In March 2014, Ross Taylor, President of the Perth-based Indonesian Institute, suggested that Indonesia could provide nannies for Australians and relieve some of the issues surrounding childcare in Australia. A huge problem in this country which every mother has experienced and to which there does not seemed to be a well thought out solution in place. It is a dilemma, and it seems that leaders think if we just talk about the problem and then sort of ignore it well it might just go away. Probably more to the point, they will get elected looking like they care and then do nothing and no one will be all that surprised. The wonders of democracy around the world!
There was almost nothing said in the media about the fact the Indonesian Institute had suggested it. No one was leaping at it as a possible solution. Overseas Foreign Workers send back $5 billion a year to the Philippines and have been called heroes by one of the country’s former presidents. Has The Nanny Diaries scared us all off? Are we scared of Asian immigrants stealing day-care jobs? I find the non-reaction funny because if by some miracle Indonesia did start sending nannies over and, big if, we could afford it, then we would be running over people to invite an Indonesian nanny to come work for us.
Let me tell you why. We had a Helper in China. A Helper is a person who is employed by the family to well… help. She did, so much. She helped me by teaching me language for everyday things. She made delicious Chinese food for us. She laughed with me on my days when I didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to do even the simplest things in China. She cleaned our house. She became a loved auntie to our children. She spoiled them…rotten. We ate at her house and her daughter played with our children. She hugged me and cried with me when my grandmother died. She was and remains to this day, a friend.
Is it possible for some people who are employed in these types of positions to be exploited? No one would like to hear this, but yes and it happens more frequently than we would like to know. It is hard work and when the employer is from a different culture then there is the possibility that every day will mean culture shock or, in the worst scenarios, abuse for the employee. They can be asked to do too much. We can blame them for mistakes we made ourselves. I have done that. I would rant to my husband about a sweater that was lost and claim that she must have put it somewhere strange only to find a that I had lent it to a friend. If you can think of a mistake to make with someone working in your house, chances are I did it because I am flawed like that.
There were plenty of friends and family living in other countries who would make judgments about our lifestyle based on the fact we had a Helper. I was teased many times about my “high on the hog” lifestyle. To those who teased me I laugh and say, “Yes and I loved it!” I have a friend who nicknamed her Helper the “Dinner Fairy”. They both got a good kick out it. She was charmingly overboard in her gratefulness and amazement at the wonder of a dinner which magically appeared without the need for her to slave over it. I don’t blame anyone for being green with envy over that lifestyle and if the employee is happy and fairly treated then I don’t see any reason to apologize out of a silly sense of misplaced guilt.
We kept it as fair as we could by paying a decent wage, fairly allocating sick days and holidays, making friends with her, and providing training. Our helper learned to cook many western dishes to sell to others.
She always made them better on her first try than I made them after a lifetime of practice. She would make tortillas once a week for our youngest child. All he ever had to say was, “I am hungry” in Chinese and he had tortillas. Spoiled rotten! One of our friends tutored her Helper in English and she became a teacher’s assistant. This was not something our Helper desired but I think it is important to provide opportunities to learn new skills.
It doesn’t always work well and I wouldn’t want the job of figuring how to legislate this for the best of everyone involved, but the cultural enrichment and relationship is fabulous. It must be free and fair. I have no interest in a program which abuses people. I would love to make a new friend. Maybe I would make a fewer mistakes than I did before.
Our helper didn’t live in our home, which is a whole other ball of wax. So, would you hire an overseas nannie if you could?
*I have omitted our Helper’s name and have not included photos of her out of respect for her privacy.
You may catch me sometimes looking at you blankly, hesitating for several beats before I answer your question or finish the sentence I just trailed off in the middle of. You may have already started your next thought and moved on without me. Forgive me, but the truth is I am still trying to figure out whether to call it a wardrobe, a dresser or a gui zi柜子. My mind is stuck in a hamster wheel flashing up other options that might work as well. The problem is that one of those words has the best meaning but the person I am talking to probably wouldn’t understand it. So here I am, holding my breath and waiting for the word to come out, and here you are, trying to pretend that I am not odd or an airhead or at the least just a little ditzy. In some instances I will just use the wrong word for the language I am speaking at the time, and if you wait for it I may remember to translate for you when it finally clicks that you have no idea what I just said. This process makes me look even more ditzy because I should be able to remember what language I am speaking, right?
