Google+ Sandra's Stories: August 2014

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dipping into Pandora's wedding box

On 22nd May 2014, my South African boyfriend Danie proposed and we got engaged. We planned to get married one year later. On 31st May, Danie left Australia and went back to South Africa. By close of business 1st June, I’d bought my wedding dress, chosen the bridesmaids’ dresses and the colour scheme. A week later, the rest of the wedding was booked and organised.

Danie was shocked. ‘I only left Australia yesterday, and you’ve already bought your dress? What are you going to do for the rest of the year?’ My dad thought I was crazy. ‘You’re probably going to change dress size before next year now that you’re back in Australia.’ My five bridesmaids were nervous. ‘What if one of the other bridesmaids gets pregnant before then?’ I explained to all that it wasn’t a problem. I’d chosen dresses with a corset back so we could lace them up as tightly or as loosely as we needed. And there were plenty of other non-wedding related things for me to do while I waited for the big day, such as relax and wait for my organisation to pay off.

In the following months, as Danie and I discussed the completely organised nuptials, the clasp on Pandora's wedding box gave a little pop. While we were living in Japan, we'd felt so culturally similar that it was as if we’d grown up on the same street. But now we were back in our own countries and planning a wedding, the differences in our backgrounds began to emerge. The people in our street had been going to different weddings.         

Danie asked me what the table at the front of the wedding ceremony was for and the lid on Pandora's wedding box creaked open. I told him the table was where we would sign the marriage documents. Danie was confused. ‘Why would we bore our guests with admin tasks during our wedding?’ He'd never been to a wedding in South Africa where this was done.

Once the lid was open, other differences began to pop out. In Danie's street, it is apparently traditional to heckle the groom during the speeches. In my street, heckling is a risky business and would almost certainly result in a death stare from the bride.

In Australia, the bridesmaids in their beautiful dresses and groomsmen with their lapel flowers sit on display at the bridal table. In South Africa, the parents of the couple sit up the front at the bridal table. If there is not enough room, the bridesmaids and groomsmen get bumped off the table and relegated to the crowd. How do you choose between the bridal party and the in-laws?

Then the lid of the box flew right open. I found out that in South Africa the guests get to choose their main course from a selection of several options. In Australia, we usually have alternate service. This means every second person gets a dried up piece of chicken, and every other person gets a juicy steak. The waiters serve the food then run for it before the room erupts in a flurry of food envy and plate swapping.
This is what an Aussie wedding guest looks like if they get the dried up chicken instead of the juicy steak.
Image by doc. License restrictions apply.
Now the box is open, I wonder what will come out next on our street.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Re-entry shock blues

Everyone warned me I’d have trouble settling back to life in Australia after three years in Tokyo. In those first few weeks back home, I gorged myself on cheap fruit and chocolate, drove everywhere, and spoke freely without having to translate in my head first. I thought how wrong everyone had been. Aside from my friends, I didn’t miss Japan. I was happy to be home. Life was so easy in Sydney.

Then after a few weeks, re-entry shock hit. I tried to catch the train to give me a break from driving, but it came half an hour late, full of people with their feet on the seats. I spoke easily and was perfectly understood, but I couldn’t cover up my blunders under the language barrier anymore. I tried to explore new places, but everything looked the same as before I’d left, even though I felt different. And worst of all, I couldn’t find a decent piece of raw fish or fermented soy beans anywhere. I missed Japan.

So I started trying to relive my life there. I joined the local branch of a running club I’d been a part of in Tokyo. But instead of being an exciting mix of internationals and locals, it turned out to be a seniors walking group. I organised a weekend ski trip to Thredbo but instead of a mountain of Japanese powder and relaxing in the hot-springs at night, it was a crowded ice-hill, with shower lines at the hostel. I went out for Asian food but I got Fanta and a fork with my bibimbap.

Things are different back in Australia. Where's the tinned corn on my pizza! 
After three months of wrong turns, I think I’ve now finally settled on a good balance between my life in Australia and what it was in Japan. To the relief of my friends, I now try to save all my Japan stories for Japanese class, where my classmates politely listen without dropping their heads backwards in a fake snore. I make the most of Sydney’s great weather and go on bushwalks and picnics with old friends without paying professional tour guides to organise it like I did in Japan. And I’ve started Skype Japanese lessons with my old Japanese teacher in Tokyo so I can still regularly capture the challenge of trying to express myself in another language, which was such a big part of my life over there.

After three months back home, I can now say I’m happy to be back but I will always miss my time in Japan.