Monday, September 29, 2008

Week Five

Five weeks in Melbourne and this fifth one has definitely been the toughest. Too many arguments, too little sleep, and too much stress. It's rarely a good thing when one's daily average of Diet Coke cans consumed exceeds one's daily average of hours slept, and such has been the case for the last eight days. I am, however, now known as "The Diet Coke Bloke" at my local grocery store, which if I understand Australian-English correctly, means everyone there enjoys and respects me.

It's September 29th and Greg Robinson is still head coach of the Syracuse Orange. We lost again, so my Official Greg Robinson Should Be Fired stance is entering its third week. As my mom pointed out however, there may be a worse team: her alma mater. My solution? Let's trade Greg Robinson for Tyrone Willingham and finish the season with new coaches. Problem(s) solved.

Back to Australia.

Grand Final 2008 was, as expected, a fantastic train wreck. The Hawthorn Hawks upset the defending champion Geelong Cats 115-89, in what was a close match for the first half. The second half and the nine hours that followed are a bit of a blur, but I did manage to spend $160 on multiple rounds of drinks, lose my bank card and end up in Sydney. You know it was a train-wreck-of-a-night when the last two text messages in your Sent Items folder are "Omg i jvr8 waottm get home" and "wgy ami n sydney!@". I did wake up safely in my own bed Sunday morning...with a GFC tattoo on my left arm.

Now people around here say that Grand Final Day is the most important drinking day in Melbourne, which says a lot considering each of my first 33 days seems to have been more than the quintessential drinking day here. Approximately 100,000 fans packed the MCG on Saturday and hundreds of thousands of more fans packed the nearby pubs and local bars. Similar to the Super Bowl, many Melburnians also held barbecues and house parties but unlike the Super Bowl, the game itself started at 2 p.m. and was on a Saturday, meaning hundreds of thousands here drank from noon until closing time. To see what that looks like, click here.

Binge drinking isn't the only thing wrong with Australia. While the U.S. has been in shambles recently, last week tragedy finally made its way to the Land Down Under: Brooke Addamo, the 17-year-old Werribee native and only good-looking contestant on this year's Australian Idol, was eliminated in what is the biggest Idol-related controversy since "White Wedding" only reached #36 in 1983. Not only has Brooke's eviction left me heartbroken and disillusioned, but it also makes me question whether music is worth listening to if Brooke isn't the one singing it.

So overall it was a pretty tough week. My equity portfolio went down 28%, I slept an average of 4.5 hours a day, and my beloved Brooke was eliminated from Idol. Additionally someone stole my two pairs of jeans from the community dryer and USC lost to a bunch of Beavers. On the plus side, I did get my first paycheck and my Angels and Dodgers are lined up for a 405 World Series. Baseball's back in the Southland. Things can only get better. And don't worry mom, it's a temporary tattoo. Five weeks down, 47 to go.

Week Five Summary
Weather: the spring flowers are a-blooming
New observation: Australian girls watch football
New activity(ies): AFL Grand Final
New food: Hungry Jacks
New word(s): arvo (afternoon)
New people: everyone I met and have since forgotten from the AFL Grand Final
What I miss: my messenger bag, Kanye West, Californians, baseball, crushed pepper

Monday, September 22, 2008

Week Four

Less than four years removed from San Antonio, T.X., and I'm already back in a crime-ridden city. That is according to "Underbelly", my new favorite show and a 13-part Australian TV series based on the factual events of the 1995–2004 gangland war in Melbourne. Of course that's what you get when 56.4% of your country's first settlers were convicts: the permittance of crime. Let's hope I make it back to the U.S.

I'm going back to California for Christmas and after last week's events, I am really wondering what kind of U.S. it will be. Will my president-elect be John McCain? Will my Angels be 2008 World Champions? Will I still have a bank account? Only two things I know for certain: 1) our deficit excluding Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and last week's bailout will be a record $482 billion, and 2) Syracuse University will still have the worst college football team in the United States of America.

