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Posts Tagged ‘expats’

A passport to friendship

A friend of Fran’s who had lived in Melbourne for a number of years warned her in the months before our departure that she found making Australian friends tough. She said they could be cliquey, tight with their old friends and slow to let newcomers in.

A few weeks after moving to Australia we’d made no real inroads; admittedly our only points of contact tended to be shopkeepers, bar staff, estate agents, lunatics on trams and Fran’s one-day-at-a-time emergency teaching colleagues.

It was strange as we’re sociable types who enjoy the company of others (because, according to Fran, it means we don’t have to talk to each other). Fran, left alone in the flat for hours on end with the escape route of a call to friends scuppered by the time difference with the UK, was close to climbing the walls. Bruce was considering becoming a lunatic on the trams – at least they thought the people they were yelling at were their friends.

Three months in – and without recourse to drumming classes, speed dating events or escort agencies – things are looking up, with the pair at the heart of efforts to coordinate a large expedition party drawn from across Australia, Europe, North Africa and the Orient to watch the upcoming Crows – Pies game at the MCG.

Lessons learnt

Yet, while some friendships appear to be blossoming, others have fallen by the wayside, nipped in the bud. To avoid the latter, here are Bruce and Fran’s simple tips on making friends in Australia.

DO:

  • Have a beard*. North of the river it means you fit in; south you stand out and get invited to parties by fellow beardies in need of moral support
  • Talk to wierdos. They appreciate the conversation and sometimes turn out not to be that wierd after all
  • Agree to attend house parties thrown by people you met falling-over-drunk at 3.30am. Their friends will appreciate your daring / stupidity and invite you to their hen nights and house warmings
  • Have a lighter in your pocket

DON’T

  • Snog anyone’s pet dog**. At least, not until they know you very well
  • Get locked in the fire escape at the flats of someone you’ve only met that day
  • Make plans with new acquaintances only to forget you ever made them
  • Understand “Come to the party between 8 and 9pm” as “Arrive at 12.30am blind drunk with an even drunker man in a tight-fitting AFL top and sweatband, drink what booze remains, then borrow the keys to our apartment block, forget you borrowed them, insist to the hostess you have never had them even when she is screaming the house down and has turned off the music only to find them in your pocket an hour and a half later”
  • Seriously, do not do the previous one. The repercussions can last for weeks and cross oceans

* This does not always apply for women

** Especially when the owners have already told you about the time they had to milk said dog’s glands using gloves and petroleum jelly

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Winter starts here

Today is the first day of winter, which in the UK heralds months of going to work in the dark, heavier rain, thick ice on early morning windscreens, miserable faces and leaving work in the dark. Escaping these is often a reason for Brits packing their bags and moving to Australia or other warmer climes.

It was part of Bruce and Fran’s thinking too, even though they expected Melbourne – what with its “four seasons in one day” reputation and southerly location – to be only a little better than the UK. Despite landing at the start of an Autumn heatwave that peaked at 40C mid March, the warnings of Melburnians and, for that matter, a handful of expats, ensured we made the most of it.

“Oh, it’s great now, but you just wait for winter,” they’d say. “Winter’s really bad. It’s so cold and darkand dreadful and…” They painted a picture so bleak it made the Russian weather that defeated both Hitler and Napoleon seem like a mere bagatelle, a gentle snow flurry.

So we’ve been waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

And today winter arrived. Blue skies. 18C. No wind. Kids playing on the beach. People in shirtsleeves sipping wine and coffee in roadside cafes. Sun so bright its rays are reflected off city centre skyscrapers like a giant flashlight.

Perhaps Melburnians need to grow a spine and a sense of perspective. Spring is now three months away. Can this really be called a hardship? Well, yes, if you listen to the locals, nestled in umpteen layers of warm clothing and scurrying into cafes and restaurants proclaiming the need to thaw out. Or the article in Saturday’s Age warning that this would be the coldest Melbourne winter in ten years with temperatures returning to the average daily high of just 14.3C.

Listen up: that is not cold.

What is cold?

Cold is smoking two cigarettes to the nub while receiving a phone bollocking from Fran while stood outside a bar in Boston, Massachusetts, during a February cold snap – day time top temperature: minus 26C.

Cold is swimming in a heated outdoor pool in Moscow on January 2 with air temperatures of minus 20C that form a steam cloud over the water so thick you can’t see the floating turd some comedian has deposited until it’s too late to take evasive action.

