Meeting the Neighbors and The Muzzle

photo by: Kate Farquharson;

photo by: Kate Farquharson;

 Steph’s note: This post is a continuation of Converting to Celsius While Down UnderMy family and I had just arrived in Adelaide, South Australia to live for one year while I taught as an exchange teacher. 

Adelaide, Australia: January 2010

We had already met Diesel, the massive bullmastiff that lived next door — at least from the ferocious pulsating muzzle up. Since our arrival five hours earlier to our new home in Adelaide, whenever Kurt, the kids or I set foot in the back yard, Diesel rocketed straight up his side of the corrugated metal fence. While his incessant barking reverberated against the fence the entire time, we only saw his face at intervals. It was like watching a carnival game when a recurring animal head pops up in random holes as contestants try to smash it down with a hammer.

(cropped) photo by: Dan Ciminera;

(cropped) photo by: Dan Ciminera;

I wished I had a blunt implement after crossing the front yard and walking over to the next-door neighbors’ house to meet Diesel’s owners and ask to use their phone. Our power was out. Consequently, I hoped they could help me although we didn’t even know their names. We knew Diesel’s, however, since his barking and canine teeth-bearing appearances were always accompanied by a guttural, “Diesel! Shut the f**k up!” from the male head of the household — who was also reputed to be a drug dealer.

United Arab Emirates_flag

I was willing to take my chances with The Dealer. With a temperature of 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) outside and with no electricity or air movement inside, our new house felt like it could easily be annexed by The United Arab Emirates.

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Converting to Celsius While Down Under

Sydney, Australia, January, 2010

sun and 43 version 3Wearing sunglasses and spouting sweat droplets, a bright yellow sun icon panted as it hovered over Adelaide, South Australia on the weather map. Accompanying the sun, a red numeral forty-three pulsated near one of the sweat drops. It was forty-three degrees Celsius to be precise.

“That sounds a bit high, doesn’t it, honey?” I asked my husband, Kurt, as we watched the weather report for Australia in our efficiently air-conditioned Manly Beach hotel room and spotted the high slated for Adelaide, the next day, January 13, the day we would arrive in the city that would be our home for the next year. The temperatures in Sydney for the past few days had been in the mid to high 20s Celsius.

Glasers on the ferry

“Yeah. That does seem pretty high,” Kurt turned down the volume on the TV and looked at me with a furrowed brow. “What is the conversion on that? What did that guy on the Manly ferry tell us? You double the number and add thirty?”

“That can’t be right,” I said, thinking back to an Australian man whom we had met on our way from Manly Beach to the Sydney Harbour. In addition to helpfully telling us how to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, he told me he worked at a “flare” shop in Melbourne. It took me a minute, after marveling that an entire shop could be devoted to flares and perhaps it was a somewhat hazardous enterprise, to realize that the guy was really saying “flower shop.”

“That makes 43 degrees turn into,” I closed my eyes and did the math. “116 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s Libya we’re talking about or Death Valley,” I said while trying to shove newly purchased Aussie flag emblazoned souvenirs into our already overflowing suitcases.

Frankly, I was more concerned about how many pounds, or rather, kilos the suitcases weighed than the conversion to what seemed to be an impossible temperature.  “It’s been so perfect here in Sydney. Does it even get that hot in Australia — except maybe in the Outback?”

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Travel Scoops — Who wants truth in advertising? Australians: “yes”; Americans: “maybe not so much”

Homebaked, fresh bread -- a must for Vegemite

Concentrated yeast extract: aka. Vegemite.

Steph’s note: I’d like to introduce a new feature, “Travel Scoops,” in which I will highlight travel observations, interviews, news and finds. 


How do cage eggs, scones topped with clotted cream, toast spread with concentrated yeast extract and coffee pressed by a plunger sound for breakfast? To an American, these items sound more like a line-up rejected by the Food and Drug Administration. Many Australians, however, gladly consume these products at “brekkie.” In fact, they may even flashback to childhood while eating some of these comfort foods.

french press with plunger

A French Press.

USA: Glam it up

Americans, instead, go for “farm fresh eggs,” “scones with “Devonshire cream,” and coffee made in a “French Press.” Forget the concentrated yeast extract (Vegemite) altogether. Americans, who, occasionally, are accused of being superficial, want products to have pleasing connotations. Remember, we’re talking about a country where the government has referred to torture as “enhanced interrogation,” and sports organizations admit that athletes use “performance enhancing drugs” rather than steroids. We definitely like things enhanced — or at least glammed up a little. I once worked for a temporary agency that offered me a “paper manipulation” gig. You mean filing?

