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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Same...Yet Different

So, it’s over. Australia, that is. It’s flown. I can’t believe I’m moving on…

Almost six weeks spent in Australia (!), beginning with a celebration of the New Year with a view favoring the fabled Harbour Bridge and magnificent Opera House. It couldn’t get better, but it did. From Sydney’s food-frenzied glitz to the Gold Coast’s beach cheese, I funned and sunned, gaining friends at each new turn. Onto the Great Barrier Reef, checking another box off of my life-list, conquering coral-fantastic dives in idyllic settings like Port Douglas and the Whitsundays. Down to Victoria, to the more textured of Oz’s cities for a little tennis, which resulted in a quick affection for the laid-back ease of “Mel-burn” (as they say), life. The natural beauty of the country amazed me, first in Darwin’s Kakadu, then more in Ayers Rock’s Red Centre. No kangaroo in the wild sightings, but plenty of amazement in the middle of this vast, enchanting land. The final stretch found me back in Melbourne, driving down Great Ocean Road, beaching in St. Kilda, and back-alley bar crawling in the city with an able guide. On my last night, a karaoke dinner party with Natalie, my pop-star sweetheart from Vietnam, made my time in Australia complete.

While I utterly loved every minute of my time Down Under, I felt a little unchallenged by it. I have a different affinity for Australia than, say, Laos or Bali, Peru or Brazil. Australia functions on the same but different theory. A practical parallel universe to the United States, it was easy for me to feel comfortable in Australia; it was easy to not have to step outside comfort zones; not feel culturally stimulated. I, anyone, could so very easily live in Australia and be at home. So that was an odd feeling this time out. Not bad, god…certainly not bad. Just different. I’ve come to embrace travel as challenging, as mind-bendingly frustrating at points. But, here they speak the language, you can drink the water, the food is all a variation of other nations' best dishes. In trying to figure out WHY Australia is the same but different, I kept a running list of all the subtle nuances between Australia and the States. They got me every time. And, very much reminded me that I was definitely NOT at home.

A Day of Australia’s Little Differences….

G’day Mate. Want some “brekky?” “Brekky” comes with a choice of mushroom (large piece of portobella or similar, on the side), tomato (cooked, on the side), or beans (baked variety). Served OVER toast, making the "toast" a very mushy carb slush by meal’s end. (Forget about hash browns, wheat toast on the side and seasonal fruit). And, forget about grabbing a banana at a café or food shop. They don’t sell on-the-go fruit. Only at the markets.

I “reckon” you’ll fancy some coffee with that? There’s a system to coffee that took me a while to “suss out.” Coffee is coffee, but the variations are plentiful. There’s short black (espresso), tall black (double espresso), white (latte), flat white (latte, no foam), macchiato (more foam than latte foam), or cappuccino (the only self-explanatory order).

Assuming it’s a nice day out, after brekkers, you’ll want to be sure not to leave your “flat” (apartment) without your “sunnies.” (sunglasses) And, if it’s exceptionally hot, make sure you wear a “singlet” (tank top), bringing a “cossie” (bathing suit) for the beach and a “jumper” (long sleeve sweatshirt/zip up, etc…) for when it cools off later in the “arvo” (afternoon).

At lunchtime, you might want to grab something at McDonalds (there are more of these than anywhere I’ve seen in the whole wide world…) or Hungry Jacks (Burger King, here). But but sure to order “chips” not fries. And thai sweet chili sauce, rather than sweet and sour. If you want “wedges,” instead of regular chips, you’ll pay more and those COME with thai chili sauce and sour cream. If you want lighter, you can order “crisps” (potato chips). You can also have “crumbed” chicken, fish, or veal cutlets, sometimes called “schnitzel.” You can also opt for a kebab, which is the Aussie version of a burrito with Mediterranean fillings, rather than Mexican ones. Often times, if it’s a nice but casual restaurant, you’ll need to order/pay for your meal at one kiosk, then head to another for your beverage order, then sit down and wait for a waitress to bring your food/drink orders to your table. Self-service, but … not.

If you’re thinking Asian food for dinner, eat-in or “take-away” it’s more of the Thai/Malaysian/Vietnamese/Indian variety, rather than the Japanese/Sushi/Chinese variety. You never need to order drinks if you BYO, because pretty much every restaurant in Australia allows you, encourages even, you to BYO. And, any good/smart restaurant opens next to a “bottle shop” (liquor store) so that patrons can run across when their starting stash is finished. (With Australians…it always is!) