How much money do you expect to take with you?

Was the question asked of me before I left Serbia to come to Australia …

Speaking of English … I’ll say that in primary and secondary school, and little bit at University I studied Russian,but given to the fact that I worked as a programmer, English was essential … sort of…

I had what one would refer to as a “passive” knowledge of English. I learned all the necessary commands when working with computers and programming, and for what I did not understand (given that GOOGLE did not exist then) I referred to my trusted English-Serbian dictionary and I didn’t have any problems.

But … I quickly discovered that English for programming and conversational English are, well, worlds apart! 30 years on … that gap hasn’t shrinked…much 🙂

A year passes and we finally, my wife and I, received a call to come in for an interview at the Australian Embassy, ​​ all five of us (my wife, three young children and I) arrived in Belgrade, took our number at the embassy (the lines were huge, you’d think they were giving something away for FREE) and the waiting began.

After 2-3 hours of waiting, it was our turn. We went to the office. Behind the large table sat a middle-aged guy, on his right was a woman with a typewriter in front of her … We were asked to take a seat, in English!! (this I immediately understood – through watching Western movies 🙂 ) …

Immediately I said to him that my wife and children do not speak English and that I would somehow fumble my way. He says, no problem … And he started with the questions … He didn’t ask me many questions, most were addressed to my wife as his secretary was translating. The questions asked of me  I somehow managed to answer in some kind of English but I was not prepared or expecting what question came next …:

“How much money do you expect to take with you?” I, being smart as always, with the little English I knew, understood the question as ‘how much do you expect to EARN’  and immediately said: “Two thousand dollars per month. “.

From the expression on his face, I realised that that may not have been the right response.  I looked over at his secretary, she looked back at him, he looked at her, I looked at him and I started to laugh. …

The only person not laughing at this moment was  my wife who was watching us and had no idea what was going on … Somehow the laughter diffused the situation.

That was where the interview ended.  He wished  us a happy beginning of a new life in Australia, medical examination pending.

Medical passed (it was easy, no English required), and following a very long flight my family and I finally made it to Brisbane, Australia, the capital of Queensland.

To  emigrate to Australia procedures must be followed. The first and foremost task is to go in (I think it was then called) CES (now already called Centrelink), where they record all the relevant information about you. Here is where my “knowledge” of English once again was put to the test…

When they called my number, I sat in front of a guy and he asked me if I needed an interpreter. Me, who knows enough English to get by reply , “No” … and this is where the fun starts – ‘Lost in Translation’ was a movie that came much much later but I lived it.   We all know that Government Officials who work with newcomers need to show maximum patience so they don’t end up hurting our feelings … this guy that interviewed me deserved a medal!

The questioning begins, the interviewer knows what my response should be, but poor me I can’t find the right words to answer … He knows what I should say but he is not allowed to suggest anything, and on my side I cannot seem dig deep enough in my “knowledge” of English to put together a decent answer… somehow we got through it. When were close to the end, I noticed sweat on his forehead, the room we were in was air-conditioned. With visible relief and a thank you he asked me to call in my wife. I call her to take my place and without even having to ask he picked up the phone and called the interpreter!! 

We both learnt a valuable lesson that day, him to just always call for an interpreter and me … well I am still learning that my English needs a lot of work 🙂

talk to you soon 🙂


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