Now anyone who knows me knows I bleed orange, but the only things to have fared worse than Syracuse football in 2008 are Lehman Brothers, the Chinese milk industry and the U.S. 4x100 relay teams. In fact, Syracuse finally attained the highly-coveted number one ranking in last week's Bottom 10. Mitt Romney, Merrill Lynch and the San Diego Padres have all performed better than Syracuse's football team, and even former presidential hopeful John Edwards, who spent 2008 announcing 1) he was quitting and 2) he had an affair, still had a better 2008 than Syracuse, as at least he won six delegates in the primaries.

We should probably axe Greg Robinson.

Well, I'm finishing up my fourth week in Melbourne and I've already attended my first salsa lesson, second Friday happy hour and third house party. I've also slowly adapted to life in a big agency. Other than timesheets, weekly staff meetings and cubicles, the biggest adjustment thus far is the amount of time devoted to strategic research projects - something smaller agencies rarely have the time or capabilities to accomplish. I'm also slowly figuring out how to talk to the Australian media. Although the editors in Australia are not nearly as cool or as hip as the Editors in England, I've found that the writers and reporters are universally the same.

While good journalists always have an obligation to their employer to write for the target audience, the "good" writers keep an obligation to their profession, their colleagues and their hearts to write for humans. It's a completely different mentality for them. Australians, Americans and non-communists alike want to know about an opportunity to write a piece that gives those without a voice an avenue to be heard. They may need to write summaries, but prefer to write stories. As a PR professional, don't target an editor - target a writer. They're better people. And read the Code.

Back to the other Editors: "An End Has a Start" is absolutely the best 10-song album of 2007. You should give it a listen.

So the Saints of St Kilda were eliminated from the AFL playoffs Saturday, linking St Kilda supporters with the Syracuse football team, college seniors and registered American Democrats, as people looking forward to change in 2009. Next weekend is the AFL Grand Final, Australia's watered-down version of a Super Bowl, and the 27th day in September to drink. I can't wait. Hope everyone has a great week, and please wish my mom a Happy Birthday! Four weeks down, 48 to go.

Week Four Summary
Weather: brolly and cardigan
New observation: My Microsoft Word spellcheck automatically corrects "favorite" and "center" to "favourite" and "centre".
New activity(ies): Australian Trivial Pursuit
New food: chicken quesadilla with Parmesan cheese, Caesar salad with fried eggs
New word(s): snogging
New people: Loud and obnoxious Geelong supporters
What I miss: country music, cheeseburgers, cilantro, diversity, old Facebook, my desk

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Week Three

So after I conducted my weekly scalp search for white hairs, caught up on my online news and drank my morning Diet Coke in a Dilbert mug, I realized that I, like many other Americans, am getting old. This is not ok. It is now 5:53 p.m. on a Sunday and I have already finished dinner, am packing my briefcase for work and am about to update my LinkedIn profile. In other words, I am ancient. I have no energy for a jog and no desire to binge drink like a normal young Aussie, so I decided to do the next-best "young" thing: update my blog. After all, since the businessmen and women of New Hampshire are just figuring out what a “blog” even is, it must be technology for young people only.

This is now my third entry and according to my survey results, my mom has still not read my blog. Thanks, mom.

Not much has happened to me since my last entry. Still no luck finding koalas or sober Australians, but I did find cheap diet coke - $14.98 for a slab of 30 cans. I also completed my first week at Burson-Marsteller, where I no longer have a corner office, personal Blackberry or dental insurance, but I do have a liquor cabinet filled with vodka, beer and wine. Who knew alcohol would improve (or at least impact) workplace morale so much more than American perks such as medical insurance or corner offices? My new colleagues are young, enthusiastic and incredibly talented, and while I already feel quite challenged, I’m excited to be a part of the team.

On Saturday I went to my first-ever AFL match, a semifinal between St Kilda (my hometown) and rival Collingwood, two local clubs and nearby suburbs of Melbourne, separated by only 8.2 km. Nearly 77,000 fans packed the MCG to see the Saints of St Kilda, population of 16,122, battle the Magpies of Collingwood, population of 5,494. So essentially, more than 3.5x the entire towns of St Kilda and Collingwood combined attended this match. That is nuts, and that is AFL, particularly here in Melbourne.

