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Daily Archives: December 26, 2015

Upside Down Expat

Making memories down memory lane

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Expat sprees to see friends and family are surreal.

As after a while away our home and histories feel familiar and foreign simultaneously.

For me, stepping into my native Manchester feels like walking onto a set of Coronation Street. The strong accents, terraced streets and grey skies are a stark contrast to the life I’ve adapted to in Australia. It’s weird because the place is constantly on my mind. Yet suddenly it’s like seeing it for the first time.

This destination disparity is new emotional territory. As it’s not just the country contrast between our motherland and adopted place that makes it at first feel unreal.Visiting the place now in our past to see people that are still so much a part of our present is a strange situation that can evoke unsettling sensations.

Because expats lead a double life. Our feet are walking a new path yet we keep a constant hand in our old lives. Rarely does a day go by without thinking of home or some contact over Skype, Facebook or the phone.

So while amazingly exciting, going back can bring forward overwhelming emotions of nostalgia, homesickness and uncertainty of where we belong.

Here’s what I’ve found on my three trips over five years to the UK:

Stage fright: No matter who and where we’re meeting there’s a build-up to the first greeting. At the airport gate there’s an air of anticipation that can make it feel a fraction like a first date! It’s a paradoxical place to feel a little apprehensive to face the friends and family we’re most comfortable with. But it’s always short lived regardless of the length we’ve been away. And it’s a remarkable revelation to find with most we’re just as close. And in many cases even more so.

A new set: Viewing a different town for a time means we see our old city through a new lens. Visiting England from Australia is like stepping out of a library into Primark on a Saturday afternoon! As while once entirely normal, England’s dense population, narrow roads, stacked buildings and grey skies against Australia’s stretched out residents, open spaces, wide roads and blue skies can feel chaotic, claustrophobic and closed in. Not to mention cold!

A changing cast: Much like the place, we see our old crowd and community with fresh eyes. Suddenly our dad looks 60[1], the dog got fat and our brother is an irritating prat. But we view the virtues and quirky qualities in people as if they were new too; our sister’s chirpy chattering and our unique union, the panacea of our parent’s and grandparent’s presence and the fabness of our friends. When we live half way round the world we gain a whole new appreciation of the traits of our most treasured.

Under pressure: Under the spotlight, on a short timeframe and battling jetlag, there’s a little stress when we want to be and make it the best. We maintain a mental tally of missed milestones and who we’ve not yet met. All the while we want to maximise our time resulting in running round like a tourist in our traditional towns. Particularly as, while it doesn’t feel like a holiday, we’re likely using all our holidays!

High expectations: We realise that, while less visible since we’re no longer near, problems don’t just disappear. The first time it may be difficult to deal with dynamics when we’re set on savouring the specialness. But it’s important to note we’re having a temporary experience in other peoples’ permanent place rather than a holiday escape!

Feeling like an extra: We can feel like outsiders. Because we’re a guest in everyday lives we’re no longer a daily part of. And our expat life can suddenly feels non-existent! However when our presence is infrequent we also receive fantastic special treatment! And it’s a relief to replace intermittent expat isolation for the constant and calming company of our clan.

Fantasies of returning: Whether decided our new place is permanent or frustratingly fixed on the fence it’s hard to fantasize of how we would fit in once again. Buts it’s impossible to accurately judge the place while living out of a case!

Nostalgia: While away, past times replay like an old sitcom in our mind. The melancholy can be painful as we ponder if we’ll repeat old patterns again. Absorbing it back on old ground can bring days gone by to the surface. Yet the ache dissipates. And instead we may start to feel a trace of longing for our new place.

Homeless at home: On the first or second visit, there’s realisation and regret there’s a part of us we’ll never regain. That feeling of comfortableness, contentedness and community, a presumed disposition we don’t predict will be misplaced, is now as obscure as Gail Platt’s chin.  Even if we were to return there would always be a yearn. Because, although a pleasure and privilege, when we have two homes we become inevitably incomplete in both.

There’s no doubt expat expeditions to see friends and family are exhilarating. Yet they can also be daunting, exhausting and emotional.

As in our adopted countries we’ve adapted to new roles. And while attributes comprise homesickness, nostalgia and displacement, we’ve played the part so many times we’ve learnt the lines by heart.

But at home we play a cameo role. On a set we’re now less comfortable with, leaving us stumbling over the script.

