I leave within the month to return to Australia. I have this acceptance that I have to leave. I want to go home, but I wouldn’t mind if I stayed here for another 6 months.
It’s strange for me to explain how I feel. It’s not like homesickness where I would cry and feel sorry for being in such a stupid town in stupid old Germany full of stupid people with stupid ancient buildings.
Now I just feel like, I know what it’s like to live in Bavaria. (I say Bavaria because it is the richest state in Germany) and I think I’d be happier in Australia.
Although, “happier” might mean angrier too. Here I’ve been completely devoid of notions of politics and stupid politicians. Recently I’ve been catching up on Australia and my god, is there a lot of things I’ll have to get involved in when I get home. Not the least getting a big sticker that says, “Failure O’Farrell”
But I also like the way I’ve seen how different things are here and how they should maybe be implemented back home. I have this feeling that from seeing how other people do things I can make my country better.
I don’t know, it is this strange sort of patriotism. I think that Australia is one of the best countries in the world, and I’ve seen some examples on how to make it better.
I’m afraid of that “I’m not from here anymore” response to returning. I don’t want it to be like that. I want to be able to just go back to the familiar.
Don’t get me wrong. Things aren’t strange and unfamiliar here, not anymore. It’s just that I feel I’d be happier with the stuff I’ve been familiar with for 20 years than what I’ve been familiar with for 6 months. I know,, it’s not really a fair time to compare, I also want to come back here later in life, but right now I feel like I could be accomplishing more back in Australia.
P.S. I also really miss sandwiches/salads/small lunches. Here a hot, cooked lunch is really common. Took me a while to notice that, but the “Mensa” or cafeteria has mostly only warm dishes, and everyone seems to think it is normal… I also miss our type of bread. I can live with bread here, but it’s mostly a choice of sourdough or really crappy “America bread” which is stale, preservative ridden, horrible tasting bread that looks like what you can get in Australia. I also am a bit of a food snob, so I can’t wait to walk into Woolies and have such selection of brands I know and fruit and veg from the next state not South America (not that it’s a problem, I just like buying Aussie grown) and I won’t miss the ability to know where all my food comes from (here nothing is labelled unless it’s something from Aldi that they sell in Aus). Probably only 3 foodstuffs I will miss from here are Kaiserbrotchen, Spatzle and Chocolate. Beer and it’s quality and diversity and cheapness is also a problematic farewell.
I just wanted to share this promotional display I found at a popular US fast food diner. I’m not brave enough to try it
Grocery shopping in a foreign country even if that country is America, is a unique and confusing experience. Apart from the obvious problems with locating familiar brands at a grocery store, there’s also that feeling you get when you realise you aren’t going to find what you’re looking for, because it doesn’t exist.
Like Doritos for example.
Doritos Australia market a total of four Doritos products to their consumers; Cheese Supreme, Nacho Cheese, Original and Mexicana. The U.S market for Doritos has a remarkable 19 different flavours (remarkable to me perhaps) among them; Jalapeno, Fiery Buffalo, Spicy Nacho, Pizza Supreme and even Cheeseburger.
To my disappointment, this list of 19 doesn’t include one of Australia’s most commercially successful (and incidentally my favourite) Doritos flavour; Nacho Cheese. The yellow packaged Doritos (Nacho Cheese is actually packaged red in the United States and tastes completely different, just to be confusing). The experience of not being able to find Nacho Cheese is not the most impressive cultural slap across the face, but it’s still pretty mind-blowing. People tend to think of Australian consumers in much the same way as American consumers, and to be fair we are reasonably comparable; we eat fast food, we watch Hollywood films and listen to American produced music. But geographical and cultural influence still drives the market for some things, and I find that many of the goods available here in the States, would probably not enjoy a successful launch in Australia. Due to the Mexican influence here in California, the market for spicy foods is very wide. The standard flavour is almost always some variety of seasoned chilli, and as a white person with very limited tolerance to spicy food, I’ve suffered at the hands of Mexican cuisine. But of course, Americans love it. Spicy food in every form; sweet, savoury, cold-serve, warm-serve is available in excessive abundance.
