Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

This week, I received a blogging award for In Search of a Life Less Ordinary.

I am now the proud recipient of The Versatile Blogger Award.

The award was given to me by the lovely Kim at Blog This (an Australian Bloggers network in which I recently featured). Kim also has her own rather delightful blog at Feather and Nest.  So thank you, Kim, your support is much appreciated!

In receiving The Versatile Blogger Award, I am told I must share seven interesting or unusual things about myself and recommend seven thoroughly readable and recently discovered blogs that are either creative, funny, clever, inspiring or all of the above (I'm only sharing my Top 3 blogs as I'm so bloody new to this blogging malarkey that I haven't yet read nearly enough material out there!).

Seven vaguely interesting things about me

1.  I'm British, part Canadian, and recently Australian (there may also be a bit of Welsh and Irish in there somewhere).  In other words, I'm a walking, talking advertisement for the Commonwealth.

2.  I'm on the verge of filming for a US TV show with Sarah and Milo, recreating our journey from Canada to Australia (watch future posts for details of this extraordinary experience).

3.  I faced a strong fear of heights in 2009 by trekking at high altitude in Nepal (crossing the Thorong La Pass in the Annapurna region at a maximum height of more than 5,500 metres above sea level - terrifying and exhilarating at the same time).

4.  I once advised a Deputy Prime Minister of Canada on affairs of state (and thankfully she ignored me and Canada still includes Quebec).

5.  I'm older than I look (feel free to guess).

6.  I would like to have a book published by the time I reach 40 (and that's a clue to #5).

7.  I wore braces on my teeth as an adult and only had them removed last month (and now I can't stop smiling).

Three highly recommended blogs

1.  Dear England, Love Canada - a wonderful collection of experiences from the perspective of a British expat living life in Montreal and the great white north.  A brave, brave lady.

2.  The Art of Lisa Riehl - if you've ever been to British Columbia, Lisa's work will almost certainly bring back strong memories of this beautiful place - an amazing artist and all round lovely person who should one day give me much of her artwork for free.

3.  Vegemitevix - according to her blog, "a Kiwi expat in the UK licking the Vegemite off life's fingers" - and making me laugh along the way.  All good stuff.

Enjoy reading about these folks.  I'm now off to let them know about their awards.  In the meantime, I'll leave my English and Aussie followers with this bit of cricketing humour...

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Friday, 21 January 2011

Love you Murph

The four of us left England back at the start of our grand adventure. My wife and I, plus our two Labrador Retrievers who we adored.

We moved around the world, becoming closer because of this, with only each other for day-to-day support. My wife became my rock and my dogs became my closest buddies.

They were my reminder of home, of England, and they were everything to me.

Lake Louise, Alberta

Old Man Murph.  My Murtlad.  My little boy.

Murphy was not even three years old when we left England and Milo was under 18 months.  Over time, they grew to become brothers and the best of friends. We loved them dearly and were fiercely protective of them on our travels even though they flourished in their new Canadian and Australian homes.

Australia would be the final leg of our adventure.  We couldn't face moving them again and had agreed that they should see out the rest of their lives Down Under. Travelling to Australia would be the hardest part. They would have to endure more than twenty hours on a plane from Vancouver including pre-flight check-ins plus a 2-hour stopover - and all this after they had already travelled internally from Ottawa to Vancouver.  They would enter quarantine upon arrival in Oz and would face six weeks of isolation, but it wasn't all bad.

The life waiting for them was to be filled with watery adventures, they would never again suffer the cold and damp of previous environments, and we would spoil them rotten as they grew old under the Australian sun.

Miss you, Murph.

Pursuing a better life can have many positives and highs in the form of exciting new experiences and adventures that would never normally be enjoyed. However, I had neither considered nor prepared myself for the anguish of losing one of us on this amazing journey of ours, of losing Murphy so soon after arriving in Australia.

Milo, Murphy and Me - Northern Beaches, Sydney

To this day, I'm not sure what happened.  It was too much fatty food.  It was an ingestion of strong steroids.  It was a weak immune system.  It was possibly pancreatitis.  It just 'happened' and, even now, I'm at a loss to explain it. He was taken so suddenly with no warning or notice. We were unable to save our pup, our friend, our companion.

I remember feeling cheated.  He was supposed to stay a part of this adventure with us. He was only five years old.  We had got him so far.  He had done the 'hard yards' but had barely experienced this unique country. He was Milo's partner and now our remaining dog would be alone in Australia with years of living still ahead of him.

It sounds like a cliche but Murphy was more than just a dog.

