There’s no place like home…
There’s no place like home…
I mean, yes, Dorothy was on to something there, but at least she didn’t have to take the journey with a full blown flu!
And that, everyone, is the reason for the recent hiatus. Recovery. Holy moly, it was tough.
All things considered, I’m doing pretty well. Back in Palo Alto and recovering from the sickness that plagued most of my trip (see: missed a dear friend’s 40th, cut short a surprise baby shower to nap in the car, and had to drop a whole lot of other social engagements I’d waited for so long to enjoy), I’ve now got the time to reflect on the journey that was.
That is, my very first trip back to Australia since we moved to the US.
But first, how about the wedding? It was beautiful. I mean, really beautiful.
- Location: perfect. Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens were glistening in the afternoon sunshine! Opera House in the background, no less…
- Vibe: casual, yet classy. Not too many people. Everyone beaming and happy to be there. Great food and drink too, so what more could one want?
- Ceremony: heart-felt. Warm. Authentic. Readings carefully and lovingly prepared, really showcasing everyone’s love for the lucky couple!
And yet, you’ll remember just how wary I was of heading back to the land of deadly bush-dwelling animals and quaint-as-hell small-town news broadcasts (at least according to my US friends!). Eager, nervous, hesitant… and all at the same time too. Excited to see my brother and to MC his very special (wedding) day, questions still raced through my brain:
Will reverse culture shock be a thing?
Will literally everyone sound like a huge bogan?
Will cashless payments have me spending all my (limited supply of) travel money just because they’re so damn convenient?
And not to mention the anticipation of the small (see: big) things: dense, rustic, sugar-free bread and right-hand drive cars! Bring it on, I thought!
Truth be told, it really was a journey.
Now I’m back in the land of the living, here’s how it went down.
6am. Sydney International Airport. No queue.
That’s right: a complete lack of excess foot traffic at the Sydney customs gates was the first sign I was back in Australia. In fact, from disembarking our plane to getting picked up by my awesome brother (thank god for family and friends at the end of a long flight, I tell ya), it took just under 30min to get it all done. Brilliant.
As Clara, my brother and I packed our belongings into the car, the next thing I noticed was that the air smelled really crisp and clean. Granted, it was 6 in the morning, but there was a certain brightness and freshness to the atmosphere that I’d really missed since shifting my life to the good, ol’ US of A.
Beautiful, I thought to myself. I think it’s going to be a great week.
It got even better, though. Why? Because:
Brunch, brunch, brunch. Oh, how I’ve missed you! I mean, the whole damn world is even calling the Australian-style brunch a ‘cultural phenomenon’. Now I’ve been away from Australia for a while, I can most definitely see why.
My brother took us to, well, breakfast, I guess (hardly a brunch given it wasn’t yet 7am) at The Grounds of Alexandria, a beautiful little farm/café collective not far from the airport. We pulled up, went for a wander around to kill time before opening, and eventually found a little table outside at one of the onsite cafes.
Call it predictable, but I couldn’t, of course, resist ordering smashed avocado and an iced coffee. I wouldn’t be saving for a house anytime soon then. So it was that only a brief few hours into my return to Oz and I’d already become more ‘Melbourne’ than I ever thought possible!
When my coffee came out though, I couldn’t help but laugh. Like, out loud.
For this was no ordinary iced coffee, oh no.
This was deconstructed. I mean, you got to pour the coffee shot over these cute little ice cubes of frozen espresso and there was a little eye dropper full of add-your-own vanilla essence too. It was more artisan iced latte than anything. No unruly stacks of cream and icecream on top.
No way. Not even close…
But the best thing? The smell. That beautiful, fresh, creamy whiff of espresso that only Australian cafés can nail. I was in heaven. Seriously.
And even the bread was amazing! Dense… rustic… no added sugar (or at least it didn’t taste that way).
And then the bill came… no tax! No mandatory tipping! No… well, anything, except the stuff we ordered! That’s it. The price was the price. And it was supremely satisfying too.
Thank you, Australia, I thought. It really is the little things in life, isn’t it?
Okay, so I’m happy to report that this totally wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!
There were no crashes, near misses or borderline disastrous decision-making moments.
In fact, driving on the left-hand side of the road again came back to me easily. Like, almost second nature. As soon as I jumped in the car, it’s like my brain switched back to ‘Australian Auto’ mode. There I was, ready to go. And just like I was 18 years old again!
I mean, in the US, I make mistakes all the time. There are times when I’m really tired and a little delirious, and when my muscle memory assures me that it’s the right-hand side of the car that I need to get into.
