Visitors

I will return to regular observing of the Germans in due time. For now, given it is arschkalt, and the roof tiles of our neighbourhood are powdered with frost – in a manner that would look fetching if you are into pretty winter pictures – I feel it only appropriate we stay focused on the summer that was.

One morning at Macmasters Beach, we were sitting around drinking our coffees and chewing the fat, die Lüdde rolling around on the carpet, delighted by the constant coos of attention, when my mother suddenly yelled, ‘DOLPHINS!’ We rushed to the balcony, SG whipping the cover off the camera, my Mum peering through one lens of the binoculars because she, like me, finds it easier that way.

And there they were, a little pod of around twelve, drifting closer and closer to a quiet shore. It was overcast and not many people were out, just a few surfers and a family kayaking. The pod moved closer and closer in, their fins something I probably would have had a heart attack upon spotting if I were in a kayak out there. The kayakers paddled closer, and for a minute or two it looked like there’d be some sort of in the wild encounter. But the dolphins ducked underneath, popped up the other side, and continued on their way, back out to sea.

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Swiftly Flow the Days

One of the very few benefits of jet-lag, is being wide awake at the time of day in which your part of the earth wakes up before its people. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t caught a sunset without being jet-lagged, since the days of thinking there was no better drink than a Cointreau and lemonade and no better way to spend a Saturday night than drinking ten of them. In Europe. Because no one in Australia does what the Europeans do, which is drink at home until 1am then hit the bars, which means leaving the bars as the day dawns. I think I saw a sunrise once after a night at the uni bar in Sydney, whereas it was all part of a night out in Greece, and I watched day break over Münster many a time in my nubile early twenties.

Last month, for the first week or so of being back home by the Pacific, I woke the precise second the sun began inching over the horizon. I’d grab the camera and go out over the crunchy, wet grass to the yard’s edge, which fed into scrub which fed into soft yellow sand. And even though it felt longer, within minutes and a rush of gold, pink, lilac and grey, the sun would be burning in the morning sky.

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Set Change

The sets changed while the lights were down, and the lush, green tropical trees of Singapore were swiftly replaced with the naked, sky clawing trunks of a German winter. It is raining here, just like it was when we left Asia, but it isn’t warm and torrential, it’s ice-cold and driven by gusts of chilly wind. The colours around us have faded, the palette not as vivid as an Aussie summer, as green as the tropical wet season. But we’re still somewhere so familiar, despite being so starkly different to where we were – also somewhere so familiar. That is one of the oddest things about splitting one’s self between two or more places – the slide between them and the sense of each being where you belong.

We took die Lüdde down under, where she was showered with love each and every minute by her Aussie family. We had a hot Christmas by the beach and spent precious time with precious people. In Singapore we acquainted ourselves with my parents’ current home – my mother would interject here with her favourite German word, ‘it is my home at the moment, but not my Heimat.’ It was a trip built on so much excitement and love, coming home was harder than it was the last time. Saying goodbye was different; something about a baby brings the speed and relentlessness of time into sharp, sharp relief.

And so here we are, back again in wet, windy, wintry Kiel. We have swapped one Heimat for another, and the beat goes on, just with a different backdrop.

Do You Speak Like a Real Australian?

It’s a question that crops up with relative frequency. Students often ask me, eyes narrowed, as if they suspect something is afoul, ‘but do you have a real Australian accent?’ They are familiar with the American twangs and the rhythm of the British accent. They are au fait with the various accents of the Europeans who speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language. But then they meet an Aussie and she sounds nothing like Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin. Is she faking it? Is she really Australian? Or worse … is she an Australian who speaks like a Brit?

Recently a couple of my friends – both British, coincidentally – sent me this article. One wanted to know if it was actually real, and to what extent, and the other was quite fascinated and wanted to know more. I could happily confirm knowledge of 99% of the slang the article mentioned – although I only use about 20% of it myself. Off the back of this depressing news, however, I am tempted to consciously weave more Australian slang into my daily speech – we cannot let it die out, it is too special. (Australian slang, by the way, comes mostly from Cockney slang, and probably deserves an entire dedicated post. Leave it with me.)

So, what does an Australian sound like? Do we have regional accents? Do we sound more British or American (a question I am loathe to field, because I don’t think we sound like either).

Firstly, let’s get this out there:

Not everyone speaks like this (but some people do …)

Or like this (but some people do …)

Or like this (but some people do …). It gets good at about 1.18 and yes, he does say ‘flamin”, it’s his signature.

In terms of regional accents, give us time. As a western nation, we are a young country (but, really, Australia has been inhabited for 40,000 years) and we simply haven’t had the time to develop overtly regional accents. There are differences between how someone from, say, Darwin might speak, compared to someone from Sydney. The vowels may be flatter, the rhythm more laconic, drawn out. Melbournians do weird things to the ‘l’ sound – ‘al‘ instead of ‘el’. People from the bush (or the country, or the Outback) tend to have the classic accent that most people associate with Australia. (Roy starts speaking at about 27 seconds and he is wonderful to listen to. A lot of ‘bloody’.)