Fortunately for me, Australia’s limited knowledge of Mexico and the wide variety of spices found there, means that we will remain with a single spicy version of Doritos, (which I didn’t know existed until I sought help from Google), and that’s okay by me since I can’t obtain any benefit from heterogeneity in spicy corn chips anyway.
.. like to eat savoury foods with sweet sauces.
And they have a tendency to put the name of other countries before a certain food to make it seem authentic and less American for e.g “Italian Sausage” and “Brazilian Mojito” (a drink my Brazilian friend told me he has not heard of lol)
I’ve been in the States for about three months now, and I’ve learned:
- to sharpen my “r”s, especially when introducing myself – I think “Clare” in an Australian accent sounds like “Clehhhhh…a”, so I am now “CleRR”, the American version of myself, who is about twenty pounds heavier because of the high fructose corn syrup in.. well, everything;
- that the word “gig” is meaningless here;
- that even by American standards, Vegas is regarded as a city full of trash-ed and trash-y people (think 24/7 deep-fried cheese sticks with ranch dipping sauce);
- that America is a lot more classist that Australia, with a more clearly defined class structure, a much larger low/working class who are often severely or noticeably economically disadvantaged, and less movement between classes;
- that college campuses turn into drunken orgies on the weekends, regardless of the drinking age, and that at 24, I seem to be the oldest undergrad on campus;
- a different way to learn – as someone posted earlier, the classes here are five days a week and there’s a stack of small assignments throughout the semester; in my classes, participation is worth a fair amount, and often there’s an expectation of a weekly response (written, oral or online) to readings so you can’t get away with skipping readings like at home; the assignments are also less research-based and more critical, which is entirely different to the way I normally work; overall, I feel a bit like I’ve been sent back to high school, with the excitement over binge drinking, daily classes and these expectations of how to engage with coursework;
- a lot about “the American dream” and “mythology – I’m taking three classes of American literature, two of which study the classics and the beginnings of an American identity, and another which is about contemporary African-American lit. I expected more blind patriotism, more active belief in the supriority of America as “land of the free, home of the brave” etc., but actually the idea of the American dream seems to be something existing only in the hopes of the citizens and maintained for the benefit of one another and as a facade for the rest of the world. It could just be that I’m here at a bad or unusual time (recession, support for the War here and abroad waning, Americans generally becoming more aware of the way they’re perceived) which has made everyone more disillusioned.
One of the most memorable things that has happened so far (I think it’s such a favourite because it seemed like it was a lived experience of a Bukowski novel, which is part of this “American mythology” that I had formulated before I came here): getting on a Greyhound to go into NYC and listening to the conversation of two women behind me. One of the women had just been released from prison, at which point they apparently provide a bus ticket to anywhere and forty dollars cash; this woman was going to meet up with her friends who had also been serving time. The women had only met at the bus station, so they didn’t really know each other, but they formed this kind of friendship based on a combination of mutual sympathy and bravado – they had both obviously lived somewhat rough lives. The ex-con got off the bus in Scranton, Pennsylvania (which is where they set the American version of “The Office”, to give some clue as to the type of town it is..), and I somehow got sucked into a conversation with a woman (different woman, same bus), and it went something like this:
Woman: So you mighta noticed I’m missin’ my bottom teeth.
Me: Oh, um, no, I hadn-
Woman: Well, y’see, I had these false ones, the real ones got knocked out years ago.
Me: Oh, right. Cool. (I remember saying that and then realizing it didn’t make sense).
Woman: But, I – I got soooo drunk last weekend. Oh man, I puked them up! But it’s okay ‘coz MedicAid (the US version of Medicare) will get me a new set. I was going to get them before I left, but.. nah, fuck it. I’m only going to visit my sister.
At least, that’s how I remember it. And that’s all that matters in the end.