"Universally" Speaking

What do you think when you think of Australia? I’m going to guess that your answers might include:

Kangaroos
Koalas
Sydney Opera House
The Outback
The Man from Snowy River (for the movie buffs)
Waltzing Matilda (for folk music buffs–and n.b., it’s not what you think it’s about)
Laid back Aussies with cool accents
World class swimmers
“No worries!”

None of these are wrong.
That list is, in fact, what I would have come up with four weeks ago. These things are but a small sampling of what make this country unique and wondrous, but they are not what living here is about. Since being here, in this characteristic, small-ish Australian city, I’m accepting what the first few novelty-filled weeks allowed me to forget temporarily. There are some things about human living that are seemingly universal. Mornings are spent bustling to get everyone dressed, fed, and off to school/work on time. People dash in and out of the grocery store between work and whatever their evening plans are. Young people fret about job prospects and dating prospects. Parents contemplate whether they have the desire–or the energy–to have one more child. They chide themselves for having scolded their kids so loudly that their neighbors might have heard (and judged them). Tired adults, young and old, look forward to sitting down in front of the telly in the evenings. People worry about their retirement accounts and tax rates. Radio talk shows debate how to solve the trending social problem.

More likely, many of these things are “universal” to middle class life in Western cultures–and the privileges that come with it. Just as I’m aware of those privileges, I’m aware that norms about how to raise children, how much free time you are supposed to have and how you’re supposed to spend it, how closely time is followed, etc. would look very different were we in a different country. This both comforts and unsettles me.

We are not in a different country though. Neither are we in the States, and many practices, while they might look similar on the surface to what’s in the States, often have very different underlying values, the subtleties which I am sure will be fodder for future entries. The beauty of this experience is that we have the opportunity to experience day to day living here, but with cultural norms and objects that are new to us.

Last week, we were told to stock our kitchens and check our torches (that’s “flashlights” for you American readers) in case the approaching cyclone, Cyclone Marcia, downed the power and flooded the roads leading here. (Snow storms would have been more familiar.) Unlike other cities north of us, we never did lose power or access to food, but we did lose the beach to the high waters!

The coming months will include, I hope, visits to see the Outback, and the real Snowy Mountains. And the Sydney Opera House. But for the moment, I am content to observe what’s immediately around me, sing, “Waltzing Matilda” on the way to school with the kids, and to take pleasure in the little things that make life here quite different from life in the States. Like the fact that our three year old has, at school, adopted the very Aussie habit of running around barefoot.

And yes, in case you were wondering, our kitchen is regularly stocked with vegemite. And better yet, crumpets and ginger beer.

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