Monday, January 24, 2011

Acclimatisation (or is that with a 'z'?)

This is me, 22 January. No kidding, it's
that cold.

Sometimes, things happen that make me think I’m starting to get used to American life. Unfortunately, there are also times when I’m obviously a long way off becoming acclimatised, or I’m just plain mad (often, I tend to think the latter. Since about Friday, I’ve been obsessed with the song Take Your Mama Out by the Scissor Sisters. If you don’t know it, look it up. If you do, you know what I mean). One of the biggest problems is words. For two countries that allegedly speak the same language, there are a ridiculous amount of differences. As an example, let me share with you a morning of teaching and presenting I had with high school students about 10 days ago – some of these ‘kids’ were less than a year younger than me, so I didn’t think I would have to keep it G rated. Wrong. My first strike came when I suggested that Advance Australia Fair could ‘go to buggery’ during a choir rehearsal. I thought that given the word ‘bugger’ appeared pretty liberally in Toyota ads about 10 years ago, I would be okay. Apparently I was wrong. A smatter of sniggering from students ensued, accompanied by a look of disbelief from the teacher. I moved on fairly hastily.

Strike two occurred a little later in said rehearsal, when I told the students ‘You need to be proud, dammit!’ I wasn’t let off so easily after round two. Mass laughter erupted from the students, followed by the teacher adding: ‘Uh Paddy, you probably shouldn’t use that word in school.’ I apologised and kept going, knowing full well I was now considered just another culturally inept Australian. I resolved to be much more guarded with my language. Which I was. Just not quite enough. An hour later, we were asked for our opinions of Justin Bieber (I know. How culturally significant). I immediately responded ‘I think he’s a twit.’ For the record, I was applauded for this by all present in the room at the time. It was afterwards when I ran into trouble. In a debrief of our performance by our manager, we were complimented on our interactions with students, but I was told ‘That word you used to describe Justin Bieber. It probably wasn’t the best choice.’
‘What, twit?’ I asked, now a little incredulous.
‘Yes. It isn’t really appropriate language for school.'
Somebody obviously forgot to tell Roald Dahl. Regardless, that was my third strike. Jog on buddy, you’re out. I was cursing under my breath the rest of the day.

Moving on from language, driving is another area which requires some change of habit, and something which I am pleased to report I can now handle with adequate competency. I can actually now start a drive without first getting into the passenger seat, feel for the steering wheel, realise it’s not there, and then get out of the car, and into the real driver’s seat. I am, of course, immensely proud. However, there are a few instances where I still find myself falling slightly short. The first is miles, that wonderful, easy to understand system whereby methods of measurement are completely unrelated and convert at increments obviously drawn at random. Not at all like that silly metric system the rest of the world uses. Anyway, miles become a problem when I’m driving on a freeway, and 70 just doesn’t seem that fast. As a result, I have now found myself driving 80 miles per hour on a freeway, before realising it’s in fact 129 kilometers per hour, and slowing back to the legal 70 (112km/h), more than once. This doesn’t pose as much of an issue as the four-way stop, a far-too-common intersection here where all drivers must stop before going on. Thankfully I’ve been erring on the side of caution, or I may have caused a number of disasters at these tricky little blighters, because, where I would usually have right of way in Australia, here I do not, because I arrived at the intersection last. Give me a roundabout any day.

The final part of this acclimatisation saga occurred this weekend, our first weekend off since we arrived here more than four weeks ago. We thought we might use it to get out and explore a bit. Our first stop was at the Plymouth Ice Festival, where we saw some phenomenal sculpting, but some even more phenomenal feats of enduring the cold – the maximum temperature across the weekend was somewhere in the vicinity of -10˚C. As such, we were in dire need of a good, warm coffee shop after about half an hour. We found a great one, but the performance I put on when trying to pay rivaled that of St. Kilda in the Grand Final Replay – abysmal. I took it as an opportunity to get rid of as much as the shrapnel that I had accumulated as possible. Turns out, ten cent and twenty-five cent coins are basically the same size. Owing $2.60, I handed over what I assumed was the correct amount. Turns out it was only $2.20. Delving back into my pocket, I found another piece of silver and handed it over. $2.30. More please. Back into the pocket I went, and three minutes, two dimes, a nickel, and five pennies later, and my debt had been settled. I was laughed away from the register by the attendant. After we were able to drag ourselves away from the warmth of the café, it was off to Ann Arbor, a college city, to meet some friends we had met for a night on the town. The nightclub we frequented was quite the experience. There was no dancing. Instead, there were hundreds of people gyrating in a space where you couldn’t play half-court basketball, lest it turn into a game of donkey. If someone had of poured a vat of cream in there, there would’ve been butter in under a minute. For he who dances like he is wearing two right-footed shoes on his two left feet, it may be a little while before I’m used to American dancing.

Apart from those examples above, I’m now getting used to the American way in most facets of life. I can now adeptly call my mobile my ‘cell’, the loo the ‘bathroom’, the telly the ‘TV’, Steve Irwin ‘The Crocodile Hunter’, and rangas ‘people’. I can put cream in my coffee without cringing, and handle snow-covered roads. I can even understand what people here mean when they say 1˚C is ‘mild’. I just need to watch my language. Heavens to Betsy.

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