njdewa2's blog

Off DeWall: Farewell Sydney

          Remember Crocodile Dundee? He was the Australian guy who visited America and looked goofy. He wielded a large bowie knife to fight crime. He wore a coat made of Crocodile skin instead of cow hide. And in one of his odder moments Down Under, he dressed up as a kangaroo and shot at kangaroo hunters. As I wrap up my last night in Australia, I reflect on what I’ve learned from my time here – and how I’ve stuck out like a sore thumb.

          To stick out isn’t a big deal. It happens all the time. When I open my mouth, I stick out because others know I’m not Australian. Then there are my frequent questions about all things Australian. “When was the Opera House Built?” (Answer: 1960s) “What does kangaroo taste like?” (Answer: Gamy if it’s anything but rare). “How do you avoid getting knocked on your back by the waves when you’re swimming in the ocean? (Answer: Dive under the swell instead of trying to jump over it) No big deal. Definitely not as cool as Crocodile Dundee.

Off DeWall: We're All Kevin Bacon

          Take seven people and put them in a line. They can be from anywhere. One is from Papua New Guinea, another is from Kentucky, a third person is from Australia, and so on. What will these seven people have in common? One of the people will have a connection to another person in the line. Every person in the world is connected to each other within six degrees of separation. It isn’t just Kevin Bacon who is connected to others. You are too.

          From this perspective, it’s hard to get surprised when you find that you’re connected to others. Yet, today I felt that same sense of shock at how easy it is to find people with whom you have a connection. The story is a short one, but I like it.

Off DeWall: Where Everybody Knows Your Name (and Your Order)

          What television shows remind you of your early childhood? I grew up in the 1980s, which makes reruns of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Cheers all qualify as nostalgic programming. As I left the office today, I felt as if I was living part of the theme song from Cheers: “You want to go where everybody knows your name.”              

     Today began my long goodbye to Australia. Although I’ll be here another two full days, it was my last day at the office. It’s been a terrific time. When I arrived, I had three work-related objectives. First, I needed to give a research talk and a writing workshop. I got them out of the way last week, and they were a blast. Second, I wanted to build a stronger collaborative relationship with my host, Tom. Check! We have one new paper ready to be written and two more in the wor

Off DeWall: Friends Trump Pigs

          Have you ever had your heart set on something, only to have your hopes crumble before your eyes? Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, we all experience setbacks. When I went to college, I was convinced that I would become a famous musician. One difficult, and highly unsuccessful, semester later, I was confronted with the fact that I didn’t have what it took to major in music. I found another love – psychology – and have spent the better part of the past 14 years trying to uncover the mysteries of the mind.

          Today brought another opportunity for resiliency my way. Since I arrived in Sydney, my host Tom said we had to eat a famous dish served at a nice local restaurant. The famous dish is a pig’s head. I’ve never eaten pig head before, nor had I thought about it. But A&S Wired co-Directors Cristina Alcalde and Jeff Rice keep encouraging me to have a more adventurous diet. So when Tom asked if I wanted to eat pig head, I channeled my inner Cristina and Jeff: “Sure, I’ll try it,” I said. I was in.

Off DeWall: The Big Dance, Down Under

          Every year it happens. I gasp when I receive the email. I never remember when it starts, but I always remember when it ends. Yes, I’m talking about the NCAA tournament – and about the special bracket tournament that some of my colleagues at Kentucky take part in every year. We get an email reminder, followed by a flurry of activity when people assemble their predicted winners and losers in a neat, sideways pyramid.

          After filling out my bracket yesterday, I could barely contain myself. Would I have the best picks this year? Can Murray State really do that well in the NCAA tournament? Will Syracuse fall when I think they will? Armed with my enthusiasm, I went to a nice dinner with some colleagues and their friends. Two of the people at dinner were from America, so I assumed we could trade our picks for the upcoming Big Dance.