It is not jogging alongside the palm-lined waters of Albert Park with the 2pm sun beating on your back. It is not enjoying a long brunch on Acland Street wearing just a t-shirt.

It is not cold.

Mind you, Bruce does have one. A really rotten one too. So rotten he’s lost his voice. Best wrap up warm, I guess.

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Don\'t believe the tripe

Don’t believe the tripe

If you’ve had the misfortune to watch any of the TV programmes about families moving from the UK to Australia, you may have concluded, quite logically, that the producers had deliberately selected the most ill-prepared morons for the show in the hope they would make good car crash television. They clearly missed out on some potential Z-list superstars, however, if the some of the folk populating internet expat forums are anything to go by.

While Bruce and Fran wouldn’t deny these forums have their uses and some contributors provide essential information, more often they seem to be designed to put the fear of God into readers or to act as breeding grounds for xenophobia.

With the latter, the number of people signing up for an “Expat meet” or “BBQ with fellow Brits” in their new home before they’ve even passed through the scanners at Heathrow indicates a lack of courage and also strange reasons for migrating: “Ooh, let’s move to the other side of the world, but surround ourselves with other British people.” What’s the point? You’re only going to fail to integrate and become lonely, isolationist and homesick.

Have faith

Far worse is the fear factor. If we’d believed what we read online about teaching in Australia, Fran would only have found work teaching AIDS-infected, one-legged dingo-Aboriginal cross breeds in a pit of snakes in the middle of the Simpson desert and would have to pay for the pleasure. One woman moaned that in 55 months – and having tried several states – she had failed to find any work as a teacher and was heading home bitter. Fran had her first day’s casual work within three days of landing at Tullamarine and a full time contract within six weeks; it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

But, taking the biscuit are the imbeciles who quite clearly should never be allowed out of their front room without an escort and tag, let alone be permitted to even consider crossing the globe.

Take this genius weighing up the pros and cons of a move on ExpatForum.com:

“God dont know what to do now. Originally when we started looking at Oz we looked into Victoria as a girl from our area moved out there, but she commutes 3hours for work. Is Victoria near to Brisbane? How far away are the two? Could I work in Queensland and commute to Victoria?”

No, you can’t. Grab a map of the world and try to locate your brain.

Map

So, if you’re going to use forums, just be warned: idiots lurk within.

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Jetlag and house-hunting takes its toll

It’s gone 10pm, the sunlight has long since gone and the streetlights are few and far between. Yet Bruce and Fran stand in a tree-lined avenue in Elwood straining their eyes at the tiny lettering in their newly-purchased map of the city. Their sandals are worn thin, their calves exploding with lactic acid, their minds dulled with the long day’s trekking.

Yet there are still two more apartments to peer at in the gloom from the street.

“I think we should call it a day,” says Fran. “This is getting ridiculous.”

She’s right. They head back towards the nearest tram and back to their serviced apartment shattered and ready to collaps.

“More of the same tomorrow, then,” says Bruce. He’s right too.

Surprise doubts

But, despite entertaining a thought he never expected as he and Fran skirted Melbourne’s city centre en route from the airport to their serviced apartment the previous day, namely: “It’s just another city, but one that’s thousands of miles from our loved ones” the day’s house-hunting hajj had reaffirmed their decision to travel 10,500 miles against their families’ wishes.

By the seaside

The latter part of the pilgrimage took them from the west end of St Kilda – along The Esplanade and Marine Parade with its “ST KILDA TRIANGLE – TOO BLOODY BIG” signs and onwards – as the sun set over the horizon. As it did, they passed houses and apartment blocks that were testament to architects’ minds set free (a little too free if the posted protests on the street featuring a house-cum-Komodo dragon were anything to go by). They lined wide, quiet streets and boulevards where the calm was only broken by families cycling past or flocks of bright green and orange parakeets screeching overhead, their dazzling underbellies reflecting the setting sun as they wheeled from east to west and back into their nests.

With its edges shimmering, the blood orange sun dissolved slowly into the sea, melting in a haze as if the horizon was on fire. Fran watched on, a silent and still observer on a wooden bridge, silhouetted against a glorious technicolor backdrop. Two cyclists slipped past her, recalling ET passing the moon.

Just another city? My arse.

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