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Over the barrel

By Spencer Gear - posted Wednesday, 8 February 2012


"Hey, Mike! Any chance that you or a mate could come with me to the Vancouver wharfs to pick up the drums that have arrived from Australia? Do you have a ute we could use?" Mike and John from the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia (BC), Canada, were ready for that 75-minute trip to the wharves. We went there to pick up our six 44-gallon drums that contained all of the goods that my wife, 2 small children (aged 3 and 1) and I needed for a year as a student in BC before moving across the border to Washington state.

I was not ready for Mike's response when we saw the drums, "My, oh my! I was expecting to pick up your drums for you to play in a band. We call them barrels here".

English was spoken in the countries in which we lived for 7 years (Canada & the USA), but this was our introduction to the differences in lingo among Western countries. There was no more peanut paste, but peanut butter. The boot of the car was the trunk. My close friend, a mate, had very different connotations for the Americans. He was my buddy and petrol was called gas.

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There were other issues for us as foreigners in a new country that impacted various aspects of our daily lives. We had to get used to the dates being recorded as month/day/year instead of day/month/year. Driving on the opposite side of the road took a lot of concentration and there were idiosyncrasies in road rules when compared with Australia.

As for Vegemite, forget that "salty yucky stuff", but we did find some in a foreign foods' store in Vancouver.

I write from an historical perspective. We last lived in north America 25 years ago. We have lived in British Columbia (BC) Canada, and USA cities in the states of Washington, Ohio, Indiana and California.

As an Aussie radio DJ, I remember playing Perry Como's, "The bluest skies you've ever seen are in Seattle" in the late 60s. However, we lived in Washington state during the winter and the skies reminded me of Melbourne's misty rain – but much colder.

The foul vowels

While we understood the Canadian and American accents, they had great difficulty with our broad-sounding Aussie vowels of "a" and "i". Saying something like, "Today we had the time of our lives taking the kids on the miniature train in Stanley Park", caused frowns as those foul vowels had to be explained. We found the only way to communicate accurately was by means of accommodation. We adopted the American pronunciations and came home with Yankie sounding vowels.

Fantastic fellowship

When moving as a student with a young family to a new country, it was important for us to have a group of people with which we identified and could help us adapt to much that was new. I could have done this with the college student community but this left my family out. In multi-cultural societies like Australia, I can understand why certain ethnic groups find fellowship with those of the same culture in their adopted country. I met a few other Aussies in Vancouver when I was DJ on an ethnic radio station.

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However, the greatest help we received in adjusting to a new culture was through the local church we attended in Mission BC and then in USA cities. The church has received a lot of bagging in Australia, but for us it was our place of refuge and fellowship as we found our way in situations that were often strange. A quarter of a century later, we still communicate by email with Chuck, Darlene, and their families from that church in Mission BC. Those families made us feel special and welcome in their homes. Not just for Sunday after church but at many times when we needed them to be there, especially with young children who were crying for grandma and grandpa back in Australia.

Bummers and beauties

What could compare with the contrast of beauty between our first snow storm in BC and a summer visit to Lake Louise and Banff in the Canadian Rockies? This was especially so for us after being raised in the sub-tropics of SE Qld on sugar farms.

Some of the beautiful memories include the fresh fruit and veggies we purchased from the Amish farmer folks in Ohio. An old-order Amish community lived in that region. Their buggies were frequently seen with horses tied to hitching rails supplied by the stores. While their lifestyle seemed strange to us, we found them to be people of integrity and their veggies to be the best quality.

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About the Author

Spencer Gear PhD is a retired counselling manager, independent researcher, Christian minister and freelance writer living in Brisbane Qld.

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