January 2006 Archives

Australia Day 2006

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Walking down to the train station, I am listening to Triple Js Hack Daily on my ipod. I downloaded it that morning whilst reading The Age online and eating my breakfast, as is my habit. I was thinking about the terrible fires that were continuing to wreak havoc throughout the area where I grew up.

On my ipod, and in an attempt to stir up controversy and trouble, a reporter asked a random person she found on Cronulla Beach " about what he thought of the Australian flag, and of Australian culture in general.

"This is an Australian beach, and um, I'm proud to be Australian. I think that it's an Anglo-Australian culture... basically our culture is inherited from Great Britain."

The reporter asked, "and that doesn't incorporate Chinese, Lebanese, people from other backgrounds?" The reply was thus, "um, if they embrace our culture then they can be part of that."

The reporter continued, "What I'm trying to ask you is, what is our culture? What is Anglo-Australian culture?"

The person then replied that it was a good question and he would have to think about that one.

I felt almost blind with anger, my stomach twisted and I found it hard to breathe. I felt the same way when I had heard of the Cronulla Beach incident - racism is not a new concept, but it astounds me that such bigotry and narrow-mindedness exist in my country!? Even if the populations with opinions like this are a minority, despite the efforts of people like Pauline Hanson, how can there be so many freaking wankers in the world who think that all that counts is the colour of your skin, the way you talk, and how you have been brought up? I'm no expert, but for me, the moment that you live in Australia, respect Australian laws and pay freaking taxes to the Australian government, you earn the right to be called an Australian, no matter where you come from or what you look like.

Once upon a time, maybe 60 years ago, before the post war immigration policies took effect, Australian culture might have been "inherited from Great Britain". But I don't think that's the "general rule" anymore, and despite some people clinging to such attitudes (because of age, habit or narrowmindedness, who knows?), our country has evolved beyond that.

When asked about the culture of my country here, I often find myself at a loss for words - how do you describe a country whose "western settler" history is only just over 200 years old? Whose people include migrants of all nationalities? I generally say that Australia is "multicultural". Our food, our attitude, our lifestyle.

The facts speak for themselves.

My own heritage includes a mix of English, Scottish and German blood - my English ancestors came over in the 1850s, and the German ancestors arrived in Australia the late 1800s. Many of my friends back home include first and second generation Australians - people who have grown up there, consider Australia home, and consider themselves to be Australian. They keep hold of their culture, or their parents culture, or their grandparents culture, because that's part of them, but they're still Australian.

So to hear such idiotic phrases as, "I think that it's an Anglo-Australian culture", makes me feel sick.

I am living the experience of being a foreigner in a foreign country. Every day I feel like I stand out, because of the way I talk, my sense of humour, the way I dress, even my weight.

In a country where racism is a hot news topic - as it is in many countries around the world - I count myself lucky to have a job and the chance to be able to try to fit in. Sadly, the fact that I am white helps.

But despite trying to fit in as best as I can, I do whatever I can to keep a strong hold on my own background, my own culture, my own language, and my own identity. After all, that's part of who I am, and living in another country isn't going to change that.

All these reasons and more are why it makes me feel sad to read about what has happened over there.

I felt angry and ashamed about the situation surrounding the Cronulla Beach incident and it's aftershock. I felt desperately sad about the tragedy that was unfolding in the bushfires roaring through my homeland.

When I get homesick, and I think about Australia as a country, I think of the beaches, and I think of the enormous, savage, beautiful wilderness that is the Grampians. To know that 50% of this has been burned (over 1,000 square kilometres of devastation in all) almost breaks my heart. I can barely believe it, can barely get my mind around such a figure.

A photo that Sylvain took of the Grampians the first time he visited

And so on Australia Day, Thursday 26 January 2006, I didn't feel like celebrating. But I am an Australian. And I'm proud of it.

Instincts

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He leaves a can of tuna
open
on the bench.

Symphony cannot be blamed
oh brave hunter
that she is.

Evil has golden curls

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Still off work - alternating between sleeping, drinking lots of fluids and trying to do a little work here and there. I'm not getting very far on the latter, but am feeling better about myself, knowing that my projects are advancing, albeit at a snails pace.

I would have liked to get a little more sleep this morning, but it was not to be...

We have a serious problem with the people living upstairs.

