See Translation…

You may be forgiven for thinking that the primary language shared by America and Australia would make the transition across the pond a smooth one.

But of course, you would be wrong.

I first traveled to the US with my parents when I was 16. My father had business meetings on the West Coast, but we also made it a family holiday with the full RV road trip experience. (Oh, that’s a whole other post.) That same year I was also lucky enough to visit the north island of New Zealand. Years later, I threw on a backpack and took a year to travel to Canada and Europe. I returned to Greece several times before I found myself moving to North America. So I felt like I was fairly well-versed in international travel and translation by the time I set down my bags in the U.S. But despite living in a country that uses the same basic language, I find I am constantly adjusting my language depending on what side of the Pacific I’m on. I quickly learned I could neither order a cheese pizza over the phone or anything at a drive-through. Not kidding. Even my husband was incredulous at the random orders that would always appear on the screen after I yelled into the little box. Best way to give up drive-throughs.

I also realize, after living here for more than a decade, I forget how I used to say certain words – emphasize, that is. For instance, did I pronounce process – “prohcess” or “prahcess”? Where did the accent land on “garage” – garAge or gArage? It sounds silly, but a slip of the accent here and I have my peeps telling me how American I sound now. And how is it that my American husband accuses me of placing an “r” on the end of so many words which is the precise accusation I have of his accent?

In addition to accents and emphasis are the words we use in our everyday vocabulary. So I thought it would be a fun public service for my Australian and American friends to give you a handy guide to our common, yet uncommon, language. Below are some of the words I found I had to put into use in order to be understood in my new home. These are listed with the Australian word first:

  • Boot & Bonnet = Trunk & Hood
  • Doona = Duvet
  • Crockery & Cutlery = Flatware & Silverware
  • Cutlery = Silverware
  • Service Station or Servo = Gas Station
  • Verandah = Porch
  • BBQ or Barbie = Grill
  • Manual = Stick Shift
  • Serviette = Napkin
  • Hot chook = Barbequed chicken
  • Soft drink = Pop/Soda/Coke depending on the State you are purchasing a fizzy drink
  • Oven = Range
  • Frypan = Skillet
  • Crumbed = Breaded
  • Purse or Handbag = Pocket Book
  • Mailman or Postie = Letter Carrier
  • What Kind of Hell is This = Blizzard

So, those are just a few that come to mind. I have learned that a slip of translation leads to blank looks, many questions and sometimes, just having to accept what comes of the error. It also has resulted in many conversations about the quirkiness of the English language.  

I’d love to know what words have tripped you up on your travels!

What Not to Wear.

Or, Learning to Dress for a Real Winter in the Second Coldest City in America.

Seriously.

We moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in August 2004. My husband was a recent Ph.D. and after a year of teaching in Philadelphia, he accepted a one-year contract to fill a recently vacated position. We jammed as much as we could into the Honda and set off on a new adventure, heading further west than either of us had been. We landed on the prairie the week before classes began and had to quickly find an apartment, something to sleep on, and essentials like – er, dishes and cutlery!

August and September are arguably the most beautiful months in North Dakota. The days are long, and the sunsets are spectacular. Our apartment was on the third floor looking directly west towards the furthest horizon I’d ever seen. North Dakota, at least the Red River Valley where we are, is FLAT! The views across the plains go on forever and it almost seemed as though we could see the other side of the state.

Then came October and the wind – crikey. I guess that’s how the leaves fall from the trees. There are not too many deciduous trees in Queensland, so this so-called season of “Fall” really took on a literal meaning for me. Our Fall usually lasts about 3 weeks before the snow flies and temperatures sharply descend. Hardly long enough to be called a season. 

Now, let me introduce you to winter.

A Grand Forks winter is a new experience for anyone who has not grown up there. But for a girl from the tropics, it really was just rude. Understandably, clothing stores in Brisbane do not stock appropriate winter gear for the other hemisphere, and thus my wardrobe in ND was seriously deficient. I remember my husband laughing at my version of a sweater/jumper that was so thin, it was virtually see through. My winter coat was just not going to cut it. My so-called scarves, gloves, hats were terribly insufficient.  

