Thursday, December 31, 2009

quicko: hot ham

A novelty in Australia. In fact, my Australian friends had never heard of eating ham hot. Pork, yes, cold cut ham, yes, hot ham, no.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

quicko: no sales tax in australia

Or if there is, it's built into the price and you never have to pay extra at the check out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

reprise: the counterpart of the great seat sit, the turn and go

While Australian church goers take part in the great seat sit, American church goers (particularly Catholic ones) take part in the great turn and go: as soon as the last line of the last song is begun, coats come on, bodies pivot and the sanctuary is empty by the final amen. And to think that I wondered how we were going to get our car out of the gridlocked parking lot!

Monday, December 28, 2009

quicko: dad jokes

Australian for really corny jokes. In my house, though, they're generally told by my mom.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

quicko: to take the mickey

i.e., to make fun of someone. To pull someone's leg. As in, "are you really a retired trapeze artist from Kalamazoo or are you just taking the mickey?" Alternate, slightly less sophisticated forms of the phrase also exist, and are used in the same fashion.

Friday, December 25, 2009

quicko: the true meaning of christmas

Absolutely the same in both countries. Sure, there are different ways to celebrate, but the true meaning of Jesus' birth to save an entire world from its sins is utterly unchanged. The hope, joy, peace and love that He brings are the same yesterday, today and forever -- whether today be today now or 16 hours later!!

quicko: float santas and other outdoor events

Sticking with the Santa theme, I would like to report that I have most definitely not encountered any float Santas in Australia. In fact, I hadn't encountered any here before, but saw one and realized immediately that it was one of those "only in America" type experiences. The float Santa rides a giant, exceptionally well-lit float down the side streets of America, blaring "Holly Jolly Christmas" and, presumably, waving merrily. Being as it's rather dark here from 5:30 onwards, it was difficult to tell whether or not he was waving, but, well, how could he not have been?

The other recent American outdoor extravaganza was the Picktown lights near Columbus, Ohio. An entire neighborhood street (22 houses) drapes their homes in a vast array of Christmas lights. While the lights alone would be moderately impressive, the real highlight is turning your radio station to 93.9 and watching the lights dance to the Christmas music. They're all synchronized impeccably and the choreography is impressive enough to drag thousands of visitors from their cozy, warm, cookie-filled homes and watch in their cozy, warm, cookie-filled cars.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

quicko: mall santas

I've been trying to figure out if Australia has them or not. Not being there currently, I've been having trouble figuring it out. America, however, does. In abundance. With lines a mile long and photos a mile pricey. Holly and I figured out a way around them, though: we simply posed on the balcony above and -- look! -- you can just barely see Santa's knee!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

quicko: moustaches

It seems that facial hair has received an inordinate amount of attention in recent months, but I have noted that middle-aged American men are much more likely to perpetually (i.e., not just for a month) sport moustaches. I am inclined to think this subconsciously played into my decision to move to Australia.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

quicko: small sugar

I know I've mentioned sugar before, but it's just really hit me this time -- American sugar is much finer; Australian sugar is much coarser. Metaphor, anyone?

Monday, December 21, 2009

quicko: no sunday school

Australian churches don't really do Sunday school. They have kids' church (for, get this, kids), but it's pretty much relegated to people under age 12. The concept of adult Sunday school is a bit of an oxymoron to Australian Christians.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

quicko: top ten things i love about cincinnati ... (that aren't in cremorne ...)

10.Hayrides.
9. Meijer.
8. Marching bands.
7. Roller coasters.
6. Renaissance festivals.
5. Panera Bread.
4. Waking up in a winter wonderland.
3. Being able to shop any hour of the day or night.
2. Graeter's black raspberry chip ice cream.
1. Family and friends who will kill me if I fail to mention them.

Friday, December 18, 2009

quicko: liquid paper

AKA Wite-Out. (Which, incidentally, I do admit I always thought was "White-Out," but, in light (or lite?) of recent Incidents with Envelopes and Friends Who Have Moved Within the Last Year, I learned that Bic actually entitles its product with a grammatically incorrect nomenclature.

quicko: strike

So evidently there's a bus strike in Sydney today. What a great day to be in America!!

ten things i take my guests to do in sydney

10. Balmoral Beach
9. Jet boating on the harbour
8. Max Brenner
7. Church by the Bridge
6. Watson's Bay
5. Darling Harbour
4. Circular Quay
3. Taronga Zoo
2. Manly ferry
1. Bondi to Coogee walk

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

quicko: we're not in canberra anymore ...

So, how can you tell you're back closer to Kansas?

1. The giant dark object that darted past your feet in your vehicle turned out to not be a cockroach.

2. People are unsatisfied with the answer "in the middle" when asked what part of the U.S. you live in.

3. When they find out you're visiting for 2 1/2 weeks, instead of gasping "that's it?!" people nod happily and say, "oh, how nice!!"

quicko: on not turning a night out into a nightmare

This is one of the Australian government's favorite phrases to bandy about. Granted, it's a pretty catchy one as far as government phrases go, but what I actually wanted to mention was a statistic I heard from one of their television campaigns: every week, 4 Australians between the ages of 17 and 25 die in a drunk driving accident. Now, granted, this is horrible and I am most certainly opposed to it -- but 4?? A week?? My high school alone had practically that many! Okay, maybe not per week, but you get the idea. Americans would be jumping for joy if we had such statistics. On the other hand, Australia keeps a fatality count over holiday weekends -- which, again, is terribly tragic -- but it can keep such a tally. Maybe a single state could, but the whole country? We'd be to the next holiday by the time we got the numbers straight.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

quicko: look

This is one of those verbal turns of phrase that Americans have, but Australians use abundantly. "Look ..." is the perfect beginning to any Australian sentence, though particularly if said Aussie is about to disagree, add additional information or otherwise proceed down a slightly different course than the other conversant was taking. It's also often preceded by, "Yeah, look ..." or "Well, look ..." As in, "Yeah, look, I'm not going to be able to watch your cat after all," "Well, look, it's just that I've just bought a small saltwater crocodile" or "Look, did your cat use to have a tail?"

Monday, December 14, 2009

quicko: thongs and rubbers

This is one of those obvious ones it doesn't hurt to mention twice: Australians call flip-flops thongs. They mean nothing else by it. Also, erasers are called rubbers. Similarly innocently. (Unless they're addressing an American ... but you'll catch the laughter in their eyes; they get so proud of themselves they just can't hide it!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

quicko: freddo frogs

Freddo frogs are standard Australian candy (aka lollies). They're chocolate, frog-shaped and delicious dipped in tea.

While we're on the subject, such sweets are found not in the candy aisle, nor even the lolly aisle, but the confectionery section. And while we're not quite on the subject, thread and fabric and such are found under the heading: haberdashery.

Balderdash, anyone?

Friday, December 11, 2009

quicko: addresses

Australian addresses are written a little differently from American ones. Instead of saying, say, "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Apartment 50" they would say "50/1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

quicko: garbage disposals

Virtually nonexistent here. They are mysterious devices, and generally provoke technical curiosity when discovered. My flat actually has one ... but it has never worked since I moved in.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

quicko: water

I'm not a big water drinker. I know it's healthy, I know I should be, but I'm not. Or I wasn't until recently -- it gets so warm and humid here that I really have started drinking water. Before, at the best of times I could usually only manage a few sips even when I was quite thirsty. Now, I can finish a bottle of water before work!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

quicko: postal rates

I recently learned that Australia does something amazing with its postal rates: it lowers them for the holiday season in November and December. I don't know what sort of marketing scheme that is (I always suspected that that season was precisely when the US postal service made the majority of its ends meet -- by keeping prices the same), but I am entirely for it.

In any event, it turns out that an international card can be mailed in this time period of $1.25, as opposed to $2.10 for a letter or $1.40 for a post card normally. Unless of course you're mailing to Asia Pacific, in which case it's $1.45 for a letter. Within Australia, a stamp for a letter is 55 cents.

Monday, December 7, 2009

quicko: gingerbread -- going, going -- (!!)

I was greeted at work this morning by a shocked American co-worker: the Australians wanted to eat the gingerbread house! They said that was what you were supposed to do with it! What to do! She had staved them off as long as possible, but the outlook was grim. No one approached me until the afternoon when suddenly a small host of teachers wandered over to see if maybe, just maybe, they could begin nibbling the gingerbread now. I was similarly aghast (but! but! how else will we leave it to admire until January!?), but decided that when in Australia I'd do as the Australians do. They insisted I take the first bite, so I hesitantly plucked off a freckle (freckle: n, chocolate candy covered in sprinkles). The floodgates opened and before I knew it hundreds of teachers had descended and shredded the darling house to smithereens -- they did not merely go for the candy as I'd naively assumed they would (I've seen Americans do that, though not usually before Christmas, unless it's not theirs and they're being sneaky), but massacred the entire roof, walls, everything. When I left, there was indeed little left at all.

And I must admit, I've had an idea: I am providing dessert tomorrow for my connect group. I am short on cash. I am going on holiday soon. I have a spare gingerbread house ...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

quicko: how much is that dress in the window?

It seems that, like so many other things, dress prices are significantly higher here -- even at markets, where I was hoping I could find things less outrageously priced. Not so. But, I do have a new Easter dress now. And it is gorgeous. And worth a good 30% of its cents.

quicko: church vocabulary

I might have mentioned this before, but the nursery is referred to as creche ("cray-sh") here. Also, greeting is generally called welcoming and the really in name for Bible study groups (home groups, care groups, etc.) is connect groups.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

quicko: wheelie bins

These are really what they call trash cans on wheels. I thought they were joking, but then realized I was the only one laughing ...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

quicko: gingerbread summer

Awhile ago I cleared up the confusion regarding when Australians make gingerbread houses (Christmastime, not winter), but, having just witnesses upwards of 40 Australians make gingerbread houses, I can state that many (shall we roughly put it at 20%?) included some form of flower design on their house. These designs were gorgeous and lovely and ... summery. So, yes, they do make gingerbread houses in December, and, yes, they put "snow" on top, but, no, they are not restricted solely to conifers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

quicko: all i really need to know about america i learned in the movies

Seriously. The movies are the primary exposure most Australians have to America, aside from the two obligatory three-week treks (one East coast, one West, though both include Vegas and LA).

