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culture shock
where women glow, men chunder, and the spiders can kill you
by jack bradley
4.26.00
humor


I think it’s the animals.

Moving to a new place has lots of ups and downs. You expect that. So moving to Sydney, Australia presented itself as a bit of a challenge. That should come as no surprise. I prepared myself for language barriers (I don’t know what language it is, but it is NOT English), climate changes (the seasons are all backwards…who ever heard of Christmas in the summertime? And no, Florida doesn't count.), water swirling counter-clockwise down the drain (pretty cool), learning a new money system (it’s in all kinds of pretty colors!), prejudices (News Flash! Most of the world thinks America is full of arrogant, fashion-impaired Texans!!), (Note to editor: Is that an oxymoron?) [Note from editor: now see here, boy, I'm fixin' to... oh, nevermind.] the fact that Aussies tend to drive on the wrong side of the road (just plain scary), and a host of other difficulties.

Which brings us back to my point. I think it’s the animals.

You see, I’m a pretty versatile guy. I can handle most of what’s thrown at me in a new situation. Don’t speak the same language? We’ll draw pictures. Drive on the wrong side of the road? I’ll just close my eyes. Heck, I can even get used to wearing black all of the time, which they do here. It sure doesn’t take long to get dressed, and it’s a no-brainer.

However, I am not sure I can get used to this kind of urban wildlife.

Don’t get me wrong, now…I think it’s wonderful that, instead of crows, squirrels and pigeons, I can look out at my “bird” feeder and see a wild cockatoo or a kookaburra. I also take great delight in the fact that even though I live in the heart of one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world I can wake up in the morning and hear tropical birds hooting and screeching like a bunch of refugees from a 1950’s adventure movie. I worried about my sanity for two weeks before I realized why I was having this recurring Tarzan dream every morning. I like the birds, and the flowers, and the palm trees, and the kangaroos, and animals like that.

However, being dive-bombed by a bat with a 4-foot wingspan is another matter altogether.

Now, I’m no wimp. I’ve worked for more than half a dozen veterinarians in my life, not to mention at one veterinary teaching hospital, but it’s all a matter of what you’re used to, and what you expect. I grew up in North Carolina, where “bats” were these little bitty fuzzy things with a 2-inch wingspan, and you only saw them around streetlights at night. As kids, we would toss pebbles up in the air and watch the little buggers chase them towards the ground, diverting just before they would hit, then swoop back up after moths and mosquitoes. To me, “bat” meant the cute little flying mice that my mother was afraid was going to get stuck in her hair if she didn’t wear a hat at night.

Here in Sydney “bat” means “small military aircraft that flies at very low altitude, and will probably carry my tiny little dog off and eat her, no matter what the locals say.”

I’m telling you, these things are huge, and I don’t mean the “Wow! There’s a big one!” kind of huge, either. I’m talking “Oh my God! That thing’s got the little girl from next door!” kind of huge. Stephen King would love them. Hell, Stephen King probably designed them. Plus, it’s not bad enough that each single bat is the size of a collie, but they fly in groups like bombardier jets. Just as it starts to get dark, you’ll see them begin to come out of the trees over in the park and start to circle the neighborhood. Pretty soon, there’s this cloud of reddish fur and leathery wings swirling overhead, breaking into small groups to head off and terrorize the countryside. Yeah, I know they’re called Fruit Bats and that the locals say that they are “harmless,” but I don’t classify anything that could make me jump off of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to get away from it as “harmless.”

Next, we have the spiders. Now, once again, I am not ‘phobic. I once had a tarantula as a pet. Not cuddly, I suppose, but fun to watch. Also, in good old North Carolina, we had something called a Wolf Spider, which (I used to think) was a pretty good-sized spider to find hanging out at the bottom of the bathtub, waiting to scare the you-know-what out of you. They were black and brown, hairy, beady-eyed, and a couple of inches across, including legs. Just what you’d expect from the top of the local bug food chain…teeth, hair, and eyes that gave you the creeps. I gave them the respect they deserved, which usually involved a broom and a total loss of composure when the thing scrambled up onto the bristles. C’mon, we’ve all done the “spider dance.” You know what I’m talking about… you pick up the broom while trying to whisk the monster down the drain or out the door, only to realize that he’s gone. Gone where? Why, up the broom handle, of course! So you start shaking the broom to dislodge him, realizing that every second that passes means that he could be closer to your hand. The dance gets more frantic, and you start to add little steps backwards, looking anxiously at your feet in case he’s dropped to the floor and made that mad dash towards you. The “spider dance” usually ends with you dropping the broom and running backwards, brushing off your arms with your hands and shuddering uncontrollably because you can just FEEL him scrambling onto you. It’s not something you should do with your significant other watching you. Especially if you’re a guy. But I digress.

Concerning the local spider population in Sydney, I have just one thing to say.

Run.

I’d rather have a house FULL of Wolf Spiders than JUST ONE of these local guys. I know what to expect from a Wolf Spider, like where they live, what not to do, etc. But not only is Australia home to some of the most venomous spiders on the planet, but some of the largest ones as well. Just the other night, I went upstairs and cut on the light going into my bedroom where I had left the window open for a little fresh air. Evidently I had let in more than a little fresh air it seemed, as I saw what I at first thought was a rat (or possibly a small possum) scamper under the bed. Startled, but laughing about it, I retreated to the basement for the standard “broom and bucket” routine, intending to toss the little fella back out into the yard where he belonged. Returning upstairs, I lay down and peered under the bed to scope out my visitor.

Peering back at me were not ONE pair of beady red eyes, but FOUR pair (that’s EIGHT, folks) of beady red eyes. All on one face. One big, hairy, fanged, many-legged face. Needless to say, I was taken aback. First of all, I’d never seen a bug with eyes big enough to reflect light back at you like that. Second, I’ve never heard a spider hiss at me before. No kidding, the thing “HISSSSSSSSSSS-ed” at me. Loud. I have since learned that this is simply the fright response used by the common brown Huntsman Spider to frighten off potential predators.

It works on middle-aged men in boxer shorts, too.

I’d also like to add that when the spider under the bed “pushes back” on your broom hard enough for you to feel it, then it’s time to go sleep on the couch. Wrapped in blankets, covered in bug repellent, and armed with a large board with a nail in it.

But definitely on the couch.

I like Australia, I really do. There’s a tremendous amount to be said for immersing yourself in a new culture, and learning a new way of life. It will broaden your horizons, and invigorate your sense of adventure. It will teach you not to take what you have for granted. It will also teach you to never, ever, EVER reach under your bed, or put on your shoes without checking carefully for ‘visitors.’

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to arm myself with an umbrella and go walk my tiny little dog.


Jack Bradley
March 31, 2000
Sydney, Australia


ABOUT JACK BRADLEY

Born the son of a circus monkey, Jack had to overcome the stigma of having an address south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Struggling against all odds, he finally got his HS diploma from some guy on the corner, and proceeded to attend NC State University, where his records are now the "running joke" in the admissions office. In February of 2000, he moved to Sydney, Australia, to pursue a writing career full-time. Jack currently has a husband but no wife, no children, and a dog with great fashion sense.

more about jack bradley

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