Culture

Reverse Culture Shock

It’s been a long time since I posted on this here blog, but it’s now time to get back into it.

I’ve now relocated and settled back in to Canberra, Australia after a wonderful three years living and working in Southern California. I’ll be honest and say that I did suffer quite a bit of reverse culture shock; the feeling that I no longer fit into my home country. We had been warned by fellow ex-pats to be prepared to experience reverse culture shock, but I guess you can’t fully prepare for how it really might feel.

Nobody Cares About Your Travels

OK…maybe I’m being a little harsh to say that nobody cares, but my experience is that most people will listen superficially for only a short time before losing interest. At first this was hard, but now we just keep our experiences to ourselves unless someone specifically asks. One of my saviours has been talking to people who have also been ex-pats. They understand what it feels like to return ‘home’ and are actually interested in the experiences we had overseas.

Normality Hits Hard

For the first couple of weeks back in Australia we were excited to see family and friends, eat all our favourite foods, sit in our favourite cafes and see kangaroos again. However after about two weeks the ‘normality’ of Australia began to hit us hard. When we moved to America, everyday tasks were interesting (although sometimes extremely frustrating) simply because they were different. Even though some things had changed in the three years we were away, Australian supermarkets still stocked all the same foods, the cars on the road were still familiar and the Aussie slang which was a shock when we arrived home began to sink back in. 

People Just Don’t Understand Us

Most noticeably, we came home with many new opinions about things. Our minds had been opened while away and we came back seeing Australia and the world in general, in a totally different way. Unfortunately for us, people back here still think the same way they always have, so we have had a difficult time trying to find common ground. For the last few months we have felt very isolated because we couldn’t fit our new beliefs and knowledge into our old lives. However we are now starting to find ways to mesh the two together and are starting to feel more comfortable.

It’s only in the last couple of weeks that I have started feeling comfortable with my life back in Australia. Our house is mostly unpacked, we have caught up with all of our immediate family members, I have settled into my new job and actually think I know what’s going on and have received a couple of exciting opportunities which I’ll tell you more about soon.

Despite the uncomfortable transition, it’s good to be home.

Image by: Garry

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USA: So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Tomorrow we get on a plane and leave the USA. For the last few weeks we’ve alternated between frantically finalising our life here and reminiscing about our favourite and least-favourite experiences here. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling leaving a country that has been home for three years. We are excited about ‘going home’ to the culture we grew up in, to see family and friends and to eat all those foods we’ve been missing. But we are also sad to leave new friends and a country that has opened our eyes and broadened our horizons.

I don’t think the fact that we are leaving for good it has fully hit us yet. As with moving over here from Australia in 2007, I expect we’ll experience some level of reverse culture shock once we get home. There are a lot of differences between these cultures and I expect I’ve become rather accustomed to the US way of doing things. Returning to Australia will no doubt highlight those differences more than I can remember at the moment.

Anyway, we are returning to Australia via ‘the long way round’ (i.e. via Europe). I hope we don’t experience too many delays with the crazy snow storms or protests against Europe’s austerity programs. If we do, I guess we’ll have stories to tell. That is the joy of travelling.

I hope to update this blog with some of my travel tales along the way, but until then I’ll leave you with a photo of Zoe dog enjoying her morning walk before she left the US last week. She’s now residing in Australian quarantine until we get home.

Black Friday = America’s Running of the Bulls

On the day after Thanksgiving each year, Americans partake in a strange pastime where they line up for hours (or even days) in order to be one of the first to rush into a store and snap up all the supposed bargains on offer. I have a very hard time understanding the allure of this type of madness, but then I’m not much of a consumer. In America land, consumerism is a national sport and Black Friday is the equivalent of the Super Bowl. This is one aspect of the American culture that I will not miss at all.

The following video offers a glimpse of the frenzy. Someone likened the scene to what you would see in starving, third world nations when the food convoy arrives. I’d advise you to turn down the volume before you watch this clip. For some reason it’s pretty loud.

Living in Another World

I’ve been in a real funk lately and feeling very disconnected from people. I have a physical ache in my chest and I can only describe it as a feeling of deep loneliness. Even though I’m surrounded by people, I want nothing more than to spend time with my family and given that we are isolated in another country, my family here equals Brendan and my dog Zoe. I haven’t been able to articulate what I’m feeling until I read this passage on Dave Pollard’s blog this morning. This very closely approximates what I’m feeling these days.

(H)aving rejected every notion of civilization culture, I no longer have anything to talk about with most people.

