Tag Archives: expat

Words I never realized were Australianisms until I left Australia

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“Advertising Tomato Sauce” by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m not surprised that some Italians have trouble with my accent — after all, Italian is all about the beautiful distinct vowels, and I’m not sure vowels even exist in Australian English. (Is a vague “uh” noise a vowel? Because in Australia, it is EVERY VOWEL.)

What throws me off is when I’m talking to another English speaker and they look at me oddly and I realize… pretty speccy (meaning, “quite impressive”) isn’t actually a standard English idiom.

So here’s a list of some other I-never-knew-they-were-Australianisms. With the disclaimer that probably a lot of these are also used in New Zealand… (But then, it’s my patriotic duty as an Australian to claim all of NZ’s best stuff as coming from Australia.)

  • Doona for duvet
  • Yummo! which is what you say to small children when trying to convince them they really do like the food they’ve been given
  • Op shop for charity shop/thrift store
  • Bottle shop is where you buy alcohol — what do other countries even call this? I’m guessing not “bottle shop” and definitely not the standard abbreviation, bottle-o.
  • Maccas for McDonalds
  • Gumboots for Wellington boots/rain boots
  • CBD for city centre/downtown
  • Arvo for afternoon — IN MY DEFENCE… I did realize it wasn’t standard English, but I had this idea that at least some British English dialects used it
  • Glad Wrap for clingfilm/Saran Wrap
  • Heaps for lots (“Thanks, that’s heaps” to the person dishing up your dinner)/very (“That’s heaps good”)
  • Classic! an exclamation meaning that something is particularly amusing
  • Tomato sauce for ketchup. To this day, I can never remember how to ask in Italian for tomato sauce on my burger because I know the Italian word is the same as the English but then I blank on what the word is in everyone else’s English
  • Bring-a-plate for bring-and-share/potluck
  • Rockmelon for cantaloupe
  • Singlet for… a sleeveless undershirt but I just remembered having a massive discussion recently about what those things are called in other Englishes and now I’m not brave enough to offer a translation
  • Texta for felt-tip pen
  • Milo is a chocolate malt drink. It isn’t actually an Australianism: it also exists in (I’ve been told) Ghana and Malaysia, but not Britain or America, oddly enough.
  • Cheers big ears… Honestly I’m not sure anyone really says this in Australia either
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Taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses

I went to Salone del Gusto and the only photo I got was this taxidermy boar wearing sunglasses. (I am such a bad blogger.)

My extremely glamorous expat life right now is more like my extremely busy life, so it might be a while before I write a coherent narrative blogpost again. Also, I am a terrible blogger anyway — Thursday evening I spent a couple of hours wandering through Salone del Gusto, an internationally-famous food show (aka obviously a good blog topic, slap bang in the middle of my “Turin life/food/things I do as an expat but wouldn’t have done back in Australia” niche) but I was too focused on free samples of cheese and booze to take any notes or photos for a blog post.

(I wrote about Salone 2 years ago, but this year they’ve moved it from the ugly horrible exhibition centre in Lingotto to outdoors in the centre of Turin, which is definitely a nicer setting. If you’re in Turin this weekend, you should go!)

For now, some notes on the rest of my life…

While every season is food season in Italy, autumn is even more food season. A couple of Sundays ago was our traditional pilgrimage to Asti for the Festival delle Sagre, a huge festival of Piedmontese food. Imagine an open space dotted with stalls, each representing a village in the area and selling one or two of that village’s specialties, plus wine at 50 cents/glass. And then throw in a Ferris wheel (why not), folk dancing demonstrations, and thousands of happy Italians with paper plates in their hands and wine in tumblers in holders around their necks.

WINE HOLDER

WINE HOLDER. Genius.

This is the third year in a row I’ve been. Traditions have started to form, like starting the trip with friciula (fresh fried bread-y-pastry-y with lardo) from Mombercelli. “You reckon the friciula stand is in the same place this year?” “Come on, what do you think? We’re in Piemonte.”

(The friciula stand is near the centre of the festival grounds, as it always has been and always will be.)

Meanwhile, Facebook’s On This Day strikes again: a couple of days after the festival it reminded me of photos from the first time I went, 2 years ago. Of the group that went then, only 2 of us were there this year, because everyone else has since left the country. (Come back guys!!)