Dumb ways to Die poster

Australia: Tell it like it is.

Recently, while living in Australia for one year as an exchange teacher, I noticed Australians, on the other hand, are direct and straightforward. They don’t sugar coat anything. After all, this is a nation that labelled Vegemite, its favorite spread, as “concentrated yeast extract;” created boots called “Uggs;” named a popular discount retail outlet, “The Reject Shop;” and promoted train safety with the hugely successful public service campaign dubbed, “Dumb Ways to Die.”

You are what you market.

Essentially, the product names and the marketing messages of a specific country tell us quite a bit about that nation’s personality. In fact, marketing, in general, reflects the tastes, attitudes and values of a nation’s citizens.

For example, since Australians are typically direct and, of course, “no worries,” those character traits influence their marketing strategies. “Australians tell it like it is, and we don’t stand for bullshit,” says my Aussie friend, Amy Frazier, who is a photographer and language arts teacher. “We don’t beat around the bush.” 


Australia: Time to use the “toilet.”

Straightforward communication is just part of life in Australia where, daily, I heard newscasters announcing which streets were hosting active speed cameras. “Take it easy driving on Cheltenham Parade today. The cameras are on.” Public Service Announcements warning about flu season show snot and mucus spraying full on from convulsing noses and contorted mouths. Additionally, in public places, people ask to use the “toilet” rather than the “bathroom” or “restroom.”

USA: “Toilet” = TMI

While Americans appreciate the truth, we also cringe with too much information. When I taught high school in Adelaide, I was somewhat stunned the first time a student said: “Excuse me, Miss, I need to use the toilet.” Whoa, I don’t really need specific details. For Americans, “toilet” already is implied in “bathroom.” On the contrary, according to Scott Hill, another one of my Australian teacher friends, “When some of my kids say, ‘Can I go to the bathroom,’ I say, ‘What? Are you going to have a shower?”

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Travel Oops: The ‘Tomato Sauce’ Tirade

The source of my ethnocentrism. Tomato sauce. © Amy Frazier

The source of my ethnocentrism. Tomato sauce. © Amy Frazier

Tomato sauce. That’s what made me go epically ethnocentric when I lived in Adelaide, Australia, for one year as an exchange teacher. I didn’t mean for it to happen, especially since, frankly, Oz is awesome, and I started thinking perhaps I was more Aussie than American. Plus, I’ve always tried to embrace various cultures, respect different customs and avoid going down Ethnocentric Avenue. After all, I once ate an entire portion of hideous headcheese in Paris for lord’s sake.

“We Gonna Rock Down to ‘Ethnocentric Avenue’”

Of course, culture shock is completely normal, and it’s to be expected that travelers will, in some way, compare the country they are visiting to their own. The international non-profit organization, Unite for Site, which relies on volunteers to help with global eye care health in remote villages, has a great explanation of culture shock:

No matter how open-minded or accepting, all travelers are susceptible to culture shock;  for their means of interacting effectively with society have been knocked out from under them. Even seasoned travelers are vulnerable to culture shock when traveling to an unfamiliar foreign country. What begins as discomfort and confusion subtly progresses to frustration, anxiety, irritability, loneliness, and withdrawal.

Unite for Site also warns about the dangers of ethnocentrism, which they define as “the unconscious presumption that there is one normal, single way of doing things, and that deviations from this universal order are wrong.”

An American roundabout. They actually make much more sense.

An American roundabout. They actually make much more sense.

The most adjusted travelers, in my opinion, also get ethnocentric about certain aspects of culture — usually over small things. At least that’s what happened in my case — when I had a tantrum over something trivial. It’s definitely a moment I cringe about now.

I actually thought I might lose it over driving through roundabouts, which terrified me every time they appeared in the road. Even my young kids knew this. “My mom hates roundabouts,” Eddie and Kasey would tell their new Australian friends.

While scary, roundabouts, I had to admit, were practical and more efficient than four way stops.

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Signs of the Times: Time to get the crane for this one…

Nothing to misinterpret here.

Nothing to misinterpret here.

Port Adelaide, South Australia. I’ve found that Australians tell it like it is. They say what they mean, so better bend your knees and lift from the legs on this one  — or get a crane.

The super heavy container.

The super heavy container.

Travel Teacher Oops: Basically Neighbors with the “Biebs”

One of the Hallways of Le Fevre

One of the Hallways of Le Fevre

Adelaide, Australia. 2010. Raiding the supply of “blueys” or blue withdrawal room forms in the staff room of Le Fevre High School, I grabbed a substantial stack. Recently, I had been called a “f**king bitch” in class by one of my year 8 students, so I armed myself with the blue tickets to the “naughty room.”

