Naturally, I spent the first six months categorising the ways in which Melbourne was, and was not, like ‘Neighbours’. After careful study I was able to conclude that everyone does not know each other, however, invariably strange noises in the night are explained away as “just possums”.
When you move to a new country you receive a lot of emails asking how the country is. If the new country is, like mine, English-speaking and westernised, then you end up explaining that life in the new country is very much the same as it is at home.
And it is like home. And it isn’t. But the ways in which it isn’t are hard to pin down. There are specific things of course:
Corner shops don’t sell alcohol, but there are drive-thru off licenses.
Peppers are called capsicums. Flip flops are thongs. Cling film is Glad Wrap.
Houses are mostly one storey because there’s room to spread out.
These distinctions aren’t life-changing (apart from the corner shops thing).
But moving somewhere is different. It’s not like travelling where the timeline is finite. It’s a special kind of adventure, of loneliness, of experience. Something is new every day. Something is exciting every day. Something is overwhelming every day.
You arrive in the place knowing that there is no fixed end date but it still takes a while for your brain to go, ok, this is my life now. I don’t need to worry that I left no money in my English bank account. Ten dollars is ten dollars, not five pounds. I take trams now. Good coffee and well-cooked eggs are readily available. I can go to the beach if I want. And I do want.
Things you’ve never had to think about at home are suddenly the biggest worry in your life. I’ve got this visa till this date, then this one kicks in, and I’m waiting for this other one to come through.
Sometimes people will comment on the fact you’re English, but often and increasingly as time passes, they won’t. This new phase of your life is unique and fascinating, but only to you.
You will try and fail to stop yourself from constantly saying “In England, it’s called this” or “In England, we would do this.” It’s boring and people don’t care. But you care, because slowly you start to feel that you’re not as much your nationality as you once were and you try to hold on to it with these reminders.
But the friends who email asking how the new country is don’t want to hear about how your brain is constantly expanding. The English idea of Australia is very different from the reality, at least in Melbourne (which I am assured is the least Australian city in Australia), but that is difficult to explain. I try to mention the sun at least twice per email. It’s hot and the accents are funny and I’m just off to another barbecue!
People who learn a foreign language say that they know they’re fluent when they dream in that language. The transition from speech to thought is a turning point. The other night as I fell asleep, alone in my new flat, I heard an indefinable noise. Probably just possums, I thought.