They are a young family - a smiling couple with a four year old girl. I've talked about this golden-haired terror before, but it's been getting a lot worse lately. It started at 6.30am, when they woke her up to get ready to go to daycare. She didn't want to get up. And let everyone know by screaming at the top of her lungs. The drama went on until 8am, and we were treated with alternating screaming from the 4 year old, screaming from the mother and screaming from the father. There was the pitter patter of cranky feet and the occasional door slamming as the little girl ran away from her parents, who were trying in vain to get her to do one thing or another.

The interesting thing is that our walls are really thick. When our neighbours have parties, we don't hear a thing. Our old next-door neighbour had a baby, and we never heard a peep. It's only when it reaches a certain volume that the sound actually filters down into our apartment. This kerfuffle has been going on every single morning since the start of the school year in September.

I know that I cannot judge people on their parenting decisions, especially because I don't have any offspring of my own, but I really would think that they would have figured out that this continued screaming isn't actually helping and that it's perhaps time to think of another strategy?

I've been busting to go and talk to them about it many times before, but the ever-reasonable Frenchman in my life doesn't like rocking the boat and generally manages to calm me down before I go storming up there to join in the screaming match. This morning, however, saw a change in attitude, and he told me that he is on the verge of going up there and saying something.

The issue is a delicate one. I know it's got to be hard to be a parent blah blah blah. And they can't help it if their daughter is a little shit. But I think this raises the question of respect for the people around you. The very fact of living in an apartment complex means that you need to remember that there are people living nearby. If we hear it downstairs, the people above them must hear it, not to mention the people living across the hall. Simply bringing the fact that we can hear everything to their attention might be enough to get them to reconsider their parenting strategy of Lets Scream Louder Than Our Daughter.

What should we do?

Bugs

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Gastro.

Erk.

I guess I'm just lucky the doctor didn't prescribe suppositories...

...this time.

He's probably been scarred for life anyway, after the way I reacted to the idea the first time I had a gastro bug here (and here is where I would link to the story if my oldest archives hadn't gone kaput a couple of years ago).

Wrong. Just wrong.

In the meantime, I am drugging myself to the hilt with a bazillion other medecines he prescribed, and chuffing coke (of the cola variety) as often as I can stomach it. It was practically prescribed to me. Really. By the doctor and the chemist. This country is crazy.

On timeliness and reading... of sorts

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I am of the neurotic breed that arrives at venues and events early. Weddings, parties, anything. I worry if it looks like I'm going to be even 5 minutes late. This can sometimes cause a few problems chez the Aussie lass, the Frenchman and the Burmese. Especially because the Frenchman is one of the most laidback people on earth, to whom the notion of "on time" equals "when he feels like it". Living with him, I've learned a lot about compromise and patience. To his dismay, I'm still not entirely won over by this outlook on life, and have been known to stamp my feet on occasion...

I have this attitude towards work, as well, and try to time myself to arrive just before 9 o'clock, even though many of my colleagues rock up well after, and some closer to 10. Sometimes I'm so neurotically early for the train that I can allow myself the luxury to sit on the quay and wait for the next train to come along, hoping that it will be less full than the last. Some might be happy to stay in bed for that extra 5 or 10 minutes, but when one has a good audiobook playing on the ipod, and when it's not raining, sometimes these moments are a nice way of taking some time out, of preparing for the day ahead.

I've lately become enamoured with the world of audiobooks. A few months ago I was all over the podcasting - and still have my 5 or 6 that I like to listen to per week - but I'm really enjoying listening to audiobooks. They certainly don't replace the pure joy of holding a good book in my hands and racing through the pages, but audiobooks give me the chance to enjoy my two favourite pastimes on the train - reading and knitting. The only problem lies in actually getting hold of the darn things. Not to mention the horrific prices.

There are one or two bookshops near my work that stock a couple of audiobooks, but the pickings are meagre. Since I have a French credit card, apparently I can only buy books from the French itunes, and I've had a hard time tracking down any books in English on the French site (if someone can give me a heads up on this, I'd be delighted). Amazon seems to be charging an arm and a leg for audiobooks - money better spent on yarn, in my opinion.

But I've managed to get my hands on a few different ones (and have spent some time scouring various sites that offer audiobooks that are in the public domain), and have been enjoying them tremendously.

