I'm a bit behind on the December meme because I just went *splat* for a few days and did basically nothing and refused to beat myself up about it. So here's some catchup.transcendancing
asked, "I always love hearing tales about people living in other countries, especially the comparison of everyday things that would otherwise be invisible."
At this time of year, I always find myself explaining to Australians what a mind-blowing experience Christmas in Canada was. I lived there from 2001-2004 (ish) and had 4 christmases there. I went to Canada being pretty seriously "meh" about Christmas, and came away feeling like I'd finally got it.
Things that make sense in a cold northern climate, which I avoid like the plague for a summer Christmas (unless I can subvert them somehow):
* roast meats and root vegetables
* mulled wine
* open fires
* hats and mittens
* 90% of non-Jesusy christmas carols
* christmas lights
* etc etc etc
Look, every time I say this to Australians they're like "oh but I love fairy lights at Christmas, they're lovely". And yes, twinkly lights are nice any time of year, but they REALLY make sense when you leave work at 5pm and it's already dark and you're walking home and although it's the darkest and least colourful time, everyone has taken this effort to light it up. And you get to see them for hours and hours, every time you go out in the late afternoon or evening, not just when you're on your way home late at night. It really does make a difference.
So I came away from Canada with less grumpiness about Christmas generally, but with a lot of confusion about how to integrate it into a southern hemisphere existence. One result, as you know, is to hold Christmas in July (or thereabouts). I'm still undecided on what to actually do in December.
I guess the other thing that really changed for me, living overseas, was eating different kinds of food. I found Ottawa a bit challenging for food, because it just doesn't have the food culture that Melbourne does, or the availability of fresh ingredients; I ate a lot of boring food, to be honest. They do have good cheese though (if you know where to go) and I grew quite fond of things like the LCBO (the government run liquor store) and my local Chinese takeaway that had Chinese food completely different from what I'd known in Australia. I still crave this deep fried eggplant and black bean dish they had. And yes I ate poutine (chips with cheese curds and gravy) as they should be eaten, from a cardboard box bought from a truck, and I ate Timbits and tarte au sucre and head cheese and fiddleheads and buckets of maple syrupe and whatever else is Canadian food. The only Canadian food thing I really brought home with me was an increased consumption of maple syrup.
California, I think, changed my eating more than Canada did. Things I brought home from California/the US: eating lots of beans cooked from dry, flavouring things with chipotle and ancho chillis, Latin American food and flavours generally, cooking with molasses, drinking iced tea, eating dill pickles, hot water canning, an obsession with farro (argh why so hard to find in Australia), and a whole new level of salad-making. Also, I burned out on asparagus and couldn't eat it for a couple of years after getting back, because it was in EVERYTHING for a while there (especially Google's cafeteria lunches). Oh, and US food culture (especially mass food production) made me more vegetarian than I ever had been before. I miss the Alemany farmers' market (which was the Preston Market of San Francisco, vs the Ferry Building farmers' market which is like the Prahran market) and I miss being able to buy limes cheaply on every street corner and I miss plantains and arepas and huevos rancheros at greasy diners and the amazing salsa at the gratuitously hipster taqueria near my house.
The hardest adaptation to living in another country, in my opinion, is medications and, more broadly, a different medical system. It's not that other systems are necessarily worse (eg. Canada), but they're *different*, and you're trying to deal with them while at your sickest, which is not the best time to try and deal with anything new. For instance, a couple of weeks after I arrived in Ottawa I caught a cold and went shopping for some cold and flu tablets. Normally I would scan the shelves and recognise them by their packaging, but in another country the packaging is all different. So eventually I found the cold and flu shelf and tried to figure out what to buy. I knew I wanted something that was basically paracetamol + pseudoephedrine (this was back before they took pseudoephedrine off the shelves) but I couldn't find *anything* with active ingredients that matched what I was looking for. Instead, they all seemed to contain this "acetominaphen" stuff, that I'd never heard of. I went to ask the pharmacist, and the pharamcist had never heard of "paracetamol". Then I realised that "acetominaphen" was a different generic name, and had the pharmacist look it up in their big book to confirm. It turned a 5 minute pharmacy run into a whole big drama. So my advice to people moving abroad is to take a stash of your favourite OTC meds with you for any common ailment (cold/flu, upset tummy, allergies, menstrual cramps, etc) so you can get through at least the day or so and be somewhat doped up when you have to deal with it all.
The other thing I found frustrating, but have become more chill about with practice, is the mapping of products to vendors. Let me explain by example. You know those jars with flip-top lids, that you use for storing say rice or beans? I wanted to buy some in Ottawa, and looked in all the places I expected to find them -- supermarkets, the apparently local equivalent of the Reject Shop, a homewares store, etc -- and couldn't find them anywhere. I eventually asked my Canadian colleagues where they would find storage jars for the kitchen.
Their answer: Canadian Tire.
Yup, Canadian Tire, the big automotive supply chain. It turns out that they have automotive, outdoor living, garden, and yes housewares, and that it's *exactly* the right place to buy cheapish commodity-ish kitchen stuff. It's not at all what I would have expected, though! I feel sorry for any Canadians moving to Australia and looking for kitchenware at one of our automotive retailers.
My other experience of mapping-products-to-vendors was a bit more abstract, but I had a similar case when I moved to the US and was trying to find a post office to send a parcel. Apparently you don't do that at a post office, or at least most people don't. I blogged about this previously
so I'll just link :)
If anyone has questions about any other specific living-overseas thing (err, that I, as an Australian who's lived in the US and Canada, would be able to answer) I'd be happy to respond in comments!