In fact, nine of the 16 clubs in the country-wide league, also called AFL, are from Melbourne. In contrast, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth all have only one club each. If I have learned two things about Melburnians in my third week here, one is that they are very serious about their meat pies, and two, is that they are very, very serious about their AFL.

So my third week is nearing an end and it was indeed a very productive week. I got tickets to the Caulfield Cup and upgraded my phone plan, but perhaps most importantly I received four invitations to join various anti-Sarah Palin Facebook groups – what an honor! I do miss California and all of you great, wonderful friends, but will see you all very soon. And won’t somebody fire Greg Robinson? Three weeks down, 49 to go.

Week Three Summary
Weather: warm & windy
New observation: Being "drunk" in Melbourne is completely different than being "drunk" in the States.
New activity(ies): AFL semifinal game at the MCG
New food: Australian mustard; Doritos Mexicana; Sultana Bran (Australia's version of Kellogg's Raisin Bran)
New word(s): going off like a frog in a sock; hit the blower; far out brussels sprout
New people: all of my new, sweet, smart and incredibly-talented colleagues at B-M
What I miss: San Francisco, breakfast tacos, Mormons, my car, my old friends at EVC, 3C1W

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Week Two

This is my flat.

Today is Monday. It’s been 12 days since I arrived, 57 days before Melbourne Cup Day and 353 until my visa expires. Normally I like to start off each day by going for a walk down the street, finding various trees, looking up those trees and shaking them, and then I’d keep looking up into the leaves while extending my arms and hands - all in hopes of eventually catching a koala. Today, however, I don’t have time (and quite frankly I’m 0-for-142 in neighborhood trees thus far).

Today, I got my $93 dry-cleaning, enough Diet Coke to last me the week (48 cans), and a haircut at the local Edward Scissorhands, Melbourne’s version of a Fantastic Sam’s. And since my last entry, I got a monthly tram pass, a bank card and a job. All I need now is a cynical discontentment with Kevin Rudd and a pair of brown UGG’s and I’m practically all Aussie. Oy!

I decided to join the corporate practice at Burson-Marsteller, The Holmes Report’s 2007 International PR Agency of the Year. While I’m excited to get back into PR, I’m a little nervous at my job responsibility: to communicate with the Australian public. If I can’t understand these people how can I communicate with them? Really, the only subjects I feel qualified to discuss with Aussies are 1) why Brooke Addamo will win Australian Idol or 2) why Brooke Addamo is such a looker.

Twelve days into my stay and the only things I’ve really learned about Melburnians, Victorians and Australians are that they like beer, football and beer & football. One person I met loved Prince, another loved Jesus and another hated Prince and Jesus but loved Sophie Monk. I have a ways to go before I fully understand this public, but several of the individuals I spoke with gave me valuable insight. Attempting to use my non-skills in journalism and qualitative research, I decided to pose some questions to the locals. Here are their responses:

Q. What is a typical or stereotypical Aussie?
A. 1) fine, 2) an arrogant a*@hole, 3) trying to better our country but needing to work harder, 4) unappreciative of what we have, 5) fun and likely a bit drunk, 6) proud but good fun, 7) friendly, 8) there is no stereotypical Aussie – we’re a cosmopolitan of different backgrounds, and 9) intelligent but still learning, always wanting to improve our country and probably into having lots of fun.

Q. What do you love?
A. 1) Prince, 2) Jesus, 3) Sophie Monk, 4) for you to shut up, 5) footy, 6) Americans, 7) your mum, 8) the city and its nightlife, and 9) Thai food and women like that one right there.

Q. What can an American do to better understand the local culture?
A. 1) read the Herald Sun, 2) talk to strangers, 3) be open-minded, 4) go back to America and take rap music with you, 5) talk to people and listen, 6) drink, 7) drink and meet new friends, 8) go to the local festivals and walk around the different areas and suburbs, and 9) go to a hotel (pub), drink some Aussie beer and talk to all the friendlies.

