Cultural Differences: Australian vs. American ‘ideals’

My kid doesn’t eat that.  My kid can’t eat that. 

American kids consume an extraneous amount of pizza, chicken fingers, burgers, and french fries.  If you go out to eat, most American kid menus don’t include a salad option or non-fried meat choice.  I’m so used to parents saying their kids don’t like a particular food.  I understand that, I do.  I do not understand only allowing your kid to eat pizza and chicken fingers while gulping chocolate milk.  My parents didn’t do that.  Yes I fought with them on it, but I had to eat what they made, eat PB&J (which if you have enough of these you get tired of), or starve.  My parents weren’t as accommodating to my food preferences as I see most parents are to their children today.  I was the eldest and it seems they were more lenient with my younger sister when it came to food, but more frequently than not, we were told we had to eat what was made and it wasn’t usually junk.  You can imagine my surprise then when my husband and I dined out at a restaurant in Australia.

Check out the menu:

kid menu australia

That’s right, lamb.  LAMB!  I was amazed.  Perhaps it is in the preparation.  Americans too often enjoy bland food.  Kids want it deep fried because that adds flavor Americans know.  When we add variety and incorporate spices or flavors to excite the palate, maybe American kids will eat more than the five item: chicken finger, burger, french fry, pizza, chocolate milk repertoire.  Good job Australian parents, good job.  I was impressed that lamb was on a kid’s menu.  I want my kid to eat like that.  I’ll make every effort to ensure she does have a varied, nutritious diet.

The finest brewed cup

best brew australia

Dark Americana.  Oh I miss this brewed delight.  Most Americans like pee water for coffee, at least the ones I’ve encountered.  We water down a dark blend with obscene sugar or milk amounts.  Thankfully, every day we spent in Australia and New Zealand, I was able to enjoy the strong, robust flavors of the tall, espresso-like brew.  Espresso is usually served small.  This cup of coffee was the size of a normal American cup but with the strength of a delicious espresso.  I wish I could find the equivalent here.  I haven’t been able to.

Starbucks comes close.  Dunkin Donuts coffee is so weak and tastes like pee and gasoline thrown into a disposable cup (no, I’ve never tasted those items separately or together, but I just imagine a horrible taste and that’s what comes to mind).  Sorry husband, you lose this debate (I can’t take your palate seriously when you suggest MREs for dinner in a non-emergent situation).  Now dear, don’t argue and please help me on this quest to discover a brewed American cup on par with what we uncovered in Australia and NZ.  *sorry tangent.  this debate has existed for quite some time in our marriage*

A Taboo Subject: Sex

Americans are so touchy, pun intended, when it comes to the topic of sex.  Perhaps it is our Puritan roots, but we are really prude when it comes to the subject.  Growing up my parents and secular friends called me prude.  I think I’m pretty moderate when it comes to the topic of sex.  I discuss it but think it should be done in an appropriate, non-grotesque manner.  My current sphere acts as if it should never be mentioned, that sex is something we know happens (kids are present) but should never be discussed except when it comes to recent laws, God, and self-identity.  *I shake my head*

Prostitution is illegal in this country.  (Sex trafficking is awful and is a social justice issue I am passionate about raising awareness for.  However, there are women, rare number I’m sure, who do want this lifestyle and a woman should be allowed to choose her profession.  Force or coercion is a different subject and not a topic I am addressing here.)  However, in places like NZ, it is legal.  I can’t remember if prostitution was legal in Australia or not.  Regardless, the casualness of brochures in Australia regarding the topic was surprising to my American eyes.  See below:

need it be said Australia

Notice how the brochure states that massage shall not be a sexual service in this instance.  I have never seen a brief statement like the one above on massage advertisements in the USA.  Is it another culture’s ease with discussing such a topic?  I’m not sure, but it would be insinuated in the US.  You would never outright state it; at least I’ve never seen anything saying it so flippantly.  (Is it flippant?  I don’t mean carelessly…I just mean it seems that there wasn’t any hesitation on stating such a thing as it would be done in the states.  Wow my grammar was horrible in the preceding sentence and I’m not sure how to remedy it to clearly get my point across.)