As the weeks progressed and the sun began to set closer to 4pm than 9pm, I realized that this was going to mark a new extreme and somewhat terrifying weather experience for me. The big sliding door to the balcony frosted up so it was no longer possible to see through it. I could only see if it was light or dark out. There was no such thing as wearing too many layers. I have a vivid memory of the first time my hair froze between leaving the (indoor) pool and getting to the car. I raced home to email my friend with this newfound nugget of amazement. 

That first year it was hard to justify investing in an Arctic-appropriate wardrobe since we were not sure how long we would be there, and furthermore, I was scheduled to return to Australia in mid-January and so I really only had to survive 3 months. That was hard enough. The day I left Grand Forks, it was a brutal -32Fand I arrived in Brisbane to a brutal 32C. In fact, it was so cold that something on the airplane froze and we had to wait for a mechanic to come out and do his thing.

This post will focus on clothing, but I will also cover other winter challenges in later posts, such as driving. Here are a few tips for those new about to experience their first ND winter, and to highlight for others some of the trial-by-error quirks of living extreme.

  1. Appropriate footwear should not be underestimated. Don’t wear Doc Martens unless you have a set of spikes to put over the soles. They are a safety hazard and are guaranteed to see you fall on your butt very close to the wheelie bin while holding a bag full of stinky rubbish. The other thing to avoid is boots that have a steel toe for obvious reasons. I have found that Blundstones (thank you Tasmania) do a pretty good job and you can wear good thick socks with them. 
  2. Hats, beanies, ear muffs, and headbands – these are a must. Abandon your idea of having good hair for the next six months, because frostbite is real and it will get your ears first. Don’t choose any headwear that wind can pass through. Preferably, beanies or hats that are lined with fleece or rabbit fur (I know, hold your judgment until you have had to dig out of a blizzard without a fur bomber hat). 
  3. Gloves and mittens: Gloves tend to be good for driving and doing any activity that requires dexterity. They should be lined and wear a separate pair of glove liners. It’s also useful if they have cellphone compatible technology on the fingers so you don’t have to take them off to answer the phone or check how damn cold it is on your weather app. A better option for long periods of time outdoors is a pair of Carhartt mittens. It’s what they are designed for, and keeping your fingers together increases their warmth.
  4. Critical outerwear: Remember, this is not a fashion show, it’s survival. Forget cute jackets or anything that was made south of Minnesota. A proper winter jacket is thick, long, fleece lined, preferably has a hood, a huge zip pull (remember you are wearing gloves), lots of pockets and is either insulated with poly or has an outer shell that is windproof. 
  5. Scarves: I have a million of them. I find them kind of annoying. Most of them are not that warm and so they end up being something more useful indoors.  Provided your winter coat zips all the way up to your face, you might be able to get away with not wearing one. And, if you have a great winter coat, you can probably get away with one less layer underneath which comes in handy when you suddenly realize it is 50 degrees warmer inside than it is outside.
  6. Walking the dog? If you plan to walk outdoors further than, say, from the house to the garage, you might want to consider a face mask or balaclava (not kidding) for temperatures below 20F. Air temperature is one thing, but the wind chill is a whole other ball game. The skin on your chinny chin chin will thank you for it.
  7. One final tip: Knickers. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but a good pair set of silk or thermal base layers are essential under jeans or khakis. Let’s face it, cotton just doesn’t cut it when you are on a two-mile walk through the snow while your dog has to sniff and pee on everything. 

 

Here is a handy dandy temperature conversion chart for my Celsius friends

Just for fun, I took a photo a couple of years ago from our local weather report. Yes, that says, a wind chill of -57. If you see that number or anything like it, stay inside. It can kill you. 