I am not really bilingual, and if you want to know the truth I am not even biEnglishgual. Yep, you caught me, that is not a word. If in doubt I like to make it up as I go along. Try to keep up because my mind is a bumpy ride. So is it a clothespin or a peg? Or a clothes peg? Is it a laundry powder or laundry detergent or washing powder? The English isn’t even really the problem. It is just incredibly entertaining for you because in those instances when my mouth doesn’t wait for my brain to catch up, you to hear me rattle off every word I can think of that might fit until you nod and say, “Yes that is it, I know what you mean.” My good friends do this because they know they have to eventually indicate which word is the right one for Australia or else I will just keep going. Sometimes I think they let me keep going as long as they do because it amuses them to watch me try. Some of the words I come up with are way off base. Did you know a brad in the US is a split pin in Aussie land? Those words have no relation what so ever.
Chinese, that other language that I semi speak but am completely illiterate in, is the real issue. It’s the issue because there are so many of my thoughts, that after 12 years of living there, I must express in Chinese. You think I am talkative, verbose and overwhelming? Imagine if you could hear the 30% of my thoughts that are kept quiet because the entire sentence can only be expressed in Chinese. Oh boy, would you love that joke or appreciate the irony if only you knew what the heck I was saying. Imagine how much more articulate I am when I don’t stop breathing in the middle of a thought because the last half of the thought was in Chinese and now I have to translate it or explain it. You might find me understandable. You might think I was humorous. Well maybe not because I never really mastered the art of a joke in Chinese. I want to tell you I have a gege 哥哥, not a brother, because then you would know without any further explanation that he is my older brother. I want to tell you that that problem I am having is well meibanfa 没办法 . This has so much more meaning than just no solution because it indicates there will never be a solution and all hope is lost. I feel this way when dealing with websites and html. Another word that comes to me when I think of html is ma-fan麻烦. It means trouble or stress or both rolled into one. Hard to translate but sheer joy to apply when you are at the end of your rope. And when you are leaving my house after I have complained about all of the above, I want to say man-zou 慢走 because it kind of means take your time leaving but it also means I care and because I care I say man-zou not just see ya. If you are born into a single language family, then all your thoughts and feeling take place in that language. Like me, you may not realize that there are a bunch of other thoughts, feelings and ways to describe things until you start to learn your second language. Once that other language and culture becomes part of you, it becomes very difficult not to express that other language and culture. It becomes, for me, like holding your breath and containing all those other descriptions and thoughts that are running through your head.
By the way if you are bilingual and would like to own one of the t-shirts in the picture above, you can find them and many more items for bilingual families at Bilingual Style.
Mate is one of the best words to learn if you are trying to be an Aussie. A word that I believe is most misunderstood by the world outside of Australia because it is not often used to mean an actual mate, and by that I mean friend or significant other. Mate is used in such a plethora of different ways that I can write a whole blog about this one word. It reminds me a great deal of how we used to use the word “Dude”. For reference please see Keanu Reeves in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Duuuuuude!
The best definition I have seen so far was in the online Urban dictionary which says a mate is anyone you don’t know or can’t remember the name of. Perfect! Although there are other uses for the word this one really sums up its most common use. Although, I would have to add that when it is used this way there is often a heavy sarcastic tone added to it and in this context it comes closest to meaning idiot of the highest order. In the car when road rage strikes it’s, “What are you thinking MATE?” When another person knocks into you, “Well excuse me MATE!” Aussies are most likely to also add one of the five senses to this as well as in, “Look Mate…” or “Listen Mate..” when look or listen is added to mate you are in trouble. The look and listen mate is usually accompanied by the Chris Hemsworth vibe. This is when an Aussie bloke stands up tall, squares his shoulders and looks down at you with a scowl on his face. His voice will also deepen an octave or two, just in case you were not already aware you were in trouble. Sometimes there are no words needed after the “Look mate”, after all most lessor mortals are apologizing and running the other way. An Aussie male was chosen to play Thor for a good reason. I am not sure where Aussie men learn this. I don’t think they are taught. I think the skill is simply part of being an Aussie bloke. I believe it makes its first appearance somewhere right around the first time that their team loses a game. My best advice is not to be there when that happens.
It is, however, amusing to watch if you are not the target of the aforementioned look or listen mate. If it happens to be between two relatively good natured Aussie blokes then it can be quite educational. You may even get the rare instance of a, “Look mate!” being answered back by a, “Listen mate!” If you happen to catch this rare display of Aussie blokes in action, then watch and learn… from a safe distance.
