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20 things this American didn't know about Australia

One year, 27 days and 14 hours ago I boarded a one-way flight from Oregon, USA to Melbourne, Australia. Keen to know what’s different between the two countries?

For starters, I use the word “keen” now, along with a whole list of other Aussie-isms (marked with an asterisk) listed out in number 20. Feel free to skip ahead for translations as you read through.

This list is essential if you’re planning on holidaying or working in Australia.

Here are some notable observations:

1) Let’s start with Australia 101

To properly say “G’day, Mate,” don’t even try an accent, just say “good eye mite.” Too easy*!

2) No one says, “Chuck a shrimp on the barbie, mate”

For starters, they call shrimp ‘prawns’ here. And everyone throws a snag* on, then wraps it in plain white (Wonder) bread and drizzles it in tomato sauce*.

3) Those “wow I’m living in Australia moments”

The thing that most consistently reminds me that I’m living in Australia is the trees. All the different varieties of gum trees, the bunya pines, the palm trees, and the rose bushes (they’re seriously in every yard and, of course, I stop to smell them all).

4) You have to watch what you say (and hear)

The most shocking ‘translation’ experience was when a colleague asked loudly in our open office space, “Does anyone have a rubber?”

Now this might not be shocking to those of you who know he was just looking for a pencil eraser, but feel free to look up the differing definition on urban dictionary and have a laugh.

There’s a long laundry list of ‘inappropriate’ things I’ve naively said and have since learned are offensive in Australia. I’ll leave the grittier examples up to your imagination.

5) Food is fresh and fancy as

Every dish is topped with a flower or sugar crumble or bright berry drizzle. Bread is fresh and goes bad in two days because it’s not chucked full of sugars and preservatives.

Wine is amazing – even the cheap stuff!

Coffee is not as good as they boast (eeks, I might get deported for that blasphemy). Also, the cereal selection is disappointing (a.k.a. healthy); I miss my Cocoa Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch!

6) They can hold their liquor

I have gotten in trouble trying to keep up with Aussie livers! They can drink, and drink well. To align with their coffee obsession, the go-to cocktail here is an Espresso Martini, or a Café Patron shot.

7) Pronunciation is entertaining

The word ‘tube’ came up in conversation the other day and everyone seemed shocked that I pronounce the T as an actual T.

For some reason, Aussies copied Brits and decided (most) words starting in ‘tu’ – like tuba, tulip, turmeric, tutor – should be pronounced as ‘choo’ – i.e. chooba, choolip, choomeric and chootuh. And any words with an ‘r’ in them . . . just skip that letter altogethe’, mate.

8) Things really are backwards on this side of the planet

Light switches flip down to turn on, up to turn off. Door locks turn toward the latch to open, away to lock. Drivers sit on the ‘wrong’ side of the car and drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and you walk on the ‘wrong’ side of the footpath*.

Screws do still turn “righty tighty, lefty loosey” though. I haven’t studied toilets or dogs enough to report back on the rumor of which direction they spiral down.

9) Toilets (bathroom stalls) are actually private

Go figure, hey? There’s no gap between the walls and the door, and often the partitions go from the actual floor to cover the tip of an eight-foot-tall man.

10) While we’re sitting on the toilet topic

All toilets (like, probably 99.99%) in Australia have the water-saving flush options, for half a flush or a full flush. It took me ages to figure out if the large button was large because it meant a big flush, or because it was the most commonly used option. Turns out: big button equals big flush.

This is such an amazing, economical step Australia has made! Now if the recycling issue could be resolved …

11) Who does the better barbecue?

Look, this isn’t even a competition. Hands-down, American BBQ wins. The sloppy ribs, the greasy chicken, the tangy coleslaw and buttery cornbread and sweet baked beans.

You walk the aisle in a supermarket* in Australia and (almost) all the BBQ sauces are American made or themed.

12) “I’m good thanks. How are you?”

You know when someone in a shop or restaurant says, “Hi there! How are you going*?” I was raised to say, “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” But people here are taken aback when I reciprocate interest.

13) Cost of living

In my four years working with Australia, I heard Aussies mention many times how expensive eating, shopping, just living is, so was surprised to learn during the transition that cost of living is actually 4%  higher in Portland than in Melbourne.

This caused immediate excitement that I’d have extra spending money but as irony (and logic) would have it, it just meant my salary was adjusted.

14) It’s not as dangerous as they tell you

Yes, Australia has a reputation for all its deadly animals – snakes, spiders, sharks, crocs, jellyfish, stingrays. The rumor isn’t inaccurate, but they don’t just lurk about, ready to chase you down the street.

Touch wood*, but I have yet to see any spiders in Australia and have learned to just stomp heavily during my bushwalks* to scare any slithering enemies away.

15) On that note, humans are safer as well

Even on dark streets, walking through alley ways, going to large group events, I have not been worried about any public attacks. How weird is that? Safety was a legitimate consideration in my day-to-day in the US, and I’ve learned to let go of it. Yikes - what a realization!

16) You wake up to the sound of springtime every day

You can hear birds chirping constantly, and loudly. It’s kind of magical and soothing (except on Sunday mornings). Come check it out for yourself!

17) And end the day in heaven

Sunsets in Australia consistently take my breath away. I consider myself a pretty well-traveled person, and these are some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. So colorful and intricate and panoramic.

18) Seasons are swapped

Christmas dinner is a sizzling outdoor BBQ or sunny day on the beach in Australia, as 25 December is proper summertime.

19) They have some real interesting snacks

Some traditional snacks in Aussieville include:

  • Fairy bread – this is a kids’ afternoon snack or party treat; it’s plain white bread smeared in butter and topped with hundreds and thousands (aka colorful sprinkles).
  • Tim Tams – these can now be found around the globe, BUT Australia created them and coined the best method of eating them: a Tim Tam Slam. Nibble opposite ends and opposite sides of the biscuit, then dip one end in your hot mug of coffee and use it as a straw; the cookie disintegrates between your fingers and becomes a warm, melted mess to gobble up.
  • Kangaroo and emu – did you know Australia is the only country that eats both animals on its coat of arms? It’s true, and I’ve tried them both! Kangaroo is similar to wild game like deer, elk, moose, etc.; it’s very high in protein, low in fat. Emu isn’t really worth discussing. Also, crocodile is a bland, slightly chewy version of chicken.
  • Golden Gaytime – an ice cream bar coated in chocolate crunch and dipped in honeycomb biscuits (see below).

20) Other Aussie translations

Ok, the most important comes last, because there are PLENTY of ways you can tie yourself in knots here as an American - even if you put on your very best Ocker accent. Learn these words, PLEASE.

hot dog or sausagesnag (I'm not even joking)
ketchuptomato sauce (or dead horse)
corned beefsilverside
moldy foodoff
gas stationservo
grocery storesupermarket or "the shops"
flip flopthong
to be curiousto have a sticky beak
to be happy or excitedchuffed
can't be botheredceebs
"How are you doing?""How are you going?"
"You're welcome""That's alright"
"Good for you""Good on ya"
"No problem""Too easy"
a lotheaps
"I fully agree with you!""Bloody oath!"
"Don't worry about it""No worries, mate"
messed upstuffed up
knock on woodtouch wood
yesnah yeah
noyeah nah
to complainto have a whinge

And finally, measurements are all different (correct if you ask me - controversial).

Oh! One more - the dates aren’t MM/DD/YY, they’re DD/MM/YY (yeah nah, kind of weird).

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