Tuesday, 9 August 2011

One Month Mark

As I near the one month mark I thought I would spend some time reflecting on this first month.  Some are observations, some are things I was told and some are just random thoughts from an American girl down under.

Aussies are Raised to be Socially Successful.  Aside from one bad seed, the Aussies I have met have been warm, reliable, honest and direct.  They don't beat around the bush, they don't say things they don't mean and they don't leave  you guessing what they really think.  Thankfully, they are also friendly, good-natured and easy-going.  At first I thought it was because they are raised in such a nice place; the weather ranges from mild to sunny, the food is amazing and there is much to do and see.  All basic needs are met - shelter, school, transportation and healthcare is available to everyone of every walk of life.  Crime is incredibly low and minimum wage is quite high. Life is just hunky dory.  Sure, many things cost more, but aside from cars, most of the basic things needed to get by are readily available. While these things certainly contribute, it is my impression, after spending time in two preschools and around several Aussie parents, that Aussies place a HUGE emphasis on social behavior from a very young age.  In fact, Kinder (pre-school) is almost wholly focused on developing socially successful little people vs. cramming a bunch of letters, numbers and handwriting down their throat.  There is no pressure for kids to be able to do certain things by the time they enter primary school.  The Aussies know that the academics will come and giving the kids a strong foundation to function in the classroom, and in the world, is so much more important.  Now, I know this is a focus in the early years in the States as well, but what I saw here was different and more deeply entrenched in everything they do.  And the way they teach it is so natural and casual that the kids don't really even seem to notice that they are being taught.  I'm at a loss for describing what about it is so different, but it is....  Anyone who has lived here and has children in school here knows what I am talking about.  It is just different, kind, simple and refreshing.

Back in Time: I really feel sometimes like I have returned to a simpler time where things just felt easier, happier, less stressful.  I remember a time as a kid when we could just wander around the neighborhood without parents, when the front door could be left unlocked and I did not have to worry about what college I was going to get in to at age 10.  The schools do not put the same pressure on the kids, people are just more relaxed and life is just simpler.  There is a lot less "keeping up with the Jone's" here as well.  In fact, I was advised by a dear friend, before moving here, that Aussies tend to be very modest.  If you have a real designer bag and someone compliments it, you are supposed to say "Oh this old thing, I got it on sale" or "it is a fake!  Looks real doesn't it?" 

Aussies strike me as being much more careful with their money.  Credit cards are not used nearly like they are in the states and people tend to spend within their means.  Maybe the higher interest rates drives this behavior but I believe it runs deeper than that.  I don't get the feeling that Aussies have been tempted in to spending beyond their means by credit cards that just "show up" in the mail and they don't seem to be competing with each other to have the best house, car, clothes, shoes, etc....  In fact, I have not seen any credit card ads, have not recieved anything in the mail and not even my bank has shown any interest in offering me a credit card.  I still recall my first day of college when they were handing out credit cards to any student that had a pulse.  They have no subprime market, they have interest rates that prevent people from spending more than they have and it seems to be working.  I will keep my eye on this as I think I can learn much from how they live here.  I

Then again, often I feel like I have lost many of the conveniences I once had while living in the States.  Many things are just more work and/or they just don't happen the way I know they can.  One example, of many similar I assure you: Evan's paycheck was paid electronically by his new employer.  His employer is a good friend and so we know that he banks with the VERY SAME bank that we do.  He has a long-standing business account with them.  Our account has been open at the same bank, at the same branch for over a month.  However, despite this, the bank placed a 24 hour hold on the deposit to ensure that it cleared.  My husband went down to the bank to straighten it out as clearly if the money is moving within the same bank and same branch, electronically, it is obviously secure.  While the bank manager admitted that this is true and apologized, the hold remained on the account.  I have had similar experiences while shopping or in dealing with service providers.  There is little urgency to things here and I have to remind myself to SLOW DOWN and focus on what is really urgent and what is just an inconvenience that with patience will work itself out.  It is not that people are lazy here, in fact, they are very friendly and helpful most of the time.  The pace is just different as are the expectations.  I am just bringing my former expectations to things that don't follow the same timelines as I am used to.  I think slowing down, for the most part, is a good lesson in patience and may add years to my life!  I just have to keep reminding myself of this.  :)

Additionally, because Australia is so remote from everywhere and because the population is so much smaller than most major countries, supply on non-essentials is often a problem.  The things that I once loved are either unavailable here OR cost a fortune when compared to local products.  For example, I was a bit homesick and thinking some Tom and Jerry's ice cream might be the answer - as it is for all bummed out ladies!  I took one look at the price of Tom and Jerry's and decided I am just going to have to "get over it" and move on.  A tiny container is $11!!!  At that price, forget about it - maybe that is why the girls here are skinnier.  They cannot afford Tom and Jerrys!!  Cars are priced at almost three times what we paid in the States and for some odd reason, razor blades for shaving are sold at almost usery rates.  I guess you take the good with the bad - and the bad is really not that bad...just slower and less convenient.  The best advice I was given so far while here, from an American that moved here, is to drop all expectations that I have from being in the States and just go with the Aussie flow.  It is working so far!  :)

Everything is just DIFFERENT: I kid you not, the weather here is nuts, the animals are so unique and up is down.  On any given day you can have warm sun followed by a serious downpour, followed by double rainbows and then cold only to have the evening warm back up again.  The weather is never too cold and only sometimes too hot (at least that is what I am told, summer is still coming so I'll get back to you on that one).  I carry with me, at all times, an umbrella, a windbreaker, a down jacket, sunglasses and I layer my clothes.  I never know what I will need on any given day - so I am resigned to be a bag lady until I have a car here! 
If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE animals. I have passed this love on to my kids and have even warmed Evan up to most animals as well.  The first two big purchases made here were to the aquarium and the zoo.  At the aquarium I learned that certain fish evolved ONLY in Australia due to the extreme conditions of life here.  They have sharks that have adapted to live in fresh water rivers.  And they have crazy animals such as the duck-billed platypus, the kangaroo, and the Tasmanian Devil.  Australia has been so removed from all other land for so many millions of years that nature has gone on it's own evolutionary path altogether.  Basic lifeforms that were here at the beginning of our evolution, thought to be extinct long, long ago have been found here and/or still thrive here.  Spiders here, that just eat bugs like other spiders, have enough venom to kill an elephant.  Why they are so poisonous, who knows?!  They certainly went overboard there!  :)  You will hear much more about my adventures with animals I am sure.  I plan to see them all! 

So, my first month was a good one.  I have enjoyed getting to know the area, trying to fit in culturally and establishing new roots here.  It is a good place, albeit remote, to spend some time and enjoy life.  I am looking forward to finding a job, seeing animals, visiting the country and going on tropical vacations to destinations that before were simply too far to visit.

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