To summarize then, all Americans live in a two-story white house with a porch and a dog named Beethoven, pray before every dinner, go to school with highly attractive and clique-based students who trek to Miami every year for spring break before spending four party years in a frat house. They then get a job that requires a suit and Starbucks in hand, fall madly in love with a girl from a Republican (or was it Democrat?) family, get married in a church and buy a two-story white house with a porch and a dog named Beethoven. Throughout the cycle they celebrate quaintly bizarre holidays such as Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July and Groundhog Day (do they really??).

The questions I get most generally revolve around my high school experience (no, I was not a cheerleader) and politics (yes, that was a rude question), but anything that expounds upon traditions they've seen on the big screen is generally considering intriguing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

quicko: no christmas tree for charlie brown

Australians don't know the meaning of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Why not? They don't have A Charlie Brown Christmas Special. They know the character, but none of his yuletide woes.

Australians, meet a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Charlie Brown Christmas tree, meet the Australians.

Monday, November 30, 2009

quicko: mccafe

This is an Australian oddity: McDonalds, with a cafe, that sells baked goods. Now, I'm not talking about the McDonalds apple pie, but rather cookies, brownies, cakes, cheesecakes and muffins. The display case looks very much like most other cafes' display cases in Sydney (it's basically the same, say, monster chocolate chip muffins everywhere). It just strikes me as odd, don't you think?

And while we're on the subject of McDonalds, in case you were unaware, the correct nomenclature in Australian is "Maccas." (The lazy Australian pronunciation just can't manage to stretch that last sylla ...)

plop pie and other magic moments

Never before had I eaten mango chicken, pork knuckles and kangaroo for Thanksgiving, but this was a holiday of many firsts. Going to four consecutive Thanksgivings is bound to bring out at least a few.

I've been away from family on Thanksgiving before (unlike my friend, whose grief-ridden family set out not only her plate, but also her picture with it. "Anyone walking in would have thought I'd died," she said), and last year was actually particularly tragic: I'd had two dinners to attend, but had to bail on both of them, having gotten sick on the Wednesday. This year I had my work cut out for me to make up for them, but am pleased to announce I most definitely succeeded.

My first Thanksgiving dinner was with many of the Christian surfers at Brennan and Kenton's. Brennan, an American from Kalamazoo, had the idea to stick with the theme of thanks, but skip the turkey. He instead requested everyone bring a food they were thankful for, in keeping with the true meaning of the celebration. Seeing as he's also a male philosophy student, I'm guessing the appeal of not cooking an entire turkey also played a part. Minor, of course.

I do give him credit for sticking the holiday on its proper day (the fourth Thursday of November), though. We all arrived after work with our dishes and cushions. Their flat is what I think real estate agents would describe as "intimate" or "cozy," and so they had very kindly gone to the trouble of removing absolutely everything from their living room and bringing in two standard church tables. (Anyone who's been around church awhile will recognize the variety immediately. Anyone who hasn't, well, I can only recommend that you visit. It's amazing what you can learn, and not just about tables.) Our seating arrangement was on said cushions on the floor around the tables, rather Last Supper-style, come to think of it.

Before we began, though, we all gathered and went around to explain the food we'd brought. Then we filed through, buffet-style, and piled our plates. When we'd finished the main courses, Brennan halted the proceedings to give us a run-down of what precisely Thanksgiving was, as we had a very international crowd (American, Canadian, Australian, Kiwi, Italian and Moldovan spring to mind) and not many actually knew the history. After a question-and-answer session, we proceeded to the desserts, which few of us actually had much room to stomach. I'd brought s'mores along, and proceeded to roast several Jet-Puffed marshmallows over their open gas stove. (That was, in case you didn't catch it, also another Thanksgiving first.)

After desserts finally settled, 10 of the 16 guests shuffled slowly out the door and presumably made it safely to their respective cars. The last six of us stayed to tidy up a little bit, but mostly to head down to (this is so exciting!) the beach! The guys live right near Dee Why beach (this was the surfer Thanksgiving, remember) and how remiss would have been not to take advantage of such a strategic situation. We strolled down and sat watching the waves, talking and nuzzling up for backrubs.

Then we walked down actually to the water and really could have gone swimming if we'd thought to bring our gear (bathing suit for a Thanksgiving feast; can't imagine how I forgot!), but we hadn't, so we chatted some more and ran spinning circles through the shallow waves before heading off.

And there was "turkey," and there was pumpkin pie, the first Thanksgiving.

The next day I went in to work about noon, taught for three very long hours, and finally ended up at my friend Pamela's for my second Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike Brennan, Pamela loves cooking and had been in the kitchen all day. In fact, I'd gotten periodic updates throughout the afternoon, mostly revolving around the fact that the butcher had forgotten -- forgotten -- to order the Thanksgiving Day turkey!!! "What would you like on your pizza?" she texted about 3 pm. "TURKEY!" I shot back.

Thankfully by the time I arrived her quick-thinking husband Ray had solved the dilemma by purchasing various turkey components (is that a polite way to put it?) from a grocery store. Crisis averted.

This dinner featured a range of guests, though all except Pamela and I were Australian. Various friend and relatives made up the (normal dining room) table, and I was delighted to have (nearly) made it out of the kids' table and into the grown-ups'. We all went around and shared what we were thankful for, then feasted away through some of the raciest Thanksgiving talk I'd ever encountered.

After dessert with coffee (as opposed to dessert and then coffee; we were being American on this rare occasion), numbers again dwindled and we moved to the living room for a round of 500 so rousing our host actually fell asleep on the floor next to us. Although I've always played cards on Thanksgiving, the deviation from canasta and pinochle made 500 another first. A more memorable first, though, was the fact that I actually managed to lose -- an odd sensation, and one I don't plan to repeat.

And there was turkey, and there was pumpkin pie, the second Thanksgiving.

Before my next meal, I took a jaunt to the grocery store via the Kirribilli and Fair Trade markets. I needed to stock up on a few supplies for the upcoming feasts, but unfortunately failed to take the weight of the objects (sixteen apples, for instance) and the heat into consideration. It made for a very warm, long hike back from the bus stop, followed by a very warm, long afternoon in the kitchen.

Now, those of you who know me know that I do not cook. I can cook, but it requires patience and a plethora of time that could be spent doing much more enjoyable things, like writing about how much I don't like to cook, which is what I spent most of my time coring apples thinking about. In any event, for some bizarre reason I had volunteered to make applesauce for my third Thanksgiving dinner. I'd called Mom from the markets to determine precisely how many apples I needed, and if there was really anything else in it besides cinnamon and water. (Sugar, she reminded me. How could I -- Kimberly! -- possibly have forgotten sugar?!) At first she thought ten apples would do, but then said fifteen would be safer. I decided to be on the safe side and go with sixteen.

And that was how I spent all (okay, an hour and a half's worth) of Saturday afternoon peeling, coring, slicing and cutting apples in a kitchen without a garbage disposal. The applesauce turned out beautifully, if slightly on the sugary side, and I keeled over and took a 15 minute ... and another 15 minute ... and one last 15 minute nap. Cooking really takes it out of me.

Finally having sworn not to turn the stove on again for the rest of the year, I gathered my saucepan of applesauce, serving spoon, cranberry sauce (not, thank goodness, homemade), camera, flowers, rolls (for the fourth feast), pajamas (enough with this late night public transportation home after Thanksgiving business!), clothes for the next day and toiletries bag and forged my way onto Sydney's public transportation system.

And over the river and into Burwood I went, through absolutely nothing like white and drifty snow. Arriving at the train station I called Melissa for my final instructions on foot. "I see a 400," I panted, "can I take it?"

I could, and minutes later I plopped my load down in her bustling, steaming kitchen. Evidently she'd been cooking even more than I had.

She had up a white board checklist with everything, from the turkey and stuffing to broccoli rice casserole and homemade dinner rolls to the pecan pie and brownies, though she'd even been so organized as to do all the desserts the night before.

I set the table for nine (four Americans, five Aussies, one vegan), and we all brought out dish after dish of steaming delicacies until the table could fit no more, at which point we rearranged the shapes and sizes of some dishes (that fruit would really make a fantastic dessert, now, wouldn't it?). All was ready, save for two lost guests. We forged ahead without them, which was good, considering that they didn't manage to find themselves before we'd finished the entirety of main and side dishes.

We let them finish while we relaxed in the post-turkey lull, then busted out the brownies (who really likes pie better than chocolate? honestly.). We did have pies, too: apple, pecan and plop. The first two are fairly self-explanatory, the third was so named because, according to Melissa's midwestern family, it looks rather along the lines of, well, plop. She insisted it had failed miserably (you had to eat it more with a spoon than a fork), but it tasted delicious. Later I found out why: it's all sugar. Shouldn't have been surprising, really.

After dinner our numbers shifted somewhat, and two extremely kind souls cleaned up the entire kitchen while the rest of us played "Things in a Box" for hours on end. Perhaps you have not played this game before. It is amazing. One person flips over a card -- "Things You Shouldn't Catch on Videotape," for example -- and everyone writes an answer and gives it to the, for lack of a better word, flipper. That person reads them in random order and then you go around the table and guess who wrote what (you get a point if you're right) until all the answers are correctly assigned to their writers. Did I mention it's amazing? I mean, what's not to love about a game that gives you "Things That Hang," "Things You Shouldn't Put in the Classified Ads" and "Things You Shouldn't Say to the First Lady" ("you're black!").