          “I’m so excited for this year’s NCAA tournament,” I said to my American colleague. “It’s huge back in Kentucky.”

          “Is that starting up now? I wasn’t paying attention,” he responded.

Off DeWall: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

         People love to imitate – and we love others who imitate us even more. When you scratch your face, the person talking to you will likely scratch her face. If you jiggle your foot in an interview, you might get a jiggle in return. Since I arrived in Sydney, I have noticed a lot of imitation. Most of it comes from people who have lived the majority of their lives outside of Australia.

          When I say the word “bay,” my voice lowers and drops off at the end. It sounds as if something is winding down, similar to a balloon letting all of its air out. The reason “bay” sounds that way is that I have a Midwestern American accent. Sure, I’m from Nebraska, where accents go to die, but that doesn’t mean my talk is free from these little peccadillos that set my speech apart from yours.

Off DeWall: The Pain of Paying

          Ever feel that it actually hurts to buy something? Maybe it was that pair of shoes you had to have that cost $500 but broke within three months? Or that $7 coffee beverage that your friends said was so great but you knew was overpriced? I experienced something akin to pain today, but it took an odd form.

          Psychologists have been studying the pain of paying for over a decade. It’s based on the principle that it hurts more to make some purchases than others. The more a purchase hurts, the less people are willing to make it. After all, who wants to experience pain, no matter how much you think you want something?

Off DeWall: A Taste of Sydney

          What kind of taster are you? Do you have extreme reactions to food? Or does it take a lot to get your taste buds going? I’m what taste researchers call a ‘non-taster’ because I can’t taste anything when I put a slip of paper treated with a funky chemical – phenylthiocarbamide (or PTC, for short)– on my tongue. If you haven’t tried it, beware: I gave the chair of my department a PTC strip once and he made a face that let me know it was the worst thing he had ever tasted. He is a supertaster.

           Today I attended the Taste of Sydney festival in Centennial Park. It’s an event where many of the best restaurants put up tents, offer people small portions of great food, and encourage them to have a multifaceted dining experience. My colleague Tom Denson and his wife Nida picked me up, and we zoomed to the festival to meet up with their colleagues Michelle Moulds (clinical psychologist) and Jessica Grisham (clinical psychologist and great-niece of novelist John Grisham). We enjoyed little hamburgers made from Kobe beef, pork belly, ice cream sandwiches, and some nice shrimp concoctions. It was something similar to the Taste of Chicago.

Off DeWall: Time is Relative

         The best part of time is that you know what you have and what you don’t. I know that I only have a few more minutes before Saturday turns into Sunday. You know that you have a limited amount of time to read this post. We both know that we’ll never have enough time to do everything we want to do. Yet, time doesn’t always have to be so objective, so quantifiable, so drastic.

          Yes, time can be relative. Einstein knew it and, through a combination of thought experiments and painstaking calculations, he changed how we all think about time. But we don’t need to bend time to realize that it can do weird things. Today, for example, I learned that relative time could change how I approached different situations.

Off DeWall: When Social Connections Induce Fatigue

          I love feeling connected and writing about connections. And for good reason; my mental and physical health depend in large part on my social connections; my writing about social connections helps pay my bills. But can the benefits of social connection boomerang, leaving people worse off than when they were on their own?

          I started my day having meetings with my graduate students back at the University of Kentucky. We met over Skype, which enabled us to see each other and hear each other through the use of our web cameras. My first meeting was at 6am (2pm Eastern time), and the second meeting took place at 7am (3pm Eastern time). As usual, they meetings were stimulating, engaging, and inspiring. Next, I wrote for an hour, walked to school with Tom Denson, wrote for two more hours, and then went to lunch. After lunch, I emailed, called a couple of people back home, and did some more writing.

          By the time early afternoon rolled around, I was exhausted. I had been so connected to others the entire day that I had worn myself out. I went home with aspirations to go to the gym and cool off in the ocean. I took a nap instead.


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