When I’m out in public I often listen to conversations, and what I hear is nothing but vapid time-wasting, echo-chamber reassurances, regurgitated propaganda, sob stories, unactionable rhetoric, appalling misinformation, self-aggrandizement, gossip, manipulation and denigration of others. I hear no new ideas or insights, no cogent discussion of how we can prepare for, and increase our resilience in the face of, the impending sixth great extinction and the economic, energy and ecological collapses that will push that extinction into overdrive and bring down the most expansive and least sustainable civilization in our species’ short history. And what else is worth talking about?

Yet, all around me, people who have not had the luxury of time and resources, as I have, to learn how the world really works, and what is really going on, and to imagine what we might do about it, and how we might live better, carry on as if nothing much is wrong and as if everything in our unsustainable and doomed culture somehow makes sense, and will somehow continue, and get better.

For much of my life I felt as if I were the one living in another, twilight world, shut off from everybody else, unable to make sense of, connect with and be part of the seemingly exciting world they lived in. But now I feel it is all these people, lost in illusion, who are in the twilight world, the one that makes no sense and has no substance. Part of me wants to rescue them, but part of me knows that they are not ready or able to listen, that their worldview is so utterly different from mine that it is as if we spoke unfathomably different languages.

There is a kind of comfort in learning so much, in being “too far ahead”, in knowing that I am more aware of the terrible truths of this world and of our time, than most people can or will ever be.
But it is a cold and lonely comfort, one suffused with grief and a sense of anomie, rootlessness, purposelessness, directionlessness. As I am reconnecting with all-life-on-Earth I am disconnecting from the culture I have known all my life, and all the people attached to it. It is a bleak and anti-social journey I am on, and knowing that it’s right, and inevitable, and will help me become nobody-but-myself again, is, at this frightening moment, small solace.

Photo by: gari.baldi

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to America: Part 1

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post on this here blog. The main reason is that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Sometimes writing helps my thinking, but recently thinking has been getting in the way of writing.

With five months to go until we leave the US and head back to Australia, I think I’m starting the process of saying goodbye to our home of the last few years. Everywhere we go now we take special notice of all the things we’ve loved about this country. On the flipside, all the things we’ve disliked have amplified recently and are driving us nuts. I thought it might be cathartic to start writing all these thoughts down.

  • I’m really going to miss where we live. We can walk to the shops, restaurants, brewery and cafes in about 5 minutes. I can ride to work in 10. We can ride to the library, bookshop, concerts in the park and most of our friends in 10 minutes. We can catch a ferry to the city and it only takes 15 minutes and is a lovely relaxing way to enjoy the evening or a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m going to miss all the fantastic events available here. Free local classes on gardening, bee-keeping, fermenting. Getting to sit in on lectures by people I found on the internet: Chris Martenson (The Crash Course) and Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff). There is never any shortage of interesting things going on here. I worry that Australia is going to feel very ‘small’ in comparison. 
  • I’m going to miss the house we live in. It’s an older house on very little land, but it has three very mature orange trees and a dwarf apple tree. We’ve dug up the weeds surrounding the front courtyard, improved the soil with homegrown compost and now have a small but thriving vege patch. I’m going to miss that.
  • I’m going to miss morning walks along the Bay. I’ll miss seeing the ducklings grow up every year. I’ll miss the supersized seagulls which we don’t have in Australia.
  • I’ll miss the insects and birds that have now made a home in our garden. The bees, the hummingbirds, the Black Phoebe, even the caterpillars.
  • I’ll miss the people I work with. I work in an international office which means I make friends with people from all over the world. We also have some great parties. When the Spanish won the World Cup Final, we celebrate with fresh crunchy bread, salami, cheese, olive oil and Spanish Wine. For Bastille Day tomorrow, we are partaking in Croissants for breakfast. For Australia Day we have a huge BBQ with 300 of our closest friends! Canada Day: It’s Maple Syrup, Ice Wine and Moose Milk. Any Mexican holiday sees us eating tortillas and drinking tequila. And on and on it goes. With so many different countries represented here, we always have something to celebrate.
  • In general, Americans seem to be much ‘nicer’ than Australians. To your face at least, most Americans will be polite and friendly and will at least feign some interest in where you are from. I’ve become accustomed to people here commenting on your clothes, haircut etc and every now and then saying how nice you look. I don’t remember that ever happening in Australia…except maybe my wedding day and that was mandatory for all attending. 