Two weeks ago, I had the bright idea to get back into running for stress-relief. No tracking distances or times, no pushing myself, just getting out there in the autumn evenings for fresh air and feeling less like a brain in a jar.

In those two weeks, I have already started noting distances run, decided it would be cool to work up to running 10 km comfortably in time for my birthday in November, and googled a bunch of 10k training plans… ZOE, NO.


But maybe I am getting better at relaxing? Earlier this month I went to the beach with some friends and actually enjoyed it rather than getting there, going for a swim, then drying off and going “uh, can we go do smething now?”

Beach near Finale Liguria

Possibly the secret was that these friends have two small children and I can attest the beach is much more fun if it’s socially acceptable for you to build over-engineered sand castles and collect a lifetime supply of mildy-interesting rocks. (Oh wow, that is a brown rock, isn’t it? Shall I put it with the other brown ones?)

(Practical note for future reference: we went to the private beach of Hotel del Golfo in Finale Liguria — the big advantage being that you can throw money at your problems and pay for parking, rather than drive up and down the Ligurian coast for hours looking for a spot. There’s a patch of public sand on the same beach as the private section, so you don’t actually have to pay for a chair if you prefer to bring your own. Parking/beach use is open to non-guests according to availability.)

Fountain at Place des Jacobins, Lyon

Speaking French and buying wine in Lyon

I spent the last week in Lyon, France, for a work trip. To be honest, the most exciting part of it was that my hotel room was a lot quieter than my apartment (which is on 3 tram routes) and had airconditioning. “How was your conference?” people have asked me. “It was amazing,” I’ve replied. “I slept so well.”

In Lyon, I discovered that if you speak French to me, I will automatically reply with perfect Italian. Like, better, more fluent, Italian than I have ever used in Italy. I feel like I have discovered a brilliant language-learning strategy here. Pretty sure if I spent a month in France I could come back and write a novel in Italian.

The annoying thing is that I do have some French… At least, I studied French in highschool. To be fair, Australian highschool French is not much, and it was far and away my worst subject, but still. Well, and ok, by “worst subject”, I mean a language assistant once laughed at my accent. But still.

The thing is, in Italy if you’re not obviously fluent in Italian and you’re speaking to someone who does speak English, in my experience at least they’ll switch to English for you, without you asking. (Which is frustrating if you’re trying to practice!) Whereas in Lyon at least, people would often keep going in French, even with me. I went to a tea shop one afternoon and went through the stage of saying I wanted a black tea, and into the stage of indicating I quite liked Darjeeling tea even though I couldn’t remember any conjugations of plaisir, and was well into the oh my goodness when will we end this awful charade that the nonsense coming out of my mouth is French stage before I finally apologized for saying instead of oui for the 10th time because j’habite en Italie and the shop assistant finally offered to switch to English.

At least I got some French practice in.

Apart from the tea shop, my other French shopping experience was wine. In a foolishly generous mood I had texted a friend saying, “you want me to get you any food from France?”. I was thinking about chocolates or biscuits or a tin of pâté or something. The reply came back: “How about a bottle of wine, red or white, anything up to 20 euros and I’ll pay you back”.

I know nothing about French wine. (Actually, any wine.) So then I was asking every French person I know for wine recommendations, and not getting very far. Who knew I knew so many French beer drinkers? Eventually I triangulated what information I had and put myself at the mercy of the guy in the wine shop — who didn’t seem to understand when I said I was looking for a wine quite different to Piedmontese wines, possibly because he didn’t believe that Italian wine could really be called that.

But I wasn’t too worried, since I had a backup plan. A colleague had pointed out that the conference organizers were giving out a free bottle of wine to all attendees.
“So you can tell your friend you have a wine that was recommended by French people,” she said. “You can even say you saw other French people with this wine.”
“And I’ll say it cost me 19 euros,” I added. “Turn a profit.”

I really did buy a 20 euro bottle of wine, I swear.

The River Dora, Turin

Green grass and pots of ragù and day-to-day life.

