People are always asking me about the differences between living in Austria as opposed to Australia. I always reel off the big, easy ones – the culture, the language, the weather, the fact there’s no ocean and so on. Of course let’s not forget the quirkier ones like the fact that they tend to use foil instead of cling wrap and that you always have to pack your own groceries. If you haven’t already read it, check out my blog on the 25 differences between Austria and Australia.
But there is one other big thing. And it can’t be reconciled – it can’t be learnt, and it’s really hard to get used to. Because it’s the past. It’s the fact that the way I grew up versus the way the people around me grew up is completely different. I’m not saying that it’s bad. I’m just saying that it is.
I think that’s why so many of us gravitate toward other expats. It’s not just the shared language – it’s the shared memories and the shared growing up experiences. You can relate to them in a way that you will never be able to relate to someone in a new country.
I can learn a new language. I can learn to drive on the other side of the road. I can learn to think in a new currency and understand a new process for going to the doctor. But I can’t reminisce in a conversation about what you used to watch on TV when you got home from school with someone the same age as me. I remember Family Ties and Gummy Bears and the Fresh Prince. What does my husband remember? Not those. In fact he’s never even heard of Gummy Bears… which is devastating… obviously.
Hubby and I have been brought up in very similar ways – we have similar values – but there’s massive parts of our pasts that are very dissimilar. Yet I could walk up to an Aussie holidaying in Austria, who was a complete stranger, and end up in fits of laughter over Blackboard saying ‘upside down, upside down’ to Mr Squiggle, or we could sing along to the offensive version of the Play School theme song (pretty sure it started… there’s a bear in there… and an electric chair…).
The other day I was chatting to a childhood friend about Sub Zero. You know, the horse. You don’t? Sub Zero won the Melbourne cup way back in 1992. Hubby doesn’t know who Sub Zero is. He probably doesn’t even know what ‘Sub Zero’ the alco pop beverage is (I’m quite sure if I saw a raspberry one even now I would gag (do they even still exist?)). My husband didn’t spend his primary school years doing projects based around horse racing, or spend his later years participating in Cup Day sweeps. He did other things I could never understand!
But of course on the flip side, the myriad of disconnects do make the connections more memorable. When I was at a friend’s I came across ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ in German (Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt). It’s still popular, the world over, not just in my little Australian world. Nursery rhymes and Christmas Carols exist too – some are exactly the same – just in a different language. At Christmas we sing Stille Nacht instead of Silent Night.
It’s a privilege to live in another country and in another culture. But I’m still going to hang onto my past. And hubby and I will just continue to give each other that can’t believe you’ve never heard of that before look when we encounter the disconnects.