It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here — Been extremely busy working and trying to reestablish myself in America, but all is well! By the way, I want to thank all who have posted comments here, and I think that I’ve finally approved them all for others to see. All input is welcome (except for spammy comments lol).
I kind of miss being in Australia — It’s a beautiful country. But it’s been better for me to be back in my hometown.
I’m no pro on all things Aussie, obviously, but I can tell you that I’d lived outside of America long enough to know more than the average American to say I know quite a bit about other cultures. Well, I know the Dutch and Australian culture better than most Americans, anyway. It’s interesting to talk to other Americans who’ve only travelled abroad, and with those who’ve only imagined traveling abroad. Just the other day, I spoke with a guy who wishes to visit Australia, and when I told him that I’d lived there, he was excited to know all about it (most Americans love the general idea of Australia), but there was also the twinkle of envy in his eyes (not a bad thing with Americans in this case because here we tend to be wowed rather than jealous of other people’s accomplishments) that I had in fact lived somewhere in Europe and Australia.
Anyway, I’m a very observant person who took in a lot while living abroad for 11 years, in both the Netherlands and Australia, so what I wanted to share here in this post here is what not only I’m glad I had experienced, but also why I’m so happy to be back in America — with a true appreciation of being in America again (most Americans don’t actually know what they’re appreciating living here… Kind of a spoiled ignorance, I guess you could say). Here are a few of those things that I’ll no longer take for granted.
• Smiling in public. Around strangers. I can do that here in America! Example: I went into a store called Fred Meyer, and this store even in itself is a whole interesting topic, but I’ll get to that later in this list! I went first to the pharmacy to ask a question, and I was pleasant and smiling while approaching. I got the friendliest service ever! If I did this in the Netherlands or even in Australia, most of the time in those countries, I’d often receive a mixed reaction from the one(s) serving me. Good customer service in America is a plus, but it’s even better when you walk in to a shop or the bank and have a friendly demeanor and don’t get treated like you’re a fruit cake because you’re smiling and friendly. Yes, there were some good experiences in the Netherlands and Australia — but rarely! I used to work in a customer service-orientated job in America before flying over to Holland. It was always wonderful when the customer had a friendly approach. It made the job so much nicer, and I keep that in mind. Bitter customers always made giving good customer service a downer. Here in America, I can walk up to a counter, smile, ask the clerk for what I need, and even carry on a conversation with them! In Holland and Australia, well… not really often was that so. It normally was short conversation with a twist of “wtf” glances. In the Netherlands & Australia, I quickly (instinctively) began to feel like it was best to not smile in public at all even, thinking people must think I’m crazy for doing it. True story! Glad to be able to just smile whenever I want again! Even this morning — I went outside and had a smile on my face thinking about something to myself, and a woman passing me smiled at me and said “good morning!” How great is that!
• I’m from and live in Vancouver, Washington USA. Not Vancouver, Canada — I personally call that Cancouver, but what a very lovely city Cancouver is, so no disrespect — and Washington state, not D.C. That’s on the opposite side of America from my state. But most of those abroad who I’d met almost always had both Vancouver and Washington confused. No, understandably, I could never tell a foreigner abroad that I was from Vancouver, Washington without there being a look of utter confusion on their face. They’d pause, then they’d ask, “So you’re Canadian or American?! Or both?!” Haha! I can say to someone here that I’m from Vancouver, Washington and even if they don’t know of the place, they know Washington state (think Seattle, folks), and I don’t get a blank stare. But yeah, who in America knows of Avalon in New South Wales? They most likely don’t even know that there is a state in Australia called New South Wales. In their minds anyway, geography-wise, Melbourne is just around the corner from Sydney.
When I first arrived in Australia, Cyclone Yasi struck and ravished Queensland (mostly), up in the general area near Brisbane. I lived in a suburb of Sydney — way far away from Brisbane. Friends in America wrote to me on Facebook to “be safe.” Very considerate of them! But all I had to worry about from the affects of Cyclone Yasi in Sydney really were a bit more extreme weather and memorably the extreme price to pay for bananas, since the crops in Australia had been destroyed by the cyclone.
The moral of the story: I learned living abroad that not only do some Americans have a lack of knowledge about geography, but so do most others around the world. Yeah, yeah. You might know your geography, but I tell you 90% of the people who I’d met did not. Sometimes, like some Americans don’t know their own country very well geographically, I’d meet people who didn’t even know own country as well either. But really, there have to be few worldwide who know exactly where Portland, Oregon is anyway (FYI: Vancouver, Washington is immediately north of it)… I started to tell people abroad instead that I was from “near Portland, Oregon in America, on the west coast, between Vancouver, BC and San Francisco.” Then and only then would they understand where I was from, when I’d simplify it like that. And if they’d ever been to Portland, their eyes would light up and they’d get where I was from — and why my American nature/culture differed from someone who was from say New York City, Miami or Houston.
