Thursday, July 24, 2008

Interesting Differences

It’s been a while, dear blog readers, and much has been happening from our base on Yellowstone Avenue. The 4th of July holiday was celebrated with good friends and family. It was wonderful to see Dee, Tony and Bella during their visit. We went to a baseball game at the newly remodeled stadium and watched the Billings Mustangs defeat the Helena Brewers. I have always loved baseball as a spectator sport. I find it easy to follow and well paced. Hotdogs were compulsory and the boys had beer. It was too hot for me to drink alcohol (over 40 degrees) so I had a Pepsi and ice cream as well. Yay for American junk food! I love it in moderation.

Later that evening we went to Erin and Paul’s party (Erin is one of Kelly’s sisters) and enjoyed fireworks in the back yard. There we had the good fortune to meet Kenny LeCompte and his wife Melissa, both Native American artists. It won’t surprise anyone that Kelly quickly stuck up a conversation and invited them around for lunch the next day, whereupon he purchased three beautiful prints for his office. His plan is to have one wall dedicated to Australia (courtesy of our artist friend Richard) and another dedicated to Montana.

As you have gathered, Kelly still has an office and therefore a job with I-Tech. He didn’t get too settled for the first week just in case, but no-one has asked him to clear out his desk :) He comes home weary from the information overload and long days but is very much enjoying the job. He is learning lots about banking and his natural aptitude for all things technological is coming in handy. Thankfully he is also very impressed with his colleagues and boss, all hard working, friendly people. I have yet to meet most of them. I could have met some at a work function last night but I decided to stay home and prepare for my job interview!!! That’s right, an interview for an English teaching position at Senior High School. It went fairly well, although interviews always seem so pretentious and awkward. “Tell us about yourself and why you think you are special.” “What is your pretend answer to how you would cope with this hypothetical situation?” The Principal, Deputy and English Senior who interviewed me all seemed very nice, and I should know one way or the other by then end of the week. I am very grateful to at least have scored an interview and happy enough to return to relief teaching if I don’t get the position.

Kelly and I are now both considerably inconvenienced by the reality of going to work regularly so it is difficult to fit in jobs from our never ending list on the weekend around McCarthy get togethers. We have, however, purchased a ride on mower which is heaps of fun. I learnt how to use it at Blue Creek last weekend. Kelly went one better and got to drive one of his Dad’s tractors with a larger moving attachment. It was high time that we cut some fire breaks and mowed with all this warm weather. When I’m out there at Blue Creek I have all these naïve, greeny fantasies about living in the shed next year with a water tank, generator, solar panel and gas ring stove while we wait for the house to be built. I have such a feeling of well being out there, with the hill side covered in wild sage and choke cherries. I want all of you to come and share it with us.

After making friends with the Interfaith Network, a fairly small group based mainly at the Buddhist meeting house, Kelly has found another group of like minded souls in the Humanists. They meet each week and vary their activities throughout the month. One week it is a book club and they discuss socially aware and philosophical books. Last time it was one of our favourites, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” about the problems of corporate mass produced of food in America and other first world countries. Last Sunday was the Socrates Café where members gather to discuss a philosophical question after voting on suggestions put forward. Our question was “Will America be ready for PTSD and other after effects of the war?” Another suggestion related to Indian Reservations and how we assimilate ethnic / other cultures. The aim is to ask questions and challenge underlying assumptions. As a result of a previous question, “What can be done to combat race crimes in Billings” we went out to dinner recently at a Mexican restaurant for a ‘diversity eat in’ because they had been the victims of racist graffiti. It is a wonderful and inspiring group of forward thinking people.

Speaking of wonderful, we also went to our first Farmers’ Market last Saturday in the middle of town. It was quite a festival, and very popular. The biggest vegetable stalls are operated by the Hutterites, one of the Peace Churches, similar to the Amish. These people live in colonies of up to 150 people. They practice their traditional Christian life style, brought to America from Germany under threat of religious persecution in the 1600s. They work hard at their farming, live simply and dress modestly. Their children are schooled on the community with some help from the education department. Unlike Amish, they will drive vehicles but typically choose practical, old trucks. The men are recognisable by their chin line beards, the women by their head scarves and long skirts. I marvel at such a testament to choice in the super-culture. The ‘Hoots’, as they are affectionately called, are American citizens born here whose first language is Old German. It is another example of diversity which we rarely see outside America, unless it is some ghastly reality TV show with young Amish in a Big Brother style house of temptation. Side note; if you are a member of one of the Peace Churches (Hutterite, Amish, Menonite or Quaker) you cannot be drafted into military service.

It seems to me that other common impressions of American culture hold fairly true. People are more demonstrative about patriotism and Christianity. I don’t even notice the flags flying on front porches any more, except one house on our street that I thought was decorated for the 4th of July, but has not un-decorated since. The teens I work with can list off the presidents in order and tell you how many amendments there are to the Bill of Rights; proof of of the status of Civics education, and the emphasis on factual knowledge. (Even after a concerted television campaign I doubt that many Aussie kids could tell you who our first Prime Minister was.) I’m not saying either system is right or wrong, just noticing the differences.

There is a semi trailer I see driving around with a HUGE slogan on the side, “Jesus Christ is Lord, not a swear word." Again, with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, many more go to church, bible study and youth group than I am used to. They are really nice kids. They can rattle off the names of the New Testament books, and I have to remember not to say ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ because they are bad words here. ‘Dang it!’ is the typical response to disappointing news. Also, I can’t help smiling inside when someone ‘Yes Ma’am’s me. This has happened a couple of times when I had to reprimand someone who knew they were in the wrong and felt contrite. Possibly as a result of Christian values permeating the culture, there are more adopted and fostered kids than I have ever known before. Maybe this is also related to how difficult it is financially to raise children on welfare. It seems that when abstinence education doesn’t achieve its aims, the next step is adoption for many, rather than termination. There are also quite a number of kind Christian families who foster children. I am not sure whether my experience at the Boys and Girls Club of Lockwood is reflected in national statistics.

Not everyone in America is living large. I think this impression exists outside the States, an awareness of the working poor and those who struggle on welfare, but it is often overshadowed by the consumer culture reflected in the media. One on hand it raises issues of social justice, especially for those who work 40 hours a weeks and can barely afford the necessities of life. On the other hand it is just eye opening to see for myself that so many people live the sort of simple lives you would not expect to find in the wealthiest country on earth, and do so fairly happily because it’s ‘normal’ to them. I know one girl who happily reported that her family was moving to a new trailer, one without mice.

Interesting Little Differences …
• Supermarket aisles display signs for food staples including ‘beef jerky’ and ‘popcorn’.
• I have to explain the meaning of more words than I expected to. People did not understand what I meant when I said I was ‘peckish’. Just to rub it in, the US spell checker does not recognise the word either. I understand all of what they are saying, but that’s the power of Hollywood for you.
• A ‘concession’ is a stand where you can buy fast food or t-shirts etc at a game or fair.
• I have been asked more than once if the water really does swirl in the opposite direction down an Australian toilet … I found out (on Google) that water swirls differently in any place depending more on the shape of the bowl and flow of water.
• Language that I associate with Westerns lives on. A difficult person is described as ‘ornery’ and it is impolite to use ‘cuss words’. We tidy up the house when we are expecting ‘company’, usually pronounced ‘comp’ny’. When the comp’ny arrives, it is customary to sit and ‘visit with them’ for a while.

That’s all for now. Keep the emails and calls coming, please. Only 4 weeks till Mum arrives.

PS I got the job :)

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