Yet that’s the price we pay once we’ve opened our hearts and minds to a new life and way. As we experience more than one wonderful world.

So with a lump in our throat we say goodbye while trying not to cry.

But we take with us a magical memory reel of taking tourist trips, swapping sentimental gifts, snatching special squeezes and sharing treasured chats and precious laughs. Not forgetting getting downright Deirdre Barlowed!

We hold on to these moments hoping they’ll compensate for lost time.

And we play them on repeat…

Until the next memorable time we meet.

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[1] I suspect my dad doesn’t read these, but just in case; I’m only joking!!!

Upside Down Mind

A whingeing pom’s week without whining

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Labelled ‘whingeing pom’s’ by Aussie’s, the English get a bad rap for being bad tempered. But while the grey skies in England may have left us lacking a year round sunny disposition, it’s not just us. People all over the world are partial to petulance. And since common culture carps on about complete negativity avoidance, I wondered when it stops being harmless venting and starts being something more serious, affecting our outlook on life. So for a week I decided to stop whingeing. Here’s what I found.

The whingeing pom.  An arguably unfair stereotypical characterisation.

We can’t even whinge about the injustice and discrimination lest we prove a point.

So after five years of being branded a narky knickers in the Land of Oz, I tend to beat them to it god forbid a moan escapes my miserly mouth.

For example;

Me in 40 degrees cant-breath heat ‘ gosh its hot today…

Aussie; ‘Isn’t that why you moved to Australia?

Me. ‘ha yes so I did, I’m such a whingeing pom’!!!

Me in 1 degree temperatures ‘I’m freezing’

Aussie: ‘Surely you’re used to it from England’

Me ‘yep you’re right I’m just a whinger!!! You know what us whingeing poms are like!!!!

Nevermind the half-baked attempts at heating this side of the hemisphere leaving us ‘where-are -the-radiators’ poms feeling the chill twenty four seven throughout the ice cold (yes it does get cold) winters.

However, despite my weariness at the whingeing pom label, there is some justice in the jesting. You only have to be away from the UK a few months to grasp the degree of grumbles so easily exclaimed by the English.

And while overall I believe it to be a harmless habit, I wondered if at times it can cross the line from light-hearted haughtiness and have a detrimental effect on well-being and happiness.

So for a week I decided to stop whingeing. I failed. I found the frequency of my unfortunate fables would require some further finessing before I completely fling the habit. I did however become considerably more conscious of complaining.

These were the top whines I noticed from myself and others;

  • Weather whinges: While I believed constant climate criticism was a mainly English affliction stemming from unfortunate home country conditions, the weather is a worldwide whinge. I shared a mutual moan with Aussies, Brits and even an American over the phone. Because this hot topic is an ice-breaker. Small talk. And small talk leads to friendly talk making it a worthwhile whinge.
  • Sick stories. Feeling under the weather during the week, I noticed I repeatedly verbalised over the top grievances relating to my symptoms. I was, shamefully, searching for sympathy. But unless you’re in the vicinity of your mum this one only serves to reinforce our sickness. And can cause more discontent if we don’t get the pandering we’re pursuing.
  • Kid kvetches: There’s no denying parenting is challenging. But the trials are trivial when weighed with the wonders. So I was surprised I griped a great deal more than I’d have guessed. Although in my defence almost entirely about bedtime battles. However, this was also a healthy venting and bonding exercise between fellow parents and accompanied with plenty of praising for our cheeky cherubs too.
  • Road rages: Unavoidable. Especially in Australia!
  • Grub gripes: I found myself bothered by a breakfast portion size complaining it too small. Since I reside in a rich nation with an abundance of fancy food at my fingertips, this gripe was ungrateful, ignorant and gratuitous. I vow never to verbalise this vex again!
  • People protests: Many protests among people are, unfortunately, about people. And while we all seek expression and support, I observed much complaining about situations or altercations seemed not to have, nor want, reasonable resolutions. But unless constructive, aiming for change, these moans are meaningless and only feed unfortunate feelings. Or worse, they’re malicious, judgmental or manipulative!
  • Work woes: Cranky colleagues, bad bosses and wild workloads; with most work weeks 40 hours long, irritations are inevitable. And while common complaints can cement colleague connections, non-stop narking about job dissatisfaction is not only annoying but a hallmark of responsibility avoidance.
  • Country comparisons: Constant comparisons to our motherland can seem ungrateful. But between expats complaints cultivate connections through mutual understandings and shared longings. They help us feel closer to home. That said, persistently pessimistic people can cast a shadow over a bright adventure. And also annoy the Aussie’s. So keeping the whinges for our expat associates is advised!