I should have known better, however, than to listen to Patricia Cornwell's interesting take on Jack the Ripper whilst walking home alone from the train station at 11pm at night. Scared myself silly. Who knew that shadows really move that much?

Fighting

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I've got lots of funny, interesting things to say, but none of it seems all that important right now - my prayers go out to the people dealing with the terrible fires that are ravaging Australia today. My thoughts are particularly with those people, the friends and family, in the area where I grew up.

This situation is one that has haunted my dreams ever since I can remember.

Fetch

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Symphony and I are playing Fetch. It doesn't involve a lot of action from me - she brings me something, in this case a hairband (although it could be anything - a pipecleaner, a rubber band), I throw it, she runs after it and skids on the wooden floor and bangs into the wall, grabs the hairband in her little mouth, and brings it back. So it goes on.

After five minutes, the hairband is wet.

After ten minutes, the hairband is soaking.

Cat drool all over my hairbands. Lovely. It doesn't matter how cunningly I hide them, she always figures it out, and I usually have to buy a new packet of hairbands once a month or so.

The curious thing is that we come home from work to find her food bowl overflowing with such toys - tonight it contained two hairbands, one breadbag tie and a pipecleaner. We've seen her take them to her food bowl during playtime whilst she takes a pause for a snack, then she forgets about them when she finishes eating and wanders off. She brings them to bed too. When I change the sheets, I'll come across half a dozen hairbands, pipecleaners and other assorted toys under the pillows and between the sheets.

I'm pretty sure that she's plotting some evil plan in which hairbands and pipecleaners will play an important part, but I haven't quite figured out what it is yet.

Speaking in Tongues

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After a day of listening, speaking, breathing French, I like to come home to some peace and quiet. Sometimes I'm happy to spend hours in silence - or almost silence, because Symphony purrs quite loudly, actually - but sometimes I like to turn the tv on and watch and knit and zen out.

I take any opportunity that I can to watch television in English. Old episodes of Lois & Clark dubbed into French - I notice the same voiceover actress playing Lois is the one that does Buffy. This is just wrong (not to mention the fact that I can actually recognise them too). So I flick around, pleased when I fall upon an old episode of Friends or Oz. The scheduling changes frequently, and I never know what I might come across.

I know I'm tired when I come across Mutant X and I don't change the channel. Just because it's in English.

It's around about now that I start thinking even more seriously about the next trip back to Australia.

Hat dropping

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I've done a bit of a whoopsie on my back, and it's causing me some grief this week. As a result, I am taking a bit of pain medication to get past the initial pain - but unfortunately it results in a sleepy aussie lass, which in turn leads to incoherent french and bad knitting and crochet.

"J'ai oublié my stylo". (I forgot my pen) That scary mix of French and English in certain circumstances is not the most professional of declarations.

What should be a simple pattern (hdc in next st, 2 dc in next 2 sts, hdc in next st, sc in next 2sts), when misinterpreted with sleepy eyes actually turns into horrific things that will never see the light of day. Of course, one would think that after ripping it out and trying again ten times, I would actually give up. But no. The aussie lass, she is a stubborn gal.

I am also really good at switching between the first and the third person at the drop of a hat.

And now, the aussie lass spies a hat on the ground.

More than words

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Peeling pieces of clementine and handing them to me one by one.
Remembering to buy milk for my coffee. When he doesn't drink it at all.
Shrugging when I, feeling guilty, tell him the price of my recent yarn purchase. "It's special", he says.
Rolling over without a word when I poke him for snoring. Even when he's got a cold and really can't help it.
Picking up Symphony and talking to her as if she'll talk back.
Buying flowers from the market. Because they look nice.
Making apple compote, and mixing it so that it remains a little lumpy. He prefers it smooth, but mixes it so that it remains a little lumpy - just for me.

Sometimes it hits me - I am so lucky to have this person in my life. So lucky that I wonder how I can possibly deserve it.

I am thankful for each moment that I can spend with him. Even when he's snoring.

He is so... the complete opposite of selfish. Kind. Generous. But such words sound empty and don't even begin to describe him. He makes me want to be a better person.

Shoo fly

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An unusual sight in this country - there is a fly buzzing at the window.

I watch it for a minute, thinking, then get up and shoo it outside.

Reminds me of home.

That's one thing I really don't miss about that great southern land.

Crybaby

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My naivety, my stupidity astounds me sometimes. I really have a lot to learn.

