Monday, October 3, 2016

The expat life - 6.5 years later

I've been writing these posts ever since we left Australia 6.5 years ago, although our "expat" experience started long before then when we moved to France in 2007. Oh, boy. I kinda shudder and laugh at myself when I think back to how clueless we were back then. We muddled our way through and over the years, I've certainly grown more confident and capable living in different countries and have learnt a lot about myself, my limitations, boundaries and wants in life. This expat thing sure is character building!

So, life in the USA after 4.5 years?

The Good...

- The price of just about everything (except houses in the bay area). Makeup = cheap! Clothes = cheap! Shoes = cheap! Eating out = cheap! Groceries = cheap! Going to the cinema = cheap! Cars = cheap! Petrol = cheap! cheap! cheap! I'm in for a shock when we get home, I know. Is it because Australia is an island? I don't know. I wish I knew why. But lets just say I've been madly stocking up on just about everything we use before we leave. We have 9 x 50lb bags allotted to us and I plan to use it all.

- Google Shopping Express. Amazon Prime. Amazon Now. Instacart. Doordash. OrderAhead. Curbside. Did I mention that living in Silicon Valley has made me a lazy person? I can have pretty much anything on my doorstep from alcohol to eggs to clothing same day, or groceries within an hour using Amazon Now. And for minimal cost! Either a small yearly membership or a tip.

- The weather. Although, this is not always a good thing (there's no variation. Just sunshine! Sunshine! Sunshine!). I miss real rainy days. I miss a thunderstorm. There's also no electrical storms - we have seen lightening um, never?! And the sunsets kinda suck. And I can pretty much guarantee you that on any given summer day in San Francisco, it's colder than it is in Brisbane. During winter. Ok, so maybe I shouldn't be putting the weather as a good thing... But it is degrees warmer in the south bay at least :)

- Chick YAYYY! (aka Chick-Fil-A). It arrived in Sunnyvale in October 2013, my southern friend turned up on my doorstep with it on opening day exclaiming "here is the food of my people". Oh Kelley. I love you and the food of your people :)

- Ok, more fast food, but... In-N-Out. I've never really been a fast food person. I'll eat it on a road trip, but that's about it. Here though we LOVE CFA and In-N-Out. I remember the first time we ate In-N-Out. I sent Mitch in to grab us some dinner after driving home from Tahoe while I waited in the car with Ollie. "Get me a chicken burger!" was what I stupidly told him ;) Little did I know, they offer pretty much one thing: a hamburger. But a good (and again - cheap cheap cheap!) hamburger it is. When I'm on a health kick, I get it protein style (lettuce wrap) and when I'm not, I eat it with a side of animal fries and a chocolate shake. I'm gonna miss you In-N-Out burger.

- Liquid smoke. It's LIFE CHANGING people. Woolies now has Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce apparently, when will they get liquid smoke?

- Berries!!!!!! I've never eaten so many berries in my life - because finally, they are affordable! Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, oh my! My boys are big fans and I know they're going to miss the giant Costco sized punnets of fresh raspberries for $5.

- TARGET. Note: it is not like Target in Australia. It is the official headquarters of all stay at home Mums. It. Is. Amazing. Cheap and cheerful.

- Within just a few hours drive we can be at the beach. The mountains. The snow. The desert. The bay area might have its downsides for day to day living, but the travel opportunities are endless. California truly is a spectacular state. It's perfect for anyone who loves to be outdoors and has such varied scenery.

- Trader Joes. Oh, TJs. I love you. Can I pack you in my suitcase and take you with me? You make my life so much easier with all your healthy pre-chopped and pre-sliced and pre-prepared everything from grated cauliflower rice to sliced brussel sprouts, you satisfy my sweet tooth with all your yummy sweet treats, you have delicious pre-marinated meat, you give my children stickers and make them search for a random stuffed bird hiding in your store. You also have tiny tiny shopping trolleys (carts) which they adore pushing around into displays and people. And you import Mango Weiss from Australia and sell it as your own brand. You have cute shopping bags that I kinda want to use as a purse. I like all the supermarkets here except Safeway, but TJs I really don't wanna say goodbye to you next month.

- Super fast internet. Oh, I'm going to miss you super fast cheap internet! Not to mention cheap unlimited data on my phone (and oh dear me, I DID just say data with an American accent in my head. Clearly it's well and truly time to leave).

- Food trucks. I see that Brisbane is getting more a food truck scene nowadays (they didn't exist when we last lived there in 2010 as far as I know) but I am going to miss Off the Grid and just all the random taco trucks and Indian trucks and smoothie trucks and everything else just parked in random spots around town.

- Driving on the right hand side of the road/left side of the car. Yeah, I'm a convert. It feels completely natural and I'm not looking forward to having to switch back. I remember when we moved to the Netherlands and the first time I drove over there (we didn't own a car in France), and how strange it felt and how I kept trying to change gears with the door handle.... Got over that pretty quickly. Right feels right!