Of course, throughout my conscious complaining phase, there was much positivity too. Importantly, I found it’s not the complaining that’s the problem per se, but the reasons behind it.

The key is whining awareness.

As while small scale sniping shields us from the rain, summoning support and allowing us to seek solace in our social networks, when it comes to steering somewhat stormy weather chronic complaining can perpetuate the cycle.

Regardless of the conditions outside, if our complaints of less than satisfactory situations are common, constant and coupled with inaction, we’re handing power to our environment. Akin to being whipped by the wind while shunning shelter or soaked to the skin yet refusing to brandish our brolly, eventually we’ll be swept into the eye of the storm, left saturated in irritability, indecision and injured victim mentality.

And we’re not named Dorothy.

So while I maintain some moaning is a must, I vow to complain less and celebrate more. After all, compared to some, the forecast is always pretty mild where we come from.

I’ll be a positive pom.

Unless it’s bloody raining.

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Upside Down Expat

Different Country; Different You

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When we become an expat, we are suddenly away from all we know and everything we used to be. But it’s in the reconstruction of our identity that we can discover our authenticity. This article is for anyone who has moved overseas and felt lost from loss, only to be set onto a path of self-discovery. 

Stifling howls of laughter at my three year old daughter endearingly howling Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen I couldn’t help but relate the song to the expat journey.

For those that may have also spent the last few years hiding away on a cold icy mountain, the story of Frozen and signature song ‘Let it Go’ goes like this: two princess sisters; one (Elsa) has a special power to freeze things with her fingers. Following an accidental misuse of her powers when they are kids she’s forced to hide herself and her icy fingers away. Until one night in front of the whole town she rows with her sister and exposes her hidden power. She freezes the town by mistake, runs away to a big icy hill, unleashes her powers and sings Let It Go.

On the mountain away from it all, she can finally be herself without judgement or fear. She’s freezing, but it’s worth it because she’s free to finger freeze whatever she feels like! She’s liberated. And the cold never bothered her anyway.

After hearing the song somewhere in the region of seven hundred times, I started to think how taking off from everything you know can take us closer to knowing ourselves.

Because being an expat produces profound questions of identity. Overnight everything we used to be (career, family, friends, home, possessions) is gone suddenly.

But it’s in the dissecting of our self-definition that can lead to new decisions about who we want to be.

There are a few things that can trigger this avalanche of self-discovery;

No-one knows you

A strong sense of self is somewhat reliant on alignment between our ‘self’ belief and how we believe we’re perceived. So it’s virtually impossible not to have some of our identity defined by the people around us. But when no-one knows us, there are no long-held perceptions or misconceptions of how we ought to be. This can give the freedom to portray perhaps previously prevented parts of our personality.

Faraway family

Losing constant connection with family can leave us feeling occasionally lost. Especially if an integral part of our identity. However, flying far from home can give the freedom to find our feet. Away from the beliefs we bore, positions we played or expectations we exerted; the distance can help us dissect the difference between our traditional roles and a truth that can only be ascertained from total independency.

Familiar friends

Long-held forever friends give us a strong sense of safety, security and stability. However, when long-term dynamics don’t differ we’re probably not perceptive of parts we play.  Overseas, cultivating new connections catapults us from our comfort zone. And, while striving to find a new social identity can instill some insecurity, navigating unaccustomed conducts creates a consciousness of our character and can uncover concealed qualities we may not have previously shared, or have even been aware of.

Changing career

It’s not uncommon for a career loss to cripple. Not surprising as many of us glean our self-esteem from work.  And while for expats a relocation arrangement is a likely step up,  for travellers or partners it’s a probable step down. Either way, there’s likely a vast variation. But it’s change that challenges our choices, which can lead to a discovery of a passion we need to nurture, no matter the nature.

Home and possessions

While it’s often not difficult to detach from houses and possessions, quite often they are an internal expression. So when we leave behind our things and place, we can at first feel a little out of place. But we can hold on to things for too long. So starting again can mean the application and some invigoration and inspiration to our external manifestations.