A couple of weeks ago I had very noble ideas about learning how to be more patient. But I think my priority needs to be learning how not to CRY at the drop of a hat.

Hallmark card ads.
Puppies and kittens.
Sunsets.
People around me feeling sad, sick, angry.
These all make me cry. In the most inappropriate situations. And I look and feel like an idiot.

Scattered Brains & Birth Announcements

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For the longest time I've been wondering why people send out Birth Announcements.

Seriously, everyone you know knows you've had the baby, so why bother?

To me, it seemed just another excuse to show off a photo of the newborn child, or for some, just another reason to get anxious about the choice of paper/photo/wording of the actual announcement.

So for the longest time, I've been wondering about the actual utility of Birth Announcements. Until last night, that is.

I looked in the mailbox, and found a letter addressed to M. & Mme Frenchman. I recognised the handwriting and sighed out loud - I know I've had a discussion with the sender on more than one occasion about how I detest the tradition of taking on the name of the husband and I personally feel like it's a loss of identity - and traipsed downstairs muttering to myself. I put the letter on the buffet and promptly forgot about it as I received welcome home cuddles from Symphony.

A couple of hours later I came across the letter again and decided to open it - and thus I found the Birth Announcement.

My jaw dropped.

This is one of Sylvain's best friends, who we used to see once a month or so, but hadn't seen for about a year since they moved to the other side of France. I knew Sylvain regularly corresponds with his friend and his wife by phone and email, but I haven't had the occasion to speak to either of them for quite some time.

"Sweetie?" I called out to Sylvain, who was fiddling with his computer. "Did you know that N & S have had a baby?!"

He peeked around the door of the study, and grinned sheepishly. "Oh yeah..."

I looked at my self-confessed scatter-brained husband in shock.

"And?"

"Yeah, it's a boy," he said.

"I can see that..." I replied. "On the Birth Announcement."

"Ohhh... right," by now, he was retreating into the study again, and all I could see was his eyes and the top of his head just beyond the door frame.

"I didn't even know she was pregnant!" I exclaimed.

"Ohhh... yeah..." he replied. "I knew."

"Right." I grumbled. "Thanks for telling me."

He had disappeared completely into the study by then, but needless to say I teased him unmercifully about forgetting to tell me for the rest of the night.

Thus I now see the utility of the Birth Announcement : it's so that wives/partners can keep up with information that their other halves have forgotten to tell them.

At least I have another excuse to make another baby bonnet.

The morning

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I wake up, groggy, and look at the alarm clock.

It's 8.45am.

"Oh fruit*!" I exclaim, and fall out of bed in my hurry to get up and moving.

"Quoi-Wha?" Sylvain murmurs, sleepy.

"Oh," I sit back on the bed, realisation dawning on me. "It's ok. Don't worry. It's Saturday. I thought it was Friday and we were late for work."

And with that, I fall back asleep, relieved.

*Of course I use words like "fruit". I'm sweet and innocent, remember?

Food for thought

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How is it that Mustard-flavoured chips here in France taste like Chicken-flavoured chips in Australia, and neither of them actually taste like Mustard or Chicken?

Shy

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I am, in real life, a very shy person. I am not the type to fill in the blanks with mindless chatter with people I don't know, although I won't hesitate to do it with people I do! When it comes to people I don't know, or I don't know very well or am not comfortable with, I freeze, I don't know what to say, conversation is difficult, and I feel clumsy, awkward. If I am surrounded by people I know or in a situation I am extremely comfortable with, I tend to be a little better, a little less awkward, because I can rely on them to help me, even if they don't realise it.

It's taken me a long time to realise that I am actually "shy". All the way through primary school and half of my high school years, I was with people I knew and with people who had known me all my life, and I was comfortable. I had the upper hand with any and all newcomers, mostly because I was surrounded by familiar faces, and because other people were always the leaders in the group, I didn't have to worry about finding things to say, only things to add to conversations as I saw necessary.

Then, at 14, I went away to Boarding School. I knew it was the best thing for me, academically, but it was hard. Many of the things I felt when I was there are still hard for me to confront today, 10 years down the track, but I think generally, it was when I first realised how shy I really was. It took me a very long time to make any friends, and I spent a lot of time by myself. When I eventually did make friends, I really just attached myself to a group and sadly, I have not really kept in touch with any of them since high school.