“Maaaaate!” When mate is used in this context it comes closest to meaning awesome. Oddly enough you will hear this usage when a member of an Aussie bloke’s favourite team does something really spectacular. It can also be used to refer to cars, electronic devices and DIY done by an Aussie bloke. Barbecues are also an important part of the Aussie male psych so listen for it when a new barbecue is purchased as well.
“Ohhhh mate.” This is the direct opposite of the mate mentioned above. I have been hearing this one a lot this year as my husband’s footy team, The West Coast Eagles, is not doing very well. Whenever a particularly idiotic play is made then I can be sure and hear this. You may also hear it when a real mate or child gets hurt. The depth of sympathy that comes across in the, “Ohhhh mate”, in these instances is second to none and manages to convey real sympathy and concern.
Lastly, let’s talk about mateship. Aussies really value mateship and it means something quite deep. It is part of the Australian military vernacular and also has been used by the Salvation Army to invoke a deeper call to action towards those who may be struggling. When an Aussie man says, “Yeah he’s a good mate”, he usually means something a bit more than just a guy I watch a game with or a colleague I work with. This is a man who will be with them or who has been with them through real life stuff. It is usually someone they think they can count on or someone they would be willing to be there for. Australian understatement is a real part of this as an Aussie is very unlikely to say, “Yeah this here is the best man I have ever met. He’s been with me through thick and thin.” Instead you might hear a, “Oh yeah Mike? Yeah we’re mates.”
Someone should and could write a book about how Aussies use the word mate. It is fascinating and new uses seem to be invented everyday because this is not a nation of men who like to talk. If one word can be used to mean several different things and convey feeling then by all means that word will be used instead of actual sentences.
I will leave off with the following series of jokes about the differences between Americans, Australians, Brits and Canadians. I found them at conviction creations. I hope you enjoy it as much I did.
Canadians: Endure bitterly cold winters and are proud of it.
Brits: Endure oppressively wet and dreary winters and are proud of it.
Americans: Don’t have to do either, and couldn’t care less.
Aussies: Don’t understand what inclement weather means.
Aussies: Are extremely patriotic about their beer.
Americans: Are flag-waving, anthem-singing, and obsessively patriotic to the point of blindness.
Canadians: Can’t agree on the words to their anthem, in either language, when they can be bothered to sing them.
Brits: Do not sing at all but prefer a large brass band to perform the anthem
Americans: Will jabber on incessantly about football, baseball and basketball.
Brits: Will jabber on incessantly about cricket, soccer and rugby.
Canadians: Will jabber on incessantly about hockey, hockey, hockey, and how they beat the Americans twice, playing baseball.
Aussies: Will jabber on incessantly about how they beat the Poms in every sport they played them in.
Since I shared a little pronunciation tip with you in part 1, I will share another one. My name in the Aussie accent is most often pronounced “Christerr”. This is because any word that ends with an “a” and is followed by another word beginning with a vowel gets the “err” treatment. It does occasionally make you feel like the entire nation chooses to talk like a pirate but only on certain words. My name is usually only pronounced “Christa” when is said by itself, which most commonly happens in anger or frustration. Overall, it seems like a good reason to prefer the pirate version. Meal and refreshment times that commonly take place during the day are: Breakfast, Morning Tea, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Tea and Supper. This will vary from house to house but it is pretty close. Breakfast is a fun one because, unlike the States, there are prohibitions on certain foods being eaten for breakfast. Donuts are a no-no. Huge no-no with chocolate and sprinkles all over it. The average donut is too sweet for most Aussies to consider it acceptable morning food. Donuts can be eaten at one of the many tea times instead, so that makes up for it a bit. I should also address American Biscuits here. I made biscuits for my husband and some Aussie friends for the first time and they were so over-the-moon impressed. It took me awhile to figure it out until my friend said to me, “Wow! You make your own scones?” My response was, “Uhhh scones yeah sure ok you bet I do.” Internally I was celebrating, because if a rough biscuit can be considered a scone then score for me. Just do not put gravy on them. Unwritten Aussie rules state that scones come with cream, butter, jam and fruit maybe, but never something savory like gravy. Also, serve those biscuits/scones for morning tea because scones aren’t really a breakfast food either. Now we move onto tea times. If you had asked me about tea in Australia before I met my husband or moved here, I probably would have pictured someone outside boiling water with tea leaves in it and the tea being some really manly beverage with bits of stuff strained through your teeth when you drank it. After I met my husband, I still didn’t know that much but I thought any country that could produce his accent and Tim Tams had to be pretty awesome. I was right, if you are wondering – Aussie land is paradise on earth. Tim Tams, by the way, are chocolate-covered, cream-filled biscuit