Thankfully, due to the huge number of one-way streets in Sydney, the side of the road I chose to drive on didn’t really matter anyway. But I made sure, by and large, that I planned my route well ahead, got a decent amount of sleep, and tackled any tedious driving conditions with the help of a Sydneysider mate ahead of actually giving it a red hot go.
The verdict? You can take the girl out of Australia, but you can’t take the road rules, conditioning, and endless TAC road safety ads out of the girl!
Ah, yes. Something Clara adored too!
Why? Because the variety in Australia is huge. There’s so much to see, and eat, and taste. And especially, it would seem, when it comes to the most underrated of smallgoods – that is, the humble sausage!
Now, trust me. I’ve tried everything. From beautifully cheesy kranskies to those pepper and burgundy fresh-from-the-oven beauties and giant bratwurst (plus sauerkraut) from a German roadside Christmas stall, I’ve certainly worked my way around those sausages!
But as I ducked in and out of the local Sydney Woolies and 7/11s at my leisure, I only had one thing on my mind: those pale, stock standard, totally non-gourmet supermarket sausages à la Bunnings’ Sunday sausage sizzle. Simple, tasty, kind of unappealing in their looks, the humble kitchen sausage is the embodiment of ‘waste not, want not’: do away with the extravagance and you’ll never be in need.
Plus, they’re bloody delicious, am I right? I mean, America will have none of this, a sausage that isn’t there for its good looks alone. In fact what I’ve found, to date, is that much like America’s special brand of materialism, supermarket food is designed to really hit home as well.
Take cheese, for example. In Australia, the shelves are lined with beautiful versions of yellow cheese – yellow, of course, in rind, colour, and branding. But not in the US, oh god no. It’s radioactive cheese all the way: bright orange, super salty, and wrapped in a packet that is neither biodegradable nor designed by someone who passed Grade 2 art class.
And to top it all off (cheese-related pun not intended, but I’ll take it), the supermarket service was totally impeccable. I mean, I could sit there for days on end and watch Australian checkout people do their thing. Scan, bag, scan, bag, scan, bag… oh, the efficiency! Not like their American counterparts who try to engage me in various (failed) approaches to that all-consuming small talk, day after day. All whilst slowly scanning. Then bagging.
I mean, call me crazy, but there’s something incredibly appealing about how quickly Australian checkout people can bag up your items.
Perhaps there should be some kind of award for this…
Are y’all ready for this?
I found the Australian accent… ah, comforting. That’s right. Actually pretty easy on the ear!
The first experience I had of it was jumping on the plane with Clara. You become attuned to it overseas, and especially in America since Australians are almost too used to US accents. When you hear a fellow Australian speak – whether it’s on a bus, in the corridor at work, or in the line for customs at a packed international airport – it’s like your body kicks into autopilot mode and sends you directly towards the charming, flat-vowelled sound of that person’s voice.
But when I arrived back in Sydney? Against all odds, I found it to be beautifully reassuring. No, no bogans here; just a welcome sense of being home.
Hilariously, people had also started to notice a shift in my accent… and, as it would turn out, most definitely in Clara’s.
Every single person picked up on this. I’m talking literally every… single… person. It’s like as soon as she’d start to speak their eyes would widen, they’d stop dead in their tracks, and they’d call over the closest mate/relative.
“Holy moly. Check out Clara’s accent!”.
She got pretty good at dealing with it, I must admit.
Okay, so an altering accent… inevitable, some would say. Just like:
Seriously. How bloody cool are Australians when it comes to what they wear?
Dark and/or neutral colours, round glasses, Doc Martens, and heavy, brightly coloured knitted jumpers that although they look like they were picked up from Vinnie’s were probably picked up from that brand new Scandi pop-up shop down at The Rocks.
Seriously. People in Sydney are cool. Too cool. And the most hilarious thing that was reiterated for me during my brief stint in the wannabe capital of the country was that everyone tries super hard to look like they’re not trying too hard at all.
This, more so than ever, makes me absolutely crack up. I mean, the Silicon Valley uniform is, quite literally, a hoodie and whatever pants/bottoms you can bring yourself to find amongst the not-quite washing. That’s not to say I didn’t resist it it in the beginning!
While it took a long, long time for me to even consider altering my black-and-black Melbourne uniform, In the end, I’ve realised that the Silicon Valley dress code is all about comfort and practicality, two things I often crave.
But when I ditch the black threads for good, that’ll be the day…
Good luck, America.