This next post has taken a while for me to sit down and write. Every time I’ve tried, the words just wouldn’t come. And when they did, they felt all wrong.
Because most of what I’ve felt in the past few days hasn’t been what most people would call affirmative of my decision. Bewildered. Disoriented. Uncomfortable. Frustrated. And yet there is no place I would rather be. How do I explain that dichotomy?
I’ve been to Australia before, so when I decided to settle down here for a year, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Except I really didn’t. The thought of me being a foreigner in a country so similar to Canada hadn’t even crossed my mind. But I am a foreigner here, as I’ve discovered, and it’s a lot harder than I could have imagined.
Starting with the language. English is the national language for both Canada and Australia, but in actuality, I am speaking Canadian, and everyone else is speaking Australian. Like asking for a burger and fries instead of a burger and chips, or asking for the washroom instead of the toilet. Or waiting in the queue instead of waiting in line. Or looking for a drug store and only being able to find a chemist. These subtle differences aren’t necessarily barriers to communication, nor is the accent. But I still find myself hesitant to speak. When I do, I am often asked to repeat myself, or I don’t fully understand the reply. My voice is a little bit nervous, uncertain. It’s not a voice I recognize.
Then there is how you go about your every day business. It just doesn’t seem right not to tip cab drivers, restaurant servers, or bartenders. I know that’s the way here, but I still feel rude and cheap for not tipping. Especially when you are expected to pay for meals up front, so you know you will be sitting in the pub for the next hour being served by the same person you dared not tip. And that leads me to my next point – how insulted I feel when I need to fetch my own food or actually go up to the bar to get a drink. What kind of customer service is that?
Technically, I am now an Australian resident. But it’s not as though I’ve forsaken my Canadian citizenship either. So having to define yourself as either Australian or Canadian for online purchases requires a bit of creativity. Unfortunately, most online forms don’t allow for a Canadian address with an Australian phone number. And many sites are automatically redirecting me to the .com.au versions of sites rather than the .com or .ca sites I’m used to, so even the online world has shifted for me.
It’s these almost imperceptible differences that are enough to drive a person mad. On the surface there are so many similarities between Australia and Canada. But when you start to live the experience and not just travel through it, you start to notice all the ways you are different. It’s taken a while for me to appreciate that those differences are what shape my identity as a Canadian, and it’s something to embrace while I am here. Even if it means repeating myself.