I mean, she just clicked her little ruby-encrusted heels and she was back home before she knew it. But not me. Nope. I’ve got to take a 15hr flight, with child in tow (as delightful as Clara is, of course).
The worst thing? “Mummy, why do we have to sleep sitting up?!” (laughter ensues). You see, Clara finds it hilarious that while on the way to the US we got to sleep (I use that term loosely as Cam and I did *not* sleep) lying down “like normal people” (ah, it was Business Class, Clara, generously provided by Cam’s employer… not entirely normal), this time we’re going to have to sleep sitting up (see: Economy).
That poor child.
Anyway, as you’ve probably gathered, the time is totally nigh. I’m returning to Australia! For two awesome reasons too, though only for a short time.
The first is that my little brother is getting married! It’s sounding pretty wonderful: there’ll be an afternoon ceremony in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens following by dinner and dancing at a beautiful, local French restaurant. A pretty good combo, if you ask me.
The second, and perhaps more practical one, is that I have to go back to get my own visa. You might remember that when I finally received my Employee Authorisation Document (EAD) close to 5 months after arriving in the States (as a spouse, my employment in the US is reliant upon Cam’s and I couldn’t apply for permission to work until I arrived in the country) I was utterly relieved. The catch is, that to apply for my own, ongoing work permissions, I need to be somewhere outside of the US. So, here we go: hello, US Consulate.
There’s another catch, though. And that is, I’m not returning to Melbourne this time around. Nope, I’m gonna be a Sydney girl for a week. Yes, only a week. And really, that’s thanks to the generosity *ahem* of America’s leave provisions which mean I’m currently accruing annual leave at the grand ol’ rate of 11 days per year.
Yes, correct. I’m currently flush with only 6 days of the good stuff, so instead of using it all up in one go, I’m going to be balancing the trip with some work (thank god I’ll be around family and friends). Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to go back (and especially to see my bro, Dianna (the bride-to-be), my family, and Sydney-based friends) but there’s also a certain amount of apprehension bubbling away beneath the surface. Where is it coming from?
Well, I’ve been exploring it, that’s for sure.
And the reasons might surprise you.
1. Reverse culture shock
Yep. It’s a thing:
“Just like expatriation, repatriation has its psychological phases that are unexpected and daunting. Most notably, encountering reverse culture shock when returning home is a surprising situation that’s overlooked by both expats returning and their businesses calling to come home.
Reverse culture shock is experienced when returning to a place that one expects to be home but actually is no longer. [It] is far more subtle, and therefore, more difficult to manage than outbound shock precisely because it is unexpected and unanticipated.”
I mean, I had always kind of known that RCS was a thing but I’d never had the words to describe it.
Take, for example, my experience returning to Melbourne from London. I actually laugh out loud as I think about this. It was quite a time, and very much one of ‘first world problems’ although that would be discounting the huge ways in which it affected me at the time.
Back from what is, let’s face it, likely the cultural centre of the Western world (well, it definitely felt that way), I was really concerned about what I’d do without access to such an array of incredible mediums, performances and events. I was so distraught (literally crying about it) that when I got back to Melbourne, Cam organised a super classy date night to see a visiting Shakespeare production.
Now, it was bad. It was so bad, people. We’re talking try-hard, contrived, and weirdly contemporary-without-a-cause.
So the crying never really stopped, I guess. I cried again. This time, because I (unfortunately) believed I had the evidence that in Australia, I’d never again seen an arts performance of a worthy standard.
[Okay, okay… I’ve since ‘come to’. But please don’t hold it against me, Australia! It was the RCS talking, alright?]
This time around, I wonder how the RCS will hit me. And especially since Clara and I are only gracing Sydney with our presence and not our home turf of Melbourne.
Will it be Sydney’s beach babe culture?
The nuances in the service industry (speaking of Shakespeare, to tip or not to tip)?
The way that shop assistants greet you when you walk into a space?
Maybe driving on the left-hand side? *Gulp*.
Or perhaps, what’s even more likely…
2. The Australian accent
Seriously. My totally unbridled concern is this: will everyone sound bogan?