And there was turkey, and there was pumpkin pie, the third Thanksgiving.

My final Thanksgiving dinner of the year was at my friend Kimberly's place. Her parents were visiting from America, and she'd invited an array of co-workers, former students, former neighbors and friends to join in. We came about 2 (the only afternoon Thanksgiving of the year), and it was probably the sanest of dinners.

It began with hors d'oeuvres and wine while we mingled in the chic living room, making connections (you used to live in Mason? I'm from West Chester! Chagrin Falls! My aunt's from around there!) until it was time to feast. Like the previous feasts, we went around and shared what we were thankful for, then prayed holding hands, family-style. Most of my Thanksgivings were among Christians, and perhaps I might just take this moment to mention how very thankful I am for my "family" away from family -- my church family, and the other Christians in my life, are so amazing and loving, and, though they could never take the place of my family, certainly make being away from them at Thanksgiving much less traumatic. So thank you to them, and, of course, most of all to Jesus, for giving us the biggest reason to be thankful of all.

And there was turkey, and there was pumpkin pie, the fourth Thanksgiving.

And then I went to church and rested, at least until next year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

quicko: a close shave OR shaving graces

I thought the stereotype just applied to European women, but it's true here, too: Australian women are significantly less likely to shave north of their knees. I don't know why, but for some reason they figure it's okay and many don't shave their thighs.

See, don't we all wish they all could be Cincinnati girls?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

quicko: has anyone seen my budgie?

You get quite a lot of missing cat, dog, child, etc. signs in America, but it was only when I came to Australia that I saw a missing budgie sign. (Budgies, incidentally, are birds. Budgie smugglers, on the other hand, are not. They are men's speedos and should never be seen in public, but that is another blog post entirely.) Evidently this budgie had flown the coop, but should hopefully answer to the name of Soda.

quicko: keeping an ace up one's sleeve

In Australia, not only am I card shark -- I am also a card sharp. Not a flat nor natural, but a sharp. The meaning is the same as that of a card shark.

And, for the record, I never cheat, but I do play dirty.

Friday, November 27, 2009

update: bus bloopers

So here's another thing that can happen while you're riding a bus: you can be riding merrily along, rather drowsily just before midnight, not noticing a thing and suddenly realize that the bus has stopped. Not stopped as in at a traffic light, but stopped as in pulled over, turned off the engine and the driver's popped out to have a smoke break. After awhile, the other passengers begin filing out so you mosey along with them and find that most the rest of them are also having a smoke break and everyone's just sort of milling about. As best you recall, this is not standard bus behavior, but you are, after all, in a foreign country with potentially different protocols. Many of the inhabitants do like to smoke, though in your past experience they haven't stopped traffic to do so.

You start catching snippets of conversation and begin to piece together that, while you were riding merrily along, someone else had hopped on, not paid, been told to leave and promptly punched the driver. (Amazing what you can daydream through.) You'll hang about as there aren't many other options and wait with the others until the police come and the driver makes an official report and warns everyone about the man in a checked shirt who ran off that way and then wait some more and then continue waiting.

Even though the driver looks none the worse for the wear, he has suddenly been rendered incapable of driving and instead must depart to the depot and put together an Official Report of the Incident, which is vitally more important than driving sleepy passengers home. (The man in the checked shirt must not go free!) He does, however, manage to wait with them, generally enjoying his new-found fame, and wait some more, until finally the relief bus comes toddling along and you board it and arrive home an hour and a half after you left your Thanksgiving feast.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

full circle of friendship


Jenn was my first friend in Sydney. We met at orientation for the program we'd come out on and have been friends ever since. We saw our first kangaroos together at the Wildlife World at Darling Harbour. We checked out the Aquarium. We rode the monorail two times in a row for the sheer novelty of it. Since then we have kept the Darling Harbour Starbucks in business, going for regular coffee and gab sessions with the most fantastic, sunny view. She was planning to stay for three months; I was planning to stay for four. In the end, we made it nearly two years here together.

Oddly enough, over the course of two years we each had our fair share of news. We went through a time when every time we met we had major news -- one or both of us would get a job, decide to go for a new visa, get a boyfriend, move, break up, take a trip to a new country, have parents come and visit, travel home or finish an amazing book, oftentimes repeatedly and simultaneously. Life was never dull.

A few months ago I moved a bit closer in to the city and Jenn came to help me pack. We were going through my stuff when I discovered a ticket stub from our trip to the Wildlife World, and we both nearly cried. And we didn't even know she was moving back to Canada then.

It's funny, that was the only time she actually made it to my place, and I only made it to hers once, too, for a housewarming party at her -- what was it, tenth place of residence? It was the one that followed the insane couple who washed their clothes every single day, despite having normal 9-5 jobs. We kept each other up to date on roommates, and were each other's point of contact in case one actually really flipped and ... and ... we didn't know what they might do, but we were prepared, just in case.

We kept each other up to date on the gossip from work, our plans for the future and the latest news we'd heard from home. We talked about boys, the weather, psychology and home. We exchanged travel tips and facebook photos. We raved about how much we loved Sydney, but missed snow and Christmas and family.

It's amazing how fast and fully you make friends when you're living in new situations far from home. And it's amazing how much we each experienced in the two years we shared in Sydney. And it's amazing how much I'll miss her -- goodbye for now, Jenn!! Text me when you get back in town!

quicko: no worries

I just appalled myself by looking back over my blog and realizing that there was not a single post! that included, much less defined, the phrase, "no worries." This is really one of the most quintessentially Australian phrases I can think of; they use it absolutely all the time. It's also one of the easier ones for an American to pick up without sounding as much an impostor as if she tried, say, "good on ya." "No worries" is a standard, "don't worry about it, all good" sort of phrase. Highly useful, and always good to hear, particularly after you've made a dastard mistake, such as, say, shooting down someone's tall puppy.

update: max brenner's death in a dish

Just wanted you all to be the first to know: Max Brenner has some new desserts out (actually, they've been out several weeks now; I do hope you don't feel slighted I didn't mention this sooner, but I had to have a little head start, now didn't I?) and I can definitively recommend one but not the other. Don't waste your money on the ice cream sandwich cookie thing. The cookies are hard and it's downright difficult to get a spoonful of them, let alone enjoy the taste. Hold out for the ice cream brownie thing: not only does the chocolate they serve on the side harden on the ice cream, they also include crunchy waffle balls! Crunchy waffle balls, in case you were not aware, are amazing. Furthermore, there are sprinkles. And there are three small-ish chunks of brownie. Normally I am all for big chunks of brownie, but these are really quite decadent and, trust me, if I'm telling you three small chunks are enough, three small chunks are enough. It's truly scrumptious, though not exactly in the Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang sense of the phrase.

trouble with a capital t

I've recently taken up pool, and it's been trouble all the way. I've started smoking, drinking and swearing (second-hand, by association and if you count the past tense of "flick"). But aside from that, it's pretty much Sunday school straight down the line.

It started when we were at a pub and Sharon (of prior-blog pokie-betting fame) decided to teach me. I'm not exactly sure why, but I have a feeling that she might have been extremely desperate for a fourth.

Most people, you see, don't think to pick me first for anything involving eye-hand coordination or geometry, much less the two put together. I am the girl who got three hits in four years of playing softball and whose own best friend laughs mercilessly and uproariously when watching her do jazzercise. I am also the girl who has not had a math class since junior year of high school, and actively seeks to block out every traumatic memory of Mr. Lykins' geometry class, though still ends up reciting "copy over the diagram and the given information in step one" in her sleep. Oddly enough, this highly catchy phrase did not actually aid my pool playing skills at all, and, being as it is the only element of my geometry class I remember clearly, there isn't much left to work with.

So, the fact that despite these monumental setbacks Sharon actually allowed me to play on her team is a tremendous testament her extreme kindness and depth of character. Either that or her relative level of intoxication.

But in any event, having secured my participation she set about the first and most monumental task: channeling all my rambunctious energy into one very small white ball. And, seeing as it was the day before Halloween, I was already halfway to festive mode, which in this case meant a ladybug costume with antennas. She had her work cut out for her.

Amazingly, though, it emerged that ladybugs can be remarkably restrained creatures when their pool playing skills are at stake. This one buckled down and paid attention: she held the stick this way, then just a smidge that way, then back again a hair this way; she aimed; she listened to the gauge of her necessary concentration of energy (gentle, medium or lots); she learned when to take her turn and she shot not with reckless abandon as many had feared, but with such steadfastness of purpose that she inevitably sent the balls scurrying in precisely a direct line a foot away from their targets. However, the mere fact that she had sent them with steadfastness of purpose and not rambunctious energy was sufficient grounds for all present to rejoice, seeing as they had, at least, stayed mostly on the table. She was deemed a promising pool player on the spot, simply for not doing cartwheels across the table. It was a grave accomplishment.

What was even more remarkable then, was the fact that somewhere around game two or three, the ladybug actually managed to deposit one of the appropriate (appropriate!) balls in a pocket. The amount of rejoicing then reached epic highs not even surpassed by Australians who've just been given a new public holiday. Pretty much the entire pub stopped and cheered and promptly queued up to shake her hand. Quite possibly they had never before seen a ladybug play pool.

Spurred on by my clear margin of success in the pool playing field, as well as continued compliments that I had precisely the perfect fingers for pool (as well as piano, another endeavor at which I repeatedly, despite said fingers, fail miserably) I returned a couple weeks later for Round Two.

Round Two was fantastic. It consisted of three games, and though I lost two of them, I managed to multiply my ball-sinking skills per evening eight-fold. Yes, eight-fold! It seems the girl Kim is actually better (if this can be believed) than the ladybug Kim, and somehow sunk eight (appropriate!) balls. As if that were not incredible enough, two of these eight came off two separate breaks (a new use of this word, meaning "to begin the game with a bang of exploding color, and possibly a shriek of excitement") and a third came from a behind the back shot!! Not to mention, my fingers still looked pretty snazzy, too.

