Monday, September 10, 2007

Double Dare and the Physical Challenge*

A lot of people from home tell me that I'm brave for moving to Australia. I guess they mean that it is brave to move so far away from friends and family; brave to commit myself so concretely to a different culture, one I didn't know much about before making the commitment. But it isn't brave. It's just inconvenient.

And sure, Australia is inconvenient in the obvious way, of being long-distant, but to Americans, the culture's inconvenience hovers around annoying. Take a deep breath, Aussies, I'm not dissing you or your country. I'm saying that constant cultural difference can be, after all the emotional and physical aspects of it, straight up exhausting.

When I was 22, I lived for a brief stint in France, and I remember being so physically exhausted at the end of the day because I spent every waking minute not only observing an everyday life that was so completely new and foreign--but also thinking, speaking, and reading in French. Translating is exhausting. Using that much brain power to do mundane tasks can tire a girl out. But all that was sorta expected--it's a country that has a very specific culture and a completely different language. Australia isn't supposed to be like that.

For the most part, it isn't, of course. They speak English here. And Aussies are laid back in a way that I daresay Americans appreciate far more than the monarchical motherland. The Westernized way of life is about the same age as the U.S.A., so even a lot of the surroundings look similar. Basically it's as close to living in the States as you can get without getting your socialized health care revoked.

So what's annoying is that it's so similar I let my guard down. It's all the same but slightly different. It's disconcerting, like Surrealism or a suspense thriller starring John Cusack. No no--it's like everything is labeled incorrectly--i.e., tomato sauce is ketchup--so you have to keep looking at it to see what it is before you can trust its contents. The best example is the grocery store.

Upon entering, everything looks basically the same. Celine Dion is wailing through the speakers, children are already giving you a headache. Check. But then there's a crumpet aisle. ?? might also find cookies? Wrong. Experience reminds me to go to the biscuit aisle, where first I find crispbreads (=crackers, okay, makes sense, crisp+bread), then there are sections for plain biscuits, snack biscuits, and chocolate biscuits. So while I did find cookies, I'd like to note that nowhere in this aisle will you find fluffy bread goods traditionally served in the southern states with gravy.

Nearby is a wall-size display of Vegemite which I steer well clear of. I then come to another aisle featuring a no-brainer: toilet rolls. Okay, I can figure that one out too. But I need some sliced swiss cheese. There's no specific cheese section, just occasional refrigerated bays, so I circle all of them about 15 times and keep coming across Tasty cheese. I still have no idea what this is, but it comes in "extra Tasty." It's always capitalized, eluding to a proper noun, but I'm afraid of food with such ambiguous descriptions (see: Chinese food offering the choice of 'brown' or 'red' sauce), so I give up on that one. I also pass a "cordial" aisle. I'm venturing into foreign territory as somehow I've ended up back in the produce section, which has all kinds of Asian vegetables (yummy, but I don't need them today) but no corn.

Getting my ass to the grocery store is hard enough without obstacles, but when I have to get there by walking through a place that looks exactly like K-Mart but is instead called Big W, the frustration sharks start circling. I decide to get hand soap for the bathroom. I gaze up at the ceiling, toward the section signage. Big Dubbs has one section for haberdashery which I always thought was a ye olde word, but apparently not. It also has a section entitled "Manchester". This means sheets and bedding. I wander over to a section that looks vaguely soap-y but am told hand soap is in Health & Beauty.

No, it isn't. There is shower gel but that isn't the same thing. ? I guess I'll wander around this aisle for 10 more minutes until I realize what I'm doing and get so frustrated that out of the sizeable list of shit I needed to get I can only find 3 of them in 15 minutes' time. I'll spend my whole life here if I can't navigate this shit better, I start thinking, and this song sounds like some kinda Evanescence black hole and it would all be much more amusing if I didn't actually need anything from this place, or if I could buy it all and send it to people who would also find it funny-cause-it's-different.

But I live here now. And aside from being a foreigner, it is my home.

*The title is basically irrelevant to the content of this post.


Colleen said...

I def have to try some Extra Tasty cheese, please. Should I just send you a box of Entemenn's (why can't I spell that) chewy choc chip cooks? The little kind you eat like 20 of at a time and then feel like a terrible person?

therese said...

I just fell into a Wikipedia K-hole whilst looking up Vegemite which led me to Marmite, which led me to Bovril, which grossed me out.

Can you get Entenmann's in Louisiana? I thought that was an East Coast thing. Now I want some of their chocolate crumb topped donuts. Donuts....

lucy said...

Groceries aside, i find it infuriating that mobile phones never work beyond the registers in any supermarket. When I saw you the other day, i ended up pacing the path between aisle and register for twenty minutes. I know i could hang up by WHY SHOULD I? also i can't work out why butter is separated by custard, juice, pasta, dips and smoked salmon from the sisterhood of dairy - cheese and yoghurt. It all seems so simple.