My LA story, Posts

Perspective: an expat’s realisation

I had virtually written this week’s post.  I started writing it on the weekend because it had been a busy week so the content practically wrote itself.  And then Sunday night (Monday in Australia) happened.

On our way home from checking out Grinchmas at Universal Studios I was getting ready to post some pics on Facebook and Instagram and started seeing some disturbing posts.  The posts were confused initially but all saying that if you don’t have urgent work in the City you should turn back because a large part of the City near Martin Place was in lockdown and there was a siege going on.  In my hometown of Sydney.  What became more clear a couple of hours later was that someone had taken over a coffee shop in Martin Place—the Lindt Café—and was holding hostages.  The situation was being treated more seriously than a standard robbery and early speculation suggested terrorism.

American news covers America-only content

We raced home to put the TV on and see what was going on.  There was a mention on one of the local news channels and they concluded the short update with “we’re keeping an eye on the situation.”  I was so sure CNN would be covering it—it had all the ingredients of 24/7 rolling action.  Nothing.  Normal Sunday night programming which was a basically a magazine-style current affairs show rather than news.  Say what?

Naturally my first reaction was to take to Facebook to vent.  It seems there was online coverage but no TV news networks had picked up the story.  Thankfully we have a Samsung Smart TV and Channel 9 and in Australia had live streaming (Channels 7 & 10 the other free-to-air stations streaming didn’t work “in our geography”).

I was really shocked that CNN decided it didn’t warrant rolling coverage.  (It did in Australia btw).  Or any other TV news network here.

I’m living in a country where a car chase stops programming and we all stop to watch it.  I’m also living in a country that itself lives in fear of terrorism so I thought they could hype up Sydney’s misfortune and bring in expert after expert to analyse how this event might impact the United States of ‘merica. We were glued to our TV all night and I had Twitter by my side; I slept on the couch and kept checking in to see if any progress had been made.

At 7am my husband woke me up and we turned on the American news.  It was on the news by now—clearly they realised the enormity of the situation—and had made many front pages around the US.

CNN had finally come to the party that the next morning (I’m not sure when it started its broadcast) and they were doing exactly what I’d expected them to do 12 hours earlier—analysing the situation.  Excellent, we have coverage.

I hopped on Twitter to see what was going on and there it was breaking news that more hostages had escaped.  But CNN hadn’t cut to it.  So it was back to online streaming because we wanted to follow the local news that did have a direct vested interest in covering the news as it was happening.  (Oh wait, isn’t that CNN’s tagline?).

That night once it was all but over it was covered on CBS but it didn’t even lead the news coverage.  I can’t even remember what did.  To be fair it was a good story and re-capped the story well for us.

Disconnect with home

That’s when you realise you’re an expat living in a city that’s temporarily your own but it doesn’t always share the same interests as you do.  When something big happens at home you are still hugely connected there but getting news from far away can be tough.  As I’ve said over and over thank god for the Internet.

(When my dad was an expat in the Philippines he used to have a gigantic short wave radio so he could pick up the cricket.  In his day he had to rely on the commentators providing the visual for him.  He often listened to the cricket rather than watching it he was so attuned to it–to listen with him I had to learn the names of all the fielding positions.  But he learnt to adapt to being far from home and living in a country that didn’t share his passion for cricket.)

I lived in China so I’m used to the sick feeling you get when something big is going down in your home country and you’re not privy to the news.  It makes you feel disconnected and isolated.  Thank god for social media and live streaming.  (At least in China we had the Australia Network—a service taken away from all expats thanks to budget cuts).

I hadn’t even given it a second thought that CNN wouldn’t cover the siege as it was unfolding on Sunday night.  I didn’t want to read about it; I wanted to watch it.  Live.  That’s why/how CNN was invented.

Yes I got on my high horse.  I was shocked.  This was so big to me but it wasn’t big enough to interrupt normal programming.  It made me realise two things:

  1. America doesn’t really care unless it’s happening here.
  2. Australia is not as important to the worldwide stage as we like to think.

Before you get all defensive … I don’t mean that negatively.

America is not to blame here.  As a PR chick I taught media training and one of the strongest news angles when pitching a story is local relevance.  There was none.  Unless this was a global co-ordinated attack it has no (real) relevance to the US.  They did want to keep abreast of the shocking situation but they didn’t need to watch the situation unfold.

The news networks are pretty expert at hyping news but it was too early to make that leap.  Even for CNN.  To the Australian news however it was very relevant.

I don’t know why I thought CNN would cover it.  I suppose because it was absolutely relevant to ME and I forgot for a minute where I was.

It was funny though as part of Australia’s news coverage the networks were all saying, “We made the global news, it was all over the news in the US.”  Well yes it was covered online and it made the front pages (thanks most likely to that Islamic flag in the window) and the breakfast news shows obviously covered it, CNN got hold of it for a while; but it wasn’t really all America was talking about.  We’re a little country and we like to think we garner a lot of attention but we don’t really.  And that’s all right.

