Hay fever in November
When I had sneezed for the 23rd time, the man in the corner of the shop mumbled into his shirt: “Bloody hay fever sufferers! I don’t know.” Personally, I think a simple “Bless you” would have sufficed, but it did make me think. I had struggled along under the impression that I was unable to shake an incredibly persistent common cold. But now, the itchy eyes, constant sneezing and the miracle cure of ‘being inside’ was finally explained. Hay fever. In November. Well, what do you know?!
Yes, I had been a hay fever suffer in a previous life. Before I moved to the Middle East. There, twelve years of living in the desert, with some grass, but nothing really that flowered voluntarily’, I had been cured, and had gotten used to it. Moving to Australia in the summer, I had missed another season, or so I thought. It had been their winter, after all, and now it’s springtime. I keep forgetting that.
The husband, of course, had already acclimatized and knew it was spring. The other day, he suggested that we should all give up chocolate for Lent. Lent? It’s Christmas soon, not Easter! Yes, he had the spring thing down, but the upcoming celebrations and festivals? Not so much.
We have now been here for already four months, it’s incredible, but this upside down thing where absolutely everything is concerned? Cannot get used to it. Daffodils and cherry blossom in September, spring – and hay fever – in November, Christmas during the summer holidays, Easter in autumn, and yes, winter in July, but without Christmas. Although I hear that some Australians seem to go along with our feeling that Christmas ought to be celebrated in the cold season and put on a non-seasonal feast in July. The school year runs from February to December, the constellations in the night sky are the wrong way round, they drive on the left, and the weather gets warmer the further north you go, and colder toward the south. And, of course, when you are looking for a house, the advantage of north-facing windows and gardens is being highlighted by estate agents.
Add to that, the fact that we are a day ahead of pretty much everybody in the rest of the world and the confusion reigns supreme. But hey, if everything was the same, where would the challenge be? Because apart from being upside down, this land Down Under is making it very easy for us to like it. And if the water twirls the other way round down the sink, who cares?
New home, new challenges
So, two weeks already in Australia. It’s been such a long time coming, that just before we did actually move, I could hardly be bothered anymore. And when, after leaving on a Thursday and arriving finally on the Saturday, it didn’t hit me on arrival at Melbourne airport, nor when we got to our new home, but a day later, when I was sitting outside a café (underneath a heater) and suddenly with great screeching making a right racket, some cockatoos flew overhead and just settled across from me. Cockatoos! Australia!
I was indeed now living in a country where cockatoos fly wild. A country and continent I had never even set foot on until the day before. A country I certainly never expected to live in. But here I was. Australia. Can you tell that it really hasn’t quite sunk in?
Yet, even after only a fortnight, a still somewhat haphazard routine has already dramatically reduced the awe and novelty of being a newcomer to Australia.
Between school, husband’s work, my trying to get into the right mindset for my work, walking the dog (yes, she is already out of quarantine) and doing the shopping, washing, and –eek – cleaning, and all that stuff you need to do on a daily basis – new or not- sometimes I forget that I don’t actually know my way around yet, nor have properly settled. Life reminds me though, usually just when I am in the middle of cooking, with the one saucepan and the one wooden spoon, I notice that I don’t have a tin opener, or a sieve, nor do I know the best place to get a cheap item that will tide me over until the real thing arrives. And when our stuff arrives is anybody’s guess. Next week the container should at least be on the same continent as us, but how long customs will take over their deliberations – who knows?!
Inroads are being made. I have found a hairdresser – you might not think this is a priority, but when you have hair that grows like a weed in spring and roots that show up scarily quickly, it had to be done. Tram card, sim card, internet and vet have been sorted and I am working hard on finding a nice café with comfy seats where I can write easily. So far plenty of cafés, but not ‘the one’.