Anyways, there were several other slight differences and vast differences I noticed between cultures.  Culture shock keeps many people from traveling.  I enjoy cultural differences and think these differences can help broaden our perspective and make us more rounded individuals with better, more loving character traits.  It is when we travel, overcoming our fears of the unknown, uncertain, and vastly different that we are molded into more understanding, more compassionate, and more intelligent individuals…not always, but more often than not.

*I seem to be anti-American here.  I am an Army wife.  I am grateful for the freedom to speak against my government, be employed as a female (even if we still have to overcome earning 70 cents to the dollar that a man makes), and to make choices which are often not afforded to individuals like those in communist countries.  However, I am also not naive to think that God only likes our culture, that we are a people without sin, or we are somehow superior to other cultures.  America has a lot to work on, just like other cultures.  We are all fallen and fall short of God’s glory.  America isn’t any different when it comes to sinful natures and please don’t mistake my frustrations with American culture as being against my country or my birth roots.  I have resided here and am better able to see the flaws in the system.  I’m sure we excel where others fail and vice versa.  These are just some differences that amused me, made me excited for Australians, and baffled me (not good or bad way).*

Piecemeal review of a trip…more commentary to come in the future

Silver sails dotted the clear blue skies, paying homage to the city’s coastal vibe.  Ascending white cement stairs, we made our way into the grand entertainment center.  We faced several queues inside as people anxiously awaited ticket purchases.  Renown performances were starting soon.  After a few minutes,  we finally had our entrance paid and could join the audience.

Opera house sails

I sat perched on the edge of my seat, nudging my dozing husband whenever the artist leaped into the air and landed ever so gently on toe point.  The Opera House is a misnomer.  Several other events transpired in this venue.  We saw a ballet.  ballet sydneyThere wasn’t any singing.  The Australian ballet company is heralded as one of the best in the world.  I’m not a dancer so perhaps I shouldn’t critique, but I was certain I saw some dancers fumble and while they didn’t tumble, their landing was less than graceful.  I felt like I had seen amateurs on SYTYCD make fewer mistakes, but perhaps those had been edited out.  I was watching a live performance by one of the most famous ballet companies in the world.  I felt privileged to be watching.  My husband was bored.

After the show ended we called for a ride.  The ride we called for never arrived and security was ushering people away from the theatre.  There are few things my husband and I argue about.  When we are tired and lost in a foreign place at night, we bicker heavily.  That is what happened.  I thought we had a lovely, elegant evening filled with dining and watching a beautiful, albeit not seamless, show.  He was aggravated that he just spent the last few hours trying to combat boredom and confusion.  After a heated conversation, lasting the entire trek back to our hotel, we did resolve our conflict.

If you do decide to venture to Sydney, Australia, make sure you have arrangements for late night transportation ahead of time, especially if you are donning three inch heels and your hotel is more than ten blocks from your entertainment venue.  There are very few taxis in Sydney and usually they travel one way at night.  At least, that is the issue we encountered.  Save the headache and spousal conflict while on vacation.  I think my husband would agree, ensure your transportation needs are filled prior to venturing out for the evening when you visit this ocean-side city.

When I grow up…

I think I have figured out what I want to do in life.  I think.  I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure.  Also, I don’t think I’ll ever truly grow up or feel completely satisfied this side of heaven.

I’d like to feel excitement in what I do though.  While Chemistry entertains me, the monotony of the lab for an extrovert can be mind numbing.  I’m frequently told to find ways God is using me in my job to witness and glorify him.  This is usually from people who, while might be tired doing their job, enjoy it and look forward to it day-to-day.  This isn’t me.  I can go to work, but I really do it so because I have a roof I need to keep over my family’s head and the thought of being homeless terrifies me (unless I’m a nomad, but I’d still want a job to pay for mobile housing, fuel, and food).  Yes, I do it for the paycheck and I think I’m ready for more satisfaction from what I do than that.

I assessed what my true passions in life are: God, family, travel. I thought of ways I could incorporate all of these into a career.

