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Archive for the ‘culture shock’ Category

(While none of this will be new to those of you who have lived in snow before, it might amuse you to see which bits weird me out the most. Apologies for the obviousness of some of this, but that is partially the point of these posts, to reveal things that are obvious to the natives)

Firstly, my history with snow: when I was 9 we went to the Victorian snow fields in Australia. It snowed a little bit when I was in the UK in April 2008, but it had melted by midday. That’s it. So snow is quite alien to me, and hence I don’t know how to deal with it, or what might happen when it snows, what the different sorts of snows mean, and when to be careful. Quite scary for Little Miss Capable and Independent.

So, day 1 of snow, on 16 December was quite confronting. Also, it was the first real wake-up call that my life had substantially changed. Very much a ‘Toto I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’ moment. Up to this point my subconcious hadn’t really absorbed that it was somewhere different. Most of the things I experienced could have occurred in Australia, somewhere, sort of. Snow in an urban environment? Nuh huh! Just weird. So I freaked a bit. It didn’t help that I had a colleague sitting next to me panicing about being snowed in, as they were in February. We kept ratcheting up each other’s anxiety levels.

snow hips

(more…)

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This has been sitting in draft form since 5 December. I finally have the brain space to finish it. Enjoy!

1. Power plugs in bathrooms – as in there aren’t any, anywhere in that room, except for an electric  shaver plug, which is the wrong voltage for any other appliance. I thought it was just our house, but after checking 8 other rental properties, and asking the (real) estate agent, it seems this is standard.

Gah! I can’t blowdry my hair in the bathroom and not actually disturb my sleeping bf. Can’t blowdry my hair in the bathroom and be able to easily sweep up the hair that falls out.

Why is it that men can have their grooming item in the bathroom where the mirror is, but women can’t? This extends to straighteners, and curlers as well as hair dryers. Why allow one type of electricity and not another?

I’m assuming it’s a health and safety thing, not wanting electric appliances to fall into baths. But, seriously!? Some of the risk averse practices of this country are very confusing to me. (Which reminds me of a conversation I want to have with Poki at some stage, about the difference between a nanny state and a risk averse society, and which comes first, since they’re both in existence here)

 2. Changing power cables – In contrast to the previous item, it seems extremely common and acceptable that people change the power cables on their appliances. Extend their length, shorten them, change the plug type if necessary. Something I’ve never seen anyone do in Australia, except a flatmate who was a trained electrician, nor have I heard anyone discussing it as something they’d do on the weekend.

This seems rather dangerous to me, although I am assured it’s relatively stratightforward.

3. Dogs on trains – all dogs are allowed on trains, not just guide dogs. It’s odd. I sat next to a couple the other day who had their small (yappy-type) dog in the woman’s lap. The dog insisted on attempting to eat the chewing gum under the table. I’ve even seen them on some local buses.

I think this is firmly in the “different” category. I can see issues with the practice, people with dog allergies for instance, but I can also see benefits, being able to take your dog to a large park/forest and give it a chance to run around.

4. Plastic Surgery – It seems to be more accepted and more prevalent here. Whereas in Sydney, I was vaguely aware that some people, somewhere, had plastic surgery, it was no-one I knew. The attitude of the people I hung out with was that it was mostly the middle-aged women who had a certain image to maintain and a disposable income, and why would you put yourself through it. Such a vain thing to do. And more an American thing.

However, here, half the classified sections in the back of fashion magazines are full page ads for plastic surgery clinics, 3-5 pages worth. Which gives me the impression that plastic surgery is more acceptable and more common.

Thinking about it further, perhaps it’s the difference in gender politics between the 2 countries. A number of sources agree with me, that Australia tends to be more gender neutral, you’re worth is judged on your personality, knowledge and competencies, regardless of your gender. This is less of the case here, gender matters, although it’s very difficult to point out to British friends what triggers this. It’s subtle, but I’ve never been so aware of being a woman and the role that I should therefore fulfil and what I am and am not allowed to be and do. This also translates into greater pressure to look good at all times. (NB, British men, particularly those over the age of 40, similarly have much more restricted concept of what it is to be male, and how they should and should not behave, than the Australian men of the same age that I have had dealings with).

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It’s 2.51pm on a Monday afternoon. Technically we’re supposed to be signing a lease today.

We’re supposed to be out of our current place in time for an inspection on Wednesday evening.

Currently, we are still waiting the landlord’s permission to move in, as there was a mix up with our guarantor forms going to the estate agent. It sat in her spam folder for 4 days, and it’s taking more than a working day to check the references.

This is cutting it very fine. Almost too fine. The Newtown rental market was never this bad.

Everybody cross fingers. Please.

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I am realising/remembering tht one of the most difficult aspects of living in a new country is the isolation that occurs in the first period, while you rebuild the networks that seemed so effortless and normal in your home country. I know this eventually gets better, and it’s part of the process.

I can distinctly remember learning the Thai word for lonely early on in my year of exchange, and a sympathetic ‘aunt’ [1] who spent one afternoon telling me, and everyone else on my family’s compound that I was ngaow- (lonely).

It’s becoming apparent, now that things are settling down here, exactly how isolated and lonely I have been, which is difficult for a social creature such as myself. (more…)

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Time for another one of these posts. I’ve been collecting the items in this one for a couple of months now, dumping them in a draft post whenever I think of them. So if they seem like things I should have mentioned earlier, then that’s why.

