It’s the small things that trip me up. In New Zealand, a solid white line at an intersection indicates that you must give way, and a solid yellow line that you must stop. In Australia, ‘give way’ is shown by a dashed white line, and ‘stop’ by a solid white line, just like the ‘give way’ back in the old country. I just don’t see it as a ‘stop’, and I don’t see the give way dashed line at all.
Bloody dangerous. Look out for me on the roads!
Seriously, I am a cautious driver anyway, especially when I have my three daughters in the back seat, and I know that soon enough, my eyes will tune in to the road signals here. But in the meantime, it makes driving much more stressful.
Of course, I’m not getting the full migrant experience. We have lived in Australia before, we have visited it often enough, we speak the language, and we look like most Australians – you know, for want of a better descriptor, “european”. No one casts dirty looks at us for daring to come and live in this country, and so far, no one has made silly jokes about our accents.
Speaking of language, some of the things there are tripping me up too. Sometimes I just can’t understand what people are saying – their accents blur meaning for me. Of course, I am the person with the accent here, and my lack of comprehension might be creeping middle age more than anything else; I had no such problems last time we lived in Australia. There are plenty of well-known differences between New Zealand English and Australian English – schooners and midis, anyone? The closest equivalent to a corner dairy is a deli, and really, it’s a cross between a dairy and a lunch bar in any case. School playgrounds are ovals, even if they are square, and playtime is recess, or so my girls tell me.
And it’s the little things I miss. Kumara. Australian sweet potatoes just aren’t the same. Getting a choice of potato varieties at the supermarket. I’m used to getting nadines or agria or desiree or jersey benne pototoes, depending on what I’m cooking. Here it’s red potatoes, or white potatoes, and virtually nothing else, even at the famed Adelaide Central Markets. Again, no doubt sooner or later I will find a place that sells different varieties, but in the meantime, it’s something to grumble about.
However the positives far outweigh the minor irritations. Like seemingly endless sunshine – rough for the garden, but oh so good for the soul after last winter’s seemingly never ending dreariness in Wellington. Fabulous city, and I loved living there, but the weather really, really sucked. There’s no other way to describe it. The food here is fantastic – endless supplies of cheap eggplant – my favourite – and dried beans and pulses that haven’t been heat treated (lots of dried pulses in New Zealand have been heat treated so they can’t be used for seed, but it leaves a hard core that can’t be cooked, resulting in grainy hummus and gritty dahl – buy canned chickpeas and lentils instead, or go certified organic). I can get lean lamb mince easily – perfect for making my daughters’ favourite lamb galette, and I don’t need to drain the fat out of the cooked meat before using it to fill the pie shell. The coffee is cheaper, ‘though not necessarily better (or worse, for that matter).
But I still miss home. I had one of those moments last Saturday night, sitting in a crowd of 25,000 people (no, not the Big Day out, but the annual Adelaide Symphony Orchestra free concert, where everyone takes a picnic dinner, has a lovely time on the banks of the Torrens, and listens to the symphony playing various pieces, but always finishing with the 1812 Overture, complete with artillery and fireworks – wonderful), and feeling desperately lonely. People around us were waving to friends, getting up to catch up with someone, all part of the ordinary texture of having lived and worked in one place for years and years. My husband and daughters had gone off for a walk, so I was quite alone, perhaps as alone as I have been for the last twenty odd years.
Migrant life, I suppose, and not much to be done about it, except get on with it.