The news was so significant for my fellow Australians, many came back into Martin Place to pay tribute to the hostages and particularly the two heroes that didn’t make it.


Off the high horse now and back to what else is going on in 90210.

I don’t know where last week went.  I truly don’t.  I don’t think that’s a good sign given we’re creeping into the end of 2014.

America the good: car services

You know how in Australia you flinch when it’s time to get your car serviced?  You book your car in stay strong and try really hard not to get “done in” by the dealer (because you know this is how they make their money).

I had to take my car back for a service because I needed new brake pads.  Pain in the backside really as I just had my car serviced a month or so ago.  But the good thing is you don’t bleed your wallet dry when you get your car serviced here.  I’m not sure if it’s the same for every brand of car but BMW offers an ultimate service package when you buy your car.  That means we don’t pay for anything when it comes to servicing our car.  That’s right: nudda, zilch, zero, no more to pay.  That is with the exception of windscreen wiper blades (which you don’t need in LA because it never rains here).

I know, you’re probably thinking the same as me: it’s “free” but they’ll find something to charge you for.  They all do.  That’s how dealers make their money.  But there again is another reason I just think we’re being taken for a ride in Australia.  How does a BMW dealer make money if they’re not charging you for the service?  I’ve had two services and walked away: “no charge”.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  I love it.

User pays.  For everything.

Having said that it really is a user-pays system here.  Everything we do is paid for.  Here in 90210 everything is outsourced: gardener, housekeeping, security, car-washing, Christmas lights, dog walking odd jobs and every little thing you can possibly imagine.  It’s what makes the US economy tick over and how people earn a living.

Over and over I relish in the great American way as it directly affects my daily life (and how easy it can be).  I’m not sure if I’ve said this before but things like getting your car washed and valet parking are so cost effective it’s a way of life here.  I especially love valet parking.

But there are other ways this user-pays system just gets out of control.  Take the health care system.  I really am not very tuned in to the intricacies of how it works.  It’s taken me 18 months to start to understand our health cover.

When my mum was visiting she had an unfortunate accident, slipped and cut her head open.  I took her to an Emergency Centre nearby and I have to say we got the most incredible service.  They gave her a CT scan, looked after her, checked her out and before we knew it we were on our way back home again.  Too easy.

A month or so later I got two bills: one for the CT scan and one for $892 for “emergency physician service and “surgical repair wound”.  Fair enough, no problems.  We paid the bills, she claimed it on her travel insurance and we both agreed it was a great tribute to the health system that it was so simple, efficient and painless (except for the stapling which I believe was anything but painless).  A week or so ago I (she) got a bill for $4,000+.  Say what?  There was no description on the invoice so I called them to see what it was for.  “I thought we settled our bill,” I said.

“Mam, this is the “facility charge”.  Because you’re not insured that’s the invoice amount that is due to be paid by you.”

“So it’s a new charge that we have to pay?  I’m not all paid up?”

“That’s right mam”.

Oh my god.  We were there for two hours.  Let’s call it three hours and that’s $1335 per hour.  I’m in the wrong business.  How can sitting in a bed in an emergency centre cost $1335?  And that doesn’t include the physician—we’ve already paid for him.

That’s more expensive than a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  I know where I’d rather be.


I was invited to my first-ever Holiday Gift Exchange.  Sounds so American doesn’t it?  I know.  This Ausmerican loved it.  It was so fun.  Like the game White Elephant that the kids play you all draw a number from a “hat”.  Starting at one and working your way up  when it’s your turn you either choose a present or you can steal someone else’s.  Each present is up for grabs twice and the third time it’s locked or frozen and it’s yours for keeps.

Three chicks host this every year—two of them are my friends.  So given they pull together around 18 people we all went around the room and introduced ourselves.  I simply said, “Hi, my name’s Gwen I saw the light on so thought I’d come in.  I’m the gatecrasher.”

“Wait who…?  Gate what?”

A room-crasher? Do you mean door crasher?

They had no idea what or who a gate crasher was.

(For the record a gatecrasher is someone who finds out about a party and isn’t invited and “crashes” the party.)


Speaking of language I’ve been chuckling to myself recently about how Californians love the word “literally”.  Everything is literally literally.  A bit like like.  So in a sentence …

“It has literally been raining for like two days.”

(I know pretty clever fitting like in there two huh?)

Cracks me up.  My daughter has been guilty of literally sneaking literally into her vocab.

But watching the Australian news for a couple of days I’ve realised our word is “certainly”.  In a sentence …

“This situation at the Lindt Café in Martin Place has certainly rocked our Nation.”

What’s your equivalent word?  Would literally certainly love to hear it.

Happy Hanukkah to all as it started last night and goes for eight days.  Merry Christmas to the rest of you for next week. Stay safe and after this week’s events in Sydney never take your loved ones for granted. Big hugs all ’round.  We’re off to light a candle at a local Australian-run establishment in West Hollywood in honour of the two people who died as they had ties back to our local Aussie community.

xx It Started in LA xx


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