After nearly three years living in Europe, I am often asked the following question: “Don’t you miss home?”
For the past nearly-three-years, my answer has remained the same: “I miss the people, but I’m happy living in Europe, and making the most of it”
I’ve always had the idea that Australia is so far away, and so isolated from the rest of the world (well, actually, this is an idea that is pretty much shared with the rest of the population – otherwise known as a fact) and that going back to Australia would be some kind of life sentence.
If someone were to ask me that question today, my answer would be a little different. Maybe a little bit like this: “HELL YES!! I miss Australia like never before in my life!” :(
You see, I have reached the dreaded 3 month point of relocation, where the excitement of the new country has started to fade off, my integration is not cemented, and the harsh realities of my new environment are setting in.
But I'm not here to wallow in my own self-pity. Rather I wanted to seize the opportunity to list some of the things I miss most about the Down Under, while they are now fresh in my. I will not to let the nostalgia of my present home-sickness cloud my memories!
Yes, Europe has beaches, but I am yet to see one that rivals an Australian beach. The sand is fine, the water is turquoise blue, and they are nearly always spotlessly clean. (And they are often patrolled by hot life savers – have you ever seen Bondi Rescue?)
IMPORTANT NOTE TO ANY FRENCH PEOPLE READING: In answer to your repeated question, you are NOT going to be eaten by a shark at an Australian beach. At least, you are not very likely to. On average, three people a year are killed by sharks in Australia. To put that into perspective, Australia’s road toll in 2015 was 1,209. In other words you should really be more worried about driving to the beach than getting eaten by a shark once you arrive.
#8: Speaking in English
I know, I know – I’ve spent the last 2.5 years in an English-speaking role, but it’s still not the same! I could easily get by speaking nothing but English in both Munich and Paris (yes, even Paris!) But for some reason this makes me feel guilty. In Munich I felt terribly guilty about speaking English, to the point where I sometimes think I accepted the role in Paris as some strange sort of penance for my sins (or as an opportunity for salvation!).
In Paris, my attitude to the language is much more belligerent. I would say I’m making decent headway, but this is not without significant struggle. The thought of living in Australia, where you are put straight through to an English speaker when your washing machine breaks, or when your package hasn’t been delivered three weeks after it was supposed to… it all sounds positively relaxing!
#7: Rooftop bars
I am eternally grateful that I was born in the southern hemisphere where December (the month of my birth) takes place in summer. This has less to do with long sunny days, and everything to do with being able to celebrate my birthday on a rooftop bar. In Melbourne in particular, there is little shortage. (My favourites are Madame Brussells, Rooftop Bar, and Campari House).
#6: The friendly attitude
Speaking of bars, allow me present a scenario to illustrate my point for number 6. In Munich, you walk into a bar, you sit down with your friends, and you pretty much remain there for the rest of the night. The other patrons do likewise, plonking themselves next to their friends and refusing to budge. I sometimes ask myself why they didn’t just invite their friends over for drinks t their place?
In Melbourne, if you go out to a bar, prepare yourself to make friends with your fellow patrons. If you’re a girl, you’ll have a chat with other female patrons while queing for the ladies bathroom; you’ll probably have more chats with the male patrons than you really care for. And if you’re foreign, be prepared for even more attention (Australians love travelling, and people from other countries, and are very interested in having a chat about these topics).
Sure, it can be annoying, and of course it’s mostly superficial (these people do not end up being bridesmaid at your wedding) but it’s nice to feel connected with people all the same. It makes the night more interesting when all the strangers are just friends you haven't met yet. To a lesser extent the same is true of other public encounters, like catching a train, or doing your grocery shopping - you never know what sort of random conversation is going to spark up.
#5: Shopping on Sundays
This is a topic that gets me really fired me up, so consider yourself forewarned... In Melbourne, not only are most retail stores open on Sunday, it is even quite easy to find 24 hour grocery stores (it is even common to find 24 hour retails stores, for instance Kmart, where you can buy clothes, electronics, homewares, beauty products, etc.)
Doing my grocery on a Sunday afternoon used to be a relaxing experience for me. You take it at your own pace, with absolutely no pressure. After all, if you forget something, you can just go back later (ironically, I think I forget things much more frequently now that I live in Europe and you can't always go back later). There is no mad dash to get your shopping done by whatever time the grocery stores close on Saturday (sometimes 1pm!!); there is no stress to finish work before 7.30pm in order to be able to buy yourself fresh food.