And that brings you pretty much up to speed with my pool-playing experiences of late. It seems that pool actually is rather diverting, and not too terribly troublesome. At least not with a capital T.

Monday, November 23, 2009

quicko: to make a move

While this might be applied in the romantic sense as well, what it really means is "I'm good and ready to go, but can't be bothered to find a subtler way to say it." (i.e., you're making a move towards going home, and do generally leave almost immediately thereafter) In considering further, I think the Brits actually use this significantly more than the Aussies, but the Aussies do use it significantly more than us Yanks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ready or hot, here it comes

It is so hot today I can't possibly write about anything else. I've been trying and it's just not working. I was going to write about surfing. I was going to write about pool. I was going to have great puns and be extremely witty and clever, and, believe me, there is a column just waiting to be written on surfing and pool, but it is so hot I can't think straight enough to write about anything else.

I suppose this is part of living in Australia, part of the package, part of the deal. Oddly enough no one mentioned it when I bought my plane ticket. There was no warning on the visa. Nope, they leave you to discover it on your own.

Now, obviously, I knew Australia got hot before I came here, just like I knew everyone surfed all day with their pet kangaroos, but what I didn't know was that they don't have air conditioning. Or, rather, they do, but I don't. And, quite frankly, right now it is I I am concerned about because I is definitely hot. And bothered, if it comes to that, which quite frankly, it has.

I don't know the precise temperature, but we reckoned (see how hot I am? I can't even be bothered to be un-hick) it was about 40, which is something ridiculous hot and over 100 degrees. That is practically halfway to boiling, and I'm not being metaphorical. Did I mention it's hot here?

Thankfully I had an inkling this temperature was coming, so I made sure to get myself to a beach from about 9 to 5. That was all very lovely while it lasted, but now it is 11 and that means I've had 6 hours of being hot. I was so distraught I watched television.

The other problem, of course, is that now it's gotten dark, but all the bugs have come in the open windows (another mystery: no screens) and there are three oddly shaped insects of flight madly tearing about my well-lit room going absolutely berserk. Which makes four of us, though of us is slightly less adept at walking upside down on the ceiling.

Did I mention it's hot? I don't normally drink much water, yes, I know I should, yes, I think it's a fabulous plan, no, I don't want my kidneys to fail. But even when I'm quite thirsty I find I rarely drink more than a couple swallows. And having only recently realized that not everyone grew up drinking milk with dinner (some people have water? how dull!), that's even one less chance I've had to acquire the sufficient lack of taste buds necessary for the love of water. But tonight water is my best friend (sorry, Susan). I've finished one water bottle and, quite cleverly, might I add, pulled the chilled one from the fridge. Five minutes later it was practically boiling, but I drank it anyway. Did I mention it's hot?

And did I mention I went surfing today? That was the plan to keep cool, and that was the plan to write about, with the puns and wit and all. Hmm, neither actually seems to be working, but like you may have gathered it's really rather difficult to concentrate when it's this hot. And the thought of going to bed is appealing, except for the fact that I don't have any sheets. It's not that I haven't got bedding -- I've got plenty of bedding -- I've got a three blankets, a pillow, a couple odd sweatshirts and a sleeping bag -- but, oddly enough, none of that is really what I want right now. I think what I want is to live in northern Sweden, actually. In winter. Or maybe Siberia, but I hear they get a few flowers come spring, so I think I'll stick to Sweden. Anything north of the Arctic Circle, actually. Or south of the southern equivalent, whatever they call it. Right now I'd quite happily drift along with that last polar bear on its lone ice block.

But none of those are actually options right now. Earlier in the day I thought about going to the milk section of the grocery store, just for a fun little field trip, but it'll be closing any minute now. Possibly it already has if all the potential customers keeled over before getting there.

So I am left really with very little to do. I've already swum three times and taken a shower, but, gosh, I think I am beginning to feel awfully dirty again. Maybe the heat's just getting to me, but please excuse me. I really must take a shower.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

quicko: heat

America is a climate-controlled country. Australia is not.

"Too hot?" cries the American entrepreneur. "We can fix that!"

"Too hot?" asks the rugged Australian. "Toughen up, mate."

And that, dear readers, is how I am still living in a hot, humid, non-air-conditioned flat (where, incidentally, I am sleeping in a bed that has only blankets because someone, ahem, forgot to send sheets out to me). I am so not tough enough to be an Australian.

quicko: it's beginning to look a lot like christmas ...

... in July.

The decorations are going up again; they've got men in cherry pickers trimming the tree in Martin Place; there's a huge white silver streamer draped outside the Oaks that's possibly supposed to suggest snow; it's 98 degrees. 98 degrees!!! Even if science isn't their strongest suit, surely someone could have worked out that snow is unlikely in such circumstances? But perhaps it's more about hope, you know, a sort of wistful longing that after the koalas finish their Christmas Eve conversations the snow will begin to fall gently and a winter wonderland will magically appear for the day.

Well, one can always hope. Not much else you want to do when it's 98 degrees.

Friday, November 20, 2009

quicko: leads

AKA leashes. i.e., please keep your dog, cat, monkey, child, etc. on a lead at all times.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

delicia delizia

They don't know my name and I don't know theirs. I'd guess that, if they have English names, they're something along the lines of Greta and Tony. They call me Raisin Toast.

Every morning Greta looks up at me and smiles. "Raisin Toast?" she says.

"Yes, please," I say. "To go, for real."

I have to distinguish because I also get to go, for fake.

It all started when I discovered that the raisin toast they give you to go ("takeaway" here) is, hands down, the best raisin toast I've ever had. It's about the thickness of three American pieces (I finally found something big here!), and full of raisins and full of butter. It's fantastic.

So usually I popped in, acquired my name and my toast, and left. But then I got a few free mornings and thought I might actually sit down to nibble my toast more delicately from time to time. And Delizia's (the shop, unlike its proprietors, has a real name) is a delightful place to sit down in. First of all, there's the sheer novelty that it exists. In Sydney, independent coffee shops are few and far between, so finding one a block away from work is amazing in and of itself. But second, it really has a lot going for it on the competitive coffee shop side, too. It has a fish tank.

But that is not all, oh no, not at all. Oh, that is not all, my friend, oh no, not at all. There is also a wall -- a wall! -- and a ball ...

Well, actually, I don't really remember any balls, but you get the idea. It's a place that invites rhyme, which is more than I can say for most cafes in Sydney. But books are its secret, not its frontline. Its frontline caters to a varied crowd -- from yellow-shirted tradies smoking outside between shifts to yuppies conducting dodgy business deals over coffee. You could be a perfectly boring businessman (and there are several, one of whom, Brian or Brett or Brad or something like that, who keeps trying to pull First Amendment rank -- the freedom of speech to talk to me just because we're both American) and have no idea the books exist, but they do. You simply have to venture just past the fish tank and you'll find a little cave created by bookshelves. It's small and cozy and dimly lit. It's my booky cove, and I love it.

Now before you run and start checking out my booky cove and run back, arms flailing wildly, panting, "But, Kim! (gasp!) I thought you had such better taste," I must point out that all the books are perhaps not of the highest literary merit. I wouldn't teach or take classes on most of them. But that is beside the point: they are real books, there are a lot of them and they create atmosphere. Content is beside the point entirely.

Although, if you would indulge me for just a moment, could I possibly point out that there is a smattering of singularly -- singularly -- titled books? Need I say more?

(Yes, alright, I realize everyone did not take a class in Sherlock Holmes. For those of you who didn't, that was a clear reference. Perhaps you'd like to enroll next January? Think how many more of my jokes you'd get! And then there's Shakespeare the semester after ... and Hardy and Wilde and, well, aren't you just getting thrills just thinking about it?)

Terribly sorry, I do apologize. Where were we? Ah, yes, the booky cove. Now, besides the books, the best part of the booky cove is that it is has a couch and some comfy chairs. I am not fond of uncomfy chairs, yet they seem to be the staple in many establishments of class these days. I simply do not understand this. Why not have comfortable furniture?

Similarly, why not have comfy floors? It is also all the rage to have the most bare, clodden, heavy of floors: wooden. Everyone loves them, I know. They are sophisticated, I know. They are clean, I know. They are not comfortable! They are not homey! They do not belong in booky coves, but there you go. Even the booky coves have bowed to the masses and brought in wooden floors. Bring back the carpet, I say, but that is not stylish. And so I grant Delizia's a special pardon; that is, we have come to a compromise: they supply the comfy furniture (which, I admit, is more necessary than comfy floors) and I do not gripe about the floors. At least not when I'm in the comfy chairs.

Which brings us back to laxing lazily in the booky cove. This was where I discovered that Delizia's amazing raisin toast, while still good, is not as amazing if I have to butter it myself, which is what happens when I order "for here." They bring it out, all warmly toasted, with a lovely, copiously filled dish of butter next to it, but try as I might, I cannot spread the butter to satisfaction. (I have never boasted, you may recall, of any culinary aptitude whatsoever.) I tried on several occasions, but was always left with slightly sub-par amazing raisin toast. And so I began to modify my dine-in request. It was quite confusing the first time.

"I'd like raisin toast to go, but to eat it here," I told Greta.

"Eat here?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, " but I'd like the toast to go."

"To go?"

"Er, takeaway."

"So takeaway?"

"Well, no. I'd like to eat it here. But I'd like it prepared to -- takeaway."

"You want to eat raisin toast here and takeaway raisin toast, too?"

We were making headway. "Almost," I said. "But without the toast for here."