Doing things differently

Stuck in the same city can see us in a subconscious cycle of activity. We may rarely have ruminated if life was a real reflection of what we’d  have liked. In the early expat days of expat exploration and excitement we’ll likely try new things and may uncover neglected pursuits. Or ones we never knew. And with some self-identification based on the things we do, just doing things once can induce a different self-view.

Culture

At home, emerged in everyday culture, we experience a sense of belonging. But navigating the nuances of a new nation can leave us feeling like an outsider. New social etiquettes, expectations, demeanours, and perceptions; we can misunderstand and be misunderstood. However, experiencing a new society can make us more forward thinking as new ways challenge our traditional traits.

Alone time

Spending time alone is an expat-inevitability. Even with constant company, with our inner circle on the opposite side of the globe, there’s a lack of unconditional back up. But it’s during these periods we can look within and become comfortable in our own skin. And while an equal balance of interaction and introspection is important, solo situations give us space for self-reflection.

Expat association

Everyone who emigrates immediately earns the expat identity. And with this we adopt identity enhancing associated traits and perceptions; courageous, adventurous and independent. When we identify with traits we tend to repeat more of the same. So we are likely be encouraged to do braver and bolder things again.

Of course it’s not just us expats who question our identities. Losing things no matter our location can often take away a part of us. But as an expat we lose several segments simultaneously. And since a strong sense of self provides security and stability, this can take us into a void of vulnerability.

Yet the flipside of the coin is the freedom to live life on a different currency.

Because overseas, away from familiar roles and what we think others think we should be, we become conscious of the construction of our identities.And as we rebuild our reality, we strive to feel whole, so seek out situations that stimulate our soul. It’s during this process we can discover what lies at our core. And it can also lead to a recognition that it’s only through maintaining balance and detachment that keeps our identity secure.

Because the winds will change again as they always do, and our exterior will break away. But while we may crack, we won’t collapse; our foundation won’t sway.

We’ll let it go

Because we know, wherever we now go, we will live life authentically.

And finally, we’re free.

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Upside Down Mind

Cattle Class Carnage

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For distant expats, visiting friends and family can mean long, frequent flights. And, unless you’re one of the lucky few to afford first class, the journey in economy can leave you feeling like a second class citizen. Cramped conditions, hostile hostesses and pissed up passengers; this article takes a look at some of the stresses in cattle class.

In the cattle class cabin, time, space and social status temporarily lose their meaning.

And when you’re in it for the long-haul, you can also lose your sanity.

Trapped in a vacuum of constricted space, artificial air and inactivity[1], intense boredom and exhaustion ensues causing thoughts to become foggy and social norms unclear.

It seems on every flight there is at best a little disquiet, at least one fright, and at worse, a fight.

At least according to my experiences.

Returning from India, I animatedly argued with a hostile holidaymaker; going to Mexico I accidently knocked red wine onto a passengers pale pants; and, after a 12 hour flight to Thailand, my legs swelled so severely I truly believed it was game over.

But the best was in 2010 when emigrating to Australia. Toasting the trip with too much champagne and wine, I subsequently swallowed a strong sleeping pill in a bid to beat the lethargy on landing. Not recommended; I have zero recollection but was apparently rather raucous for some time.

Fast-forward five years; less uptight and with multiple 24 hour trips under my seat belt, including several solo sprees with an infant, I can finally class myself as a composed and accomplished commuter. Well for the most part.

Because there are several things in the questionable conditions of the cattle class cabin that can still rouse a reaction;

Aviation agitation: Most airliners carry an air of anxiety.  While once I flew without fear, excessive media coverage of rare catastrophes and perhaps some parental vulnerability have left me a little shaky. Sure, I still manage to look like a relaxed, rational and fearless flyer – in fact, I still enjoy the turbulence. But now I start the journey checking out people at check-in; deliberating their destinies and pondering potential terrorists. And I’m not the only anxious one; once on-board strong turbulence or strange sounds spark a surge of suspicious, stressed out glances as some silently pray for their survival.

Reclining seat etiquette:  The front runner of in-flight fiascos. On a recent night flight to Dubai, the passenger behind not so passively protested the reasonable reclining of my seat through forceful kicks and hard to ignore loud-mouthed objections. Something of a showdown arose. But when I realised the drunkenness of the people I was dealing with, I quickly backed down. Indignantly though, I kept my seat low. And while leg-room is already too confined[2], I hold the view that particularly on a red eye, that’s what it’s there for you to do?!