- Weird American food combos that actually taste pretty delicious. Like fried chicken with waffles and bacon and fried eggs and maple syrup (for dinner) and chocolate pretzels and peanut butter everything. I'm thinking that my waistline is going to breathe a sigh of relief when we move away from all these treats!

The Bad...

- The price of housing. Google the cost of living in Silicon Valley and you will probably fall off your chair. Especially when you convert to AUD. Rent is shocking, but buying is even worse. I live in a million dollar house. In a million dollar neighborhood. My house is very old. It's not even 1000 square feet. With 3 tiny bedrooms and one bathroom the size of a cupboard (I kid you not. It's about the same size as my pantry. One person at a time in there!). And we live in an affordable part of the bay! I know people who have bought multi-million dollar fixer uppers. I'm sorry, but if I'm gonna blow a few million on a house, I do not want to lift a finger!

- The health system. I'm very very very thankful we have good insurance, but if you don't... It's scary. I recently got my bill for Anneke's birth and it was just a few hundred bucks shy of $30K. I didn't even have a c-section (that costs even more). I had a straightforward, drug free, natural birth, 6 hours of NICU time for Anneke and a handful of lab tests for jaundice. That costs almost thirty thousand dollars apparently. Thankfully we didn't have to pay most of it, but if you don't have insurance - well, you go into debt I guess.

- Credit cards. Granted, we only have one Australian credit card but I remember it was quite a process to get it. Having to get all our pay slips together for proof of income to determine the card limit and waiting for the bank to call our employers to confirm our employment... Here I get offers in the mail daily for cards. And when we opened a credit card, they immediately gave us a ridiculously high limit that was around what I used to earn annually after I finished uni. Without question. Thankfully we've both always been good about saving and have stuck to our policy of not spending money we don't have, but it's no wonder so many people are always in credit card debt here. I hear friends talking about it and I can see why it would be all to easy to fall into that trap when it's so easy to access.

- The choice in milk. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, you just need to go to the dairy aisle in any Aussie supermarket and you'll see what I mean.

- How sweet everything is. Even the bread. Everything here is sweet, sweet, sweet. I've gotten used to it unfortunately.

- COFFEE. Starbucks is among the best here (other than some local random places, or a bay area chain called Philz that does the best iced coffee EVER). Everyone is obsessed with it, or at least in the SAHM circles. Starbucks and Target just go hand in hand. Yet in so many other countries, particularly Australia, Starbucks is the WORST coffee. I wonder if most people here have ever tasted a proper coffee? But the one thing I will say about Starbucks is - it's consistent. Even if it's always burnt and burning hot, at least it's consistently bad.

- The merge lanes on highways. They are often scarily short, non-existent or are a combo of people exiting and entering in the same short space. I love how big the highways are - SO many lanes, but the merging points are frustrating.

- The country of donuts does not have the most basic (and best) of them all: the cinnamon donut. Freshly fried and coated in cinnamon sugar, it's a classic. And we have not found it ANYWHERE. Update: since I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, I FOUND A CINNAMON DONUT! It was sold at Stans in Santa Clara. Their donuts are the best in the bay and always fresh, but it still wasn't as good as a piping hot Aussie one.

- Other random things you can't get here: copha (always a bummer at Christmas time). Honeycomb (unless you wanna pay $5 / bar for a Violet Crumble at the international supermarket. No thank you). Custard powder. Diced dried apricots. Variations in cream (it's half & half or heavy whipping. That's it). Christmas crackers (not a food, a must have novelty item). Kinder Surprise Eggs. Golden syrup.

- Tipping. I hate tipping. Firstly, because I can never calculate how much to tip and secondly, because it's necessary - because minimum wage is well, so minimum. Oh and figuring out who to tip? I still don't know half the time.

- The coins. Oh, the coins. Confession: I STILL DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUR COINS AMERICA. Nickel? Huh? Dime? Huh? Penny? Huh? A quarter makes sense. But a country that still has 1 cent coins is in the dark ages in my opinion. Let alone the fact that the coins have names, not just a number of monetary value written on them.

- CHEQUES. I mean, checks (I do not understand American spelling. Still). Again - they're in the dark ages here. I had never even owned a check book until we moved here. Now I use it regularly because places either don't accept online payments or credit cards and/or if we do online banking, our bank just generates a check to mail anyway. I miss bpay!

- The worst drivers I have encountered anywhere. Enough said.

- McDonalds. Look, I'm not saying that Maccas down under is anything terrific - it is greasy fast food, but McDonalds here is way, way, wayyyyyyy worse. The stores are consistently dirty. NEVER USE THE BATHROOM. The breakfasts (the only thing I really like about McDonalds) are awful. A bacon & egg McMuffin does not taste or look the same.