 

  • On the other hand, I’ve found that Americans are not necessarily very genuine with their feelings. It takes a long time to get beneath the veneer. Australian’s generally are fairly honest about that sort of thing (sometimes painfully so), so I initially found it difficult to adjust to the difference in culture. I had an American friend who was clearly (to me) having a very bad day, but she painted on a smile and everyone around her chose to believe it. It’s a little weird and to be honest it makes it hard to believe people when they say anything to you. In general, ‘let’s catch up’ does not mean there will be any effort made. ‘Party starts at 6pm’ means that people will arrive between 6:30 and 7pm. Most Americans will leave soon after desert is served (usually by 10pm), while the Australians, Canadians, Spanish and Finnish will still be there at 2am. It took some time work out that this is not personal and to not be offended by it.
  • The sheer amount of waste here is heartbreaking. Lawns are watered every day (we live in the desert) and most of the time the sidewalk and street are liberally watered as well. People leave the hose running down the gutter while washing the car. The amount of trash is incompressible. The garbage bins (trash cans) in our street are easily six times the size of what we had in Australia and are often overflowing with waste. People here at work will use Styrofoam plates and plastic forks for lunch, even though I brought in real plates and cutlery for everyone to use. It does my head in.
  • I’m flabbergasted at the size of the SUV’s around here; usually with one passenger. Hummers. ‘Nuff said.
  • The bureaucracy here is unbelievable. Forms are lengthy and not intuitive. The banking system is archaic by western standards (although getting better). Telecommunications companies are frustrating to deal with. Anything that involves the Government seems to take forever and never works easily. Some days I seriously want to scream at the ineptitude. Lately, I just have to laugh and shake my head instead. Otherwise I’ll go crazy.
  • Important mail goes missing about 50% of the time. Unacceptable.

Anyway, that’s probably enough sharing for today. I’ll probably revisit this theme on occasion during the next five months.

Photo by: Der Ohlsen

What’s your Walk Score?

I’ve lived in quite a few different places in my life. Some places I’ve loved living, and some I couldn’t wait to get away from. The same goes when visiting cities here in the US. I’ve been to a lot of them, but only a few are memorable and enjoyable to visit. What I found interesting was that the places I really connected with all had one thing in common. They were all walkable neighborhoods.

What makes a neighborhood walkable?

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

© Urban Advantage and Roma Design

Walk Score is a fantastic website where you can check how walkable your location is. Walk Score is officially supported in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. At the moment however it seems most accurate in the US, because it doesn’t seem to pick up on transit options in Australia.

I’ve determined the walk scores of some of the places I’ve lived over the years. Not surprisingly, the places I hated living were ‘Car Dependent’ (Walk-score between 0-49). The places I’ve loved to live have been classed as ‘Very Walkable’ (Walk-score between 70-89).

I’ll certainly be checking the walk score of any potential rental properties when we start looking in Canberra next year.

Photo by: Daniel*1977

How Will We Cope When Systems Begin to Fail?

First of all….let me say Wow! Thanks to everyone for the illuminating discussion on my previous post. I’m still digesting all of your comments and haven’t had the chance to add my two cents worth yet because today has been ‘one of those days!’ Prepare for me to vent.

On Friday my work computer came down with a symptom I like to call The Blue Screen of Death. It was taken away to whereabouts unknown and then returned to me today. I eagerly booted it up, keen to recover the ever so important essay I had been working on like a crazy woman for the last few weeks. It was at that point that I discovered that everything is gone….lost….deleted. I could have cried (in fact I might have a little). I’m ok (sort of) losing the everyday work stuff because I can ask people to resend me everything I lost. I am however, devastated to lose the essay I had put long days into researching. All that research is gone and I have to start again.

But that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about my reaction to losing EVERYTHING on my computer. After a couple of glasses of wine and a few hours of hindsight, I’m prepared to dissect it.

So….. I lost all the data on my computer. Nobody died. I didn’t lose a limb. A piece of technology failed me…..That is all. So why did I react like my world was coming to an end?

This got me to thinking.

How would we react if all the bank’s computers died? How would we get our money? How would we know how much money we had? Where does our ‘wealth’ go?

How would we react if we had rolling electricity blackouts in our district? How could we pump gas (petrol)? How would water get pumped to our house? How would our effluent get pumped away and treated? How would we cook our food?

How would we react if a foreign country denied us access to oil? How would we get food from the supermarket if the trucks don’t come? How do we get to work to earn our money if we can’t fill the tanks of our cars?

It got me to thinking….We are so reliant on ‘the system’. The system is so reliant on technology. Technology is so reliant on energy.

It got me to thinking….How will we (as a society) cope when systems begin to fail?