This guy does a great rundown of regional differences that currently exist (and the Aussie propensity to completely halve words and sentences.)

At the time of European settlement, there were hundreds of Aboriginal languages being spoken across the country. As their languages and cultural practices were stamped out, and English settled as the official language of a now British colony, indigenous Australians learning the language formed their own, distinct accents that influenced the overall development of the Australian accent, which began undergoing, very quickly, its separation from the predominantly English and Irish accents as brought over by the convicts.

Immigration, which has been a fundamental part of Australia’s history as a western nation, has and will continue to help shape the overall Australian accent and regional differences. From the moment England colonised Australia, we have had patterns of immigration that have formed a rich, unique vernacular. Each culture that has come cross the seas and settled in Australia has lent its own inflections and emphases to the Aussie accent, things that have filtered down and out through generations and helped shape the way we speak.

I think I sound Australian. Perhaps in isolation, it isn’t so apparent, but when I am around my other English-speaking friends, I can hear how Australian I sound. I think there is a neutral gear I slip into, for ease of being perfectly clear and understood as an English teacher, and as a foreigner. And, of course, being far from home, and having no Australian friends here, the inflections and rhythms and vowel sounds and diphthongs I am surrounded by belong to Germans, Americans, British people – I hear more Spanish and Russian accents than I do Australian – so there is no passive maintenance of my accent by virtue of hearing it or engaging with someone else who also has it. (There’s a Kiwi around, and I love Kiwis, but I do not love their vowels.) I know that SG wishes he sounded more Australian – and both of us are always so surprised when people say his English has Aussie tinges – and practices his ‘g’day mate’ every so often, just to make sure he gets the appropriate length on his ‘a’ sound. He drew a lot of inspiration from these guys, when we were binge watching My Kitchen Rules. (They start talking at about 30 seconds).

I’ll leave you with two excellent comments on the Australian accent – and travelling around Australia in general. The first is an all time favourite of mine, from comedian Adam Hills.

And this guy nails it. It isn’t easy to do an Australian accent, but I will give him this one. Warning, he’s Scottish and bounces between that impenetrable accent and a very good middle-of-nowhere Aussie accent. You’ll need to concentrate.

 

Lucky Adventures

We’ve well and truly wound up down here in Sydney, the six-week trip tying itself up with a nice little bow. The last two weeks have dissolved into the one day we have left to go, and I’ve already mentally jumped ahead to what needs to be done once we land back in Germany. Six weeks is a long time to be away, long enough to feel like you’ve started living somewhere else, for the tiniest of initial roots to push themselves into the ground. We need to yank them back up and get on a plane, Germany – the other home – is waiting.

It’s a good feeling to miss a place, even when you love the one you’re currently in, to feel the pull back towards a well worn routine and familiarity of home life. It means you’re where you should be.

Even though six weeks is a long time, in a country as big as Australia, it’s almost the minimum time you can spend here and see enough (once you block out the first week to get over the jetlag). We didn’t even leave the east coast, save for a week in New Zealand where our family gathered for my cousin’s wedding, spending our time catching up with family and friends in Sydney and Melbourne, and a few days up on NSW’s north coast. And we ended up with just one free day with nothing planned.

So it is we’ve started packing up for the trip home, the both of us filled up with Australianness and precious time spent in fortunate abundance with friends and family. We’ve eaten sushi every second day, and Thai curry after Indian curry after Malay curry. We’ve seen movies in their original versions, catching up on as many of the nominated ones as we could. We watched a rugby game, the Australian Open, played with kangaroos, spotted koalas, swam, absorbed the Australian sun, ate good Aussie fish and BBQs, road tripped, and drank as much wonderful coffee as we could, before heading back to the land of filter coffee. We visited the Hobbits, took in the sun on Waiheke Island, and spent Waitangi Day in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. I’ve had to purchase extra luggage to get things that have been waiting for me here, like old loved books, home to Germany. We are, and have been, so lucky. And it’s ‘lucky’ how I’ve decided to see this ongoing split between two homes, because the passport I have and the country I live in are both wonderful places, that afford us as people and our relationship so much, and to to-and-fro between them is a privilege.

A new German chapter is agitating to begin, and within its pages, already pencilled in, plenty of adventures. It’s time now to leave home and go back home to get started on it all.

All sorts of things await.

 

Kangaroo Heaven

I am about to bombard you with photos of kangaroos. Not kangaroos from the zoo, or taken from afar with a shaky zoom, but kangaroos nuzzling the camera lens, coming in for a pat, sniffing our bags and hands for food.

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We pulled off the freeway, en route to the north-coast town of Port Macquarie on the weekend, and visited a national state park that surrounds Lake Macquarie. Lake Macquarie, by the way, is Australia’s largest coastal salt-water lake and quite something to behold.