IMPORTANT: As always this is not a judgement, but an observation, of difference. It’s not right, or wrong, just different. Generally these items are the small things that I don’t realise are going to be a challenge until I was actually here.

1. English keyboard layout. I touch type, which is a useful skill when you are tired and need to type but don’t want to keep your eyes open (did this once at work, suprisingly relaxing, and gave a surprising focus on the act of letting words flow) . The UK keyboard layout is different to the Australian one. Both follow the standard QWERTY layout, but some of the symbols are in a different place. Specifically ” @ # ~ £ (which isn’t on the Australian keyboard at all) and the left shift key, which I tend to use the most, is shorter, which makes shift+ctrl combinations a bit trickier.

Probably I’d adapt more quickly if I’d not imported my Australian laptop for use at home.

2. Driving speeds are both faster and slower. So my judgement of distance as a pedestrian and my confidence on motorways is being tested. I miss gaps to cross the busy road out on the way to work, as cars here don’t tend to accelerate to fill a gap, like they tend to in Australia. Whereas standard speed on a motorway is over 120kms/hr which is too fast as a standard speed for my comfort at this time. Also, distances left between between cars are shorter, as are the gaps left when changing lanes. This makes me a bit of a nervous passenger at the moment, this will probably change the more I drive around and get my own confidence back.

In related news we picked up a car on the weekend from Jed’s parents, so we’re more mobile again. Yay! I’d missed driving. Now to find the balance between relying on a car, and continuing to enjoy the trains.

3. No laundry + front loading washing machines. This is an odd one. I miss line dried sheets, and lined dries clothes. Baked in the Australian sun, partially bleached, blown dry by warm winds. Dried on a clothes airer inside is just not the same, and dried in a dryer is really, really not the same.

Also, washing used to be something I did once, on the weekend. Now I’m finding myself doing a load almost every day. Partially this is the doubling of washing with two people, but it’s also a function of a smaller, front-loading washing machine and reduced line space.

4. Brands – they’re different. Which has become shorthand for all the small things that are different.  A couple of weeks after I first arrived we went grocery shopping, and Jed asked me to choose some biscuits for the house. I just stood there. He asked me to hurry up and choose, and I couldn’t. I had no pre-evaluated matrix of biscuit type, by brand, by price, by quantity. One of those things you take for granted (e.g.: “ah ha! what I want is Arnott’s iced vovos!”). A practical example of paralysis of choice.

Now, if anyone asks me what I want, and I find myself dithering and confused because it’s a small thing for which I don’t have a pre-judged matrix of value then this is the explanation line – “It’s like biscuits!”. Helpfully, this is a light-hearted way of indicating that the problem is environmental, rather than individual and more generosity is given for a decision to be made.

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I’ve been meaning to rant about this for a while. A post about the pitfalls of debit cards over at Get Rich Slowly has finally spurred me to action.

For those of you looking for the weekly update, it’s coming. Last week was a big week and so I need the right headspace to tell you about it.

In Australia I was mostly on top of my finances. Bills got paid (mostly) on time, I had a regular savings plan, my credit balance was steadily declining after rising during the very lean university years. I had good systems set up to ensure that I didn’t overspend.

I’m quickly realising how much the Australian banking system actually helped with this. Here, in the UK, I’m increasingly frustrated that these systems are not normal, and hence what I am presented with is, to me, weird; part 3 in the ongoing “Things that are weird” series. (more…)

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As an anti-dote to the Things that are Weird posts, since there are (of course) more good things about living here than weird things.

1. The light quality. It’s so much softer, more restful. Still bright, but not scorching. Love it.

2. Clouds. I’ve always loved looking at clouds, I even have a Flickr set devoted to photos of them. The clouds here are fantastic. They scud across the sky, or hang there as a gigantic sky sculptures.

3. Plants. They are green and lush and just everywhere. Wildflowers tend to be the flowers I love – foxgloves, sweet pea, blackberries (OK not a flower, but I love looking at them), and ones I am recognising and coming to appreciate.

4. The cafe downstairs from work with the lovely Italian men who call me Bella, and say Bourgiorno to me every morning and make my toast and coffee without me needing to say a word. They also the best steak sandwich on the planet. Tender, juicy, right balance of ingredients. It’s been a goal to find a good steak sandwich for years. Yay Italian cafe that is a restful place in the morning just before work! Wish I could take them with me to all future employment situations.

5. Summer is lovely. I don’t care what the popular opinion is, summer is really pleasant, like a few months of the nicest September or March days in Sydney, not too hot, lovely breezes, long twilights.

4. Berries! I didn’t really get the love of berries in Australia. With the exception of fresh blackberries. English strawberries are divine, raspberries are to be consumed whenever possible.

5. Most people speak softly. This has reduced my incidence of noise sensitivity which is fantastic. One less stress point is a very good thing.

6. Variety of ingredients. Sydney – Newtown has a better selection of places to eat, but England has a much better selection of ingredients, which are easier to access. Perhaps this is why I am doing more cooking here. Which is also a good outcome.

7. In my opinion the discourse around sustainability is more balanced and advanced. This is probably the subject of a future post. Or one in a related blog if ever I get it up and running which will focus on policy/sustainability rants, rather than muddy-ing the two together.

There’s more, but 7 will do for now.

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