All the expats have a story here, about how they came over to live in Austria when they were sixteen, barefoot and pregnant, not speaking a word of German, and how they battled through months of loneliness and homesickness only knowing the words for ‘bread’ and ‘gynaecologist’.
I have no such story. By the time I arrived in Austria last year, I had spent six full years at a tertiary institution learning to distinguish my pluperfect from my conditionals. I speak better German than Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Actually that’s not hard, I nearly had a heart attack the first time I heard him do an interview in German. It is frightening to see a weightlifter with the vocabulary of a preschooler.)
However, although fluent of tongue, there was a long period of time when I was restricted, like aforementioned expats, to carrying out housewifely duties. This is mostly due to the fact that the Australian and Austrian heads of state respectively have never sat down over a Tooheys and knocked out, say, a cheeky bilateral work agreement.
So although neither pregnant nor barefoot, there I was, a lonely non-EU citizen, unable to work, living in a borrowed apartment and feeling sorry for myself that I had to catch TWO separate forms of public transport to get anywhere near civilisation.
In fact, I felt a little bit like Cynthia Nixon’s character in Sex and the City, when she moves from somewhere in the middle of New York to suburban Brooklyn. Sure, this comparison unravels a little when you take into account the fact that a) the storyline is totally different and b) I’m not a ranga (sorry Mum).
My point, however, remains. I went from a deliriously busy schedule of inner-West weekend breakfasts, coffee dates at Coogee baths, evening cocktails and facebooking at work, to looking at my blank schedule and fervently willing google reader to fill the vacuum left by the absence of steady employment and a spectacularly frivolous social life.
After one too many times being caught in front of the computer in my pyjamas at 6pm when the wife got home, I ‘decided’ to throw myself into the joys of housewifery. One of the first major projects I assigned myself was to clean our third-floor balcony.
By way of illustrating the grandeur of this task, let me say that in Linz, the most common way of getting your balcony plants to look green again is by wiping off the layer of black grime from their leaves. Linz is an industrial city, which means not only does it have fully sick locations for some kind of gritty, futuristic film, but the air is also saturated with microscopic particles of filth.
To wit: Cleaning the balcony was no easy mission. After fruitlessly sweeping the grime from one side to the other, I cracked the shits, and flung a bucket of soapy water over those particles, sweeping them in an arc over the edge with my trusty broom. A glistening balcony was my almost-instant reward, and I had just sat down to read about celesbians online when the doorbell rang.
Having by this stage developed a mild social phobia, I cringed, then panicked, then stayed silent and rigid in the hope that the postman/potential axe-murderer would leave, disheartened. After the third ring, I padded to the door and opened it, not so much brave as annoyed at being interrupted whilst reading about LiLo and Sam.
I found myself face-to-face with someone I had never before seen in my life, although the hair on one half of her head was dripping, and she was holding a pair of shorts, also wet. She looked quite shitty.
I rapidly discovered that she was my neighbour of two floors down, and that by sheer coincidence, she had been hanging washing out on her terrace just as I was deluging said terrace with dirty balcony water.
This explained the wet hair, the shorts and the shitty look. I wondered momentarily what my last facebook update had been, in case it had been my last. But here’s where my mad skillz came in.
I explained, in my best German, that I was oh so terribly sorry, and that I had looked over the balcony to check (this part was true) just moments before (this part was not true, it was more like three hours previously), and hurriedly mentioned that I was Australian, as this usually distracts people and makes them think of snakes, Paul Hogan and Uluru.
She looked less rabid after this, and for the rest of the conversation I may have put on a bit of an Australian accent to emphasise my cute foreignness.
Satisfied, she slouched off down the stairs, on her way to put those two full loads back in the machine. Later, I brought her round a bottle of cheap red wine and some fancy biscuits to apologise, and she was pleased as punch, having now scored alcohol AND a story about foreigners to tell the girls down the pub about.
I left the balcony to its own devices after that. We moved out, but not before I destroyed, in separate cleaning incidents, a shelf, a vase, and a pottery ornament with sentimental value, none of which belonged to me.
The moral of this story: My hausfrauing days were destined to be numbered. I am about to start a job where I will get paid just above the average McDonald’s wage, and I have no compunction about spending a disproportionate amount of this on hired help.