So to sum it all up, some Aussies are very proud of their country while some believe there is much work to be done. Some are incredibly engaging and intellectual and others prefer to party and drink, yet all seem to have very strong opinions. Additionally, approximately 22.2% of the respondents hate me, which I believe means I only have room for improvement in the eyes of the locals. Two weeks down, 50 to go.

Week Two Summary
Weather: Still trying to figure out Celsius
New observation: Aussies watch a LOT of American t.v.
New activity(ies): Dance clubs that close at 5 and 7 a.m.
New food: French fries with gravy
New word: jim-jams (pajamas) & tracky dacks (tracksuit pants)
New people: I met a flamboyant 42-year-old straight man who drank his age (42 drinks) on Friday.
What I miss: The L.A. Times, Mexican food, ESPN, Liz Oh’s ability to say inappropriate things at inopportune times, Bounce Fabric Softener

from left to right - 1) my living room, 2) the local milk bar and tram, 3) my local reading material, 4) my week's supply of diet coke

Monday, September 1, 2008

Week One

Australia. Their toilets flush in the opposite direction, their citizens drive on the wrong side of the street and their September 1st is the first day of spring. As former Auckland-based singing-sensation OMC said, obviously describing Australia's blatant disregard for the norm, "How bizarre." Of course OMC, a proud New Zealander, was obviously biased against the country that has dominated the Kiwis in cricket, one of the countries' three major "sports". I, a proud American, would never be biased. I have arrived in Australia with an open mind, an open heart and a desire to at least temporarily become Australian.

Linda, my friend/host/flatmate/soulmate/fellow reality television addict and/drinker extraordinaire, has answered most of my questions about Australia and Australians that Wikipedia could not, and in a language Wiktionary was able to translate. (Note: It is also because of her that I now have a bank account, a mobile phone, a bed to sleep on, and a disdain for "Viva La Vida".) Other questions about Australians and Australia have been answered by meeting the locals, reading newspapers and walking around the city.

I'm proud to say that after one week, I have had no culture shock. Sure Aussies use something called the "metric system", but I am in an English-speaking country that for better or for worse, appears not so much American-influenced as Americanized. I live on the same street as a KFC, near a Blockbuster Video and next to several homeless individuals preaching about Christianity and booze - so basically I still live in San Francisco. There is no culture shock but there is one major difference: the cost of living.

Now this is not to blame on Melbourne being more expensive or San Francisco's cost of living to be low (as we all know, that is not the case). However, as a recent survey indirectly pointed out, the weakening of the U.S. dollar has greatly impacted the prices Americans are used to when making various purchases such as food, household goods and entertainment, in foreign countries. For example, I think most Americans would agree that $22 for dry cleaning a suit, $8.50 for shaving cream and $3.20 for a small bottle of Diet Coke is a bit expensive. (And for those readers who know me best, you will realize that that equates to $156.80 per week on Diet Coke alone.) Adjusting to this new cost of living will ultimately require me to cut back consumption of some of the finer things I enjoy, such as Red Bull and exported beer, but such are the sacrifices when you move to another country with no job security nor savings account. Other than controlling my expenses, my adjustment period has worked out just fine.

My first week is nearly complete and I am that much closer to becoming a (temporary) Aussie. I can find my way around a 1-kilometer radius, successfully used public transportation with only minor difficulties, watched one of Australia's most popular television shows, and attended my first-ever AFL match, a 2008 International Cup game in which Canada defeated Sweden by about 27 goals and 14 behinds. I am pretty well settled in my new hometown and have used words like "queue" and "reckon" more often than I would have ever thought. One week down, 51 to go.

Week One Summary
Weather: cold, but beautiful!
New observation: Aussies love Barack Obama
New activity(ies): Kräftskiva, AFL
New food: UDL Vodka Lemon Lime & Soda (no, it's not food, but it's delicious)
New word: dero (abbreviation of "derelict", a common description for certain Melburnians)
New people: I have four new Facebook friends, which is the equivalent of 0.8 actual friends.
What I miss: all of my great friends, my mom, college football, my bed, cheap diet coke