Part of the national park, is a kangaroo sanctuary, where dozens upon dozens of roos live in lovely, peaceful surrounds needing only worry about tourists who come to see them and ignore the signs saying ‘don’t feed the kangaroos bread.’ They’re obviously getting fed bread, because it’s precisely what they expected us to bring.

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We didn’t, obviously, and once they figured out we were food-less, they settled for an hour of being patted and posing for selfies and up close and personal portraits.

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It was a remarkable thing for me, as an Australian, to do – but for a foreigner, it was out of this world. SG floated on air for hours afterwards. Couldn’t top it until, a day later, we saw a ‘wild’ koala up a tree. Can you see him?

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There he is …

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Comparing

It’s always dangerous to compare. One’s joy can be thieved by the very act of drawing together two things and attempting to find which one comes out best. But I love a bit of danger (sometimes I open the wine before it’s dark outside) and being between two countries means the urge to compare is a strong one. And, really, quite therapeutic.

There are a lot of things I love about Germany but of late I have really been thinking about the key elements of my lifestyle there, because ultimately, should you be fortunate enough to have the choice, it’s lifestyle you live somewhere for.

Sydney is a stunning city to live in. Fantastic weather, beaches, restaurants and bars, universities, the harbour, and coastal holiday towns but a couple of hours away. It’s difficult to compete with, even if it is hideously expensive, a real estate buyer’s nightmare, has dreadful public transport, and to earn enough to enjoy the fantastic restaurants, bars, cafes and shopping, or indeed pay rent or the mortgage, you live to work, not the other way around.

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So, when choosing to live in a city or country that is not the one of my birth, I am up against a long list of sun-coloured pros, which means I have to dig deep to find the things I love about the competing location. As I wrote a few days ago, I have recently realised how much I love my life in the competing location – Germany – and here’s why:

I walk a lot. Master of the mid-sized city, German cities of 250,000 people are so wonderfully livable. They have excellent public transport, bike lanes aplenty (not that I use them) and walking is both a pleasure and easy. In Kiel, we’d walk to our grocery shop. I walked to work. I walked to the harbour, to the parks, to restaurants and wine bars. A car, for me, in Germany, isn’t a necessity. In Sydney, you can’t get by without one and you drive everywhere. Because you have to. And that means sitting in the most appalling traffic and paying formidably expensive tolls ($6 one way, on one of our roads) day in, day out.

Public transport. If I can’t walk, I catch a bus. Busses are on time, lovely and clean and always tell you where you are going. In bigger cities there are U-Bahns and S-Bahns that are frequent and punctual. We complain about the DB, but it is generally an excellent system that means you can reach anywhere in the country, by rail. God forbid you rely solely on public transport in Sydney – you will never get anywhere, and spend a fortune doing it.

Travel. We’re in the middle of Europe. A drive pops us into one of nine entirely different countries. We can cruise to Scandinavia. It’s a little over an hour’s flight to London. Flights don’t cost a fortune or take twenty hours. Travelling is easy, relatively inexpensive and, so very luckily, part of life.

Cost of Living. It is, flat out, cheaper to eat, rent and exist in Germany. Yes, you get paid more in Australia, but the level of expense that you become accustomed to is ridiculous, and you’re more likely to accept an indecent price as normal, pop it on the credit card, and inch towards an unsustainable budget.

Healthcare and Insurance. It’s a good system, and Lord knows I’ve used it. A lot. And I’ve always been well looked after and barely out of pocket.

Free Education. When it comes to educating my future children, I know they will have access to very good schools, and a university education, for free. (And yes, I still say ‘free’ despite the very small semester fees that have recently cropped up in German universities, because it still beats $20,000+ per degree in Australia).

Weekends, Feierabends and Free Time. The 24/7 culture, that seems to pervade the USA, UK and Australia, hasn’t quite reached Germany, and I think one’s lifestyle there is all the richer for it. Everything is closed on a Sunday in Germany. The day is for spending at home, or with your family and friends. Often, Friday afternoons are ‘Feierabends’ – you clock off work early and enjoy the afternoon and evening, instead of staying at work until 8pm, or answering emails at home until after ten. You can if you want to, but overall, it simply isn’t expected or encouraged.

Germans also value free time. Along with the French, they’re one of the European countries that clock up the most hours of free time in a year. They also have one of the highest number of holiday days (on average around 25, depending on where you work).

The weather. Okay, so just spring and summer. And maybe parts of autumn. This is a stretch, but … the winters are so long and gross and generally depressing, they make spring seem like a gift from the Gods. The flowers rush out, the birds suddenly return, and everyone beams at each other for no reason at all. Summer in many parts of Germany are lovely and warm, and if you live on the coast (as we shall!) summers are almost as laidback and beachy as they are in Sydney. And autumn, well, you know – leaves turn red and crunch underfoot, and for a while, it’s all quite cinematic. But then, winter comes …

 Why do you live where you live? What do you like about it, or miss about your competing location?