A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
My first local connection here ended up being a few degrees away. My dad’s friend has a son here. A son who was kind enough to read the stress and freaking out in my email to him and reply with a simple, “No worries. Come over and we’ll catch up.” And so on Saturday morning I found myself wandering out of downtown, across a bridge, past the set they just filmed The Great Gatsby on (I saw the train station in the film, which will hopefully mean something in a year when it comes out), through a bit of suburbs, and to a house in Rozelle.
I arrived to meet the couple of the house and their two sons (aged 3 and 1). The weather had heated up a bit, but that just helped me appreciate the first blast of AC I’d felt since my arrival. They apologized for the volume of two young ones in an enclosed space. Having spent the previous night in a dorm hostel over a bar, the boys didn’t even register on my noise scale. And so we sat and had a conversation. A full on conversation. One that didn’t start out with “What country are you from? How long have you been here? What terrible job are you going to get?” We discussed the states, and I filled them in on my plans – vague as they may be. Having grown up in Maryland, Shawn and I had enough context to discuss. And having that background in the US, his details of the various neighborhoods here were peppered with references to the familiar. This is where the old money lives. This is the place to be seen. This is where the pierced and dyed eccentrics are. Here is some beautiful architecture. Here is amazing nature.
I got recommendations on what to see, where to go, what to do. I got an explanation of some of the social quirks I can expect. He corrected my pronunciation – it is Ozzie, not Aw-see and Mel-bun, not Mel-born. I received a history lesson – the story of the Aborigine is letter for letter the story of the Native American. I got an introduction to the music I need to know, the big Aussie bands. I got advice on drinking – the beers here are stronger. I even got an update on current events combined with an explanation of the political system. (The Vice-PM has the more sinister title of “Shadow Prime Minister”.) And we talked about my former work, and melamine, and raising kids, and barbecues and gardening. We talked about race relations and sexual equality. We feasted on lunch from the local pub. (I did well by polishing off my burger Aussie style – burger, lettuce, tomato, onion, pineapple, fried egg, and I believe some kind of root. It was the first non-pasta or stir-fry meal I’ve had since landing.)
And most importantly, I got an invitation to come back and hang out again. With advanced notice we might even do a proper barbie (barbee?) next time. And with that I learned a few very important lessons that will probably serve me well to remember:
1 – A smile and good attitude will get me far.
2 – I have a support network back home and they are looking out for me.
3 – Any connection, no matter how tenuous, is still a good opener.
4 – Being open and interested in people, they will tend to respond in kind.
5 – Any strange place can have open doors if you but seek them out.
6 – Aussies are friendly.