Twenty minutes later I took a seat and four minutes later my raisin toast appeared perfectly buttered, prepared to be taken away for whatever mysterious reason Raisin Toast required. And so it has every time I've gone in since. That's why I love Delizia's. They understand "to go, for fake."

And they have a fish tank.

quicko: RIGO

Born out of a long and lively conversation, I am pleased to announce a new acronym. It was designed for Americans living in Australia, by Americans living in Australia, and it is useful indeed. But let me back up.

It all started when my friend Pamela began asking what the garbage can was referred to as. (For the record, she knew perfectly well, she just wanted them to say it. It was a rhetorical device.) Eventually she elicited the correct response: "a rubbish bin."

"Aha!" she exclaimed. "And what do you call the guy who comes to your house and collects your trash?"

"A garbo," the Australians answered.

"Aha!" she exclaimed again. "But what is 'garbo' short for?"

"Garbage," they replied, slightly slower this time.

"But," she cried, triumphantly, "you don't have garbage! You don't say 'garbage.' Why do you call the man a garbo? Why not a -- a -- 'rubbie'?"

The Australians began to titter.

"Or a 'rubbo'?"

They laughed even harder.

"Or a 'rubbz'?" I put in. (I've always liked words with z's.)

Between guffaws someone finally managed to get out a word: "outside."

"Outside?" we asked.

"Yes," the Australian continued. "The rubbish outside is called garbage, in the big bins."

And that, ladies and gentlemen of America who now live in Australia, is where your highly useful new acronym comes in: RIGO. Rubbish in, garbage out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

quicko: to pike

This is a bad, bad verb in Australian; the only thing worse, in fact, is the noun: a piker. A piker is someone who calls up an hour before they're supposed to show and cancels. Pulls the rug out from under you. Leaves you high and dry. Stands you up. Nasty, nasty pikers.

quicko: humor

Australian humor can appear cruel and unusual. It cuts much deeper than American banter and can leave newcomers wondering if they've just witnessed a jovial gag or a cold-blooded skirmish. Generally the rule is, the more you like someone, the more comfortable you are with them, the more vicious the jokes are. I've grown quite fond of Australian humor for entirely the wrong reasons, though. I simply enjoy having the most legitimate of excuses to insult foes to their faces without them suspecting a thing -- and all under the guise of friendly frivolity!

Monday, November 16, 2009

quicko: under the sun

Living in Australia makes me particularly antsy about my skin. Any new freckle convinces me I've come down with skin cancer, and I nearly flipped out when I mistook my birthmark for melanoma. It took a good 15 minutes to assure myself that, yes, that was the right size, and, yes, it had been in that precise spot since day one. (Surely it used to be slightly farther left?)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

quicko: sunnies

Australians are evidently born wearing sunglasses, and they only take them off indoors, and only then for very solemn occasions (i.e., funerals). They're protecting their eyes, of course; it has nothing to do with fashion. Therefore it is not rude to wear sunglasses when greeting people, carrying on in-depth conversations or proposing marriage ... at least to another Australian.

Friday, November 13, 2009

quicko: prawns

AKA shrimp. Australians actually draw a distinction between prawns and shrimp ("NO!," they'll cry in alarm if you mistakenly call a prawn a shrimp, "That is not a shrimp! It is a prawn! Shrimp are much smaller." "Of course," you'll say, cowed. "How very silly of me.") -- namely, size. But who's counting?

quicko: 500

So there's this fantastic game called 500 they play here. It's got the same basic premise as euchre, but it's played with 43 cards (including a joker!) instead of 24, and is really a lot more fun. The scoring's a lot different (you bet on how many tricks you can take first; if you win the bet you call trump and get the kitty) -- whoever makes it to 500 first wins, unless the other team makes it to -500 first, in which case they lose, which pretty much amounts to the same thing for you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

home sweet train station

I'm betting most people won't pick Wynyard as their favorite spot in Sydney. I'm not saying I exactly would, either, but I think there's an awful lot to be said for it, and I haven't heard very many other people doing any of the talking.

Mostly I love Wynyard because it feels somehow safe and homey. I know this sounds a bit of a stretch, but, really, it's not. I always feel better when I reach Wynyard -- I know home is coming soon, or, if it's morning, that Wynyard will still be there waiting for me when I go back. It's very reliable like that.

That said, I really don't usually pay much attention to Wynyard in the morning. I'm generally in too much of a sleepy daze to catch much of anything, but Wynyard never laughs at me if I trip on the escalator or my skirt blows up. It's very tactful like that.

It's the night when I really feel at home, though. Wynyard's the place that's seen me crying my eyes out, walking in miles and miles of circles at 11 pm as I call my best friend, because this is the time I can catch her at home. It's the place that's seen me giggling and gulping, walking in miles and miles of circles at 1 am as I call another friend to tell her she wouldn't believe what just happened to me, but I really shouldn't mention it out loud on the bus. Wynyard knows my secrets, and it keeps them. It's very trustworthy like that.

It's a sentimental spot, too. Wynyard's always where I direct my guests when they arrive in Sydney, and, consequently, where I always meet them. One of my friends was happy enough to meet there, but never managed to get the hang of saying "Wynyard." (It's "win-yurd.") For the rest of her trip we always talked about "that Wynward place where you first came," which was fair enough, considering there are relatively few words in the English language with a "yny" configuration plopped soundly in the middle. Not many "ynw" ones, either, but we won't dwell on that.

Wynyard was also one of the first places I came when I came to Sydney. I'd been in town certainly less than 48 hours when I boarded my very first E68 (it's a bus station, too) and proceeded to keep an eagle-eye lookout for the mysterious "Spit Bridge" (no one had told me it'd be a good 20 minutes down the line) and, after going over it, turned my own worn mapquest print out topsy turvy with every turn the bus made in order to locate the elusive Worrobil Street and make my departure. But like I was saying, that all started at Wynyard. And I distinctly remember thinking, "wow, they've got gorgeous bus stations here -- palm trees, those other cool trees, those other cool trees, whoa, even those other cool trees!"

And not only does Wynyard Park (in name, at any rate. I still consider it a gorgeous bus station, but feel that "Park" is really rather pushing things.) have trees -- it also has birds! No, I don't mean the pigeons, but the ibises. I don't know if you've ever seen an ibis, but if you have, I'm guessing you haven't forgotten it. It's one of the oddest looking birds I've ever encountered: it's designed more or less as any ordinary, roughly taller, thinner, leggier duck, but with the slight exception that, at some point, something clearly got hold of its beak and pulled to its heart's content. Either that or they're exceptionally prolific liars.

Besides the ibises, another friendly fixture at Wynyard is my friendly Big Issue seller, Sketch. We met one day when I bought a Big Issue, and have been fast friends ever since, if by fast friends you mean someone who regularly tells you you look lovely. Sketch is very good at holding up that end of the deal; he always perks up when he sees me and we usually have a bit of a chat if I'm not running too late. "You look lovely," he inevitably calls after me, as if he's just remembered this is a nice thing to say. It doesn't hurt to have a few fast friends like Sketch.

Sure, there are some shady characters who hang about at night asking for $3.20 because their car broke down (again! how terrible, that's the third time this week, now, isn't it?) and that amount will surely solve their troubles, but generally it's quite a pleasant spot.

It would be nice to have a few more fast friends on the upper level, though. There's not many shops there, but it's where I used to buy my bus passes before I decided they were too grumpy and took my business down two levels. On the lowest level there's a Newslink newsagent who very cheerfully sells me all my bus passes, as well as phone top-ups and occasionally mints. Right after buying my weekly red pass the other day I was stopped by a friendly lady holding a clipboard who just wanted a minute of my time to ask a few really quick questions.

Now I understand that many people do not like to answer such surveys, but I'm always so thrilled to be asked, I generally acquiesce quite easily. I told the lady I supposed I could spare a minute. She then proceeded to ask a series of roughly 100 questions, all relating to my standard purchases. The bus passes weren't major components (you don't buy any magazines? you're sure?) of the survey, and the phone top-ups weren't even listed at all, so most of my answers revolved around the mints. Yes, the confectionery was generally fresh. I bought it because I'd run out of mints, yes, I supposed she could check the box labeled "Brand." No, the value for money was not good. Yes, I planned to buy mints there again in the future. The only interesting answer the poor woman got was to the "why do you chose this shop?"

"Well, sometimes they have a cute boy working here," I confided. She smiled.

"I'll just tick the "other" box, dear," she concluded. And half a day later, off I trotted. Wynyard's friendly like that.

The other thing I really like about Wynyard is that I can get pretty much everything I need there. You could trap me in Wynyard for a week and I'd unquestionably live. First off, the entirety of the middle level is devoted to a Coles Express, which is open until midnight every single night. Keeping in mind most places close at 5, this is really beyond remarkable. Second, there is one of pretty much anything else I might possibly need: the aforementioned Newslink, a pharmacy, a post office, a tobacconist (for when the post office is closed and you need stamps, obviously), a florist, clothing stores, baked goods and an in-aptly named Dollar $tore. Finally, there is an ATM. And, for the icing on the cake, Max Brenner is less than 25 yards away.

And so, I really do like Wynyard. It's comfortable. It's predictable. I was going to say I knew it like the back of my hand until I wikipedia-ed it tonight and learned that, though its platforms are numbered 3-6, it actually has only 4. 1 and 2 were meant for trams and were destroyed to make way for an underground carpark.

I'd never noticed they were missing.

quicko: the spice of life?

I was in an Australian food court the other day. Granted, it was in China town, but I kid you not: every single fast food place served Chinese food. The same Chinese food. Now I like Chinese food as much as the next guy, but surely the idea of a food court is to give friends the option of picking different cuisines as they see fit? Quickly, too, of course, speed is important, but surely so is variety?

Oh, wait. Forgive me. There was one Vietnamese place, too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

quicko: maps

This is one of those things you'd never think about unless you ventured overseas, but maps are designed differently in different places. Instead of showing the full Atlantic, with America and Europe strategically situated, Australian maps show the full Pacific, with Australia and Asia prominently positioned.

