It had been close to two years since we last set foot on Aussie soil when we landed in Sydney shortly before Christmas. Two years – our first Christmas off the island in 5 years. As we transferred terminals from international to domestic, Sydney’s humidity hit me not so much like a punch in the face – but more like a warm, slow slap. Humidity wasn’t one of the things I had been expecting so early in the morning, not mid-way up Australia’s east coast anyway. Humidity is something we are accustomed to in EG of course, and I was prepared to immerse myself in it once we got further north – but this Sydney welcome had surprised me.
We spent just over three weeks in Oz, as visitors, bunking in with family, staying in hotel rooms all the while living out of suitcases. You see, Australia is no longer our home. The strange realization of the Expat – that what once was normal is no more. I will admit this is not a phenomenon that came upon me suddenly this trip, but rather was confirmation of something I’ve known for a long time. I can’t say at what point in the last few years it became true – after 1 year, 18 months, 2 years, 3 years… but in Australia, presently there is no place for us.
Perhaps these realizations sound a tad mournful, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing. Nor is it positive. The nice thing about visiting one’s “home” country is that begs for the indulgence of wave upon wave of nostalgia. And you revel in it – wandering around eating meat pies, calling everyone “darl” while contemplating the purchase of some shitty tourist plate with a cockatoo on it. Then there’s the newfound appreciation of stuff you would normally have taken for granted – like the view of the Sydney Opera House from the plane. The view of Melbourne’s Southbank under bright blue skies (and you don’t even like cities) while you glug a craft beer at one of its many overpriced bars (confirmation – yes, they are all the same). Or even the friendliness of small town living – those people that say hello to strangers like yourself, while out for their morning walk. You can be a tourist, eating up those kitschy things that you previously turned your nose up at.
In other countries, you make allowances. Nothing is really particularly strange to us anymore – it’s normal to conduct transactions in places where people don’t speak the language. You don’t expect the presence of every franchise in America (or Australia) and the weather, well, it is what it is. However, visiting Oz, even though it is no longer “home” side by side with the nostalgia runs a certain sense of entitlement. And so you walk around, eyes silently criticizing every hipster you see, indignant – “why is everything so fucking expensive,” personally outraged if that café doesn’t happen to have almond milk.
Perhaps those two concepts are the new norm for Expats visiting their former homes. The familiarity to be critical as hell all the while keeping a warm soft spot under your armpit to give it a rough hug when the mood strikes. Perhaps not unlike the relationship with closest friends and family.
Leaving Oz this time I felt the push-pull as the kangaroo-tailed aeroplane rocketed us away for another who knows how many years. Doing something as extreme as going to live in another country brings with it certain changes which one must accept may not be completely reversible. One can’t expect to move away and transplant oneself back into a previous lifestyle years later. For, as much as we may like to pretend otherwise, other peoples’ lives progress and continue too. Visiting Oz is like any other vacation. It’s great while it lasts – and at the time you all might wish that it would last forever, but the reality is rarely how it might have appeared.
So thank you, Australia, for still being there after all this time. Thanks for the blue sky days in amongst the torrential downpours. Thanks for Christmas with family and drinks with old, old friends. Thanks for friendly small towns with bush smells and screeching birds. Thanks to the cities for its reminder of why corporate life is not for me. Thanks for the coffees (trendy and not so trendy), post-Christmas sales, fresh fruit and veggies. Thanks for not asking me to repeat myself when I speak. It’s been rad.
See you next time.