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Northern and Southern head of Sydneys Coastline, Manly and what leads to Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

My Australian family life is similar to that at home. They live in a good neighbourhood, which is situated five minutes from the sea and ten minutes from the super-rich. Nobody here is poor. The family I live with values good food and proper manners, just like my own. I realise with dismay and on several occasions that I don't understand the parameters for politeness here and that I might have misplaced some of mine on my two-year journey through Asia.

My integration back into civilisation doesn't go over without a hitch. There are many moments when I don't understand the world. My mistakes are pointed out in a way that would be considered rude at home. I have no choice but to endure and to trust time to provide me with context and answers.

My restraint and insecurity lead me to make myself small and quietly observe what others do. In Australia, that's the worst thing I can possibly do. I mainly see the interaction of the family, and those interactions give me no clue of what is expected. Even though I live with them, I am regarded as a service provider. Our interactions follow the outside rules, not the family rules (if you will). It's very different than in Finland, where I felt part of the family almost immediately.

It's considered polite, on entering a room, to announce yourself with a raised voice, whether you interrupt a conversation or not — a practice that is profoundly alien to me, but which I have already observed in many Australians. When others do it, it doesn't always strike me as negative. However, it only works if you don't just say "hello", but also take over the conversation so that the one you interrupted can be resumed immediately or a new topic can be picked up. In Germany, you can enter the room and initially only communicate with people in the immediate vicinity. You can "sneak around" the room, shake hands and make polite conversation without stepping on anyone's feet. In Australia, this is very rude and highly unusual, almost criminal in itself - as if I were in danger of hearing conversations not meant for my ears.

In general, I have the impression that courtesy in Australia is a mix of phrases I know from the UK, and the desire to be recognised as polite. It's not about putting the needs of another person over one's own, but to use phrases that make the setting of one's individual needs above the others socially acceptable. Nothing is more important than "Thank you" and "Please". I am constantly in need to appreciate someones thank you's and have to waste time repeating it 3000 times, no matter if I mean it or not. (You should see my sms-conversations. They've become never-ending. It reminds me of the "Ciao" of the Italians on the phone "Ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao ciao ciao ciao cicicicicicao.")

It's one of the main reasons why I prefer the company of children to adults. They are direct and honest in every culture. They ask profound questions, want honest answers and have a bullshit radar that's scary. I get along famously with the two boys I'm looking after. After the first loud arguments in which I thank my nerves of steel for their service, the boys recognise me as an assertive person. Compared to my time in Finland, where I mastered everything without a common language, language skills make it almost effortless. I quickly learn what rules the boys take for granted and which are always up for debate.

I enjoy my time with them more than almost anything else in Australia (the ocean is hard to beat). When reading aloud they improve my accent, are fascinated by how wrong I pronounce some words, and I, in turn, enjoy being reprimanded so briskly. There is nothing better than having the world, or a small part of it explained by children. From television, they know the American accent enough, but they can't locate my rich mix of European vocalisations. Not just the kids find my accent strange. Any conversation with an Australian will sooner or later touch on it. I'll even get my first full-time job in Australia because my boss finds my language skills and my funny, ever-changing accent charming. But that's a story for another day.

Yard Portrait from my five year old charge, Sydney, Australia

My family life in Australia teaches me a lot about my role in this world. I have many of the privileges back that I've started to miss on my trip (but not all). I can merge with the crowd, and if I know where I want to go, it seems like I belong here. Deep down, however, I know that I'm not one of them and will never belong entirely. To my surprise, that's completely ok. It's the reality of many people who live in this multicultural society, where the majority lives in neatly defined pockets. Money is the one factor that makes everyone equal. Nothing is as important, and that turns me into a curiosity. I'm someone who doesn't strive for more, but enough. Someone who doesn't care how much money I produce, when I see a positive impulse going through my environment and can also fulfil my dreams. Sure, I'd love to have unlimited funds, but with my limited funds, I get just as far. In contrast to the millions and millions of immigrants who come to Australia for a better life, I seem crazy to the average Australian. (The average Australian has never left his continent. All the Australians I met on my trip are the exception, not the rule. A sad realisation.)


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