Monday, November 9, 2009

quicko: bumming around

I suppose this isn't very PC, but it's true: there are significantly fewer homeless people in Sydney than you'd find in most American counterparts of similar size. I don't know why (it must surely reflect well on Sydney, though), though it does seem an ideal city to bum around in -- gorgeous scenery and weather unlikely to ever do you completely in rank high on the list of pros.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

quicko: $3 rule

There is a $3 rule in Australia. It is very simple: nothing in the country is priced under $3. It doesn't matter what you want to buy or where you want to buy it. You might be after a coffee, a month-old calendar, a toothbrush, a greeting card, a coke, dental floss or a candy bar, but you won't find one for less than $3. Unless maybe it's $2.99.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

quicko: purses

The Australian word for purse is bag; the word for wallet is purse. This can, of course, be somewhat confusing when an American enters the scene. Thank goodness I'm not in the pickpocketing profession.

Friday, November 6, 2009

quicko: the time warp

I think this emerged from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (?), which would mean that Americans might know it, too, but it's a lot more popular than it is in the States. It's the dance everyone does at weddings (along with a strange phenomenon called The Nutbush), along the lines of an Electric Slide or toned-down Chicken Dance.

quicko: unco

Pronounced "un-co," this is short for "uncoordinated" (a word clearly in breach of Australia's "Don't Pronounce Any Word Longer Than Two, or Possibly Three, Letters Long" policy). As in, "Everyone expected Kim to be extremely unco at pool, but actually she managed to sink one ball in the course of three games."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

quicko: to kiss or not to kiss

I'm aware that one of the common cultural hazards is figuring out whether you're supposed to kiss, and if so, how many times and which way to go first, when greeting or (caution: incoming Australian gerund) farewelling friends and acquaintances. I didn't think it'd be that big a cultural difference, though, between the U.S. and Australia. While it isn't huge, I have noticed a much greater tendency for Australian friends to greet each other with a hug and one kiss (go left) on the cheek. It's especially true among women, but men sometimes, too.

Although my extended family tends to greet in a similar fashion, very few of my American friends (except, of course, the home-schooled acquaintances) do. Or maybe they do and it's so second nature to me there I never noticed, but I don't think so. Hugging, yes, definitely, but the kiss thing creeps just slightly farther into murky territory than I'm usually prepared to enthusiastically go. I'm okay with accepting the greeting (except with people I don't like, at which times I utterly despise it -- but how in the world can you be polite and refuse? particularly when others are watching?), but it still feels odd to return it.

So there you have it, Australians. I'm not slighting you, I just get skittish when my two feet of personal space bubble pops, you weasels!

shocking, isn't it?

My mother gets teary at horse races; I distinctly remember tears gushing down her face while watching Big Brown attempt to win last year's Triple Crown. My best friend gets teary at sports movies. I shudder to think what'd happen if they watched Seabiscuit together.

I'm not a particularly dry-eyed sort of girl myself, but, thank you very much, do not cry at either. There is a time and a place for tears -- airports, Easter sunrise services and Wynyard's chemist spring to mind -- but horse races and sports movies are not on the list.

Yesterday Australia experienced the Melbourne Cup. Billed as "the race that stops the nation," it really does. (It was even big enough for google to adorn its logo with fancy hats.) Although Victoria is the only state that actually gets the day off, everybody stops what they're doing for at least three minutes to watch the race, and then another three hours to drink off the effects.

Like Halloween, seeing as I'm a teacher, I had to dress up. (Oh, the woes of teaching.) I arrived to work in a short black, Minnie Mouse-style dress with heels and soon found myself in the midst of a flurry of photos. There weren't quite as many feathers and fancy headpieces as last year, but there was no shortage of snazzy summer get-ups. We snapped madly away for few minutes, tossed in some coins for a sweep, then dashed off to class where most of our students gazed sleepily up, trying to figure out if their teacher was really standing before them in a ball gown or if they were still dreaming. The demands for homework generally woke them up.

Things plodded along normally enough until after lunch, when excitement levels rose again. Faced with a new class, a second group of students was equally awed, but somewhat more intrigued. I explained to mine that we'd be going in on a sweep, if they wanted. In an odd twist of fate, I only had six students, so we modified the rules: each person put in $2, drew a horse and whoever got closest to first place would win, etc. (I ended up winning with the 8th place horse. My class, it seems, has an incredible knack for picking real losers.)

After a blur of a class where I doubt anyone learned anything, we, along with the rest of the school, made our way to a nearby bar to watch the race. We got there early -- time enough to mill about, get a drink and snap a few more poses.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that I absolutely love horse names. They are some of the few animals who actually get catchy, clever monikers. No Spots, Dukes, Fidos and Bad Kitties here. Although I'd drawn #18 Basaltico and #2 C'est La Guerre, my metaphorical money was on Crime Scene, just for the name, though I also strongly approved of Alcopop, Spin Around and Changing of the Guard. Being a former Northern Beaches girl, Newport and Warringah resonated, and even Leica Ding stuck a note, though I wasn't sure it was the right one.

And then, before we knew it, the horses were off. Everyone was standing up, leaning in, cheering gleefully. There was much excitement, much enthusiasm and relatively little commotion. We stood My Fair Lady style, gazing proudly at the champions whirring down the track. Emotions ran high. A horse pulled ahead; someone cheered. Another horse inched in; another voice rang out. A blur of brown tore through. A little tear began to well up in my -- friend's eye. I couldn't quite see which horse was ahead, but watched devoutly nonetheless; everyone did. One minute sped by, then two, then the home stretch. We breathed in unison, all eyes glued, gloriously unaware of how cliche their description sounded, to the screen. 500 -- 400 -- 300 -- 200 -- 100 -- 50 --25 -- who won by a nose?


And then it was over, first, second and third going to Shocking, Crime Scene and Mourilyan. Warringah pulled in in last place. Everyone cheered some more. Various shouts went up around the room as people shocked themselves with having picked the winner. Congratulations were exchanged, cash collected and a few more cameras clicked for good measure. The last sips were downed, the frocks smoothed out, and then, slowly, everyone began drifting away, raced out until three very special minutes next November.

And, let the record stand, I did not cry at the Melbourne Cup. Shocking, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

quicko: expiration dates

Having been a gallon-a-day family when it came to milk, I manage pretty consistently to be a gallon-a-week girl. A gallon would suit me wonderfully, if only I could find one. Instead, I'm stuck with 3 liters, which is more or less comparable. The part that's not comparable is the expiration dates. To begin with, American milks (note: if I have any students reading, milk is uncountable. Don't worry about this, nor try to copy it.) usually come with a "sell-by" date, which, granted, is somewhat different from an out and out "expiration" date. But when they say expire, man, do they mean it. By the day of, that milk is starting to smell (quite often a day or two early, as well) and let another day or two go past and it'll outright reek. So, even when you look in the fridge and think, plenty of milk, all's well, well, it really isn't. Which is to say, please excuse me as I run to the store. I seem to be out of milk.

quicko: the bench

In Australian English has one similar meaning (i.e., a place to sit) as well as another: it's their word for counter top. So instead of asking "is my orange juice on the counter?" they'll ask, "is my orange juice on the bench?"

Monday, November 2, 2009

quicko: ladybird

I recently learned that Australians call ladybugs either ladybeetles or ladybirds. They realize that they're not birds, but, well, I guess they just like to think of themselves as creative.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

quicko: one last hallowhine

It's not actually a whine, but I couldn't resist the pun. Sorry.

What I wanted to say is that, actually, Halloween is getting a wee bit bigger in Australia. Several of my friends commented that this was the first year that spider webbing and such decor were readily available in stores, and that the marketing and hype was significantly higher than in years past.

So there you have it -- Halloweeeeeee! :)

(And, ps, a very happy birthday to my second grade teacher, Mr. Dupps :) I haven't forgotten!)

quicko: the sydney morning herald calendar

I had to get this post in before October finished: the Sydney Morning Herald publishes an annual calendar of cartoons, and I've been enjoying this snippet all month:

Venerable, Blessed and Saintly Creatures

(including picture of cat curled up on rug)

"The Venerable Roger of the cobblestones. For one half of his life, Roger of the cobblestones lived a life of utter depravity. Then for the other half, he devoted himself to pray and contemplation: prayer and contemplation by day; utter depravity by night."

quicko: halloween in a box

For what it's worth, Australians also have no qualms about rushing off to a costume shop and renting (hiring, they might call it) a costume for an evening. They do not seem to understand the creativity called for by this holiday, much less the rule that, unless absolutely necessary for a real humdinger of a Halloween, you never spend wads of money on a costume. (Remember that funny little rule about things costing $1 at American dollar stores?)

I for one was asked if I'd rented or made my costume. Seeing as it was nothing more than a huge hunk of fabric safety pinned together I was taken aback and slightly insulted. Perhaps I should give Pamela a tip for putting in the pins?

something fishy this way comes

It's not every day you text the sentence, "I'm afraid I've lost my octopus somewhere in your building; if you find him, would you please bring him back to me?" But then again it's not every day it's Halloween. Or even every year, if you're Australian.


Australians really aren't big on Halloween. They know Americans are the same way they know everything else about Americans -- the movies. But really it rather mystifies them, which I suppose rather goes with the territory of the event, come to think of it.

After they figure out which day it is (October 30th? 13th? Last Friday?), they're set to say, "oh, that's why you're dressed up" to passing Americans, but not much else.

I went to a Halloween party this year with several Australians over the age of 21 who admitted it was actually the first Halloween party they'd ever been to. And yet they ask why the world needs Americans.

