Friday, October 24, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 5

G'day y'all! I'm back with more answers to your very interesting questions. Today's questions come from Sandra. Here's what she wanted to know:

1. Are you sick of being asked if you miss home?
2. Do people confront you about American politics?
3. What American holidays if any, do you still celebrate?
4. Do you seek out other Americans in Australia or are you past that stage now?
5. Do you find the lack of political correctness refreshing or vulgar?

Okay, let's get this party started...
1. Are you sick of being asked if you miss home?
Gee Sandra, you sound like someone who speaks from experience. I was thinking, "How did she know that people ask me that question all the time?" Quite obviously, you've been there and done that yourself. Personally, I wouldn't say I'm sick of being asked the question (even though I do get it quite often, generally from people I've just met) but I do find it hard to come up with an original answer each time. The conversation generally goes something like this:

New Acquaintance: "So you're from America originally?"

Me: "Yes, Texas actually."

NA: "How long have you been here in Australia for?"

Me: "About 8 years now."

NA: "Do you miss it? I mean do you miss living in America?"

Me: "Well, I don't really miss living in America per se. As cities go, I love Melbourne. It's really a lovely place to live. What I do miss are my family and friends and some of the food you just can't get here. Those are the things I miss the most really."

NA: "Of course. Do you get to see your family much?"

Me: "Well, we try and make at trip over once a year if we can and they sometimes come here to visit as well."

Blah, blah, blah, blah and so it goes and so it goes. I've had this conversation hundreds of times with hundreds of people. I'm not really tired of it though because in my mind, it's just this person trying to make an effort to learn your story. They are trying to get to know you better and these are the obvious questions. As long as I have a hint of an American accent, I'll always be faced with this line of questioning. It's just the life of an Expat I suppose. I just wish I could think of more interesting things to say.

I'm sometimes tempted to revert back to the days of my practical joke loving youth and spin a yarn for these people. I used to do that all the time when I was the Handsome Australian's girlfriend and I'd just arrived in Australia. Remind me to tell you that story one day...

2. Do people confront you about American politics?
By "people", I'm assuming you mean "people" other than my Lebanese Father in Law because let's face it, when it comes to Arabs and Americans, it's been a bit of a bumpy road. His politics aside, there have been a handful of wankers who like to have a go at you when they find out you are American, but for the most part Australians have been pretty well behaved in that respect. I hear an awful lot of criticism about American politics here, but there aren't a lot of people shoving it in my face and blaming me for it. The worst feeling is when I'm among a group of people and not everyone in the group knows that I'm American. Someone might make a derogatory comment about America or it's politics without realising who they are speaking to. I find this a bit embarrassing--I think I'm embarrassed for them. Most of the time I might not even disagree with them (especially when they speak of the current President) but I know when they find out I'm American they are going to apologise or try to explain themselves. It's just a very awkward feeling.

Rather than confronting me about American politics, many people will actually quiz me or ask my opinion on things that are going on in the USA. The current Presidential Election is a hot topic at the moment. Lots of people ask me what I think of it, who I think will win, who I'd like to see win, if I can vote, etc, etc. I love it when people ask me something like, "What do Americans think of Barak Obama?" How would I know? When was the last time I lived in the USA? 8 years ago. No one even knew who he was then. I guess because I'm from the USA, people just expect me to know everything about it--including stuff that's happened since I've lived here.

3. What American holidays if any, do you still celebrate?
During my first year in Australia, I didn't celebrate many American holidays. I was too busy learning what holidays were being celebrated here. As time has gone by, and more importantly I've had my own children, I've become much more interested in celebrating the American as well as the Australian holidays. Since the birth of my first child, we've celebrated both Halloween and Thanksgiving each year. I mentioned in a previous post that we celebrated Halloween with a festival put on by Expat Americans and have also started our very own neighbourhood trick-or-treat. I've always liked the idea of Halloween. I think it's a very fun holiday for young children. The whole process of thinking up a costume, getting to dress up and then going around to collect a bag full of lollies. I always loved Halloween as a kid. I'm glad I've been able to share a bit of that with my children. Of course, I'd really love for them to experience a proper Halloween in the USA. I think they'd be over the moon with that because as much as we try and do here, it will never be as big as it is over there.

As for Thanksgiving, I just started making the meal and inviting a set of friends each year to celebrate with us. There are a few things about Thanksgiving that makes it a bit tricky though. Firstly, it's not a holiday here in Australia which means people don't have any time off of work so you can't have it on a Thursday afternoon. So we move it to Saturday afternoon which feels a little out of step with the USA, but I guess it doesn't really matter. Also, it's a bit hard to source all the ingredients that you need to cook the meal. I've only found cranberries here once and they were frozen. I've never seen fresh ones. You can buy dried cranberries or cranberry sauce in a jar, but if you want to make anything from scratch, you are a bit out of luck. Also, the turkey is hard to come by. Australia isn't oozing with gargantuan turkeys that the grocery stores are practically begging you to take home as is the case in the USA. Here, I have to go to a butcher several weeks in advance and order one. I go to the same butcher every year, and every year they think it's an odd request for a turkey in November. This is because people eat turkeys at Christmas here (that's the old English influence) but not really any other time. And please don't ask me how much the bloody bird's something like $10 or $11 a kilo and I usually get a 5 to 6 kilo bird. That's something like $50-$60 just for the turkey.