Sleep stresses: Gawping, drooling and snoring side by side with strangers. Anyone would think it’s an everyday occurrence. However, I have absolutely nothing but envy for the slobbering sleepers. Because on a plane, noise and neck pain make nodding off near impossible. I’ll often wake elated that I napped. Then sadly see I fell asleep for all of 40 seconds. It’s a fairly frustrating affliction to scan a sea of snoozing passengers when you’re desperate to be dozing too!

Provoking passengers: By the end of my Melbourne to Manchester expedition, two families felt like long-time friends. They chatted with me, helped entertain my toddler and saved my sanity! Alas, on the return from Manchester I wasn’t so lucky. Half the passengers were plastered. And tanked up travellers are a tad irritating unless you’re one of them. But it’s not just the intoxicated that can aggravate. Toilet tardiness, stinkers, sprawlers and loud talkers are common causes for complaint. It’s no wonder that in the air, under a guise of anonymity, tempers often flare.

Trolley torture; The cuisine carrying cart can be a highlight of the flight. And while the food is low quality, it’s a welcome break from the monotony up high. You pop your head into the aisle, but are disappointed to see it’s going to take a while. Worse, your parallel passengers are triggering further tension by already tucking in! And when at last it finds your row, it can be a real blow when those in front choose the last of your first choice, leaving only a dish you despise.

Hostile hostesses: Air stewards; the pedigree of hospitality[3]. The majority of carefully coiffed cabin crew are genial, gracious, good-looking and glamorous. Especially on Emirates.  Yet on every leg, one is sure to sport a sour face. Whether passenger contempt, job dissatisfaction or an oddly overblown ego; when you’re stuck on a plane reluctantly reliant for your requirements, it can only take one hostile host to add an extra strain.  

Screaming kids: These in-air disturbances can be intensely annoying until you have your own. Then they’re even more annoying. Because being disturbed by someone else’s screaming child is nowhere near as stressful as dealing with one. People who hold the notion that parents’ should, and can, continuously control their kids are clearly childless. Or old enough to have blocked out the bedlam. So while smug solo sky surfers are free to drink wine, watch films, listen to music and nod off when the feeling arises, albeit uncomfortably, poor parents are captive to the needs of bored, overtired and wired maniacs. And they are probably on the verge of losing it. So for those not so subtle sighers; lose the attitude before we lose our temper!

So, in cattle class, as we are propelled across multiple time zones and continents at 35,000 feet, we can sometimes lose our head.

Until finally we reach our final destination. And as quickly as we were sucked into the chaos of the cabin, we are swiftly spat out, disorientated, dishevelled and despondent.

Suddenly, any commotion that occurred in the clouds is downgraded to a distant dream like memory.

You made it.

The only thing left to worry about is death by Deep Vein Thrombosis.

What do you find annoying or amusing about cattle class? And what’s your view on the important topic of reclining seat etiquette? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!  

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[1] Some airlines are making improvements for herds of travelling cattlehttp://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-are-airlines-making-economy-class-flights-more-comfortable-2015-6

[2]This new plane could mean more leg-room for cattle customers and could also help aggressive cows keep their coolhttp://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/boeing-777-9x-biggest-passenger-9996175

[3] I appreciate air stewards are more than ‘hospitality’ but I liked the phrase so i kept it.

Upside Down Expat

The Decision Dilemma

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Home is where the heart is. A cliché with a lot of truth. But what if our heart is in two places, or more? This post unpacks some of the considerations for expats attempting to reach a decision on a long-term future.

The journey of an expat begins with a full case, bags of anticipation and a pocketful of trepidation.

It can also lack a little foresight.

As while many go on to create an amazing life that better suits, leaving behind strong roots can result in both homes feeling incomplete.

Even those who decided before departing can find this reality presents a predicament.

Because, while a great privilege to be able to pick a country to reside, having more than one possibility can, for many, create an emotional divide.

The result is the common phenomena of expat ambivalence. Where caught within the confines of two minds, long-term plans linger in limbo and decisions are difficult to decipher.

