Friday, October 24, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 6

Ask and ye shall receive...I'm back with more answers to your questions!

I know I said I'd answer ibbabs97's second set of questions, but since she's already had a turn, I decided I'd leave her questions to tomorrow and give someone new a go. Today I'll be addressing Danielle's questions. She's new to the Melbourne Expat scene and here is what she wants to know:

1: Do you ever get used to the coffee here? (if you are a coffee drinker, that is!)
2: Is it easy to drive when you go back home to the US, going from the left back to the right?
3: Are there ever times when you are so homesick you want to jump on the next Qantas flight?
4: What's up with the lack of online shopping?

There are some good questions here, so here we go:

1. Do you ever get used to the coffee here? (if you are a coffee drinker, that is!)
Danielle, I'm not really sure what you mean by getting used to the coffee, I'm going to assume you mean the espresso coffee served at most cafes here versus the percolated coffee that is served at most American restaurants and consumed in most American homes. Along those lines, I have to say it's never an adjustment that I had to make. I am a coffee drinker, but I didn't pick up that habit until I spent a year living in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where I met the Handsome Australian btw). Buenos Aires is similar to Melbourne in the sense that there is a real cafe culture. People meet for coffee at a cafe all the time in Buenos Aires and the same is true here in Melbourne. As a result, I began to drink coffee as it was a very important aspect of the social scene in Argentina. The coffee in Buenos Aires is very similar to the coffee that is served her in Melbourne and in some cases it was stronger again. Cafe con leche in Buenos Aires is usually served in a small mug type cup whereas a cafe latte is usually served in a glass here in Melbourne. Other than that, the coffee is generally the same. So I guess what I'm trying to say is the coffee here didn't take much getting used to because I started drinking this type of coffee from the beginning. On the other hand, the Handsome Australian has a very difficult time transitioning to the coffee in the USA. I've even written a post about his coffee struggles.

My advice to you would be the following, if you find the coffee too strong, order it weak. Lots of people order weak lattes here all the time. In fact there is a whole language around coffee ordering that you are probably slowly acquainting yourself with.

I hope this answers your question and I've gone down the right track. If you meant something entirely different, just let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to answer more appropriately.

2. Is it easy to drive when you go back home to the US, going from the left back to the right?
There are few things more challenging for your brain than learning to drive on the opposite side of the road to the side you are accustomed. I was fearful of driving here in Australia when I first started because it just seemed so intuitively wrong. Let's face it, a lot of what we do on the road is not conscious behaviour. Once you learn to drive, breaking, accelerating, indicating, etc all become second nature and aren't things you consciously think about when you drive. When you swap to the other side of the road and the other side of the car, you become fully aware of all these things again. The more I drove here, the more comfortable I became. As long as I've been in Australia, I still have moments where I walk to the wrong side of the car. If that gives you any indication of how ingrained these behaviours can become.

What happens when I go back to the USA though? Generally the transition is a relatively smooth one. It's a bit like riding a bicycle I suppose. Just because you've been driving on the left for so long doesn't mean you forget how to drive on the right. Normally I just get in the car and go for it. It's not always a smooth and easy transition, I do have lots of moments of panic where I think, "Oh my God, am I on the correct side of the road?" These are literally just moments and then my good sense kicks in and I figure out where I'm supposed to be. I find the hardest places to drive in the USA are on streets with no other traffic on them. If you are on a major road, you just follow the cars around you. It's very clear which side you should be on because of all the other traffic on the road. I just follow the leader. It's when I turn off onto an empty residential street that I may for a split second turn to the wrong side of the road. I generally recover very quickly and realise I'm on the wrong side. I suppose if you are going to make a mistake and drive on the wrong side, then a deserted street with no other traffic is the place to do it.

Having said all that, my Father in Law gave me a great tip once. He transitions from driving on the left to the right when he travels from Australia to Lebanon. He told me to just remember that as the driver, you should always be in the center of the road. What this means is that the driver's side of the car should always be next to the center lines of the road. If you keep that in mind, then you'll always be on the correct side. I use his little tip all time when I'm in the USA. It's been very helpful.

