18 January, 2016
Fellow Brit expat, Emma Marshall, shares the commonly held misconceptions that most of us have before hitting Aussie soil:
As my plane started its descent into Sydney in early 1999, I pressed my face up against the window and strained to get my first glimpse of my new hometown. I couldn't see anything because of the cloud and pelting rain. The captain's voice came over the intercom and welcomed us to Sydney. The weather, he said, was rather wet and the ground temperature, 18 degrees. Hey, I thought it was always hot and sunny in Australia??!! Someone was having me on.
For us Brits who move down under, Australia is a magical place of blue skies, barbies and beaches. We believe that we can throw off the grey grime of our drab lives in the UK and become one of those shiny, happy people we see in Aussie soaps. And there is, of course, an element of truth in that - but it's not that simple and I think that most of us find it harder to adjust than we imagined. For me, it was the little things that made my transition from hardened tube-travelling Londoner to laid back Sydneysider most challenging:
1. The weather. Contrary to popular belief the weather in Australia is not always good. Yes, it is definitely better than in the UK, but we do still have lousy summer days (like the one on which I arrived). Unless you choose to settle in north Queensland or Darwin, we also have winters. And we don't have central heating. I have never been as cold as my first winter in Sydney during which I spent my evenings huddling under a doona shivering (another little thing - duvets are doonas here). When it rains in summer, it doesn't just spit. Water descends on you as if from the shower. You can go from dry to drowned rat in seconds. My tip: always carry an umbrella. Summers are also humid. Humidity makes you sweat (which Australians don't find as offensive as Brits, provided you don't smell bad). It makes your shoes grow green fur. It makes the air thick to breathe. The solution: Air conditioning. It's worth the expense.
2. Escalators. OK, this is really trivial, but people in Australia stand on the left hand side of the escalator and walk on the right hand side. For someone who spent 10 years diligently standing on the right of escalators while commuting in London, the constant tutting and irritation of busy Aussies (yes, people here do rush sometimes) trying to get past as you stand stoically to the right can feel very alienating.
3. It's true that Aussies are a friendly bunch, but they are not all going to want to be your best mate. Not every neighbor is going to bang on your door the moment you move in and invite you round for a few coldies (beers to you) and a barbie. Sydney in particular can be a hard place to break into socially. It took me three years before I had a 'real' Australian friend. It wasn't that people made me feel unwelcome, it was just that they had their lives and friends and went about getting on with both.
4. Spiders. OK, there are spiders. And some of them are very large. And some of them can kill you. However, in 15 years I have never seen a Funnelweb. I have seen one Redback (and that was outside tucked under a chair that hadn't been used in months). I have seen a few Huntsmen (big but harmless) and the odd Wolf Spider (also big, but harmless). I should add that all of these sightings took place after I moved to an acreage property 50km from Sydney's CBD and were all outside my house. For the 10 years I lived in the city I didn't see any spider that couldn't have been taken out by the average house cat with ease. There are some bloody big cockroaches though. And they fly. Buy Mortein (our main brand of bug spray) and drown them in the stuff. You can also hit them with a shoe, but that can be really messy.
5. Traffic lights. In the UK the amber light that appears before the red light is a signal to slow down and prepare to stop. In Australia, it's a sign to floor it and try your damndest to get past the lights before they change. You also don't get a nice amber light before red goes green. One minute you're stopped at a red light, the next minute it's green and everyone around you is off and running.
There are no doubt many more things that I could add to this list, but the aim is not to put you off! After 15 years 'down under', I'm as proud an Aussie as any. Sure I miss being able to jump on a plane and be somewhere completely different in a couple of hours (do that here and you're going to be in Melbourne), but on the other hand, in the UK I couldn't jump in the car and head to the beach for a swim after a long day at work. Everything has its pros and cons and overall, the pros here far outweigh the cons. That's why, to quote Peter Allen, 'I still call Australia home'.
(Now go and find out who Peter Allen is - a key part of your Australian education.)
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