It’s confusing and complicated because;

Pros and cons don’t cut it

While the overseas pro list is often longer, the home pros are stronger, making it impossible to compare. Long pros don’t compensate for the longing we feel for family. And so for life-changing decisions it becomes clear that comparing lists blurs the emotions behind them.  So then we move to mulling over what mirrors our values. However….

Vying values

Basing our toughest choices on our strongest values is a robust approach. But when our most defining values are divided it’s a catch 22 making reaching a decision difficult. For example, strong family values with loved ones faraway contrasting with, say, a relaxed attitude at odds with the rat race of our birthplace. This classic case of dissonance can cripple even the most compos mentis of minds. So if our values are split, it’s also worth assessing…

What’s right for us

Whether simmering under the surface or intermittently intense, every expat experiences an element of guilt. Sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, regret they’re not part of our present, and worry what the future holds without them. It’s therefore important to consider, if no-one got hurt, what would we do? But then again, this is difficult when we’d be hurt too. So maybe we can try…

Visualising our future

Perhaps the easiest and most effective method of deciding what our heart desires. If it rings true that picturing ourselves in one place years from now is impossible to do, it may be our truth calling. Because reality begins in our mind. So a lack of visual projection may be a sign that it’s not what we’d like to find in our future. However, when we can imagine both, or none, then we should realise…

Not deciding is deciding

Being undecided, but not acting, is ultimately deciding. We should consider if  undecided in our head, our heart is deciding instead. We can trust it, go with the flow, live in the moment and wait until we ‘know’ And  if we finally get to that place, we should remember…

Owning our decision

Both options undoubtedly have their challenges. Repatriating is almost certainly harder than expatriating, and remaining an expat will always elicit a little emptiness. However, when we make a big decision we create, sometimes subconscious, reasons to reinforce it. Through cognitive dissonance, we minimise any regret we may have.  So when we choose, eventually our psychological sanity switch will flick and we’ll convince ourselves we made the right decision. Even if we didn’t!

So, when an expats mind is split, there really is no simple solution.

Because it’s not just deciding where to live. It’s deciding what we can live with and exist without.  It’s facing being far away from family forever or turning our back on a way of life we now know to be better.

And wherever we land for the long-haul we’ll forever carry a little extra baggage. The ‘what ifs’ of a life we once knew, or for an important part of our life that changed us.

But ‘what ifs’ mean we had options.

So while our case may end up a little battered and bruised, we will never regret that it was used.

If only we could just unpack it.

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Upside Down Expat

Nightmare Neighbours

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Spiders, snakes and sharks…oh my!  Is the reality of being neighbours with the wildlife down under really as bad as you imagine? This post describes what it’s really like living next door to some of Australia’s notorious natives.

Growing up, I had a reccurring nightmare of a giant hybrid spider.

The ‘Dr C Wasp’ was half giant spider; half giant wasp, who visited in my sleep when the spider catcher (aka my dad) was away.

Armed with a red plastic racket, my mum would attempt in vain to kill the ‘Dr C Wasp’ while my sister and I looked on in terror.

It was indestructible.

So, twenty odd years later, when moving to Australia, I thought of the Dr C Wasp.

Was my nightmare about to come true?!

Because while Australia is known for its hot weather and stunning scenery, it’s also known for it’s unusual animals and creepy crawlies.

And with scary spiders topping the topic of conversation prior to the move, I was feeling uneasy about encountering an eight legged Aussie.

But are they really that bad?

Here is a rundown of some of the notorious and nightmare neighbours, or housemates, you’ll have in Australia.

The nasty neighbours

Spiders. The neighbour you dread bumping into. Redbacks, whitetails and huntsmen. I’ve come face to face with the ugly blood suckers more times than I care to remember. It has tended to happen a few times a year, and has done absolutely nothing to quell my fear. However, the thought of them lurking in the shadows is moderately tolerable, because, contrary to popular belief, they don’t hunt down humans to feast on. And, chances are, if you do get bitten, you’ll live.  [1]

The lurkers

Snakes. The neighbours you know are there but thankfully bumping into one is rare. In urban areas the chance of catching a glimpse of one is slim to none, while on rural land it’s not uncommon to hear their rustles in the bushes. But again, it’s ok because they don’t intentionally hunt down humans. Which buys you some time. To run. Fast. [2]

The scary neighbours

Sharks. The neighbours waiting for someone to step on their lawn so they can launch an attack. You might want to tread Australian water carefully with these petrifying predators at sea. They kill an average of three people a year, and injure many more. And while the risk may seem low, unless you have a death wish I wouldn’t go more than waist high. I personally prefer to paddle. [3].