Australia as a country simply isn't equipped to deal with Halloween. For starters, there are no pumpkin patches, let alone hay rides, s'mores or scarecrows. You can't get apple cider, apple dip, apple chips, caramel apples or candy apples, let alone bob for them. Pumpkins present a particular challenge.

I got an urgent call three days before Halloween. "Kim!" asked an Australian co-worker, "Is it okay get a green pumpkin?"

"A green pumpkin?" I asked. "Why?"

"I'm at the store, and that's all they've got. Will it still work?"

"Well, it's a little unorthodox, but I'm sure it'll do," I said, my mind racing haphazardly to St. Patrick's Day's green and orange fiascoes.

The next day I got an elated text: "Do U have morning class thus morning? Please come down to reception during you'd break U'll B proud of me!!!!!!" Turns out there was one sickly semi-orange shade of pumpkin, which was now smiling broadly. I named him Draco.
My American friend faced a different problem. She could find pumpkins, but none for under $24. She bought it and her Australian husband proceeded to carve it, then ask why it caved in two days later. Evidently no one had told him you're not supposed to carve out all the flesh with the goop.

Seeing as I am a teacher, I did dress up slightly (but only slightly) the day before Halloween, since the day itself fell on a Saturday this year and my students would not otherwise get to experience the joy of trick-or-treating.


I came to class with ladybug wings and antenna and they gasped and giggled and ooohed and aaahed as if I were extra who escaped from The Lord of the Rings. I then proceeded to write "Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!" on the board and made them practice it until they could say it almost entirely from memory. Then I shooed them out of the class and had them knock on the door and recite it to me.

I'd meant for them to come individually, but after the first knock I was greeted by entire chorus serenading me with a hesitant cry along the lines of "Trick or treat! Smell my feet! Gi-(indistinguishable sounds blurring together in approximately the right intonations, clearly mixed with a fervent hope that they could soon stop embarrassing themselves in the corridor)---------!!" I nearly burst with pride.

"No, no," I explained, "individually. Come one at a time." They looked at me as if they did not understand this bizarre idea at all, but I shut the door in their faces so they were forced to fend for themselves. After a few false starts, we soon got on our way, and each student in turn recited their new rhyme and received their loot until only one student was left in the hallway and seemed prepared to wait there until further notice. I hesistated a few seconds, then opened the door.

"Oh! You poor little boy!" I called. "Are you shy? It's okay, come on, you can get some chocolate anyway. Here here."

And so my class learned about Halloween. That part they did actually like. And they didn't mind too much the bit that came next -- writing skits about Dracula and Frankenstein -- but they looked ready to murder me in cold blood when I announced what was coming thereafter.

"And guess what!" I told them enthusiastically. "After the break you get to perform your skits for another class! Isn't that exciting?"

Several of them immediately developed severe stomach cramps.

"Oh dear," I said. "I knew I shouldn't have fed you so much candy. Run to the bathroom and come back in a few minutes. I'm sure you'll all be fine."

Fine as soon as we get out of here!
their eyes scowled to me.

"Happy Halloween!" I said brightly.

After school there was a Halloween cruise for them, and some of my co-workers dressed up to go along, but seeing as I went as a mermaid this year, I saved my costume for the real deal. It's awkward enough meeting friends of friends for the first time in a lacy purple bra, let alone your students.


Which was where my octopus came in. He was the cutest little tattoo, but seeing that he was of the iron-on variety, I had decided not to affix him to my skin by any permanent means, which, all in all, is a decision I still stand by. We had a fabulous time at the first party, hobnobbing with geishas, samurais, Scotsmen, devils, witches and one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-eaters, but somewhere before take two (pirates, Cubs fans, vicars in masks, Puritans and exercise-addicts) he decided to swim solo.


And so, if you find my octopus, would you please bring him back to me?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

quicko: HAPPY halloween

And yet another point Australians tend to mess up miserably: they don't realize that Halloween costumes don't have to be spooky, but that HAPPY ones are also just as acceptable. I've tried explaining this to Australians, but to no avail. They nod and smile to placate me, but, really, they just don't buy it. It's our little joke, they nod surreptitiously to each other, we know Halloween has to be scary, but, well, let's just humor the American.

quicko: hallowhen?

The other thing Australians can never keep straight is when precisely Halloween falls. As they're not nearly as big into it as we are, the exact day generally eludes them. Today's as a good as guess as any, and several tend to favor it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

quicko: _______ nifty united states

I thought the number of U.S. states was common knowledge, but it turns out it's not. Though guesses tend to be close (usually even within 2 states either way), no one seems quite sure. Evidently no one thought to tell the Australians that there's really only one number that rhymes with "nifty."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

quicko: hats off to australia ...

... for putting hats on!

Because of the UV rays, Australians are really big on putting on hats and sunglasses when they go outside. Australian schoolchildren, in fact, are required to wear headgear at any point when they venture outside.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

quicko: buckley's chance

i.e., not a chance.

I know there's a story in this about a man named Buckley, but, not being Australian, I've got Buckley's chance of getting the story right.

Monday, October 26, 2009

quicko: dunny

AKA toilet.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

pink attack

I like pink. I know I've shocked most of you right there, but it's true. I like pink -- pink tops, pink pants, pink thongs of the Australian variety, pink thongs of the American variety, pink blankets, pink phones, pink flowers, pink artwork, pink beach towels, pink watermelon and pink ice cream. The one pink thing I don't like is pink eye.

In and of itself, there are far worse illnesses. Headaches, stomachaches and earaches are all far, far worse. Even upper respiratory tract infections, as I learned last year, have the potential to wreak lots more havoc, and it's definitely trumped by sore throats, cramps and colds.

Perhaps that's why, then, I didn't realize what I had at first. It came about when my brother was visiting, and I was pretty sure my contacts were just a wee bit drier than usual when they woke me up about 6 am. (6 am, I should point out, is not a time I like to be woken up by anything. Please do not try it.) When drops didn't do the trick, I staggered to the bathroom, removed them and tried to go back to bed. Unfortunately, it hurt to close my eyes.

Oddly enough, it also hurt to have them open. But, seeing as it was still only 6:06 am, I was sleepy enough to suck it up and snoozed off, until my eyes woke me up again at 7 am. (7 am, I should also point out, is another time I do not like to be woken up by anything. Please do not try it either.) I'm not usually one to give up on sleep, but at this point it proved impossible. Fortunately, Andrew's jet lag was such that he was also waking up earlier than he ever normally would (being a college student, 7 am was much closer to his normal bedtime) so we set off.

It didn't take me long to notice that, no matter what I did regarding drops or glasses, my left eye was still quite itchy. Call me crazy (as it seems many are wont to do, regardless of circumstances), but it itched worse when I looked up at anything, or rode buses. I have no idea why.

For the rest of the day I figured it was an odd, one-off thing and that surely any second now it would stop itching. And sometimes it did. Generally just long enough for me to think all was well again.

Imagine then my dismay when the very next morning I received another 6 am wake-up call. This time there was no mucking about with drops first -- I ran straight to the bathroom to rip out the -- oh. I'd never put them back in. This was odd. This was seriously strange. My eyes did not have contacts in them; why then were they unhappy? Puzzled, I drizzled drops in them anyway (force of habit they'd acquired?) and dozed off again until 7.

Day two of the itchy eyes led to more open complaint. Various friends suggested various possibilities; one gave me some eye drops, other were sure it was hay fever. Having never developed hay fever before, I remained doubtful. It wasn't until my flatmate suggested pink eye that the penny dropped.

It was still Sunday at this point, but the next day I had to take Andrew to the airport at some extremely unearthly hour of the morning (it was before 6 am). I don't know how many of you have had to say goodbye to a brother at 7 am on a Monday morning with pink eye when he's flying to the other side of the world and you suddenly realize you're absolutely alone in Australia with no family of any kind anywhere closer than California, but it's not a particularly pleasant experience. Which was how, early Monday morning, I found myself standing in the Wynyard chemist's bawling my eyes out and trying to explain that, yes, I really had pink eye, and no, it wasn't because I was crying, and what I really needed to know was whether to go to a doctor's or an optometrist's. The girl recommended the doctor's, but looked like she thought a psychiatrist might be more to the point. I blew my nose and left.

Fortunately, commuting to the CBD means that I do have good, rapid access to medical professionals. I found a doctor's office across the street and made an appointment for 45 minutes later. Fortunately, commuting to the CBD means that I also have good, rapid access to chocolate cupcakes. I found a cupcake shop two shops down and made an appointment, effective immediately, during which I managed to finish three chocolate cupcakes and more or less stop crying. Then I hiked the two shops' length back to the doctor.

The doctor quickly confirmed that I wasn't pregnant, a smoker, an alcoholic, a drug dealer or a prostitute, recommended a vaccine for cervical cancer (or would that be against?), and informed me that, yes, I had pink eye. Though to be precise, at this point it was probably closer to salmon eye, after the yellow drops she'd drenched it in.

Doctored up, I rose from the examining table (why I had to lay down is another mystery) and marched back to the chemist's, this time with prescription in hand to prove I had a genuine malady. The girls eyed me suspiciously, but the pharmacist, who I hadn't met on my last trip in, was kindly and offered a long series of recommendations regarding the application of the drug, the only one of which really sunk in was the idea that it ought to live in the refrigerator as much as possible.

I paid the pharmacist, and off I trotted to run errands at the bank, the travel agency and a coffeeshop (one always needs to fall back and regroup after such mornings; honestly, an extra two or three coffeeshops stops wouldn't have hurt) before making it to work by noon. There I promptly deposited my eye drops in the fridge, and wrote myself a note I hoped no one happened to read and take the wrong way, seeing as it ran something to the effect of: "KIM! don't forget (insert picture of eyeball here) in fridge!!!"