• On that note — Dear folks abroad (the ones who I address are those who generalize an American), our culture in America differs greatly everywhere you go! We are not all carbon copies of the “typical American” everywhere you go here. There’s a drastic cultural difference (and not a bad one!) between someone from Minneapolis and someone from New Orleans. Keep that in mind, folks abroad. We’re not all like the loud & spoiled tourists that you meet in your countries.
• I’ll never have to “defend” America again. Hold your horses, before you fellow Americans get all riled up! You see, while living abroad, I found myself actually being an ambassador (of good!) for Americans while living abroad. In some cases, I was the only American who most people had ever met face-to-face. Not that I ever felt that I had to defend the good ol’ USA (because I learned while living in Holland to hear other people’s opinions without getting all riled up). But, wow, there were times that I had to. And thankfully (I hope that) I did a good job. What some Americans are not aware of is the fact, for example, that whenever America sends troops abroad to “defend” (aka fight), both the Netherlands and Australia usually send their troops over for us as well. So naturally (and understandably!) most Dutch and Aussies who I had encountered would speak of it, and mostly in disgust. This would likely piss off an American to hear what these folks had to therefore say about us, but I’d always diplomatically respond by saying (if they ever aimed their anger about it towards me, the token American), “Hey, I hear you! But listen, the President doesn’t call me up at 3am in a panic, asking, ‘Amy! What should I do?! Oh my goodness, I don’t want to make Australians/the Dutch mad at us!'” Haha! Feel free to express yourselves, yes, but don’t carry on & on at an American living abroad (if you want to be friends) about things like that. Yeah, we vote, but never once has a politician walked up to me and said, “Gee, if I win, what shall I do?” Issues like that roll off of me now like water off of a duck’s back, but I don’t know how many times I had to listen to the drivel of “Oh, your president is a _______ because he did this/that, and so now we have to help.” I’d just roll my eyes. Inside. You know, out of respect. I have no control over what he or any other American politician decides. I’d say, “Hey, how about this! If you’re concerned about an American political issue that affects you, write to the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20500, United States. K, thanks.”
• Shopping! Well, Australia is Americanized (to some Aussies’ dismay), so it wasn’t so hard for me. But overall, combining experience living in the Netherlands (7 years) + Australia (4 years), I missed shopping in America. I shop often here at a store called Fred Meyer. You can shop from 7am-11pm, 7 days a week, except for Christmas Day. A large selection of everything you need inside — Nearly everything! And an extra large parking lot with free parking (and plenty of it!). You grab a shopping cart (so nice to not have to call it a “trolley” anymore, but the word still slips out from time-to-time), and they’ve got a full supermarket, clothing store for all ages & sizes (yes, even plus size, petite & tall), shoes, electronics, home improvement, automotive, extensive selection of haberdashery, pharmacy, complete garden center, stationery, furniture, kitchen and outdoor living, seasonal, health and beauty, toys, fine jewelry, liquor, bakery, bicycles, fishing and other outdoor sporting goods/sports equipment, etc… Kind of like a Walmart, but much better quality products without (likely) those Walmartian-types. At Fred Meyer, you pay for everything at one register. One-stop shopping. Does Australia have this? No. They have shopping centers with Woolworths (“Woolie’s”) and Big W, and butcher, bakery, clothing, shoes, etc., but you’ve got to go into each store individually & pay individually. Same in the Netherlands. It might sound sad, but honestly I missed this Fred Meyer-thing. It’s not that big of a deal, but I’m not one of those types who likes to spend my time off from work shopping. So I can be found inside of a Fred Meyer every week. I love it.
• Finding little things at the store, like baking soda! Seriously. They sell it at the supermarket in Australia, but in Holland — no. There, you’ll find it at the Indonesian markets, called a “toko.” And it’s not as cheap there. In the Netherlands, I’d go all of the way (an hour-and-a-half train ride for me there) into Amsterdam to a place called Eichholtz to buy American junk food, and things like breakfast cereals, Crisco or pancake syrup. I’d pay $11 for a bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. It was rare to find otherwise, and oddly enough it was worth the $11.
• I learned better etiquette. Example: Americans typically (typical Americans, not the hoity-toity-types) only eat their breakfast/lunch/dinner with a fork. No using the fork and knife together. You know, fork in left hand and knife in right hand. They get a knife with their dinner setting, unless also a steak knife, but they’ll usually only use the knife that comes with the setting to spread butter on bread. Just notice this the next time you eat at a typical restaurant, like the Cheesecake Factory or Applebee’s, in America. Typically, they’ll only use their fork. I hope you understand what I’m talking about. If you do and you come to notice it eventually, you’ll laugh. Some even use the edge of the eating-end of the fork to cut their food. I notice it all of the time, and it makes me chuckle whenever I see it. I use a knife and fork now; my mom doesn’t.
