Dashes not lines

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.


7 responses to “Dashes not lines

  1. Some fruit and veg places have proper purple-skinned kumara. Our local one has them on and off.

    I don’t think I’ve ever fully internalised the lack of yellow lines at stop signs. My excuse for getting a ticket at the one I should have know about was that there’s another sign in front of the “stop”, but the colour of the line is much better. Excuse me, Mr Policeman…

    Don’t talk to me about Australian coffee, I live in the city of the scorching hot over-extracted long black, grumble grumble. Although I’d have to say things are slowly improving.

  2. I miss being a foreigner. But your experience is undoubtedly a lot more different than mine.

  3. I think it’s to do with being married with children, being settled in a way of life, entrenched in a network of family and friends. Leaving all that behind, to start out all over again, is daunting. I think I have lost the sense of adventure I had even just 10 years ago.

    On the other hand, about six months ago we had a family reunion in Noosa, with family (my husband’s family) gathered from the States, New Zealand and Australia. My husband’s cousin, about the same age as me, who I like enormously, remarked that he would love to have the opportunity to start fresh all over again.

  4. I am inclined to think it is an age thing
    At certain stages of your life it is great to be able to reinvent yourself or start again in a place no one knows you
    But I love living in a small town now where I know lots of the people I meet andI know how they fit into our society
    It is not for everybody (certainly not for people with secrets to hide) but to me it is welcoming and inclusive
    So while living somewhere new is exciting,and having young children makes it easier
    It gets harder to put down roots as you get older,better to go back at that stage.

  5. Don’t talk to me about Australian coffee, I live in the city of the scorching hot over-extracted long black, grumble grumble. Although I’d have to say things are slowly improving.

    Um, yes… after a particularly fustrating day of offensive caffeine during my last visit to Sydney, I thought I’d muttered under my breath, “Thought this city was full of wops — obviously none of them are baristas.” A rather nice young lady of Italian extraction with damn good hearing suggested I go perform a certain sex act on myself. I suggested I’d probably be impotent for life after drinking the toxic waste she called espresso, so pleasuring myself wasn’t really on the cards.

    That’s my contribution to trans-Tasman diplomacy.

  6. The downside of everyone drinking coffee, is that everyone thinks they can make it. So instead of having a few good cafes, we’ve got bookshops, laundromats, pubs, cafes, art galleries and greasy spoons, all selling ‘coffee’ for the same price. And the only way to work out who can actually drive those machines is to try them all.

    A dairy is more like a milkbar isn’t it? Sadly the milkbar is a dying breed following the influx of the 7/11.

  7. Yes! I really miss having a ‘dairy’ on every corner.