3. Are there ever times when you are so homesick you want to jump on the next Qantas flight?
Yes, I've even packed my bags driven to the airport and stood in line for the ticket, then when I got the counter and realised they wanted my first born child in exchange for the ticket, I decided against it. Only kidding. I haven't actually done that. I have to say on the whole, I don't experience extreme bouts of homesickness. I think that is because I've been here for so long, I've made a good group of friends and found a place for myself in the community. I do find myself missing home around the holidays though. Particularly if I know my whole family will be together somewhere celebrating and I am the only one not there. The reality is it's so expensive to fly back and forth between Australia and the USA (and more so during holiday periods) that we can't just jump on the plane whenever we feel like it. It's something we have to plan and budget for. I've been fortunate enough to manage to get back to the USA once a year since I've been here. When I go, I generally stay for 6 weeks. That is a pretty reasonable chunk of time and knowing that I can do that, makes living so far away a little bit easier.

4. What's with the lack of online shopping?
You said it sister! Australia is in the dark ages when it comes to buying anything online. I just don't understand it. Even the really large stores like David Jones and Myer don't sell anything online. I've asked the Handsome Australian about this before because not only is he handsome, but he also works in IT and I thought he might be able to explain it to me. His response is that setting up an online business for such a large store like David Jones would be quite an expensive endeavour and that these businesses just haven't made it a priority. When the exchange rate was a bit more favourable (for Australians that is) in recent years, I knew plenty of people that were ordering things online from the USA. You've probably discovered that not all American sites will deliver internationally and many won't accept a credit card with an international billing address. So even ordering from the USA can be limited in that respect. When I first came to Australia, I felt like people were more interested in technology and seemed to be much quicker at adapting new things. I now think that was a misinformed opinion because the longer I've lived here, the more frustrated I've become by the lack of things such as online shopping that are available. You and I aren't the only ones who have noticed either. There was an article not too long ago in The Age newspaper talking about the lack of online facilities for the larger department stores. When I saw it, I said to the Handsome Australian, "I've been saying this for years and Australians are just now picking up on the fact that they are behind the eight ball on this?"

In my experience, it's not just online shopping that's missing either. Lots of things in Australia that you'd expect to find on the Internet, just aren't there. I am often searching for restaurant menus or information about local schools, and I'm always disappointed by the amount of information available online. Hopefully this is something that will change with time. Being an Expat, in any country, requires lots of patience. That's one thing I've learned through experience.

I hope you find these answers useful Danielle. Please don't hesitate to send more questions my way if you have them! I'm happy to share anything I've learned during my stint here.

I'll get back to ibbabs97's questions tomorrow as promised!


KLS said...

I know I didn't leave any questions for you, but just wanted to let you know that I have been enjoying this little series!

Here's a question for you if you still need blog fodder:

If I was an eavesdropper at an Australian party, what kinds of topics would be being discussed? I'm curious because here it seems to be mostly the weather and other boring and non-controversial topics. You know, avoid discussion of religion and politics at all costs. But in France, political talk was very common. Just curious to know what a typical dinner party conversation would be like...

Annelise said...

Word. :)
Haha. Leaving in a second and don't have time to properly comment, but as your biggest fan I had to let you I was here and I read!
Coffee...ahhh, the Handsome Australian and his challenge for a good cup of Joe in the States.

suzinoz said...

I like your question. It's a good one. I'll take notes during the next dinner party and get back to you.

annelise--Thanks for being number one! I appreciate all of your comments.

Scintilla said...

I get confused in the car when hopping from Australia to Europe and back again. I remember getting in the car in Italy in the beginning and thinking
'OMG, someone's stolen the steering wheel'!
The freeway driving in Melbourne (100kph)is quite slow for us. In Europe (except Germany) you have to keep to a minimum of 110 (in the rain) and max. of 130 kph normally. But boy do they have a lot of lanes!

suzinoz said...

Scintilla-I know what you mean by a lot of lanes. I'm always a bit intimidated by all the lanes on the USA freeways when I go back now. I used to drive on them all the time when I lived there, but the widest freeway you'll find in Melbourne is 3 lanes sometimes 4 and there are only a few freeways here compared to the extensive networks you'd find in most US cities.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my questions! Of course I have several, being that I have only been here for 6 weeks, I appreciate your info. I am definitely having "online shopping" withdrawl...I was a big online shopper in the US, esp since I have 2 young kids! I have to add - it is even harder to shop since the stores close by 5 most days...another strange practice I have noticed.
Again, thanks for answering :)

suzinoz said...

dsduffy--There are a few places here that you can shop after 5pm. There is atleast one 24hr KMart that I know of on Burwood Hwy in Burwood East. That place has saved me on a couple of occassions when I really needed something after hours. The large shopping centres also have extended hours on Thursdays and Fridays. Other than that, you are out of luck and weekend hours are even shorter again. Takes a bit of getting used to. It used to frustrate me immensely.