I wondered when it would happen, when I would hit that wall of culture shock and homesickness. Three and a half weeks, that’s the point when I became frustrated with the foreignness of every action, every unintelligible phrase picked up by my American ears.
For three and a half weeks, this new world was bathed in a magical, golden glow of newborn awe. Sun and sea breeze, colorful birds and fragrant blossoms, friendly, outgoing people, eager to talk and welcome us to their country. I found the differences charming; the little peculiarities – peculiar to me simply because they’re different from what I’m accustomed to – were nothing more than minor blips in my day, more learning moments. “Oh that’s different, too.”
You don’t realize until you’re here how many things you have to re-learn. Something as simple as where to buy a broom becomes a mystery to be solved. Not only do they drive on the other side of the street, but the latches in our new house have to be turned the opposite way from what you’d think in order to open the doors.
Being on vacation in a foreign country is different from living there. You bring what you need to get you through your stay. You go out to eat and don’t have to think much about electricity, water, internet, or how to clean your lodgings. You know that you’ll soon be returning to all that is familiar and comforting to you.
Taking up residence in a new place makes you realize just how much one takes for granted, especially if you rid yourself of most every worldly belonging and are starting from absolute scratch. Use to, if I wanted to mail a package, I went to the drawer where I kept packaging materials and wrapped that package. I had paper, tape, a black Sharpie. I don’t even know how to ask for a Sharpie, much less who might sell such a thing. And I’m in an English speaking country. Just imagine how hard it is for a person who moves to a country where no one speaks your language and you don’t speak theirs. Like those poor people running through the hall outside my door right now because they didn’t understand the announcement that the fire alarm was only a test and they should disregard it.
The glow started to wear off for me probably this last weekend, when I started to question if we’d made a bad choice on our rental property. Then on Monday, I started having trouble with my prepaid public transport card. My bus rides were costing 3 times as much as they ought to. When I got online to look at my card activity, I found that even with being charged the wrong amounts, the math wasn’t adding up to the balance they reported on my account. Are common and accepted rules of mathematics different, also? I called and talked to a person; he fixed the erroneous charges, but I was not able to articulate, in an understandable manner, the problem with the math. Today, I looked at my account again. I started yesterday with $66.00 on the account; I spent $4.20; my balance today is $58.16. Is it just me? Do I need to take a remedial math course?
I’m still questioning our rental choice. It’s a lot dirtier than I realized. I really should wear my glasses more often. In my effort to clean, I became not only irritated with the property management who swore that the cleaning crew was there on Friday (maybe they were there but they didn’t clean), but with the cheap tools I had to work with. I don’t know where to purchase quality, sturdy mops and such. I went to the Australia version of K-mart and Target, and all I could find were dollar store quality cleaning tools. Where is the Bed, Bath and Beyond of Australia? Where are my perfectly good cleaning tools that I gave or threw away when I left the U.S.? Why did I leave my pretty little bungalow to come here and rent a dirty, cockroach infested, townhouse with vinyl “wood” floors?
I know that I’ll get past this. It will all become easier as the days go by and I figure out a new way of living. I’ll walk down to the harbor and watch the boats go by. I’ll listen to the cockatoos carry on, and I’ll breathe in the aroma of frangipani.
It will be ok. It will be ok. It will be ok.