Some of the perils of living overseas

Keeping in touch with friends and family ‘back home’

Technology is a wonderful thing. How wonderful, most of the younger generation will not really appreciate. When I first came travelling to Australia, in June of 1994, there was no internet. Well, there was, but it wasn’t widely available, and thus widely used. No mobile phones. No fancy little laptops and tablets to blog about your trip.

We had “poste restante”. A quaint little idea, that served me perfectly well. And has resulted in me having a written, documentary record of my trip, and a collection of letters that I treasure.

“Poste Restante” was (maybe still is?) a service offered by the post offices. You let your friends and family know which town, or city, you were hoping to be in, at a certain time, and they could send a letter addressed to you, care of the said post office. All I had to do was, firstly make sure I was actually in that town, then take my ID and go queue up, with all the other backpackers, and collect my letters. Simple as that.

Telephoning home was possible, but from a public phone box, and usually through the use of a pre-paid telephone card. Due to the time difference between Australia and the UK, this usually meant that calls were made late at night, on a weekend, after one too many schooners. Drunkenly struggling in a payphone cubicle, scratching off the “PIN” code required to enter into the phone, chatting away as fast as you can before your credit ran out. Which wasn’t very long. I later found out that most of these calls were me blathering away incoherently, with my parents just happy that I was obviously alive, in good health, and enjoying life.

A life now is much easier. And I think we often forget how far we have come in terms of technology allowing us to bridge the gap across countries, and continents. There are a plethora of instant messaging apps. To the point that it is confusing at times working out which ones people have, what devices support which apps, and whether to do just audio, or video too. Skype. Facetime. Google Duo. What’s App video call. And Google Hangouts. We are spoilt for choice.

That said, I probably communicated a lot more in the “old days”. Letters and calls were probably done weekly. And now, I instant message a lot, but only probably speak to family and friends once every few months. Hardly makes sense does it? But I think that because the world now seems so small, I have less of a divide to cross. Less of a bridge to gap. I feel that everybody is right there, at the touch of a button.

All this is making me think that maybe I should make more of an effort. Write more letters. And definitely make more calls. Hmm, I have a new objective.

Language “difficulties”

Apart from deciphering the local lingo, and trying to understand why everything in Australia is suffixed with an “o” (Dave-o, Serv-o, Amb-o, Fire-o, please don’t ask!), I don’t have many language issues in Sydney. Granted, the Aussies can not work out where different UK accents originate from, as a result of them not having many regional accents themselves. This always results in being asked, are you Irish or Scottish. Simply that. From where does that strange accent originate? Almost without exception, this is the first question when meeting people. Apart from the local waiter who complimented us on our very good English, after previously observing us over lunch chatting away in French to each other. What? French? Two Yorkshire folk, happily chatting away, in English. When I ask people how many Irish and Scottish people they have met, I get a blank look.

“England”, I say, which results in further blank looks.

“You don’t sound English”.

“Don’t I? That is odd. I lived there for first 40 years of my life, so I kind of assumed I did”.

“No. Not English, English. You know. Like other English people.”

And that is when it all becomes clear. They mean the people they have met from “down south”. You have to remember, that in general, Aussies think London IS England. You mean there are places to see that are north of Watford? Yes. And many places much more beautiful than London.

Yes, it gets weary. Having to explain to almost everyone you meet, that I am indeed English.

On the surface Australia is much like it’s colder cousin, the UK. However, the longer you live here, you do start seeing the marked differences. And they manifest in different ways. Some adding to the smug feeling you have about moving to warmer climes. Others making you pine for your old life, and the comforts.

Sport (well, football)

A big one that continues to impact my life is football. And this brings one of the biggest cultural differences. Football was a part of my life in the UK. Not just something I chose to do. But was intrinsically woven through the fabric of my life. From playing in the school football team, and captaining it, through to playing regularly at weekends as an adult. Both full 11 aside, and lots of weekly 5 aside games. It was an ever present.

I had hoped it would be even more. As a school child I had been put forward for trials at county level, for Yorkshire. And in the trials, I was played out of what I thought were my best positions, and I didn’t make the cut. This was hard. Even more so when I saw local lads from the same weekend going on to become professional footballers, even enjoying stints in the Premier League. Oh what might have been.

And then there was following my own club. Every lover of football has their own team. Something that never changes. Through good times, and bad. And I was lucky enough to have a season ticket for my team, Manchester United. Going to my first game at the age of 7, and then continuing the tradition as I grew older, to the point when I could afford a car, and a season ticket.

Football in England is ingrained in the national culture. In much the same was it is in European, and South American countries. It is a religion. And the stadia are the churches. Here in Australia, I have to adapt to the fact that football is a minority sport. It plays second fiddle to the various codes of rugby, and even cricket.

I do miss the banter that comes from having a beer with mates, all supporting different teams. It can get quite serious, but then, it is football. Here, I can go through a cup final, a local derby, or even, the height of rivalry, a game against Liverpool, and yet it wouldn’t even make a blip on the radars of my colleagues. Well, there are a few from the UK, and even Europe, who do understand, but to everybody else, football might as well not exist.

To every negative, there is a positive. And with Australia, these positives are massive. Enough to keep me here. I often get asked why I moved here, alone. Making what most people see as a big step. Firstly, I didn’t, and don’t see it as big. For me, it was just choosing to live somewhere else for a bit. See how it was. But also, one of the biggest reasons, was to enjoy a warmer climate. I am not a fan of the harsh European winters. In fact, I am forgetting how harsh they can be, not having endured one for over 6 years now.

With the weather brings an outdoor lifestyle that is hard not to enjoy. I love cafes, and cafe culture, and most of all, I love coffee. And the coffee here in Australia is amongst the best in the world. Weekends are all about finding your favourite spot, and settling in for an amazing brunch, with sublime coffee. Take a book, do some writing, or just watch the world go by, but this is something I just couldn’t do regularly enough in the UK. The weather is often too cold and unpredictable.

The weather also determines your wardrobe for most of the year. And outside of July, which is the coldest winter month, flip flops are de-rigeur. I like that, in Australia, there are no airs and graces when it comes to dress code for all but the most formal occasions. How I hate the stuffiness of formal events. Having to dress a certain way just to go for dinner. Well here in Australia, oftentimes you just wear what you are comfortable in. That said, I still find it odd that will see many people in the streets with no shoes on. And not just in the beach suburbs like Manly, or Bondi Beach, but also around your local village.

There are many other things to cover in the “Perils of living overseas”. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss out on the next instalment.