Best of luck with whatever season you are heading to. I’d love to hear what survival tips you have for your extreme climate!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Growing up in Australia, we only occasionally heard of this magical day through tv shows, movies and the like. The third Thursday in November when folks come together to feast over the course of hours. This is definitely a holiday I can get behind and I really do enjoy the meaning of this North American tradition where the focus is on sharing a meal, enjoying a sit-at-the-table-with-good-linens meal and giving thanks (obviously) rather than gifts.

Thanksgiving
PS: NOT MY MEAL! 😉

Thanksgiving is really a collection of family traditions. So, naturally, I adopted my husband’s family traditions during my early years in the U.S. I remember receiving recipes from my mother-in-law for stuffing/dressing (I prefer the latter while my husband won’t let a turkey go unstuffed) and pecan pie. And recommendations for side dishes like the essential mashed potato and green beans, crescent rolls and cranberry sauce. For those who are unfamiliar with “dressing”, it’s not the salad kind but rather the stuffing for the bird baked in a pan rather than in the bird, so it gets a crunchy texture on top. And pecan pie is made with corn syrup – an ingredient common in North America but it was completely foreign to me. 

Then, there is the art and science of cooking a turkey. No small feat when you have to a) figure out how when to pick it up to ensure it is not still frozen when you want to cook it; b) figure out how to prepare it – brine? butter and herbs? simply salt and pepper? I’ve tried them all; c) figure out what time to start cooking it and; d) figure out when it is done so the white meat is not overcooked while the dark meat is undercooked! All this with a set of weights and measures that would have been more familiar to our medieval friends than to me.

Since we live far from family and in a region not always travel-friendly in the winter, my husband and I have created our own Thanksgiving tradition that goes something like this:

Tuesday: collect the Amish turkey (10-12 lbs) from our town butcher and weigh it twice then Google “How long to cook a turkey”;
Wednesday: try to make as much ahead as is reasonable. This includes the pie, which has become a phenomenal failure each year. We often ended up making two pies – rather, I make the first one following the steps in my mother-in-law’s recipe to the nth degree and it fails. Then my husband (who doesn’t really cook) will make the second one using the same recipe with great success. Go figure! I will also make the cranberry sauce, whip cream, and prep the bird, re-Googling “How long to cook a turkey”. Set the table and pull out the good silverware and dishes and prepare the kitchen game plan.
Thanksgiving Day: A big pot of coffee and cinnamon rolls start the day. My husband gets to work with grading papers (fun tradition right there, hey?) while I agonize over the order to make each part and double checking that I have the right pots, pans, dishes and utensils for each step. Timing, of course, is everything. I spend the next several hours in the kitchen with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the television, followed by the Purina Dog Show while I wrestle the mammoth beast in and out of the oven basting and analyzing the thermometer. Meanwhile, the mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green vegetable, sweet potatoes, and crescent rolls become part of the kitchen choreography while I hurry up and wait for the main event.

We try to time the meal so we can sit and enjoy it during the other traditional event – the NFL game. But no matter how organized I am, it’s always a crapshoot. The bird seems to cook much quicker than planned creating panic in the last hour. I can’t tell you how many times I have studied the “right way to carve” a turkey, but frankly, it never ends up being as pretty as the Food Network shows. Gravy is a great disguise.

So our first few Thanksgivings were a learning curve for me. Before making my first Thanksgiving dinner, I had never cooked a turkey, never made stuffing (didn’t know what dressing was!), never made pecan pie, did not know what corn syrup was, and had never tasted a cranberry! The year we bought our first house, we also purchased a new gas oven which arrived the day before Thanksgiving, so it was literally christened with a turkey dinner. The year we moved into our second home, my perfect pecan pie was tasted tested by a mouse — so that had to go. I have never dropped the bird, but have come close. And I often forget to put the rolls in the oven.

Each year, I try to make it a little easier looking for ways to simplify. I also try to convince my husband that two people really don’t need a 12lb turkey and perhaps a roasted turkey breast would be…..no, no, no, he’s not having it at all. It’s all about tradition, and that means cooking a whole turkey. Last year, I had a successful breakthrough in buying a pie and we’ll do that again this year, taking one thing off the list. I’m also going to try to do more prep the day before so there are fewer panics, but let’s face it -it’s still a feast and we will keep creating our own traditions while maintaining those that are near and dear to his heart. This year, I’ll also try to get a photo of OUR dinner!