I want to be a travel agent.  Yup, it is extremely stressful watching tickers change daily for air fees and such, but I am enthralled by it.  There is grave difficulty in finding the ‘perfect’ deal, but when you come across that rare, inexpensive gem, there is a sense of accomplishment.  Also, I could lead tours with a science and/or religious theme.  The mere thought of travel, even somebody else traveling, gets me excited.

Then I begin to tell people this passion, this desire with giddiness.  My dream is squandered by their ‘realism’.  “It doesn’t pay well enough”, “It’ll become routine and you’ll hate it”, “You can do that as a hobby while you pursue real careers”.

The American ‘Dream’ is to get married, buy a house, have kids.  However, most Americans, including myself, have a litany of complaints and their lives are characterized by venting, gossip, or grumbling.

I love my husband and daughter.  I am happy to have a cozy place to call home.  However, my heart yearns for more.  Maybe I’m not seeking God enough in the mundane, but there is a thrill in traveling for me that doesn’t seem to be eased in remaining stationary.  Also, life to me is more than making money and providing imagined needs (which if we are honest are 90% of the time wants) for my loved ones.

Travel allows you to meet different people, see intriguing sights, and gain more self-awareness through the journey.  When you overcome the fear of root establishment, static work, and predictable routines, you enter into the broken world filled with people desperately needing community, friendship, and hope.  Travel provides an opportunity to witness.  Yes, we can be missionaries in our own backyards, but we can often learn much more about ourselves, our relation to God, and our own need of repentance that we become better equipped (less judgmental typically) to share the gospel in a non-threatening way.

I’m tired of the American ideal that money is security.  I often feel bound to it…a prisoner of bills and expenses.  Money will not follow me to the grave.  Travel, on the other hand, puts me next to people I might not have otherwise associated with, allows me to foster community with individuals very different from myself, and makes for a life that impacts society eternally through the daily witness of the good news to un-reached peoples—Christ died and if we repent and trust him, than we can gain salvation.

I’m noticing that travel is a deep passion God has laid on my heart and if I stomp on this passion through stationary living and routine predictability, I am not using my passions to glorify God.  He wants me to go out and participate in the great commission.  That command will bring me to the USA and beyond.  To not pursue this seems contrary to the purposes God has for my life because he has embedded this passion so deep in my heart.

I have to stop listening to the audio reel that kids operate best with predictable routines, jobs that provide more money are better, and that travel is wasteful because you have nothing tangible to show for your adventures.  I’m not working for treasures moths can destroy, I’m supposed to be working for heavenly treasures and when did Americans begin to think, sometimes myself included, that heavenly treasures mean financial comfort?

Then again, would I think otherwise if I was on the road all the time? There I go again, listening to that soundtrack of impossibility, that success is a dollar sign, family is supported best with a steady 40+ hour job, and that what God wants is for me to have a morally good, stress-free life.  Although, is there an element of truth in this?

I’m so done with American prosperity teaching and the thought that I serve God best when I am living the American ‘dream’.  I want to live the godly commands, experience his promises through faithful obedience, and feel content knowing that as I pursue passions put in me for a reason, I might start becoming the person he wants me to be…and less of this perpetual adolescent constantly complaining, restlessly questioning, and frequently doubting.

Maybe one day, when I really grow up, I’ll understand the purposes for these passions, the reasons for push-back, and the complexities of uncertainty.

Three Decades as of August 6, 2015

2014-06-21 13.59.08Frank cutting a branch2014-07-19 15.14.54

A quiet, witty man walks in confidence, but humbly.

His hands are eager for service,

be it donning camouflaged dregs for his country,

a bright orange vest for parking the lot at church,

a tool belt for building or fixing other people’s homes,

or a spit stained t-shirt from consoling a restless child.

Each day he performs such assistance without demanding thankfulness.

Sometimes he’s taken for granted; his silence often resulting in being taken advantage of or ignored.

He doesn’t do it for recognition though.  He is living peacefully, wishing to serve God and his neighbor.

Subtly he is showing people how to keep peace as it depends on them, to revere the Creator and respect our brethren, but all with a gentle and brilliant humor that brings joy to those who know him.