Photo by: StarrGazr

I feel myself losing hope

I’ve almost finished my first week back at work and the energy and enthusiasm I had coming back from vacation is gone. I’m feeling really down on the world right now and have very little hope for humans. Here are a few contributing factors:

  • On each of the last three days, I’ve nearly been knocked off my bicycle by people who are either not paying attention or are too arrogant to consider my safety. After three days of it, it got too much for me and today I drove the car into work. Although it’s probably just some bad luck (I’ve never had this many close calls on the bike) I feel like something has shifted within people over the last few months.  I feel like this simple inattention to road safety is symbolic of what’s going on in greater society…. almost like people are drawing into themselves, or watching out for themselves at the expense of others. This is coming at a time when we should be banding together as a human community and that makes me despair for the future.
  • On our morning walks this week, a large percentage of people simply ignore us when we say good morning. Not that they didn’t hear us….they simply refused to acknowledge that we had spoken to them. This has always happened to some extent, but it seems to be more pronounced this week. How hard is it to simply exchange a pleasantry with a fellow human being?
  • Yesterday I overheard a conversation regarding the wasting of resources. I was within earshot and the people involved knew how I feel about the wasting of resources (mainly water, oil and electricity). This person was so arrogant about their right to use as much as they like and exclaimed loudly that they didn’t care if they had to pay more for it, but there was no way they were going to use less. Southern California is in drought and is running out of water and this persons solution was desalination plants. Never mind turning off the tap or allowing your lawn to become slightly less luxurious…the answer is to build extremely expensive desalination plants during a global recession (California is insolvent by the way) and run it with increasingly expensive energy. Oh boy! I could live with people who are clueless about our limited resources; education can solve that. But that fact that some people are aware of the issues and still arrogantly believe they are entitled to more than their share…now that does my head in.

Although I’m feeling a bit down on things at the moment, a couple of blog posts this morning brought a smile to my face.

These are simple things. Things I can control. This weekend I’m going get dirty in the garden, finish off some crochet projects and work on my self-sufficiency plans. I suspect that there is nothing like a good dose of personal action to make me feel more empowered and hopeful.

Photo by: h.koppdelaney

World-Changing Wednesdays

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Photo by: Norma Desmond

Since I started this blog I’ve really been focusing on what we’ve been doing to live a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle. I have mentioned Voluntary Simplicity and given some broad reasons about why we are changing our life, but today I really want to jump right in and outline some of the big issues I see impacting us in the not too distant future.

In short, I think the world as we know it is coming to an end. I’m not talking the Apocalypse, but I am talking about the way of life enjoyed by the majority of people in the Western World. We simply can not keep living the way we do without coming up against some very finite limits. Each week, I’m going to start addressing one topic which sometimes keeps me awake at night. Because it’s a catchy phrase I’m going to call this series ‘World-Changing Wednesday’s, however I don’t want people to think I’m a complete doomer. I am in fact a very optimistic person, I just choose to see the world as it is and adapt to reality rather than living in fantasy land. I hope you tune in on Wednesday’s to learn a little more about some of the most important issues which will affect us during our lifetime. To quote Dr Chris Martenson, “I believe the next twenty years will be completely unlike the last twenty”.

There are quite a few issues I’m going to discuss and instead of jumping around all over the place, I intend to approach my discussion in three specific areas:

Economy

Firstly, at a high level I’m going to talk about how money comes into existence and outline the fundamentals of the major Western economies. I promise not to make it boring, but having a good understanding of the basis for our way of life is critical to understanding some of the other problems we are starting to see such as recession, increased debt, failure to save, housing bubbles, disappearing retirement benefits, unemployment etc etc. I’m also going to touch on the increasing wealth gap and demographic issues and how this will affect our lives in the years to come.

Economy#1: How Money is Created

Economy#2: Is a housing bubble looming in Australia?

Economy#3: How the Credit Crisis Happened

Economy#4: The Debt Trap (Our Economic System is not Sustainable)

Energy

Energy is the source of all economic activity in our current civilisation. Cheap energy is absolutely fundamental to our current way of living. Continued growth based on ever increasing levels of cheap energy is not possible and when growth can no longer occur, the whole system will be forever changed. I’m going to spend some time discussing Peak Oil and then look as some of the ramifications of reduced energy on our way of living.

Energy#1: What is Peak Oil?

Energy#2: The Economy and Oil (The Long Decline)

Environment

I know climate change gets all the headlines these days but there are so many more environmental issues that need to be discussed. I’ll talk about exponential population growth and how that relates to resource depletion, including food, water and clean air. I also want to touch on pollutions and toxins and how they might affect us and those we love.

Environment#1: The Issue of Human Population Growth

Environment#2: Resource Limitations ~ Water

Environment#3: Resource Limitations ~ Food

All three of these broader issues (The Three E’s) are closely related and stresses in one area will begin to impact the other two. Over the next few months, I hope to show that there is a Perfect Storm brewing. There are a massive set of challenges converging within a short window of time. Any one of these events will be difficult to deal with, but we are starting to see that they will all start impacting us within  the short space of a couple of decades. Given that no real discussion or planning is yet happening at the national and global levels, these will be interesting times indeed. We are going to be living through one of the defining times of human history and it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

Please tune in next Wednesday for the first in the series, and if you have any recommendations for other topics I should discuss, please leave me a comment.