Where are you from Down Under? I was born in Brisbane, then moved to Cairns when I was 9. Eighteen months later, Mum, my sister and I moved to Melbourne — so I consider myself a Melbourne girl.
What brought a Melbourne girl to London originally? A fling! Long story — really crap on arrival ... but hey, it got me here!
How long have you been in the UK at this point? Six-and-a-half years.
As a kid, did you think you would ever leave Australia and make your home in another country? Dreamed about it but not as anything I ever actually thought I'd do.
Really? I was under the impression that many antipodeans emigrate to the UK. They see it as some kind of rite of passage. I didn't think about it like that. When I first got to London, I picked up a book called Australian Expats: Stories from Abroad, which charts 33 Australian expat journeys. The Foreword opens with a quote from Auden: "... To be free is often to be lonely." The editors point out that despite the loneliness of being an outsider, "to be free is also to be enriched, humbled, exhilarated, enchanted, challenged..." The desire to be free really was — and still is — a powerful motivator for me.
I'm in awe of your Auden (no pun intended) quoting ability. Where did you do your education? Australia. I actually did two degrees at the same time. I applied to one of the first two-degree curricula offered at Monash University in Melbourne. I earned a business degree (Marketing) and an arts degree (Psychology).
It's refreshing to see a truly Renaissance person making her way up the corporate ladder, something that's also in evidence on your very entertaining blog, Gidday from the UK. What is your day job nowadays? I'm on contract for Associated News Limited, part of Daily Mail General Trust, a business that is privately owned by Lord Rothermere. I'm the sales coordinator for www.localpeople.co.uk, a network of community-based Web sites. I've been there nine months.
Have you always worked for English companies, or is this something new? I've worked for three companies before this and, come to think of it, all are of English heritage but were bought up relatively recently by overseas interests: Tetley Tea, now owned by the Tata Group, which is headquartered in Mumbai; Interpet, bought by the U.S. company Central Garden & Pet just before I joined; and Alpha Group, bought by the Italian-based Autogrill while I was there.
The U.S. and the U.K. are said to be separated by a common language. Is the same true of Australia and Britain? The problem for Australians in Britain is that we presume to speak the same language and have a similar culture — after all, Australia is still part of the Commonwealth. So when the inevitable miscommunications happen, they are more of a shock than if you were learning a completely different language and culture. Australians have a tendency to say what they think, and that can get you into some sticky situations. It's been one of the biggest challenges for me, particularly in managing staff.
The United States may have broken away from Britain and become a republic, but I sense that my experience of London overlaps yours in some crucial ways. I would wager, for instance, that you are over-scrutinized by the natives on your use of the Queen's English. I'm sure you can relate to the trouble I've had with the word "pants." English people say "pants" to mean underpants, but for us Australians and you Americans, "pants" means trousers. You know you're an Australian living in London when you mention your "pants are wet" — because you stepped in a puddle — and everyone gives you weird looks.
fossick on their desk, and they looked horrified until I told them that it meant rummage around!
We haven't even broached the issue of Australian pronunciation. Another minefield. My boyfriend is English. Some time ago, I mentioned to him I was going to Sainsbury's to buy charcoal chicken (I think you call it rotisserie chicken in the U.S.). He thought I'd said "chuckle" chicken. We still have a good chuckle, as it were, about that. Australians tend to put equal emphasis on their syllables, whereas the English put the emphasis on the first syllable and then let the rest of the word fade a bit: e.g., South-Wark versus Suth-ock. (I'm referring, by the way, to Southwark, a borough in South London that is home to the famed Borough Market.)
But at least you don't have the constant ear-bashing, as I did, about the misguided policies of the government back home. Actually, do people in England even know that Australia now has its first woman PM? Ha! Not until I tell them. And given she's just announced a General Election, it may not be for long!
What would you say is the key difference on how Aussies look at life compared to Brits? Australians are MUCH more outdoorsy. They may not be necessarily sporty but we have this whole thing about fresh air. I love to go outdoors even in the dead of winter. English people have this annoying habit in winter of turning the indoor heating up to tropical levels and then walking around in tee shirts. I feel like saying, "Put a bl**dy jumper on, you twit ... saves money and the environment!"