Fast forward through my university years, where I continued to be terribly shy, but started to gain confidence in myself as I began working - in a way, I suppose I found my voice as I learned how to assert myself, and gained respect from others because, I think, I actually believed in myself rather than needing others to believe in me.

Then I arrived in France. Not only did I have to deal with my shy side, but I had the language barrier as well - both combined to be a virtually crippling experience. The first 6 months were humbling, and I went through a massive learning curve, and I returned to Australia, changed. I had not overcome my shyness, but I had learned that in order to change things, I had to take the situation into my own hands.

Even today I am shy. The language barrier is no longer there - I tend to get by in my everyday life without too many problems - but this morning, as I was speaking to someone new with whom I must have quite a lot of interaction in the future, I was still paralysed with that horrible feeling of, "I don't know what to say next". Then I start to lose my French, I make mistakes, as I sit there, mind and heart racing. I feel stupid, and they turn away, to talk to someone else.

Little by little, I take the situation into my own hands. But this is one battle that is not yet won.

Scattered Postcards

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As is our usual habit, a colleague and I took a meandering path on the way back to our office today, after lunch at our favourite Cantonese restaurant. We were walking and gossiping, as women are wont to do, when we came upon a bunch of postcards scattered across the footpath.

There were about 10 on the footpath in front of us, one in the gutter, a couple on the road, one in a puddle, and as we stood, staring at them, we realised that they each had been written on, were stamped, were all marked with Romanian addresses, and most of them had numerous footprints on them as well. We thought it a pity that someone had gone to all that effort to write and stamp them and then had lost them, so we gathered them up - the one that had been in the puddle dripped as I held with my fingertips in front of me - and proceeded to the nearest post box, where we deposited them, one by one.

It would be amusing if the person who lost these postcards wrote another set after realising that they were gone, only to find that their friends and family received the first lot as well as the second! But it would be a nice surprise for them realise that their missing postcards have been sent after all.

Best wishes

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It's considered Very Very Very Rude Indeed not to wish everyone you meet a Happy New Year and Meilleur Voeux in this country. My place of employ tends to be extremely formal about such matters, and of course, I am completely incapable of remembering to do this. The other party wishes me a Happy New Year and stares at me expectantly, but I am rendered speechless, unable to think of what to say because I've already done my "Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?! or "Bonjour! Vous allez bien?" and it sounds bizarre, somewhat hollow, to add a rushed "et vous aussi" to their kind wishes.

I will start remembering to do this in about a weeks time, when of course, it will be too late to be wishing people a Happy New Year and that will be that for another year. Next year, I'll forget again, I'm sure, just as I have done this year.

I'm basically a bumbling idiot, in both my adopted and my native tongues.

In other news, I have a pimple hidden in my eyebrow and it hurts. heh.

Welcome to 2006

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It's amazing how quickly a week goes by, and how quickly I find myself at work again. We had a nice, quiet Christmas, filled with the usual foie gras, sauternes, seafood, poultry, champagne, wine, bûche de noël and other goodies. There was a bit of snow, and France suffered a cold snap that surprised everyone. I spent quite a bit of my time knitting, whilst Sylvain nudged my in-laws into the 21st century by setting them up with an adsl connection and wifi. The upside is that we'll have an internet connection when we go visit them from now on, but the downside is that we're now an IT service hotline whenever anything goes mildly wrong.

We returned to Paris to a still overheated apartment and the added joy of tapping pipes 24/24 - complaints to the guardian have resulted in yet another confirmation that Yes We Are Trying To Fix It, but who knows when that is going to happen. We are quite tired and trying not to get cranky, the heat and the constant taptaptapping of the pipes is not lending to a good nights sleep and good moods. Meanwhile we live in shorts and tshirt in our apartment, and bundled in 10 layers of clothing when we go outside.

The passage from 2005 to 2006 was spent with good friends, and such a positive beginning bodes well for the year to come. Who knows what this year will bring, and despite uncertainty on many fronts, I am determined to go into it with a positive attitude. I think it might just be a matter of trying to look at things from a different perspective, but my most concrete resolution is to become more patient - a quality I admire in others and something that would be very useful in a great number of my daily interactions. Especially when I have to deal with 25 minute queues at the supermarket. Thank goodness for my ipod, is all I can say to that.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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