But then, I have only been here two weeks. Got to give it time. I am currently exploring my surroundings one road at the time with the dog, and one tram at a time, without the dog. Have already been to an exhibition, plenty of restaurants (the one saucepan thing is depressing), coffee mornings for new mums at daughter’s school, booked theatre tickets, and at the weekend will go to my first-ever football game. AFL . That should be interesting...
At times I feel as if I lived here forever, even though every day I discover something previously unknown. But that is exactly what I love about moving countries and why I probably do not feel terribly new anywhere, even if I really truly am new. I just love not knowing my way round. I love that I still have to look at the coins before I pay the cashier, that I don’t know the ‘celebrities’ on TV, that I have to go out and make new friends and learn about what makes this place and its people tick. Where other expats get anxiety attacks, I revel in the newness. And there still is plenty of that around, but less every day.
Off now to try and find the local post office. There should be one somewhere near here...
When in Rome...
Don't get me wrong - I really love living abroad. But sometimes, after I have put my foot in yet again, I get reflective. Would life not be so much easier if we could all simply be ourselves at all times and nobody would get offended or think you are a complete idiot, when you are only behaving the way your mum told you to all those years ago?
On a flight to Japan a while back, I was suffering from the worst cold ever, I was a mess. But, having read up on Japanese etiquette, I knew that people get mightily offended if someone blows their nose near them. Sitting in the middle seat of the busy middle row, I had the options of either pi***ng everybody off by squeezing past them every two minutes, or to blow my nose as discretely as I could. I tried my best to alternate between the options, only then for lunch to come around. The entire plane erupted into a cacophony of slurping and sucking noises. Having been brought up to eat as quietly as possible, I was appalled. For a minute. Then I thought, when in Rome – and started sucking at my noodles. And what do you know? It earned me a near smile from my neighbour who had previously frowned at my health emergency.
I do believe that it is only polite to conform that when you are guest in a country, be it for a holiday or a longer stint – at least to an extent. Here in the Middle East, I was at first paranoid about not eating with my left hand in public, but that has slowly subsided over the years to a reasonable level, as even Arabs cannot eat a burger with one hand. Not showing the soles of the feet is easy enough as is dressing modestly when outside – or so you’d think. But I do always end up upsetting people by turning up on time. Obviously some things are ingrained and as a good German, I am pretty much unable to be late and conform to the viscous goo that is time-keeping here.
Googling Australian etiquette, I was somewhat amused to find hints such always paying the cashier before you leave a shop, and letting people exit from the shop or bus before you enter– until I realized it was aimed particularly at Far Eastern visitors. The allowing people to exit before you enter is not necessarily obvious behaviour, as I learned in the toilets at Shanghai airport when a lady burst into my toilet cubicle the second I unlocked the door, with her trousers already being undone, and getting her knickers in a twist, if you forgive the pun, because I couldn’t get out. Sadly I had the feeling that she was actually much less fussed about the potential situation than I was. And this happened to me twice, so the guidance is only fair.
A recommendation several friends have given us is that we must – absolutely must - get into Australian Rule Football when in Melbourne, as otherwise we will simply not be accepted.
But one solid piece of advice that I repeatedly hear is that Australians are simply not impressed by you showing off, be it designer gear, bling, titles or you tooting your own horn. Coming from Dubai, where at least superficially (in so many ways) people put on show everything they’ve got, and if they haven’t got it they buy fake and pretend – that will be as refreshing to us as the rain.
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To travel or not to travel, that is...
Not long ago I talked to a friend who had just come back from Phuket. Again. She and her husband go every year, they love it there.
I was torn between feeling jealous of someone who is obviously content to visit the same place in the world repeatedly and wanting to shake her, shouting: “But what about the rest of the world??”She admitted that she had not seen much of this country (UAE), nor anything of the countries surrounding it.
Me? My 60th country is coming up in July (San Marino), with the 61st following only days later, Australia. That will also be the 6th (or 7th, depends how you count) country and the 3rd continent I will have lived in and on.