He was a huge part of our lives and of our team, that close-knit unit which had gone through so much, travelled so far, and seen so many wonderful things together. Things were never quite the same after that.  The gloss on our new life Down Under faded slightly as we mourned for Murph and constantly tried to entertain and pre-occupy Milo. We pined for our boy and missed him desperately.

Three years on and I still miss him dearly. I'm lonely without my pal and I think about him all the time - about his goofy chocolate lab nature, the endless games I used to make-up and play with him, his unquestioning presence by my side, those intelligent yellow eyes, the familiar warm smell of his ears, the enthusiastic welcome at the door, and his soft, soft brown fur. Most of all, I'm sad for my wife who lost her best friend, the dog who would wait for her when she got home each day, who would sleep soundly on her lap in the afternoons, and slouch at her feet in the evenings. 

We appreciate our surviving dog, Milo, more than ever before and, as we continue this adventure, the three of us not four, we'll forever carry the memory of Murph with us.

We visualise him on our walks or a random event triggers a flashback and elicits a smile.  He was 'one of the gang' on this journey of ours and we'll not forget him, not ever, not a chance.

You have a great birthday pup, wherever you are.

Love you Murph.

Murphy Ward

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Wednesday, 5 January 2011

To Tip or Not to Tip?

As an expat living in a foreign land, that is the question.

The Sydney Morning Herald previously published an article which claimed that, when it comes to tipping, Aussies are tightwads and either don’t want to tip or don’t know how to tip.

This made me think about my own tipping experiences in Sydney and during my previous time in Canada.

Tipping is one of those irksome little things in life. It is something we all have to do at some point yet it almost needs its own rulebook so that we, the customer, know exactly when and where to tip – and by how much.

Being an expat takes the need to understand tipping to a whole new level. The rules change from country to country, and as a new addition to a foreign land, you must quickly get your head around the local tipping culture or risk embarrassment at the dinner table.

To tip or not to tip?

My own experience was that Canadians like to tip. Like their southern neighbours, they believe that rewarding staff for good quality service is necessary - and I get that. I’ve been greeted at delightful restaurants in the heart of downtown Vancouver by friendly waiters who will sit with me before the meal and spend time talking through my menu options, who will endeavour to make casual and generally entertaining conversation, and who will proceed to serve up delicious meals on time and with minimal fuss. I’m always more than happy to reward that level of service and usually leave between 10 and 15%.

But fellow expats beware… tipping in Canada doesn’t end there. Canadians leave tips at the bar, with hotel porters and taxi drivers, tradesmen and hairdressers, mailmen at Christmas and not forgetting the young paperboy. Why, they even tip the person sat by the entrance to the toilets (a cleaner, purveyor of gaudy fragrances, or just the toilet guardian?).

And if you think for one minute of not tipping for your service, be prepared to face the wrath of an extremely unhappy bartender as I found out when refusing to leave a couple of bucks extra for a bottle of water at one bar in downtown Montreal. I was promptly given a public dressing-down and I couldn’t get served when I went back for a second round (of beers, not water this time). Was I being a tightwad?

Which brings me back to the Sydney article about Aussies refusing to tip.

Australian tipping practices have surprised me since I arrived here four years ago. They simply don’t exist. It’s not in the Aussie culture to part with hard-earned cash over and above the stated price on the menu.

Shortly after my arrival in Australia, I went for the obligatory haircut at the local barbers. Once finished, I reached into my pocket to pull out a few dollar coins by way of appreciation, only to find the barber looking at my actions with abject horror.

“No, you don’t need to do that”. “People don’t tip here when they have their hair cut”. “Really, it’s okay, just keep your money and put it to good use elsewhere”.

Then at a friend’s birthday party a few weeks later held in a special reserved room for 20 people. Much drinking and eating followed, the waiter presented a sizeable bill, and the diners proceeded to divide up said bill into equal shares – without allowing for a tip of any shape or size.

I asked the question that appeared to be only on my lips: “Aren’t we going to leave a tip?” The response: “What for? These guys get paid enough as it is.”

Cue me then diving into my pockets to find a small something for the poor guys cleaning up our mess.

Does this prove that Aussies are tightwads? Perhaps not entirely. It’s more likely down to a lack of understanding that tipping isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that it does no harm to reward quality service.

My advice? It certainly pays to be well versed in local tipping practices when you take on a new home. However, if you’ve had a cracking meal or been given the greatest haircut, don’t be afraid to dip into your pocket and pull out some loose change. I’d rather be embarrassed by a refusal than called a tightwad in the street!

Have you encountered any strange tipping practices or struggled with the local customs?

This post was originally written as part of Expat Explorer's Guest Blogger Series.

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