The withdrawal room was where you sent unruly, belligerent or uncooperative students. As I contemplated how long my blue pile would last, the assistant principal Jane Prince, whisked into the staff room.

“Steph, we need you to teach the Year 7 transition class today,” she mentioned while filling teacher pigeon holes (mailboxes) full of paperwork.

“The what class?” By now I was so used to winging it at Le Fevre, where I had been assigned as an American exchange teacher, it didn’t faze me one bit to be given a class I didn’t have a clue about.

A classroom awaiting students.

A classroom awaiting students.

“The transition class. Year 7s from feeder schools will be visiting today. We need to introduce these prospective students to our maths and language arts programs.”

“Jane, you really want me to teach this class?

“Yes, why not?” Jane grabbed another stack of papers, licked her thumb and began rifling through them. Soon they were completely sorted. She turned to look at me, while peering over the top rim of her glasses frames.

Because, seriously, you want the kids to come here, right? To impress them.

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Travel Ahh…Rocks

At the Remarkable Rocks on  Kangaroo Island with a rock that looks like the west coast of Australia. © Stephanie Glaser 2010

At the Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island with a rock that looks like the west coast of Australia.                                © Stephanie Glaser 2010

I’m no geologist, but rocks have fascinated me for quite some time. I love how they are completely created by the changes in nature. The following rock photos are mainly from Australia, which ROCKS (sorry, pun intended) in terms of cool geological formations. In earlier posts, I’ve included  photos of Uluru, which is magnificent and magical, (and also here) so I’m focusing on some other very cool rocks this time. The above photo and the next three are of the Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

More remarkable shapes at this not as well known national park in Australia.

More remarkable shapes at Flinder Chase National Park  in Australia. © Stephanie Glaser 2010

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Travel Oops: Souvenirs are Forever (unless you leave them in the airport)

heavy luggageThe Air New Zealand ticket agent secured neon green “heavy” tags to half of our eight checked bags. Kurt, Kasey, Eddie and I also had two carry-ons each. We had maxed out the luggage allotment. Kurt also carried a commando poster that came straight from the Bondi Beach Pavillion in Sydney.

© Stephanie Glaser 2010

© Stephanie Glaser 2010

With no protective tube — just a rubber band — the poster was the final souvenir I purchased in Australia. Somehow I had convinced Kurt that we must have it and that he could easily carry it on the four flights that would get us from Sydney to Denver in the US.

“Because you guys bought your return tickets in 2009,” the ticket agent explained to us, “you are still eligible for the two free checked bags per person.” He held one end of a long trail of baggage claim tickets that continued to print. “The policy was just changed in July, allowing passengers only one free checked bag,” he added with a look like “Damn, you REALLY lucked out.”  Indeed we were very lucky since we weren’t charged a cent for baggage.

He heaved the bags onto the conveyor belt. I really wanted him to ask me something like, “Wow, what’ve you got in here? Rocks?”

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Travel Oops: “I’m sorry, she’s left the country.”

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

Two things you automatically have going for you when you’re a foreign exchange teacher and things go wrong:

1. You are foreign and your manner is often chalked up as being an unfortunate result of your nationality.

2. Eventually you will leave the country.

Ultimately you can get away with being strange or a little bit crazy. Even better, if it’s necessary, the excuse that you’ve moved to another country can legitimately be used.

I suggested that my principal use that very excuse on my behalf the next time Gertrude Brown called to demand I give her $1,000. In two weeks, I would be returning to the United States after one year of teaching in Adelaide, South Australia. So, indeed, I was leaving the country. Maybe that knowledge would finally shut Trudy up.

© Stephanie Glaser

Mitchell (right) and his minions © Stephanie Glaser

Early in the 2010 academic year, I had confiscated her son Trent’s mobile phone after he took it out during class to text and show it off to his classmates.

When Trent, who was a whinger to begin with, argued that I had no right to take his phone, Mitchell, the class clown, piped up, “You know she told us we can’t use mobiles in class, Trent.”  Ignoring that Mitchell next leaned back in his seat and placed his feet up on the table, I stood in front of Trent with my arm extended, palm upright.

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Travel Ahh….Color

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

© Stephanie Glaser 2013

Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia. Color and travel go together since we are always looking for something striking to catch our eyes. I took the photo above of my sister, Suzanne, and the the next two photos of rubbish bins while meandering down the famous graffiti alley, Hosier Lane.

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