It takes a while to break through his shell and witness his amusing, gentle, and generous spirit.

Yet those who have met him at some point within the last three decades have truly been graced with a valuable treasure, beyond any reasonable, marketable price.

Too often I, his beloved, take him for granted.  Sometimes I don’t realize how great I have it.  I reminisce of the past, wishing my path had turned out differently (i.e. not a chemistry major or residing in NJ), but forgetting that all those frustrating moments that didn’t go my way (like settling in a state I dislike rather than traveling) have led to a beautiful union with him.  It is through appeasing my father’s desire to pursue science (he said not to major in humanities because it wouldn’t pay my bills as well…and sadly I trusted money and my dad more than God, but I have been able to pay my dues and other people’s too), reside in NJ, and attend a “if your single than you should be paired up” group that has resulted in being married to this incredible man and producing the most adorable and easy-going, if I do say so myself, child.

Willow 4 months(I mean look at her…how could you not agree?  Alright, I’m a little biased.)

Frank,

I write this to say that I might not say it enough, but I am forever grateful for your life.  I am thankful that you show me what it means to love others and God in a sincere and humble manner.  I know that each day I spend with you I am made better.  You are noticed, respected, and treasured…even if it isn’t spoken enough.  You are a man of few words though so I know that a simple thanks is all you need and the length of this is far more ‘wordy’ than you would ask for.  I always feel I need to say more though because there aren’t enough words of gratitude to express how much you mean to me and those around you.  There aren’t enough ways to demonstrate or state just how important your life has been and that God made such a great gift when he breathed life into you.  I pray he give you many more years and that I might be fortunate enough to witness them with you as we raise our little girl together with tears, laughter, prayer, and joy.  Thank you for agreeing to take this adventure with me.  I know I’m a bit outspoken, spontaneous, and thrill-seeking and sometimes that frustrates you.  I’m grateful you looked past that though and agreed to this perplexing, wonderful union.  I am fortunate to share life with you.  I am happy to even share the quiet, grounded, and predictable moments I have with you my quiet, witty, humble man.  I need to appreciate how life went because it led me to where I am now: in your strong and loving arms. My fairytale life is far better than anything Disney could have concocted; it is something designed by our great, awe-inspiring God and he always does something better than we wish for ourselves or that others would have for us too.

I love you and I hope you have another 30+ years to impact the world so that God’s kingdom might be on earth as it is in heaven.

Thanks for enduring the length of this and listening to me even when it is a strain to do so.  You put up with so much.  I’m glad you do.  Thanks!

(Grammar might be a little terrible here because last night didn’t afford much restful sleep…but such is the joyous life with a curious little girl.)

First Time at the Beach

Sun baked the sand; hot grains burning bare toes.

sand frank and willow footprint

Briskly crossing the dunes, we began to encroach the moistened portion

as the waves beat the shore.

Heavy laden, we dropped our bags in fatigue and set up camp by the water’s cool breeze.

lounging beach 2015

stevealwater 2015

Willow lounge beach 2015

Stripping our outer layers, lathering bodies in lotion, we raced to the foaming, salted water.

The babe’s feet were gently immersed.

Willow Ocean 1st time

Adults anxiously watched her, waiting to see her reaction.

A long second passed and a wail belted through the air, permeating the serenity.

Mother understood the frustrated cry.  The water’s chill rocked the bones.

After wading a while equilibrium was reached.

Older folk were enjoying the water’s briskness.

A few more attempts were made to introduce the little darling to the ocean’s waves, its salted waters splashed her knees.  While Father held her, Mother clapped hands and smiled.

With Mother’s enthusiasm, the little one cocked her head and suppressed the screams.  Instead, the babe quieted cries and twisted her frown into a grim curiosity with each brief submersion of her feet.

Slowly, baby learned that it wasn’t a terrible experience and she might enjoy this as she gets more acquainted with the crashing waves of the salted seas.

Like all beginnings, there is fear in the uncertainty.  However, when we muster the courage to try the adventure, we’ll find joy and excitement in the attempt and a strengthened character by overcoming the struggling fear through prayer and determination.