Interesting. I feel the same way about Americans in New York City — they seem much more wasteful of energy than citizens of other developed countries. So can you trace your roots back to Britain — is that something Aussies like to do? My stepmum's from Ramsgate and still has various relations there. Mum's dad was Irish and descended from Bernadette Devlin, who was the first woman in Irish parliament. I should also mention that Dad is Dutch, so I enjoy popping over to Amsterdam and exploring the restaurant scene in hopes of finding the "home cooking" my Oma used to make. Bit of a mixed breed I am, as are most Australians.
After six years, would you say you've become anglicized? I don't know whether I'm anglicized, but my life is very different over here. In Melbourne I was always out and about with friends at the ballet/theatre/dinner/parties and never really considered myself a "home person." But here in London, I treasure my weekends at home. Maybe it's a combination of living here and reaching this age and stage of life.
How did you come to settling in Kingston-upon-Thames? I went flat hunting about a year after I arrived. I had been in a group share and really craved my own space. I knew when the letting agent was driving me up the hill in Kingston that I wanted to move in, even if the flat was a hovel. The flat is quite small, but for me it is a haven, not a hovel. Kingston is also where I met my boyfriend, Jeremy. We chatted on each other's doorsteps for about three months before becoming a couple.
Besides Jeremy, have you gotten to know other British people well? Until I started working, my friends were mainly Australian and to this day my two closest (one of whom I met a week after I got here) are Aussies. But I have a mix of friends.
Has your relationship with Jeremy brought you any closer to English people and culture? Having an English partner (he has two teenage kids) has definitely increased my exposure to English ideas and attitudes. I don't always think about it, but then someone comes to visit from Australia and I notice how much my perspectives have shifted. Jeremy, by the way, is no stranger to Australia. His aunt and uncle emigrated there about 40 years ago, so he has Australian cousins. I would also say that despite his English roots, that man o' mine does a mean BBQ!
When did you start up your blog and for what purpose? I started Gidday from the UK almost exactly two years ago. I saw it as a way for family and friends to get to know the everyday stuff in my life as opposed to the "highlights package" I would deliver in sporadic phone calls. I usually post twice a week: there's an auto-email that goes to 10 of my family and close Aussie friends (who find "following" a significant challenge!). When I started, I found it cathartic and realized that I hadn't written anything that wasn't for business since I'd left school to go to uni. I loved writing in school, and didn't realize how much I missed it.
Do you still keep in close touch with friends in Australia? Not all of them. Distance is difficult, though I think if friendships are strong, they can be sustained. Mum and her partner have just been over to visit. We did some touristy things: Brighton, London Eye, Harrods. We also just hung out. For my mum, hanging out in my life and seeing what I love (and don't love) is the best way of coping with my being so far away. It helps her "see me," she says.
After a while, it can become harder to share things with folks back home. There's this e-mail I got from an Aussie friend: You Know You Are an Australian Living in London When… The answers range from "You catch yourself complaining, then cut yourself off, afraid you’re becoming 'one of them,'" to "You can walk into your kitchen, bedroom and bathroom by pivoting on one foot." That is absolutely so true. It really sums it up. Only those who've done it — i.e., moved to another country, what you have called seeing the elephant — "get" the challenges and the upsets that make up the expat experience.
Wait, doesn't Melbourne have four seasons? No snow though!
How does the food in London compare? Besides being more expensive... I don't eat red meat so traditional English food is a bit lost on me. I miss good Chinese food and I do think Australia has a real edge on lighter cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese and seafood. That said, Indian food in London has been a real joy to explore. I have also liked trying Caribbean and Moroccan food here, which we don't get at all in Australia. You are right about the £££. For that reason, I've taught myself to cook and even to make things from scratch. My latest triumph was taking a glut of onions (I get an organic veggies box delivered every week) and turning it into this amazing relish ... yummo!
elephant parade in London recently, to raise money for saving the Asian elephant, which is on the brink of extinction. There were these huge, brightly painted elephant sculptures in Trafalgar Square, outside the Victoria and Albert Museum, in Green Park, and near the Tower of London, where I took my mum (that's where this photo is from). I've also driven through Elephant and Castle on the way to Islington to visit friends a few years back — but I don't suppose that counts?
It does, it does! I take it that your various elephant sightings, metaphorical and otherwise, have more than made up for the trials, tribulations and hardships you've experienced on your journey. Yes, life has a richness for me now. To use yet another adage: "You know you're an Australian living in London when..." — wait for it! — "you used to think the grass is greener back home but now realize the grass is greener wherever you are now."