It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve had lots of ideas for blog posts and nowhere near enough time or energy to turn any of them into reality. So this week will truly be a collection of snippets…


I often feel odd writing about the truly day-to-day stuff of living in Italy, especially since I know many of my friends here read this blog (hi guys!) and I can imagine them rolling their eyes and saying, “yeah, we know how to buy bread, duh.” But of course many of you don’t live here (why ever not??) so one of these days I should write a post about the process of getting a haircut when you don’t really speak Italian very well and the stylist doesn’t really care what you ask for anyway, because it’s fairly hilarious.

Also, a question for those of you who are better at Being an Adult than I am: do you trim your own fringe (bangs)? I do, because it feels silly to pay someone else to do it when I am in possession of a pair of scissors, a bathroom mirror, and only slightly below-average fine motor skills, but does this make me uncouth?


Last week was the Jazz Festival, and like I do every year, I fully intended to go to many concerts and ended up going to one. Or, half of one. I had a couple of house guests and we’d agreed to meet up Friday night at the free concert on Piazza Castello. The music was great, but after about 15 minutes, V. turned to me and said, “You know, this is really the sort of music you should listen to sitting down, with a glass of wine in your hand” — miming holding a stemmed glass — “not standing out here in the cold.”

So 10 minutes later the three of us decided to go back to my place and drink wine, instead.

(This is how many of my attempts at cultural experiences end up.)


My grand — and possibly only — achievement this weekend: I made a big pot of ragù and filled up a collection of freezer tubs so Future Me can eat nutritious food even when she can’t be bothered cooking. (Future Me is always so needy, geez.) I used this recipe (in Italian), because I was intrigued by the inclusion of milk and the use of white wine — I think I like it! And not just because I’ve got enough of the stuff to feed me for weeks…

Actually, the best achievement wasn’t making the ragù, it was realizing that I could roughly chop the carrot/celery/onion, and then throw it in the food processor to get a fine dice. I think this is something people who cook have known about since approximately the invention of food processors, but as a not-very-Adult person who trims her own fringe and doesn’t own a proper kitchen knife, this is a revelation.


If you’re friends with me on Facebook you’ve already been subjected to this joke but:

20160415_084245 (640x640)

What, by driving a truck?


Finally, a question for locals — has this Spring been more green than last year, or am I imagining it? Somehow, last year was all about the blue of the sky, but this year I have become very aware of the green of the leaves of the plane trees visible in my bedroom window, and the grass as I walk through Giardini Reali or along the Dora river.

My two guesses at rational explanations are: 1. I really am imagining it; and 2. there was so little rain last year things were actually less green. Any other suggestions?

Hills in Barolo

Wine and pancakes and sandwiches.

So besides winning the War on Pigeons (I am still proud of myself), what have I been up to recently..?

  • Went wine tasting a couple of weeks ago with some friends on a gorgeous Spring afternoon. Rolling hills, rows of vines, magic light as the sun got lower. I hadn’t realized how much I’d needed to get out of the city until I squatted, absentmindedly patting a friendly farm dog, my eyes drinking in the open space in front of me. Turin is a beautiful city, but sometimes you need a distant horizon.
  • (You’ll notice that’s a description of wine tasting that doesn’t say anything about wine. That’s because the current status of my sense of smell is that a lot of red wines are very pleasant to me, and I could even tell the ones we tried were better than my usual “what’s on special at Da Marco?” bottles, but the only note I can positively identify is the smell of olives. Which I smell in every red wine. Pretty sure a basic requirement for sommeliers is being able to distinguish the scent of wine from olive oil.)
  • My friend C. and I tried to go out for brunch one Saturday, but brunch isn’t really a familiar concept here. “How about we host our own pancake brunch on the Monday public holiday?” I said. So we sent out a group message and got a handful of people saying they’d come.

    “But you’d think the idea would be more popular!” she said… so we went on a bit of an invitation spree at church and suddenly we were spending the Sunday afternoon thinking about what we’d do if the number of people coming greatly outnumbered the number of chairs in my apartment.

    In the end, we made pancakes for 15 people (only 3 in excess of the number of seats!), using 5 batches of this recipe which is the best (I know 3.5 tsp of baking powder sounds ridiculous, but it works! and you can’t taste it). We had a lovely brunch/afternoon of sitting around chatting with old friends and new. I even busted out my emergency Tim Tams later in the day, which is a sure sign of a good party.