And it's not just a matter of convenience, I really believe that shopping on Sunday has a positive social impact. It is better for the economy, and it is much more conducive to gender equality in the workforce. Shopping hours in Europe, particularly in Germany, are geared towards families with a stay-at-home mother who can do the grocery shopping during the week day. It is based on completely parochial values, and I am thoroughly convinced it need to change!
It seems strange that I live in Paris yet I miss food in Australia. Once again I will rely on a story to illustrate my point. I was once having a discussion with a French person about the false stereotypes people harbor towards French people. I was reeling them off, and she was promptly dispelling them: "no, French people do not all wear berets; no, French people do not all have affairs," etc. etc. The conversation went on in this vein until I hit a stumbling block:
“And what about the food? It can’t be true that you eat French food every day!”
I was met with a completely blank look. “But why not?” she asked.
And it’s true. France is home to the best food in the world.. so long as you love French food.. Every day of your life!!!
In Australia, we may not have our own distinct cuisine, but to make up for it we embrace cuisines from all over the world, and pride ourselves on replicating it with relative authenticity. We are very quick to embrace food trends (both healthy and unhealthy) and generally more creative when it comes to food. We are also much more relaxed about dietary requirements, with restaurants almost always offering alternatives, and at the very least open to making alterations to dishes.
It makes for a vibrant culinary scene that you could never tire of!
Melbourne has some of the best coffee in the world. It’s not as if we harvest the beans ourselves (although we are pretty close to renowned coffee regions such as Indonesia) but there is such an appreciation for coffee in this city that everything is of a very high quality, and the baristas are real experts in making it.
This is the city where Starbucks has basically failed, because there is such a genuine love and passion for "real coffee". In Paris it's pretty good (in fact there is a host of cafés run by Australians: Hardware Société, Lomi, and Coutume). In Munich, I actually stopped drinking coffee (or whatever that black stuff was they were serving in cafés) during my first couple of months.
#2: “No worries”
For the last time (I promise!), I will tell a story to illustrate my point. At the beginning of the year I needed to go to the Australian embassy in Berlin to get my passport renewed. I hadn’t really given too much thought to crossing onto “Australian soil” (I was just anxious to get my new passport before my trip to Iran!).
However, as soon as I set foot in the embassy it was as if I had been transported across to the other side of the world. I had arrived a good 45 minutes before my scheduled appointment (as usual I had given myself much more leeway to find than was strictly necessary). I assumed I would have to sit there and wait until the designated time, but thought I would announce my presence in any case.
“I’m a bit early for my appointment, but I’ll just take a seat.”
“Oh, no worries, come straight through!” she was German, but her easy use of the phrase “no worries” made it clear that she had lived in Australia.
It went on: I explained that I lived in Munich, and that it wouldn’t be too easy for me to get back to Berlin to pick up the passport - “No worries, we will send it to your house via registered post”; I explained that I would be travelling to France the next week and needed to keep my current passport with me (during the heightened security conditions there were often passport screenings on flights to France) – “No worries, you can keep your old one.” There seemed to be nothing that was a problem for this lady. Even when I told her I needed the passport in three weeks before I headed to Iran… well, by now you can guess what her answer was: “no worries!”
It’s just an expression, but for me it is more than that – it embodies the Australian desire for everything to be easy, for stress and complication to be avoided at all costs. There are pros and cons to this (in a bid to avoid conflict, for example, Australians will often steer clear of criticizing things even if they don't agree with it, or they will do it in a way that is so indirect that it could easily be baffling for foreigners). But at its core there is an eagerness to keep everyone happy, to help people out if at all possible.
In Munich and Paris, it could not be more different. In Munich (and I suspect in other German cities), there is an absolute reverence for the rules. People really want to help you, but only if it complies with the rules. If it doesn't follow their "process", then you can just forget about it.
Meanwhile, in Paris, any commercial interaction is the modern-day equivalent of a jousting match: a veritable test of your honor and valor! To bend the rules, or in some cases to adhere to the rules (in Paris it's not about the rules) would be tantamount to a shameful defeat for the other party. It is only after you engage in a friendly shouting match with the other person, that you stand a chance of actually getting your way. I’m not sure if this is because it enables them to maintain their dignity; or because it somehow earns their respect, but 9 times out of 10 they become even nicer to you than before the verbal jousting match.
As much as you learn to cope with the different cultures, it requires a LOT of effort. How much easier would it be for them to just say “no worries” and get on with it?
#1: Friends and family
From the very beginning, it has always been the people that I have consistently missed the most. There is no need for an explanation here – I just love them! J