And yes, I am one of those sad people who count countries. That is not entirely my fault though, but due to one contestant on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, on TV in the UK years and years ago, whose hobby it was to collect countries. His aim was to always have visited as many countries as he was old, adding a new one every year.
Needless to say, I, together with countless other viewers, immediately started adding up all the countries I had been to. Growing up on the continent, with a new country a mere drive away, I had a higher number than the Husband who had been stuck on an island, then even without a tunnel to France, but we both fell sadly short.
And whilst the picture on my website does flatter me enormously, no, I am not nearly 60 years old, I merely caught up with the country collection a little, boosted the numbers as it were and got some to spare. After all, I will very much try, but somehow doubt I will live to the ripe old age of, what is it officially? 196 countries in the world? So, I sped through a few whilst briefly working for an airline, which paid me to travel (suckers!), and they added up reasonably well, not only because there are a lot of lovely places just around the corner from here, but also because of this infliction of mine, that I do not like to return to the same place too often when there are still so many new places still to discover out there. (Although I make exceptions for certain places, such as NYC and Paris, but like to throw something new into the mix while I'm there...)
So, between my friend who is a content repeat offender and only plagued by a vague feeling that she ought to look around a little more, and me, who is an irritatingly restless soul who is constantly chomping at the bit wanting to pack that suitcase - who is has the best approach? Obviously, there is no right or wrong. Each to their own and all that, and those who travel certainly have a larger bank account that I could ever dream of, but…
I am firmly behind good old Saint Augustine who said: “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only a page.” Considering I go through books at the rate of knots, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Let's pack!
Buying gold bars...
With the ticket out of Dubai already booked, I am frantically working on my Dubai bucket list. You see, when we left Oman, we had only been there a year and had not planned on moving again so soon, so lots of things were left un-done, places left un-visited and sights un-seen. This time, with some warning to our next move, the whole family got together and we put a joint bucket list up on the fridge, and have been ticking things off at a good rate.
The teenager’s list was easy enough: swim with a dolphin and lots of visits to various water parks, plus brunches at Zuma. Those were on everybody’s list, so we have been busy stuffing our faces with Japanese cuisine, when, really, we should be tucking into shawarmas while we can, but there you go.
Trips to Syria and Iran had to be sadly postponed due to local tensions and the somewhat hindering fact that the husband has already left us and moved on ahead. But we have been all over the place, including the camel market, leaving without a purchase though. Considering the hoops we have to jump through to get the dog to Australia, a camel would just probably not be worth it. Anyway, we can get one there, I believe.
Yesterday I finally ticked off another one of my points: I bought myself a gold bar from a vending machine. Okay, it is not one of those nice big bars you could use as a door stop, but it is a proper little gold bar, and it came from the machine in Dubai Mall.
Dubai has a few of those vending machines dotted around - you know, they come in handy when you desperately need some gold and the shops are closed…
In Vancouver airport you can get an umbrella from a machine; in Shanghai I’ve seen a machine giving you fresh – live – crabs (I was tempted to buy them all to set them free…); in Hamburg there used to be an entire little supermarket just full of compartments you slot money in and get your food item out of, and I remember somewhere, who knows where, a machine with little toy cars. Here? You get gold.
So, now I am the proud owner of a gold bar and I had my two minutes of ‘fame’ as curious tourists gathered around me as I kicked and cursed the machine – even gold vending machines, it seems, need some coercing at times to spit out the goods. But all in all, it made it easy to spend a lot of money for something pretty and shiny in a brief amount of time.
And the little bar even comes with a money-back guarantee, no questions asked. Just in case you come home with your purchase and the spouse just doesn’t quite share your excitement. (Mine isn’t here, so I get to keep it!)
Okay, got to go – more things to tick off. And I have already started a list for Australia – this time, I going to be prepared and make the most of it, starting as soon as I land. So much to see and do, so little time…