My work colleagues, incidentally, are used to me having trouble with my eyes; I seem to have regular difficulties with styes. The upshot of this is that I now know how to treat them all by myself (lots of heated pressure; 15 minutes 4 times a day, ideally, to nip one in the bud); the downside is that that means I often apply just-boiled teabags to my eyes during every possible break at work. So even if they noticed the note, perhaps they wouldn't think too much of it.

Over the next week and a half, I continued to apply my eye drops regularly, and refrigerate them in the meantimes, and thankfully my eye stopped itching almost immediately, and looked significantly better soon after, too. All was finally well and white, though I bided my time until several days after the symptoms cleared up to risk the contacts again.

I'd thrown out my mascara, but left my drops stashed in the back of the fridge, just in case.

And just in case turned out to be one the smartest moments of my life, if by smartest you mean "saved me $70."

Because what to my wondering right eye should appear, the very next week, but red lines all in there! This time my left eye was fine, but there was no doubt about it; the right had (despite having received just as many medicated drops as the left) taken it upon itself to keep things nice and even and therefore developed its own special case of pink eye.

This time I was more frustrated than anything, but I started my day at work by calling a pharmacist.

"Hi there, um, I just had pink e--er, conjunctivitis, and I'm was on this medicine, ciph-er-a-"

"Ciprofloxacin, yes."

"Yes! And I used it and it worked, but it was like, well, I started it August 31, and now I've come down with pink e--er, conjunctivitis in the other eye, but I've had it in the fridge the whole time, do you think I can still use it again now?"

"Yes, it should be fine. Ciprofloxacin is good for a month, so you've got until September 30. I'd throw it away after that, though."

"Oh, perfect, thanks so much!"

And thus a man I'd never even met made my day at 8:25 in the morning.

And this time, when the drops were over, and the itching gone, and the pink lines vanished, I scoured my place. I washed every piece of cloth I could find, cleaned the bathroom sink twice, threw out all the contact cases I could find (oddly enough, when I went back to the chemist's to buy a new one, they didn't have any for sale. "Oh, here," the one girl said to the other, "this is a sample one. Just let her have it."), pitched another mascara and all my eyeshadow and suddenly began having nightmares about The Velveteen Rabbit.

Like I said, there are far worse illnesses you could have from a purely medical point of view. But anything that racks up $100 in one go-round (thanks again to the nameless pharmacist for saving me a substantial part off the second) and even contemplates messing with my stuffed animal is nothing to be trifled with.

I am happy to report, though, that I am now entirely back in the pink of health.

the biggies

So for ages now I've been meaning to write about what I see as the biggest cultural differences between Australia and the U.S. Obviously there are more than these (see my previous 500 entries), but my extensive academic essay writing experience leads me to select three major contenders (and describe them before proceeding): city life, university life, relational life and vacation.

First off, city life. I'm not sure if this is really the best way to put it, but what I mean is that most Australians live in the major cities here: Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart. Some live in other cities, such as Coff's Harbour, Cairns, Geelong, Wollongong or Newcastle, but the vast majority of these cities are located on the coast and the vast interior of Australia is entirely unpopulated. We're talking huge farms the size of American states, and not really anybody in between. If you fly over the U.S. at night, you see lots of little lights all across the country. Not so in Australia; lots of little lights all along the coast, but very few in the middle.

To give you more of an idea, Australia has approximately 21 million people (the U.S. has more like 304 million). Of these, roughly 4.2 million are in Sydney, 3.8 million are in Melbourne, 1.8 million are in Brisbane and 1.6 million are in Perth (the national capital of Canberra, I was shocked to find, has less than 350,000), which means roughly 54% of Australians live in one of the four biggest cities, and most of the others aren't too terribly far away. Imagine if over half of Americans lived in New York, LA, Chicago and Houston and the other half was scattered down the eastern seaboard, with one big city in California (i.e., Perth).

It does bear mentioning, of course, that the biggest city, Sydney, is still smaller than the U.S.'s fourth biggest, Houston, so the idea of big city life is significantly different than what, say, a New Yorker might imagine. However, it is still true that the majority of Australians live in a big city, and they therefore approach life in a different way to, say, many Midwesterners.

Like many big cities, Australia's are quite cosmopolitan in terms of both their residents and their mindsets. There is a huge Asian population in Australia, and by Asian I don't just mean Chinese, Japanese and Korean. There are lots of people from Korea and Japan especially, but also from Malaysia, Indonesia (it's actually one of Australia's closest neighbors), Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, India and many others. There are also lots of people from the Pacific Islands -- Samoa, Fiji and the Philippines spring to mind. Moving farther afield, though, many Australian residents come from Brazil, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Germany and nearly any nation you can name. Closer to home, Australia also has a substantial Aboriginal community. And then there's the native English-speaking ex-pats: Kiwis, South Africans, Americans, Canadians and Brits. There are so many Brits here they've acquired their own, semi-derogatory nickname: Poms.

But not only is Australia a huge melting pot, it is also quite globally minded. Things like foreign policy (Australian and U.S.), Fair Trade products, recycling, the environment, global warming, saving energy, saving water and human rights are hot topics that get a lot of press and conversation time. Of course, many Americans are also very concerned about these matters, but the scope of concern is more widespread in Australia.

Secondly, university life is, especially for a 20something, one of the most significant differences between the U.S. and Australia. To be American about it, I'd say we have it and they don't. This isn't strictly, true, of course, but it's not too far off the mark. Before I proceed, let me point out that I do recognize the statistic that only 25% of Americans go to college (they call it university here), but, to compare apples to apples, let's just think about middle-class, suburban America, where the vast majority of my classmates all attended college, and middle-class, urban Australia, where a lot of high school students left to attend college.

And that's the first difference: a lot of Australian high school students attend college, but a lot don't. A lot go to TAFE, which clearly stands for something important, though I don't know what. From what I can tell, it's a bit like a vocation school at the level of a community college. It's where you go to learn trades, but it's completely acceptable and parents are quite happy if their children decide to go there. Some others presumably enter the workforce straightaway, which is also a happy alternative for everyone.

But of those who do go to university, very few actually move away from home. There's four pretty major universities in Sydney (Sydney University, Macquarie University, University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney) and, unless you have particular career aspirations not supported by one of these, most students will continue living with their parents until they graduate, and, even then, they are likely to stay in the same city. By that point, most are getting antsy to move out, but it'd still be common to stay another year or two until you get your feet on the ground, financially.

Some students do live on campus, but residential housing is primarily for the country kids (ones who quite possibly have been attending a boarding school in one of the major cities for all of high school anyway) or those few who have ventured from their home city.
Americans, on the other hand, move out at 18 and immediately bond with a floor full of other 18 year olds who are similarly simultaneously thrilled to be living in freedom and utterly terrified. This very regularly leads to the very fast development of several very close, lasting friendships, and very many not-as-close and not-as-lasting-but-still significant friendships. It also leads to a tremendous amount of school spirit and pride. Americans are fanatical about their schools -- they're a huge part of our identity and we tend to be quite proud of them, even long after we graduate. We wear the appropriate sweatshirts, scour the alumni magazines for news of acquaintances' marriages, bring them up in conversation, give large sums of money to them, visit on homecoming days and encourage our children to attend what is clearly the best school in the country. Australians don't really go in for all this. Sure, they usually remember which school (excuse me, university) they attended, but they don't spend too much time trying to network with their professor's friends or looking up other alum when they move to foreign countries.

By differing relational life, I'm sure I could expand in any number of directions, but primarily what I meant was that Australians don't mind getting to what most Americans to be fairly deep territory pretty fast when it comes to Those Topics We Don't Discuss, i.e., politics and religion. Americans can be the fastest of friends for years and never broach the subject of politics -- quite possibly because they fear they may have differing viewpoints, but quite possibly because they just see it as a personal thing, and they don't want to make anyone, much less their friend, feel uncomfortable. Not so with Australians. Pretty much as soon as they spot my accent, they assume it's fair game to ask who I voted for (you are old enough to vote, right?). I've literally had conversations where people have asked my voting preferences before finding out my name. But if strangers can ask, so much can acquaintances and friends, often in public, and often in the midst of an anti-American conversation.

Regarding religion, I'm actually referring to other Christians. In American churches, things tend to be rather surface-y for quite some time, until you've been around long enough to go on a retreat. A retreat is sacred among American Christians. A retreat is where you bond. A retreat is where everything comes out. A retreat is where you bring the Kleenex, the life stories and the testimonies. Australian churches are different. Here you get asked your testimony before your name. Don't fall asleep during the sermon; you're likely to be asked just how you found it afterwards. You'd better be ready to give an account; it's not God asking, yet, but the other Christians!

Finally, vacation (holiday, here) is another distinguishing factor between Americans and Australians. Americans take a very bad rap abroad for their lack of travel and culture, particularly in Australia, a country where everyone travels immensely. I was talking to a friend yesterday who casually mentioned that her family always went on vacation to Fiji each year. When I expressed surprised, she was confused: it was only a four hour flight. Similarly, I recently heard a sermon where the speaker was talking about cutting back: maybe instead of taking that dream vacation to Europe, families should content themselves with a mere three weeks in Queensland (a state in northern Australia) instead.

The main reason Australians can afford to travel so much is that all employees get 20 days of paid annual leave each year. It's just what they do. They are shocked and appalled (I can tell half of them just plain don't believe me) to learn that Americans only get 2 weeks a year to begin with. They then understand that a week in the summer and a week at Christmas might make sense, but they still can't shake the idea that that's really just plain torture, and surely another first world country wouldn't be indulging in it. They're sure there's some mistake, some catch or glitch, but can't quite pinpoint what it is, so they just go back to ranting against the uncultured American.

Those, then, are the biggest differences I see between Americans and Australians. It's hard to stay out of the fray sometimes, and I tend to defend Australians when talking to Americans and Americans when talking to Australians. I can see both sides of lots of things, though happen to prefer certain aspects of each. Particularly those 20 days off.