I feel a credit card ad coming on here:

Jar of Cranberry Sauce $3.50
6 Kilo Turkey $60
Passing on an American tradition to my Australian children: Priceless.

Yes, I'd celebrate Thanksgiving no matter the cost. Again, it's a holiday that I really enjoy and I appreciate the non-commercial aspect of it. It's really still about good food, family and being thankful. I'm all for that.

4. Do you seek out other Americans in Australia or are you past that stage now?
I don't think I've ever really been in that stage Sandra. I found this question very intriguing because I think one would assume that you'd look to surround yourself by similar people in similar circumstances, but I suppose in many ways I've often chosen to take the road less traveled by. I guess I've always felt that by surrounding myself with a group of American friends, I'd never really assimilate here in Australia. I'd prefer to weave my way into the local tapestry instead of keeping it all at arm's length with a group of like minded people. The more I think about this, the more I question why this is so. Here are a few reasons I've come up with:

a) All of my Expat experiences prior to living in Australia were in countries in which Spanish is spoken. During my time in those countries, I was always trying to maximise the amount of Spanish I spoke so as to improve my fluency in the language. As a result, I tried to gravitate towards locals as much as possible and away from Americans where I knew most conversations would be held in English. So perhaps this was just a pattern I set up for myself historically and have carried with me to Australia.

b) I have been and probably always will be quite a stubborn person. I think deep down I look at the idea of creating a network of other Americans here as the easy way to go about things and why would I take the easy way? I wouldn't because I'm stubborn like that. Ask the Handsome Australian--he's got plenty of "Yes, she's as stubborn as a mule" stories to tell you. (Maybe we'll even let him do a guest post someday...don't hold your breath though I don't think he even reads this thing). If perhaps I knew I was going to be here for a set period--a couple of years or something I may have been more keen to have other American Expat friends, but being here indefinitely has meant I've worked quite hard to find a place for myself amongst the locals. I think to do otherwise, one would always feel like an outsider.

c) I hate looking the part of the tourist. Take me anywhere on a holiday, but don't pull out your big tourist map and stand on the corner and point in eight different directions. No, I'm too cool for that. I like to discreetly figure these things out and walk with purpose. I know where I am and I know where I'm going. Also, don't ask me to pose for silly tourist photos--the locals might figure out I don't belong (as if my clothing and speech hasn't given that away already, but let a girl pretend for a moment...). Yes, I like the idea of fitting in and it's probably that urge that has also kept me from making connections with other Americans.

Having said all that, it's not as if I don't know any other Americans or I don't have other American friends here because I do, but those friendships have been out of consequence not because I intentionally sought out a particular group of people.

5. Do you find the lack of political correctness refreshing or vulgar?
Sandra, can I tell you how many times I've watched something on Australian TV and thought to myself, "They would never get away with that in the USA." Hundreds. Thousands even. Most of the time, I'm quite pleased that Australians are as laid back as they are. There are so many things that I think Americans can be needlessly uptight about and it's nice that people here in Australia don't have the same hang ups. Sometimes though, it does bother me. Particularly when it comes to sexist comments. I find one of the morning news shows here to be one of the worst offenders in this case. The anchor people (both male and female) are often making stereotypical remarks about men or women that I think are very last century. I just couldn't imagine the same thing happening on American television. The women there just wouldn't put up with it.

Summing up, I generally find the lack of political correctness refreshing, but there are still some bits of it that makes me cringe.

Holy guacamole! Those were some good questions. Thanks Sandra for asking them. I hope my answers don't disappoint.

Looks like we'll have one more round of questions tomorrow as ibbabs97 seems to have thought of a few more. So stay tuned!


Annelise said...

I liked it better when you were the girlfriend and made up answers to the mundane questions! Those were hilarious!

Nathalie said...

I'm glad that you have mixed with the locals rather than sought out other expats. And I'm also thankful that you have shared your traditions with me. I'm blessed to have you as a friend.

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

Wow, I loved those answers and feel they are very true. The only one I'm really different on is the surrounding yourself with American friends-- for me, it's been the biggest comfort.. well that, and Skype of course.

suzinoz said...

Thanks FGIS! We love Skype too, especially the video component. Can you imagine being an expat even 20 years ago? It would have been much harder. None of the technology!In that respect, we are very lucky.

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

I really cannot imagine that at all! I would be horrible.