Are you serious? Bears that drop out of trees and attack unsuspecting hikers?"
Him (with a completely straight face): "Yes, they are native to Australia, but it's not something we advertise--you can imagine why."
Me (asking myself, why would this guy be lying to me I only just met him and he seems trustworthy): "Well, I don't think you'll find me hiking in Australia then. Attacked by a random bear that falls from a tree? No thanks."
Him: "Aw you Americans really are too soft. Can't let a ferral bear get in the way of a good bush walk."
Me (is he serious? This sounds out of this world, but he doesn't appear to be making it up and why would he?And what the hell does he mean by ferral anyway?) "Well, we may be soft, but we aren't nuts. That sh*t's crazy."
A pause in the conversation and we just look at each other.
Me: "Are you sure there are really such things?"
Him: "Why is it so unbelievable?"
Me: "I don't know, it just is. Look I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because we just met and I know you wouldn't tell me something that wasn't true."
Him: (realising he'd gone too far) "Okay, okay. We don't really have Drop Bears."
Me (surprised because he was so damn convincing and disappointed in myself for almost falling for it) "I thought as much. You do realise now that I'll have to take everything you say with a grain of salt from now on because I won't know if you are telling the truth or not."
He went home thinking he'd blown it. He told his Australian roommate he'd told me the Drop Bear story and it hadn't gone well. Good thing he's handsome or he mightn't have gotten a second date.
If there is one thing you need to know about the Australian sense of humour, it's that Australians love "taking the piss" out of someone. In American terms that means making fun of someone. They like to use the geography and exotic nature of Australia to their advantage, especially in conversations with Americans, and make up all sorts of gems just to "take the piss".
Learn the Lingo
ferral=wild, crazed, etc (there are other meanings which we'll get to another day)
take the piss=make fun of
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I returned from my year in Buenos Aires just in time for Christmas in the USA. My family was so excited to see me. So thrilled to have me back. Home. Where I belonged. It was great to be back although leaving my new found friends and adventures in Buenos Aires had been a teary affair to say the least. It was such an intense year, such a big learning curve, it was hard to leave all that behind and return to the comfortable, but all too familiar surroundings of home. I suppose it all seemed a bit easier knowing in the back of my mind that this was simply a pit stop and I'd be off again soon. I had a new destination in mind and I was slowly working out how to make that next journey a reality.
I never really mentioned the Aussie mystery man to my family when I met him in Argentina. I kept the whole thing under wraps. Initially, I wasn't taking the whole thing seriously myself. I mean I was American, he was Australian, we were in Argentina--can anyone say "Holiday Romance"? The kind you remember fondly, but is exactly that--just a holiday romance. It doesn't last longer than the holiday itself and is just a bit of fun. I was having great fun with this Aussie guy, but we had different schedules, different reasons for being there and I don't think either of us were really looking for anything lasting to come from it.
Also, I didn't want to raise the alarm at home unnecessarily. One of the last comments my Dad made to me before I left for my adventure in Argentina was, "Now don't go falling in love with some Argentine guy and end up staying there forever." To which I'm sure I just rolled my eyes and said, "Please Dad! As if! Sometimes you say the most ridiculous things." (He probably wishes now that I did meet an Argentine guy--hey Buenos Aires is only an 8 hour flight from Miami. I'd be much closer to home than I am now.) Knowing that my meeting someone in my host country and staying there forever was a concern for my family, I thought it better not to mention the Aussie--I didn't want them to stress, especially when I wasn't sure myself what the 411 on the whole situation was.
Once it became clear that this thing with the Aussie was serious and that I was thinking of following him home to Australia, I only had a few weeks left in Argentina. At this point I decided I'd keep the news to myself until I returned home where I could explain it all in person. Not sure that was the best move ever, but that's the choice I made at the time.
To be fair, I think my family had some inkling that there was someone on the scene in Buenos Aires and I also think they may have known he was Australian...how else could they explain the mail I was receiving at my Texas address from the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. with my visa applications. Yes, there were certainly clues.
Nevertheless, telling my family that I was just in town for a few months while I sorted out my Australian visa and then headed off to Oz was not easy. I think they were happy for me to have found someone I was obviously so keen on, but I know there were reservations. I'd just been away for a year and here I was leaving again. And who was this Aussie guy? They didn't know him. They didn't know anything about him. I had photos...that really wasn't enough. How did I know this was a real relationship? Why was I chasing this guy across continents? What would I do when I got to Australia anyway? Does he even know you are coming? (Yes, my Dad actually asked me this). These were all valid questions and I'm not sure I had the best answers at the time, but it didn't seem like a big deal to me. I would go and see what happened..if it worked out, it worked out. If it didn't, it didn't. I remember having a pretty casual mindset about it all. I think I was more concerned about how I would feel if I didn't go. If I never gave it a chance. If I missed the opportunity. It would always be one of those, "What ifs" and I was certain I didn't want to have that resting on my conscience.