bliss. Don’t ever try one – you will be addicted and no other biscuit/cookie will ever satisfy you. For a truly amazing experience you have to try the Tim Tam Slam. You can see Natalie Imbruglia, (yeah for the famous Aussie), give a how-to for the Tim Tam Slam on Youtube by clicking here. Using a chocolate biscuit to drink tea,now that is Australian. Morning and afternoon tea are short breaks for a cup of anything you like, but a lot of people here enjoy a cup of tea with milk so be sure to have the carton out and a bikkie (or biscuit), which is a called a cookie in some countries. You can also refer to the hot drink as a “cuppa”. Tea and supper is where we most commonly get confused. Tea is actually the main meal of the evening in a lot of Australian houses, so do not serve them a snack and make sure you clarify before you make plans for “tea” with one family and “supper” with another. Supper is actually another light snack sometime during the evening. While Australia is a nation that has relatively recently gotten into coffee drinking and does it well, there will still be several people that ask you, “Would you like a cup of tea?” and really mean any hot drink that they might have available. On my first trip here, being a guest, I just agreed and ending up drinking so many cups of tea I could have hosted my own party in Boston. Having been born to two parents with strong southern roots, I also discovered that the amount of sugar I like in my tea is incredibly culturally inappropriate in this health-driven nation. People kept asking me if I wanted one sugar or two and I thought, “Are you kidding me? I want 5 or 6 of those tiny little spoons you are using.” Years after that trip someone insisted on making me a cup of tea and she was adamant that she would not judge me on my sugar intake. When she saw how many teaspoons I actually put into the tea, (I only put half as much as I usually would because she was intently watching me), she commented with horror in her eyes, “You know it tastes just as sweet if you just stir it more.” To which I laughed and responded, “That is so incredibly wonderful that you are healthy enough to believe that, but it is just simply not true honey.” Given that there are at least two meal times that are referred to as “tea times” you are going to need to stock up. This shouldn’t be hard. The average Aussie supermarket, , carries three times the varieties of tea as they do of coffee, and usually only two kinds of hot cocoa, if you are lucky. Flavored creamers? Flavored coffee? Unless it’s instant, forget that stuff because they have saved the room on the shelf for tea, tea and more tea.(See the photo of tea shelves above and the photo of coffee shelves below) There are more instant coffee varieties sitting on the shelf than real coffee! Somewhere around 15 brands or types of coffee with one poor little can of creamer sitting on the shelf is pretty good. That is evidence of your local supermarket really making an effort. Better get used to drinking milk or soy milk in your coffee. I hope you enjoyed this random collection of information about tea in Australia. If you would like a bit more of an organized view you can visit Silva Spoon. For part 1 in How To Be An Aussie click here.
Warning: Sweeping generalizations about Australian culture about to take place. For the Aussies out there, however, Crocodile Dundee and the Crocodile Hunter will not be involved in any way. Before we get started on one of the most important parts of Australian culture that any outsider needs to understand, I would like to address the pronunciation of the term Aussie. For anyone who might be under the impression that the double s’s actually stand for a phonetically “s” sound that is not true and will irritate everyone down under. It is a “z” sound, so think of it more like “Auzzie” ok? Great. Now that that little tidbit is out of the way, let’s move on to one of the most important aspects of Australian culture.In Australia, it is that time of year again. The time when it is winter here, and summer in most other places where international sport is played competitively. The time when you get the best up close look at the Australian obsession with sport in almost any form. This time of year Australians are rolling from one late night/early morning international sporting event to the next and paying for it with bloodshot eyes and barely functioning brains. How far you are willing to go to watch that sporting event live is a matter of pride that you can celebrate the next day at work. Our winter TV watching will go from the World Cup to Wimbledon, to the Tour de France and on and on and on. Heaven forbid the Ashes, (a mind bogglingly important series of Cricket games between England and Australia), or the Olympics be on TV, because there will not be one drop of sleep to be had. I recently rolled my eyes as my husband got out of bed at 4 in the morning to see a World Cup match and stayed up until 2 am just a day later to watch Wimbledon and the World Cup. Colleagues are sure to go to work the next day and eye each other with an odd mixture of pride and sympathy as they struggle to complete mundane tasks. Lest you think this might be viewed negatively by their bosses, let me share a few things to reassure you. This is a country where the prime minister, (see him in the photo to the right), once said, “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” This was after an Australian yacht won the America’s Cup in 1983. Also, this is a country where an entire state gets a public holiday for the Melbourne Cup which is a horse race that lasts just a few minutes. So have no fear, the bosses