Then Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Thanksgiving leftovers toasted sandwiches!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Election Day

In case you have been living under a rock, or outside America, today is the midterm election day in America. And it is a big, BIG deal. vote-button.jpeg

Many feel like they were blindsided in 2016 when Donald Trump became the 45th President against so many of the poll predictions. This year, in the midterm race, everyone is feeling extra cautious about their predictions, none more so than the media. But they are also feeling very fired up. One thing for sure is that records will be broken as millions of Americans get out the vote and exercise their democratic right to vote. Already more than 31 million have cast their ballots in early voting around the country. It is also set to be one of the most expensive elections ever with more than $5 billion spent so far.

I’m not voting.

Not because I don’t want to, but the law does not allow me, as a permanent resident, to vote in federal elections. But believe me, I would be taking my sharpened pencil early to the booth if I could. I have my reasons to renew my permanent residency over applying for citizenship, but it is days like today that I wish I could have my say.

Nevertheless, I am pulling for all of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who have worked tirelessly over the past year or more, putting their names on the ballots, campaigning, door knocking, talking to voters, talking and talking and talking. I am proud to know so many who are willing to put themselves out there and promise to serve us, the public.

I don’t think I am being hyperbolic when I say that this has been one of the ugliest and most contentious elections ever. It has been alarmist, nasty and at times, very personal. It has been loud. Both sides have felt the need to turn up the rhetorical volume in order to be heard, which has, no doubt, made candidates feel uncomfortable at times.

Analysts, pollsters, journalists, political scientists, and commentators are analyzing every detail, every word from candidates and voters to try to predict who will win various races for Governors, for Congress and the Senate. It is also clear that this year there are many first time voters who have been driven to the booth by the polarized state of the nation.

So, while the Melbourne Cup is the race that stops the nation in Australia runs on the first Tuesday in November, the race that could change the nation in America is also being run today. Go vote, if you can.

And remember, whatever the outcome today, Presidential election campaigning starts tomorrow.

The view from here. Where?

First. A little background. I’ve lived on the Northern Great Plains since 2004 in a college town of about 58,000 north of Fargo, ND. This is where we call home now but it couldn’t be more different from where I grew up. Some say it has four seasons, but we’ll discuss that later. Right now we are barreling into the season that dominates the region for half the year — Cruel Winter. Grand Forks is North Dakota’s third largest city and sits on the Red River of the north in prairie country. The state is all “oil and soil” – the two main economic drivers are oil extraction on the western side, and agriculture for the rest. This is Big Sky country and big truck country.

I recently returned from a trip to the home of my youth. Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and is nestled between two of the best coastal regions in the world with direct access to the bay and the barrier islands within it. It’s a city of now more than 1.8 million and continues to grow annually. My trips back there have been irregular over the past 14 years, but this year I was able to spend a bit more time and visit with more family and friends whom I’ve not seen in many, many years. Each trip I make I am reminded how foreign my life is now to those who know me best.

Not only did I enjoy a trip across the Pacific this year, but I was lucky enough to put my passport to good use with another visit to Greece and a first-time visit to Barcelona. An extraordinary year of travel, to be sure. But I like to imagine that my more-than-twenty years of travel and my training in survey archaeology has taught me to observe. To think deeply about what makes us, us – to recognize and appreciate our similarities and differences and to always be learning about others.

This blog will share my many random observations. I hope it is a fun and thought-provoking journey for readers, too, no matter which side of the pond you call home. And I’ll share what it is like to leave EVERYONE and EVERYTHING you know, and move to the other side of the globe where the predominant language is the familiar, but every word is different. Learning a new system of weights and measures, new currency, new insanely complicated political system and, oh, let’s not forget learning to drive on the wrong side of the road!

Keep traveling.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton