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I Collect People Who Come From Other Countries

09/11/2015 5:29 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Hands united together

Behind my über-cool image, I am a massive nerd. I passionately run a book club. I believe that chess is a life skill. I play online scrabble. I also love to collect things. Over the years I have collected decaying books, miniature chess sets, Lego minifigures, snowglobes and UBD street directories.

But by far the most interesting, and my favourite, thing to collect is immigrants. You read that right. I collect people who come from other countries.

At parties, school pick ups, the dry cleaners, wherever; the moment I realise you were not born here, I make it my mission to make you mine. Within minutes, faster than you can say "Advance Australia Fair was written by a man born in Scotland", you will find yourself friended on Facebook, with your number in my phone.

Six of the best people I know, four women and two men, whom I am lucky enough to count as among my closest friends, were not born in this country, and my life is much better for their presence in it. I saw Russell Brand on tour recently, and he said, "An immigrant is just someone who used to live somewhere else."

Ah, Russ, I thought to myself, only marginally affected by the champers I was drinking, you may totally rock the leather pants and singlets combo, and you may have changed my mind about men with shaggy hair, and I understand what you are trying to say -- but you are wrong about immigrants; there is so much more to them than simply being people.

So why this fascination with humans not born in the same country as I was? I blame my parents. Their stories of what it was like for them adapting to our country as migrants in the '70s are equal parts hilarious and horrifying. They faced so many challenges, even though the Australian government actually sponsored them as part of the program to attract doctors to Darwin after it was devastated by Cyclone Tracy. They were fluent in English and, through their patients, adapted very quickly, but for years after they arrived they didn't feel accepted.

Their stories made me realise from a young age that anyone who moves to a new country is incredibly brave. It takes a special person to leave everything you know for sure behind and start from scratch, often with little family or no friends, knowing nothing about the culture and the rules -- and not only survive, but thrive. So, I have pretty much always known that migrants are hardcore warriors from whom you can learn a lot about resilience and courage.

Most migrants have chosen to be in Australia, so they see benefits in our society that we may not always recognise. Our freedom, peace, healthcare system, justice system, democratic society; in comparison to most countries, Australians are so lucky in these essential areas. All of my migrant friends consider themselves lucky to be here. I have found over the years that having mates who give you perspective on your first world problems helps you not take your luck in being born in this country for granted.

The migrants I know are ambitious, and they expect their children to make the most of the opportunities this country offers. They highly value education and the concept of self-sufficiency. While they recognise we have a government that can offer support to their citizens at different life stages, there's nothing they value more than their independence.

Apart from being my role models for some very noble attitudes and behaviours, my migrant mates have offered me many other cultural awakenings. For example, there's the food. I have had the privilege of devouring a variety of traditional home banquets, to the point that I can now be one of those smug people in restaurants claiming: "This is not how they do it in Greece/China/India/Germany etc."

My migrant mates can write and speak multiple languages (which is extraordinary if you think about how many of us struggle to grasp basic English grammar, as the internet constantly proves). These clever friends have taught me some very useful vernacular. I now know numerous derogatory expressions and swear words in different tongues, which has proven extremely valuable when threatening my son in public with a smile on my face, so that no one except him knows I am losing it on the inside.

Earlier this year, in book club, we read Andrew Moreton's biography of Princess Diana (out of curiosity, don't judge), and had the extraordinary benefit of the contribution of someone who was working in Harrod's (owned by Dodi Al Fayed's family) at the time of the car crash, and who personally placed flowers in that iconic scene at the gates of Kensington Palace. A first hand account of an international and historic moment; we were pretty impressed.

I love having my mind expanded and learning how cultural factors influence the world. For example, I just learnt from my Chinese friend that the Ferrari 458 did not perform well in the Chinese market, because 4 means die, 5 means no, and 8 means wealth -- so essentially, "die no wealth". From a commercial perspective, it blew my mind that was not raised at any point during development at Ferrari.

So, I hope I have demonstrated that extending friendship to a migrant would significantly benefit you -- much more than it would benefit them. (Well, at least in my case.) If I had not made this effort to expand my friendship circle consistently throughout my life, I wouldn't be writing this article, and you may never have realised, at the very least, your full linguistic options for discreetly threatening your kids in public.

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