The famous neighbours

Kangaroos. The notorious neighbours everyone wants a glimpse of. But while tourists hop off the plane expecting a kangaroo to bounce by, these eminent emblems tend to skip around out of town. You’ll find plenty of ‘roo’s on roadtrips, or at their local hangouts (parks and woodland), and can usually get a close up look. But while mostly mild mannered, it’s worth knowing they have a good right hook, and will throw a paw punch or powerful kick if intimidated. [4]

The noisy neighbours

Birds. The neighbours with a perpetually prominent presence. From the striking cockatoos, paraquets and galahs to the more common magpies, crows or plovers; the birds in Australia are proud and loud and not at all intimidated by humans.  [5] Their distinct calls will stir you from your morning haze, and you’ll be confronted by the backyard birds everyday; and want get out of their way. It’s not uncommon to be chased or attacked in chick season. And attempts to feed the ducks will see you ganged up on by a gaggle of goggle eyed geese.

The party animals

Possums. The lively neighbours bringing the house down every night with their antics. Messy, noisy and destructive, they sleep nestled in the trees throughout the day, and come alive outside your house at night.  [6] They’ll scurry across your rooftop, scramble across your fence and scare the life out of you on a regular occasion. But while to many a pest, I’m particularly partial to the placid party animals, with ‘Paul’ my part-time pet.

The layabout stoners

Koalas. The neighbours that when you attempt to chat, you get little back. You’ll be fascinated when you first feast your eyes on one, but quickly bored when you realise they do nothing more than gorge on gum leaves. And while a myth they get high on eucalyptus, they are low-energy lazybones who crash out for up to 20 hours a day! The magnificent marsupials (not bears) can be found in captivity all over Australia but it’s far more satisfying to discover them in the wild in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia.[7]

There are of course many more wonderful creatures you could come across; emus, wombats, wallabies, platypuses, goannas, kookaburras, quokkas and tasmanian devils, to name a few.

Thankfully, the Doctor C Wasp isn’t one of them.

But, whether feral friend or foe, the quirky creatures down under are part of what makes Australia so unique.

And with a little space and understanding, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any problems with your new neighbours.

You may even become good friends.

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Upside Down Mind

Dream Come True

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Pregnancy and becoming a new mum is not always as we expected. It can also come along when we least expect it. This article is for anyone imagining, planning or adapting to motherhood.

For as long as I can remember, I dreamt of having a baby.

It’s the ‘someday’ dream many of us share for when we’re financially stable, settled and established. The ‘pot of gold’ after our fun and freedom.

And as I approached my thirties, my thoughts turned towards starting a family. But when an Australian adventure unexpectedly arrived, any ideas for a baby were pushed aside.

So it came as something as a surprise when, after a recent relocation to Melbourne, I fell pregnant with our daughter. With my partner still temporarily in Perth, and family and friends on the other side of the world, it couldn’t have been further from my imagined journey into motherhood.

Nevertheless, I was over the moon. After all, my biggest dream was about to come true!

The next few months were a hectic scramble of my partner moving over, finding somewhere to live and preparing for our ‘bub’. And after a long nine months, and a difficult, drawn out birth, I was lucky enough to experience that intense rush of love. I was besotted.

But that was just the beginning. And there were some things I definitely wasn’t expecting:

Post childbirth body

Seeing my body immediately after childbirth was a shock. I was unprepared, and I panicked. So, when well enough, I went on a diet and exercise rampage. And while I lost the weight, the rest took a lot longer to bounce back. Rather it slithered its way, arriving long beyond my daughters first birthday. But, despite some lasting legacies, I made peace with my body perhaps more than before. Because making a little person, makes you a little different. It’s incredible. And that makes your body incredible too.

Feeling the loss of your old life

When you welcome a new child, you bid farewell to your old life.  And while a new one has just begun, in the beginning, exhausted and with no time to myself, I sometimes wondered what I had done. But as you watch your child’s character appear, the appeal of your old life disappears. Everyday becomes a little adventure filled with love, laughter, and surprises.  And you’ll wonder how you ever lived life without it.

