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