Culture Shock…Life on the Rock

Sydney Weekender’s Rosie Kelly, a former Vanuatu expat, ponders the attractions of a life without McDonald’s, how to catch butterflies to enhance your roast lamb and the joy of a slow life and two dozen snails.

December 28, 2018
Rebecca Murphy

Rebecca Murphy

December 28, 2018

It’s funny that people who live in Vanuatu refer to it as ‘living on the rock’ when in fact these 83 lush, diverse, tropical islands are anything but rocky! I suppose after living here for a certain amount of time though, it becomes obvious that they’re not referring to the geography, but rather the headspace that comes with pacific island living.

In the sense that ‘life on a rock’ could be quite appealing, there comes a time when people who aren’t born and bred on the rock simply feel the need to experience life back in the western world. Trust me, it’s both – in an effort to regain a grip on reality – and also to simply remind ourselves how incredibly lucky we are to have the life that rock-living does offer and to appreciate it all over again. It honestly only takes a few days – or for some of us, a few hours to regain that sense of reality and gratitude.

The differences can be quite simple actually. Some of the basic luxuries the western world offers are the reasons we leave – and the reasons we can almost cry with happiness when we return. For me, don’t laugh, but the very first thing I do when I arrive back at Sydney international airport after being in Vanuatu for a long stint of time is head straight to McDonald’s for a Big Mac meal! I told you, it’s the simple things!

While I don’t actually agree with the nutritional values of McDonald’s, when it’s suddenly no longer available to you, you find yourself craving that cheesy sauce and those salty fries! The nearest thing to McDonald’s in Vanuatu is something called Pizza Hot. That’s not a typo. But as I write this I am quite pleased to say, we don’t have fast food outlets in Vanuatu.

Speaking of food, you may have been told that one of the greatest beauties of Vanuatu is the culture and the way locals often interpret things quite literally. A fellow expat friend of mine sent me a wonderful text the other day that highlights this perfectly. He is the owner of a beautiful resort in Vanuatu and kindly asked his chef to prepare a butterfly lamb for the dinner menu. Can you guess what the reply was?

‘Ok boss, but where do I catch the butterflies?’. Can you imagine the surprised faces of the diners that evening when presented with a beautiful lamb dish, filled with butterflies, or ‘moths’ as the locals call them?

Tell ’em Rosie sent you…

I am also quite pleased to say that the cuisine of Vanuatu can present many benefits. As you’d know there’s a strong French influence, having once been a French/British colony. As such, wonderful restaurants and patisseries still boast that je ne sais quoi… buttery, garlicky flavour that no one on earth can resist. So, when my daughters and I opt for an evening out for dinner, their favourite choice is a restaurant called L’Houstalet, a proud establishment that has been going strong for over 40 years thanks to owner Clement.

When we walk in the door the waitstaff (who proudly wear uniforms with a logo that is strangely identical to the Woolworths emblem … I simply don’t have the heart to tell them) order us our favourite dish without needing to ask, the garlic butter escargot.

I’m not just talking about a couple of random garden snails. My kids eat two dozen of these unique squishy things in one hit, each. And I have to put my foot down to stop them ordering more. So, when my friends ask my kids, what’s your favourite food? And they reply, ‘snails!’, I simply couldn’t be more proud. While they wouldn’t have a clue what McDonald’s is and they don’t yet see the humour in going to Pizza Hot, they are well and truly receiving a unique upbringing and experiencing a life (and a cuisine) that I sincerely doubt their friends in Australia are experiencing.

So, when you disembark your flight to Vanuatu and you ask around for some good tips on where to dine, keep an open mind, leave your fast food fetishes and your western habits behind you and smile because you’ve landed in a paradise that will challenge your way of thinking and your taste buds in a way that will surely make you smile. Oh, and try the snails. Trust me! And tell Clement that Rosie sent you.

Rosie x

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