will mostly show up half awake as well. Thank goodness “Gridiron” or as it is called in the States, “Football”, hasn’t really caught on here yet. Why would it? This is a nation where the game Aussie Rules Footy is played and it is not a game for the weak at heart. This is game where a player recently went off field, got his nose and half his face bandaged, and then returned to play the rest of the game through pain and blood. This is game where pads are for the wimps and the play doesn’t stop for 1st and 2nd downs, cheerleaders or running out of bounds. There is slight break for half time but if you blink you will miss it, so the sprint to the toilet is a national pastime as well. If Aussie Rules isn’t enough for you, this is a nation where they play Rugby and Rugby is a game that must be watched to be believed. Mums in Australia don’t ask other mums if a child plays sport – they ask which sports a child plays. For the answer, assume anything less than two sports is incorrect and will earn you a concerned look and a response something to this effect, “Oh well that’s ok. It’s good to take a break now and then.” Since I have just mentioned Mums lets address the gender divide. Lest you think that it is only the men staying up late to watch sport, let me tell you the women here are just as into sport as the men. One of my best friends can name off tennis players and their superstitions and will stay up late or wake up early to watch an important match. She will also sit and watch cricket all day for the right match. This is not an isolated case. Most of my female Aussie friends have at least one international sporting event that they will willingly sacrifice sleep for. I have another friend who stays up for the Tour De France.
So do you want to be a genuine Aussie? Pick a sport or two or three or all of them. Watch it with a degree of devotion that requires physical sacrifice on your part. You are sure to blend right in at work the next day with your blood shot eyes and triple shot of caffeine.
Part two is coming soon!
June 2nd is Dragon Boat Festival which is celebrated in many different places. China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia all celebrate Dragon Boat Festival. Western Australia will even be holding Dragon Boat races later this year. This year Dragon Boat Festival also falls on a public holiday in WA and I decided that it was time to celebrate the festival in style. So what did we do to celebrate this festival here in WA? First, I made a very important visit to Lotus Vegetarian restaurant on James Street and picked up some Zongzi. You cannot celebrate this festival without Zongzi. Zongzi is sweetened glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or banana leaves. Lotus Vegetarian is a friendly little place with a vegetarian grocery attached. They are quite helpful and you can order over the phone for pick up later. You can find contact details and other information for this restaurant on their website by clicking here: Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant. You can see my son with our haul of Zongzi in the picture. We were all excited to dig in! Word of caution, don’t eat the leaves.
We also made origami dragons. To say this was a challenge would be a huge understatement. My husband actually went to lie down to get away from me ranting at the computer. I made two and the first one was a real clanger. Free online patterns for dragon origami can be found here: Hugo Pereira origami diagrams. For some of us though a little more help is required, so if you are like me here is a link to a great YouTube tutorial: dragon origami tutorial. The boy in the video is incredibly impressive and patient. You can see my second attempt at a dragon in the picture.
Our next stop was William Street. We made reservations at Shanghai Tea Garden. You can visit their Facebook page here: Shanghai Tea Garden. Not only is the décor gorgeous but the food was absolutely amazing! We were the only people there who weren’t Asian, which to me is always a good sign you are getting excellent Chinese food. Our boys left the table after eating so much it boggled my mind and then came back 5 minutes later to eat even more. The people were very friendly and some of the other patrons even advised us on where to take the best photos in the restaurant. After stuffing ourselves like Christmas geese we decided on a walk down William Street. This is a street meant for the explorer in your family. There are so many different shops and restaurants to visit. If you want pork buns, spring onion pancakes, traditional Asian clothes or beautiful Chinese lanterns in addition to a lot of other food and Asian products, then this is the street for you. Lastly, we made Dragon Boats of our own using a pattern available for free here: free kid’s crafts, dragon boat project. The boys really got into this project. They named their dragon boats, mine was Smaug, and we raced them later by taping them to toy cars. I have a feeling the races will last all week or at least until our dragons fall apart and we need to make new ones. Dragon Boat Festival is tomorrow but our family has enjoyed celebrating all weekend long. We still have Zongzi in the fridge, dragon boats to race and I have some beautiful Chinese lanterns to hang tomorrow. I hope you enjoy Dragon Boat Festival tomorrow and some of these ideas come in handy. For more information on living an international lifestyle please visit my other blogs: Life Hack Language Learning, Third Culture Kids, Birthplace and Belonging and Where will you go? Living a life Without Boundaries .
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