So I’m home. How about that? So far, it doesn’t feel like it. I had a brief meltdown on the night we arrived at my mother-in-law’s house to find all my bedroom furniture, including a pink stuffed chair I’d had since childhood, assembled in our room. But otherwise, I still feel like I’m on vacation. At this point, a week into our new life in Australia, I suppose we haven’t really done too much that we wouldn’t otherwise do if we were just visiting. We went to Melbourne to catch up with relatives, cooked a few meals, and caught up with family and friends. Since I’ve been here many times before, I know what to expect from the land down under. Things cost more. People are more relaxed. Wine is better. The seasons are opposite (more on that later.) I’ve watched TV, enjoying the lack of prescription drug commercials but still shocked at the intensity of the public service announcements. Nowhere else have I been so thoroughly frightened into not speeding, drinking or texting while driving due to the dedication and sick imagination of the Australian Traffic Accident Commission. But regardless of what’s on TV, with the exception of Lily’s fantastic new room and us having more stuff in the closet than we normally would (and all our other worldly household goods stacked precariously in boxes in my mother-in-law’s garden shed) it’s hard to tell the difference between an ordinary vacation and our new home.
I’m sure, over the next few weeks, as I start to churn into the everyday workings of life as an Australian resident, I will start to get more of a sense of my new home. As we find jobs, buy a car, then a house, and vacation elsewhere, life will turn from an eternal holiday back into the ordinary. For now, I’m enjoying the pleasant quirks of my mother-in-law’s small Australian town. All major businesses are within walking distance on Main Street. Food items that are full of fat and sugar say so without apology or cover up. I like that people make a real effort to buy local, use their own shopping bags, and pop over for visits without calling. Houses are reasonably sized and gardens are rose-filled and immaculate. Unfortunately, although I’m in a small town, I’m afraid I still reek of American impatience when it comes to running errands. Since there is no Wal-Mart Qwik-Jewellry to turn to in a crisis (boy we love to hate Wal-Mart, yet can’t seem to shake the addiction) I went to the neighbourhood jewellery store for assistance in replacing my watch battery. After promising to have it replaced in 24 hours (24!), I come to find out they were unable to get the back of my watch off, and if I’d like to leave it for the week, the owner may get around to looking at it next Monday. I politely (I hope) declined, happy I wasn’t charged for time and energy. My attitude was such because we had just come from the bank, where we were informed that if we chose to set up an account, not only would we be charged to use the bank’s own ATM, but they also deduct a fee of $1.70 every time you make a counter transaction (unless the ATM is broken, in which case it’s only 70c – what a deal). I made a point not to be ugly, but couldn’t help but point out that in America, all of this is free. I’m sure American banks don’t offer such perks to be nice, and fees are entrenched somewhere undetectable, but at that exact moment, I was their biggest fan, Wall Street baloney and all. Luckily bum deals like this are not the norm across the country or anything, and as it turns out we found a perfectly acceptable deal at the competing bank across the street. But since I’d encountered two snafus in the same afternoon, I was feeling a bit like an impatient, bitchy American, used to having exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. To quote Bill Bryson, “Can I have it today? Can have it tomorrow? I’m going somewhere else.”
Being that it’s October 25 and all Americans are preparing for Halloween and the accompanying autumnal harvest celebrations, I feel a bit lost here in a land that is in the midst of spring, yet messing with my head by selling holiday decorations and spring clothing together in all the shops. A month ago, blissfully lost in eternal summer of the Greek Islands, I realized I had practically breezed past the autumnal equinox without noticing. Now, with the idea of being “home” dangling in front of me, I can’t help but notice how opposite everything really seems. I normally adore springtime. It’s probably my favourite season, although I’m still unclear how much undue credit it gets simply because it follows dull, bitter, sloppy winter. Now, facing spring when I’d normally be facing autumn, part of me looks forward to another summer – a sun-filled January and February, while the other part of me desperately misses pumpkin carving, new fleeces, and piles of orange leaves. I’d probably be less confused if there were no reminders anywhere of what I’d left behind, and although the Australians don’t celebrate Halloween on the scale of Americans, there are some decorations and party supplies out there. They’re sitting on the shelf next to the garden tools and swimming pool gear. I thought I’d dealt with this mind scramble the first Christmas I spent here ten years ago. Somehow, this is different. I’m not coming from or shortly returning to the “ordinary” way of doing things. This is it. Eek.
To help buffer the transition, I’m throwing myself a Thanksgiving/birthday dinner the last weekend in November. It turns out I’ve invited about 15 people, and found out after the fact I’ll be lucky to find a turkey large enough to feed everyone, so I’ve got to work on that. I’ve always complained about my birthday falling on Thanksgiving weekend every year, as travel is a bear, weather is gray, and friends are occupied with family obligations. Now that we’re in Australia, I have a wide-open, sunny weekend with which to celebrate, and I’m feeling conflicted about how to go about it. I’ve heard other American expats often host an outdoor barbeque for Thanksgiving, ditching the turkey and pumpkin pie in favour of Aussie snags and lamingtons. I love Aussie barbies, but I’m afraid I’m just not there yet, at least not for Thanksgiving. This year, for the first time, I feel the need to cling desperately to the traditional Thanksgiving foods I’ve messed with so often in the past (last year we had lamb and German chocolate cake). I’m searching for pumpkin pie recipes that don’t contain Cool Whip, and begging both butcher shops to find me one frozen turkey of appropriate size. At the same time, my practical self, who feels Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration, struggles to include traditional foods in a meal that here, is completely out of season. Although I should probably be serving strawberry salad and lemon meringue pie, at least this first year, in my heart I must go against the grain, and be traditional. The irony is staggering. Maybe I’ll have another harvest celebration in April, when I can wear a wool sweater, sip hot cider, and enjoy the occasional colour change of the introduced maple leaf.