Life becomes fragile

From your first steps outside to their first steps into the world, life becomes a danger zone with you permanently on high alert. For a while, I worried how I was going to live with the worry! But it becomes second nature to assess safety risks in every environment you enter.  And while terrifying at times it’s enlightening too. Because, when life feels fragile, you start to hold dear every moment we are here.

You’ll relive your childhood

Being responsible for a childhood can bring up memories of your own. You’ll consider how you want them to experience theirs, and relive how you experienced yours. For the bad, it’s an opportunity to confront ignored emotions, and for the good, replicate treasured, often filed away, childhood notions. You’ll also understand you are the centre of your parents’ world, which is hard to comprehend until a little person is at the centre of yours.

Intense emotions

Motherhood brings out the beauty and the beast. Able to warm the coldest heart, and aggravate the calmest mind, one minute you are crying tears of adoration, and seconds later, tears of frustration. Yet conversely you’ll also feel the calmest you’ve ever felt. Because you see what really matters. And with your life occupied by a child, time and energy become precious commodities you’ll spend wisely.

You’ll question your identity

When you stop doing all the things you used to do, you may wonder what it was you believed to be you. Your prior version of ‘me’ can be subconsciously wrapped up in your career, social life, looks or hobbies. And while some become defined by ‘mum’, I questioned why I defined myself at all. Because if you can change so drastically, what else can you be?

So, having a child is much harder, and yet far more fulfilling than you can imagine.

It also comes with some surprises.

Because while the dream that you had does come true, it’s not all blue skies and sunshine, but a splattering mess of colour, grey clouds, thunder and lightening too.

And somewhere in the middle of the rainbow, you’ll also find you.

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Upside Down Expat

Land of Oz Lingo

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Eh, what did you just say?! Communicating overseas can be challenging. And, while English, the wacky words down under can cause a lot of confusion! This is for anyone who would like to get a better understanding of the lingo in the Land of Oz.

Lay in the Australian dentist chair; numb gums, white knuckles and dribble down my chin, I sat up and apologised, as we British do.

 ‘I’m sorry for being a wet lettuce’

The dentist and nurse fell about laughing. I would have laughed too if my face wasn’t so fat from the filling. Because, believe it or not, ‘wet lettuce’ is not part of the lingo in the Land of Oz.

For those not familiar, wet lettuce is a northern English term describing someone who’s not very brave. Which, when it comes to the dentist, I definitely am not.

It is communication that is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of moving overseas. Particularly if you have to learn a new language. But, in the English speaking South Pacific, you’d be forgiven for thinking things would be smooth sailing. Yet, while for the most part things are, quirky British idioms and the wacky words used by the Aussies commonly create linguistic-language barriers.

Australian vernacular is a smorgasboard of shortened words and o’ing (arvo, righto, servo), rhyming slang and bewildering sayings, that have proved a never-ending source of conversation starters, awkwardness, and entertainment.

Their questionable figure of speech can, at least the first time, render you speechless. For instance, a small talk convo (conversation) could potentially go like this:

Friendly Aussie; ‘How you going’?

Grumpy Aussie; ‘I’ve got the shits’

Friendly Aussie; ‘No dramas’

You see, the grumpy Aussie is just in a bad mood.

The cuisine can also cause a little confusion. My once beloved crisps are chips, and crappy ones at that, no Quavers or Discos here, standard chips; hot chips, sweets; lollies, courgette; zucchini and the aubergine an eggplant. Crucially, unless you want the sneeze-inducing variety of pepper on your sanger (sandwich), you’d better get your tongue around capsicum (bell pepper).

It also took me a while to realise the Aussies can, at times, find my accent hard to understand. But when lunch is lanch, no; na, mum; mom, bus; bass, down; darn and duck; dack too, I strongly suspect this is down to our difference in opinion on what constitutes an a, o, and u.

There is also some diversity in the footwear department. At home, wellies headline the shoe show, to their gumboot counterparts down under which are more of a once-a-year wonder. Unless you live in Melbourne! And while UK flip-flops rarely see the light of day, Aussie thongs are worn practically all year long; on the feet of the men tucked up tight in their budgie smugglers.

But, while some things induce a belly laugh and others prompt a groan, my favourite word of all has to be the word used for bedding. Because they call it Manchester. Meaning every night I am, in theory, snuggled up at home.

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