    After everyone left, we spied the dregs of a bottle of sparkling wine, and toasted our brunch-hosting success. (Moral of the story: always host parties with C!)

  • Was at dinner on Saturday night with another friend A., and partway through a couple sat down at a table near us. The woman was so! familiar! I spent the rest of the meal wracking my brains, How do I know that woman? Should I go over and say hi? On the bus ride home, Does she live in my building? Or maybe she’s a friend of a friend? I’m sure I know her, I hope she didn’t see me and think I was blanking her. Finally, as I was lying in bed… Oh that’s it! She works in one of the lunch places near my work. So probably a good thing I didn’t go and say hi, since the full extent of our prior contact is “Prendo un panino” and “3 euro 50”.
NO PIGEONS

We have always been at war with the pigeons

Sometimes I think I understand my life…

…And then I find myself sitting on a tram at 10:30 at night trying to keep a ladder from falling onto the lady sitting next to me.

(Funnily enough, this isn’t even the oddest thing I’ve transported by public transport this week. That honour would go to a bunch of five helium balloons. “Don’t you have a car with you?” asked the lady in the balloon shop, a very proper older lady who couldn’t believe we’d ordered multiple colours of balloons for a graduation party when clearly the correct colour was red.

She’d also insisted that the friend who had ordered the balloons had asked for orange as one of the colours, so she was going to turn the entire crowded storeroom of the shop upside down to find one, even as I tried to convince her that he could cope perfectly well with a second green balloon in the bunch. I tried not to check the time on my phone too pointedly. She found an orange balloon at the bottom of a dusty box. While she was inflating it, she asked me how long I’d been in Italy. “4 years? Why don’t you speak Italian better?”

What I’m saying is, those balloons were awkward.)

Back to the ladder.

If you’re friends with me on facebook, you’ll know I’ve had a pigeon problem this year:

pigeons_1

My post got me some… interesting suggestions: “Smoke em out”; “Put a rubber snake near their entrance”; “How good are you at meowing?” as well as the comment that I was lucky I’d get the chance to see baby pigeons up close.

I have no idea if baby pigeons are cute (probably not) but in the meantime every noise made by these pigeons was amplified perfectly by the acoustics of my bathroom ceiling, and I didn’t fancy being woken up every morning by pigeon coos. They had to go.

That evening, I rummaged through the cupboard of random things left by previous tenants in the apartment, and found some netting. Stretching as high as I could while standing on a kitchen chair on my balcony, I tied it as well as I could over the ventilation hole. “Sucks to be you, birds,” I smirked as I admired my work.

You can imagine how this goes, right? 2 days later:

pigeons_2

I started googling how to get rid of pigeons. Do you know they breed up to 6 times per year? Do you know a quality ultrasonic pigeon deterrent costs hundreds of dollars? Do you know they rapidly learn to not fear scarecrows/rubber snakes/etc?

By this point, my friends were asking me for updates on the pigeon situation every time they saw me. “How are your room mates?” “Any babies yet?” “Have you considered a gun?”

So I am happy to report that with the aid of a ladder I managed to re-tie the netting without any gaps and I haven’t heard any pigeons for a couple of days now. Sorry birds, but my use of tools is superior to yours.

I fully expect to be divebombed every time I hang out washing, though.


Cover image derived from a photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia- Own work, GFDL 1.2

Spring in Baltimore

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Spring!

It’s grey and rainy here in Turin — must be spring! Though to be honest, after a year of nearly non-stop dry weather, the rain is a welcome change.

We’ll see if I’m still saying that after it rains all week like it’s forecast to.

Actually, the rain is making me a bit nostalgic. I arrived in Turin 4 years ago this month, during an April where it rained every day except one. (I kept track.) I had been in Turin for weeks before I realized the Alps were close enough to be visible, because they were covered with clouds the entire time. I wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself in for. I said things like, “Well if this is what the weather’s going to be like, why don’t I just move back to Scotland where at least the beer is good?”

In the end, things worked out, and I made friends and I’ve come to love this city, even if the weather here is frequently terrible.

20121101_104734

How could you not love this?

(By the way: If we’re counting milestones, it’s not just 4 years since I moved to Turin, it’s 5 years(!) since I accidentally moved abroad. Woah.)