The hmmmmmm moments...

- Fanny. I STILL CRINGE WHEN I HEAR PEOPLE SAY IT. Like - yelling, "shake your fanny!" at their tiny child (meaning - shake your bottom while you're dancing). Or referring to a fanny pack (aka bum bag). People. Just like you probably die every time I refer to my footwear as a thong (something I've learnt to stop doing - hello, flip flops), my childish side giggles when I hear you say fanny. But mostly I just want to tell you that you've got your anatomy back to front. Google it, please and you may just pause next time you go to tell your kiddo to shake it.

- Referring to a child as "brother" or "sister". Ie - "go tell brother that it's time to go". Not "go tell your brother that it's time to go". Drives. Me. Insane. Your child's name is not brother / sister.

- Potty. I swore blind I'd never use it, but I will admit I've fallen into the habit of telling Austin to "go potty". Although it used to weird me out at first, I've gotten used to people asking their children to "go potty" (although I still think a potty is a noun, and shouldn't be used a verb)... But when a fully grown adult announces they've gotta "go potty", I secretly cringe. I'm sorry. I feel awful admitting it. But to me, a potty is a small plastic portable toilet for tiny humans that cannot sit on a regular toilet without falling in. Not fully grown adults. Bathroom? Yes! Toilet? Yes! Loo? Yes! Dunny? Sure! Not potty, please.

- The absence of the word fortnight in this country. Whenever I've explained what a fortnight is (2 weeks), people say - oh, you mean bi-weekly! And then I'm lost. In Aussie speak bi-weekly means 2 x a week, not every 2 weeks. Right? I'm not imagining this am I? Anyway, lets just say it's been a little confusing.

- Ring pull cans. Ring pull cans!!!!! Do you know how many can openers I have gone through these past four years? Get with the times America. RING PULL CANS ARE THE BEST THING EVER. Especially when you are camping and don't pack a can opener. And I've just realised I'm saying can now. Because no-one understood me when I would ask where the tinned tomatoes where in the supermarket. I mean, grocery store.

- There is no ending to the Happy Birthday song. Ie - no hip! hip! hooray!!!! (x 3). Don't people know you're only singing half the song to the birthday person?!?! I've tried my very best to get people hip-ing and hooray-ing and I'm pleased to say that after 5 years of birthday parties, most friends now know to chime in with this ending for my kids. I hope and pray I've started a trend and it sticks at their kids parties long after we leave so that they can think of that friend with the "strange" accent at least once a year (strange accent = how Ollie's swimming instructor referred to my speak recently). A birthday just isn't complete without a hip and a hooray.

- Cool Whip. I have no words.

- Those weird merge lanes where 2 lanes in the middle of the highway just randomly end and come together with no signage. It baffles me.

And for old time's sake - life in the Netherlands after 3 months, 6 months1 year2 years...

And life in the USA after 1 month3 months6 months9 months, 11 months1 year18 months2 years3 years, and 4 years...

Blogging has really taken a backseat since having (more) kids; life is busier, but I'm so glad I've kept this online journal while we've been living abroad to document my thoughts, impressions, experiences, travels, and - our kids. Some days I still can't believe we had all three of our children in foreign countries. But blogging - will I keep at it once we're back? Maybe. I don't know. I'd like to, but we shall we how life unfolds...

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  1. Wow Lu! I enjoyed reading this so much! I was just about to ask uou how much time it took you writing this. If it takes me half an hour to read it... and then I came to the passage where you say you started weeks ago...!
    Hopefully you'll continue to write the blogs!!!
    The NL is cheaper, isnt it? Nijmegen has an Ekoplaza now and we have rain! I dont understand why you move to Australia ;-)

    And I'm really wondering what you use liquid smoke for! I was looking for it in the NL a few years ago and really tried all the webshops, without result...

    Enjoy the last weeks in California (spectacular place, for sure!) and FALL (with pumpkin patches) :)

  2. Love this post!!!! Have a few comments:
    Google Shopping Express- I am using our version back in Alabama, Shipt. It's good, but it's not GSE!

    Chick YAY!- that's totally how Huds pronounced it as a toddler! And I was so happy to introduce it to you- you are "my people" too. xoxo

    The bill to birth A!? That is blowing my mind! I wrote a cheque (check) for $100 to the hospital when I had Hudson!

    I'm dying laughing at the coins! I never knew! And Cool Whip!?!? Lu, you're breaking my heart! It's such a good thing in so many recipes (PB pie!!!!)

    The drivers....I thought CA was bad- AL is so much worse. Idiots driving HUGE armed tanks and hitting pedestrians left and right....

    And I apologize for saying "potty". I think I used it as a teacher and then went straight to my own kids so it's just what I say. Maybe I can say "loo".

    You changed us with the "Happy Birthday" song :)



Thanks for reading, your comments make my day :-)


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