Here at this link is Jaime Oliver asking a school’s cafeteria staff in America to set out knives for the children to use with their lunches — comical! It’s almost as if they’re afraid that the children might use the knives to hurt each other. Well, the fork can do just as much damage, if not more. And some of the food that they serve.
• Being back in my hometown, I know where I’m going. Some things have changed a bit. Steakburger is gone, with its miniature golf coarse. Dang it! And Golden Skate, my childhood favorite roller skating rink. New developments have gone up around the edges of town (dramatically!), but everything else remains the same. I love it when someone says to meet them somewhere, and I don’t have to use a map to figure out where I’ll need to go. I love also, when there’s a traffic jam, knowing excellent alternate routes to take. Priceless.
• The sights around me. I am partial, of course, but the Pacific Northwest in America is the most livable and beautiful place that I’ve ever been. The people are friendly, the air is clean, there are both the beaches and the mountains very close by, beautiful valleys, wineries… The Hunter Valley and Kangaroo Valley near Sydney, Australia are amazing (you must see!), the Great Ocean Road in Australia is also spectacular, and what all I’d seen in the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand… Gorgeous! But nothing compares to where I’m from. Especially the Columbia River Gorge. Breathtaking! Multnomah Falls!
• Holidays. Nobody (except for a German Christmas market, or Weihnachtsmarkt) seems to nail the Christmas spirit as well as USA. Some Aussies in the suburb of Sydney where I lived went ga-ga with Christmas lights… But it still wasn’t as good, in my opinion. I loved Australia Day, though. And in the Netherlands, I loved Queen’s Day (now King’s Day). But my goodness, we knock the holidays out of the ballpark with style. Flashy style! New Year’s Eve was great in Sydney down on the Harbour, yes! New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands sucked (ask any expat over there about the fireworks around that time and they’ll chew your ear off with the details for sure). Then we’ve got the 4th of July — I love that one! Thanksgiving rocks. I appreciate it so much more now! Halloween — Don’t even get me started! That’s got to be the best holiday for kids in America, next to Christmas. Halloween elsewhere in the world stinks — Face it, it does. Haha! Then there’s Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, both typically when families go away camping. My birthday in America even will be better. In the Netherlands, it sucked. People (if you allow it) just show up at your door, and you have to serve them. On your birthday. Or you could just hold a ridiculous circle party for your birthday (where you also have to serve the guests — oh, what fun). By the way, if you move to Holland and don’t want to be bothered on your birthday, either don’t tell people when your birthday is (and don’t write it in on their birthday calendar/verjaardagskalender in their bathroom), or just conveniently leave town before it rolls around. True story. Birthdays in Australia are similar to American-style. Just do a barbecue, or pub meet-ups, depending on your circle of friends & family. It never really seemed like an obligation to celebrate either, if you chose not to. In Holland, I chose to go away each year and it pissed some certain people off that I wasn’t home to serve them. On my birthday, doggone it!
• Deadly beasts. I have very little threat where I live of any dangerous beasts (mostly I just have to worry about serial killers, thieves, rapists, gangsters and terrorists where I live — lol), but Australia, you cured my arachnophobia. Seriously, I was working in the garden the other day and walked through a spider web — with a spider in it. It was only an inch big, and it was crawling on me. I picked it off of me carefully and sat it on the ground. And I didn’t jump, scream or kill it. Why? Australia… Dear Australia. Your garden orb spiders make webs often larger than the size of a grown man. The web itself is made of something similar to elastic. Thank goodness those spiders can’t kill a human (or I’d like to believe so because a few times I walked into those webs and went nearly berserk). But then you’ve got your redback spider (same as a black widow, but the red mark is on its back instead of its belly), and that freaky attack funnel-web spider. Both of those are deadly. The huntsman spider, which gets as big as an adult’s hand, they’re fast! But they won’t kill you. I was walking down the hallway one evening and saw this out of the corner of my eye…
It was as big as my hand! And then there are the snakes. I’ve never been afraid of snakes, but the brown snake was a common one where I lived. They’re brown, as their name says, and they’re one of the world’s most venomous snakes. Good gravy, that idea made gardening kind of a drag.
I have so many more things to share, but this will be all for now. If you’ve lived abroad and have visited or returned home to your hometown, which things do you appreciate more now? Please share away!
Update! One more thing that I appreciate — I’ve gained a larger vocabulary since living abroad. Not only having learned Dutch, but also in Australia they use a lot of British English, as well as their own Australian English. No such thing as Australian English, you say? Think again & click here to watch Hi Josh tell it like it is.