Even with the rain, it does feel like spring here. It’s noticeably warmer, and the trees are blossoming and budding leaves. Of course I haven’t gotten around to getting a photo of this in Turin yet, so the picture for this post is from Baltimore the other week.

Fortunately, I don’t get hayfever, with one exception. On International Women’s Day in early March, the tradition in Italy is to give women wattle flowers. There’s a whole separate blog post that could be written about “getting flowers” vs “getting equality”, but I have a more immediate complaint about the practice: I am allergic to the flowers. Sitting on the tram in the evening of March 8, with every woman on board carrying a sprig of wattle bloom, was a rather eye-watering, itchy-nosed experience.

(Also eye-watering was the terrible pun thread that resulted when I posted about this on facebook, starting with, “Wattle you do, Zoe?” and going downhill from there to a horrifying low from my own mother of, “Aunty Hesta means to provide her some relief soon”. Muuuuum!)

In other nose-related news, though: I was at my friends’ annual Easter Monday barbeque last week, and I could smell the meat cooking. This was quite exciting, because a) it was delicious, and b) last year, I wondered why everyone was so politely talking up how good the food smelt when there was clearly no odour coming off the barbeque — this was just before I realised I’d lost my sense of smell. So… Progress!

Freshly cooked hot cross buns

Making hot cross buns in Italy

Now it feels like Good Friday,” said my Irish friend A. as she helped me butter hot cross buns still warm from the oven last night.

For as long as I’ve lived in Turin, every Easter I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot cross bun right now?” But hot cross buns are not an Italian Easter tradition, and I’ve never found a decent substitute. (Yes, colomba has dried fruit, but the texture is totally different and there’s no spices.)

This year, I finally decided to make my own. Here’s how I did it:

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The Alps from a plane window

Sometimes travel days are their own stories.

Hello from Baltimore!

I’ve been here since Saturday night, for a work junket conference, and I will write something about the place, I promise! But for now, I have enough to say just about the trip over here…

Let’s start with a moment of triumph that will make sense to everyone who’s ever had to get by in a language they’re less-than-fluent in. Normally, when I check in for a flight in Italy, what happens is I say “Buongiorno”, hand over my non-Italian passport, and the person working at the desk replies, “And what is your final destination today ma’am?” But on Saturday, something different happened, for the first time ever: the check-in guy asked if it were ok to speak Italian, I said, “ok”, and off we went.

That sounds like the dumbest moment of triumph when I write it down (and there’s no shortage of Italian people who have done business transactions in English while in Australia!) But considering how often I’ve encountered Italian customer service people who switch to English because of my Australian accent, I’m going to assume I said buongiorno really really well that day.

After that minor ego-boost of a start to the day, the flight looked like it might be a disaster. It was a day time transatlantic flight, I was surrounded by a group of early-20s guys going on a trip to Miami, and American Airlines seemed to think it was ok to put us all on a plane without any personal entertainment systems to keep these early-20s guys occupied. (90’s time warp!) The main screen was showing The Good Dinosaur, to which they said various things that helped me expand my vocabulary of Italian swear words.

But American Airlines had one secret weapon: a 60-ish Italian guy working in the cabin crew, who managed to charm every single Italian person on the flight. He had the kids giving him hi-5s, the adults chuckling at his commentary on the American food on board, and the guys around me absolutely entranced — by doing card tricks and cup-and-ball tricks and making napkins appear from their ears. I wish I had thought to get a photo of these guys, wide-eyed and leaning out of their seats to see which card would appear. It was brilliant.

Landing in Miami, passport control was barely-contained madness. The US now has automatic passport reading machines. Like the rest of the world! Except, unlike the rest of the world, everyone — US citizens, too — has to go through the machine and then line up to talk to a person like they’ve always had to. No-one I spoke to had an explanation of how this was going to make Immigration run faster.

Also slightly inexplicable: when I finally did get to an Immigration officer, he and I ended up having a great old chat about a documentary he’d watched about the physics of light and general relativity — never mind the hundreds of people waiting in line behind me. What was confusing though is that I’ve never ever encountered a friendly Immigration officer anywhere in the world, especially not in the US, which made me suspicious the whole thing was an attempt to poke holes in my claim I was going to a physics conference. Never in my life have I so nervously said, “Yeah, general relativity is really fascinating, isn’t it?”