The number of times I’ve experienced this in my lifetime is difficult to count: that is, getting on the plane, after a huge, sometimes years-long adventure in another country, and hearing the Qantas flight attendants’ accents. Equal parts comforting and scary.
I wonder how I’ll sound to my friends and family. How ‘American’ is my accent really when bathed in Strine?
An Australian friend did, for example, recently point out to me that they heard (for the very first time) a series of repeatedly rolled /r/ sounds within a couple of sentences of speech. I mean, that’s totally nuts. Even I haven’t noticed that yet. I mean, I guess it’s inevitable, but I didn’t think it’d happen that quickly.
The most surprising thing I think friends and family might notice is just how American Clara sounds.
We couldn’t, of course, afford to bring the entire family back this time around. So it’s Clara, the eldest, who gets to go on this year’s trip. And she, truth be told, is sounding more American than any of us.
It makes sense (and I know I’ve already written a lot about this) with the amount of learning that goes on at her age, and all. She’s at exactly the right stage of life to be soaking it all up, like a sponge, accent, turn of phrase and all.
Which brings me to the…
3. Money stuff
Yes, I feel I’m going to be knocked about a little when I realise I’m not necessarily expected to include the tip on the café bill (Cheque? Account? L’addition? What is that thing called again?).
I also know that at some point I’ll be fumbling around in my bag and purse trying to find a plump, bright gold Australian $2 coin amidst the sea of skinny silver US dosh.
But wow… am I looking forward to buying something at a counter, and knowing that the price on the ticket is going to be the actual price you pay, or what?! Screw that addition of tax at the point of sale, America!
But the real challenge? No doubt it’s going to be the fact that if I forget something out shopping, or can’t leave the house because of child duties, or have a billion hours of work to get through on my limited annual leave, that I can’t just click and order for same-day delivery from Amazon. *Sigh*.
Life’s tough, people.
4. The news
One other thing that I’m sure is going to strike me is watching the news on TV in Australia, and certainly in the context of Christchurch.
No matter what’s going on in the world (see: one of the Western world’s most affecting tragedies of the last decade), the news in Australia is always pretty quaint.
Have you noticed? It doesn’t matter which channel. The nightly news is always ending with some hilarious story like a cat being stuck up a tree, or a little giraffe being born and wobbling around the zoo enclosure for coo-ing onlookers to fuss over.
That’s not to say that Australia doesn’t care about world issues. That’s certainly been far from the case with the Christchurch shooting in which Australia and New Zealand have banded together and supported each other like nobody’s business.
But there’s a certain whimsicality about the way that news is reported in Australia. It’s like Australians are saying:
“Maaaaaate. There might be some shockin’ things going on in the world, but at least we can still have a laugh at that cute little puss, hey!”
5. Good coffee… and bread!
Now, I know that if one thing’s going to save me, it’s Australian coffee. And bread (but we’ll get to that).
Ohhhhhhh, how I’ve missed you! Your simple, whipped cream-less iced coffees make my heart sing!
So far, the Sydney cafes on my hit list are the Paramount Coffee Project, Flour and Stone, and Harry’s of Bondi. Based in Sydney or making a trip soon? You’re welcome.
And of course, then there’s the bread…
I mean, screw bread that’s full of sugar and has way less ‘give’ than its Australian counterpart. No-one likes a bread tear when you’re trying to spread the butter!
It really gives me comfort, all this talk of delicious food and beverage, because the great thing is that no matter what the flight’s like, no matter what mood Clara’s in, no matter what mood I’m in for that matter, I know that when I get off the plane I’ll be able to get a bangin’ coffee and beautiful, fresh sourdough sandwich.
The perfect thought, is it not?
Yes, heading back to Australia. It’s a sobering thought, in a way, and I’m moving through the exact stages of management of the situation that Expatica said I would.
All in all, I wonder if the trip will make me want to move back home? Or perhaps it might help me feel more grateful for my US experience once it’s complete?
There can only be one answer to this, surely:
There really is no place like home. But where is home, exactly?