I listened to their questions. I did my best to address their many concerns, but I really couldn't understand what the big deal was. It was only Australia, and it wasn't forever. I just wanted to go and see how this whole relationship played itself out. Though there was much worry and concern on the part of my family, I can't think of a single one of them who told me not to go. I'm sure they would have preferred it if I stayed home, but no one came out and actually asked me to do so. I give them all a lot of credit for this. Especially now that I'm a mother myself...I don't know if I could be so big about it all. Did I mention my family is amazing? Well they are. They were willing to support this dream of mine even if was probably one of their biggest nightmares come true. This was truly one of those, "If you love them, set them free" kind of moments.
My friends on the other hand were pretty cool about it all. I think everyone recognised the new adventure that lay ahead of me. My girlfriends were fascinated by this Aussie mystery man and of course they would miss me, but what girl doesn't like an exotic love story? I think most of them were caught up in the emotion with me. If anything, most of my friends kept telling me how brave I was to take such a chance. I didn't see it that way at all. I would call myself a risk-averse person, so I guess throwing caution to the wind and heading over to Australia on a wing and a prayer doesn't really gel with my personality, but I guess I was blinded by love at the time because I had no fear and didn't see the potential pitfalls.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
So here I am and here's the beginning of my story (because y'all need to know how I got here right?)....
I wasn't born in Texas, but I got there as quick as I could! Spoken like a true Texan--see, I've still got it. I spent my youth growing up in one of the larger border communities that line the US-Mexican border. I had no appreciation at the time for how this community, that was a delicate balancing act between two cultures--American and Mexican, would serve as excellent preparation for the road that lay ahead of me. Yeah, who knew menudo on Sunday would be the precursor to a meat pie at the footy? (Both delicacies are on my "No thank you, I'm fine." list BTW) But seriously, it opened my mind to the possibilities of other points of view, other traditions, and other ways of life that were different to my own. Free your mind and the rest will follow...
And here's what followed...I left my comfortable border home and headed off to Uni (that's Australian for University and one of many Aussie words that have now become my own) where my horizons were further broadened by my professors and my fellow students. I did two stints abroad in consecutive summers and really caught the travel bug. I had also managed to finally become proficient in Spanish. When my final year of college was coming to an end, I signed on for Grad school. I wasn't ready to face the real world yet and the job market wasn't ready for me or my contemporaries...things were slow. I knew I could buy some time with Grad school, but what would I do after that? I mean honestly, would I need to go and actually find a job? That seemed so mundane to me. I wanted to travel and see the world a bit. The only problem was I wasn't sure how to fund such an adventure. So I started doing a bit of research and looked into various scholarships that would pay for me to continue studying overseas. Lucky for me, the wonderful people at the Rotary Foundation were offering just the sort of opportunity I was looking for. I applied for their scholarship program, went through several stages of rigorous interviews and was finally awarded the opportunity to continue my study overseas. I got to choose my destination and there were very few limitations. Since I was still working on perfecting my Spanish, I decided a country where Spanish is spoken would be the best choice for me. I chose Argentina. To this day, I can't tell you why I chose Argentina. Lots of people have asked me that question, and I really don't know the answer. But it's a bloody good thing I did...
I spent the most amazing year living and studying in Buenos Aires. There are many tales from there which I hope to get back to at some point (I'm planning on archiving them here at some stage if I can). I had lots of laughs and made lots of great friends and even met someone who would change my life and redirect my trajectory. This life change came in the form of a very handsome and tremendously puzzling Australian bloke--yes I said Australian, not to be confused with the local Argentine variety (who themselves are very handsome, but the Aussie got to me first--sorry fellas!). The Handsome Australian and I met over drinks at a cocktail party at the Australian Embassy in Buenos Aires. I know, I know, such a typical place to meet someone. He was there on a six month assignment with his work. We dated three months (that's another long story of misteps and misadventures for another day) and when he was due to depart two months before my year was up, it became clear to me that my next step needed to be getting myself to Australia. This was not what I thought I'd be planning as my next move. I'd spent the earlier half of the year contemplating what sort of job I should look for when I returned to the USA after my studies in Argentina finished. I had also contemplated extending my stay in Argentina. When something feels right though, it just feels right. Australia had become my destiny--now I just needed to figure out how to get there...
Learn the Lingo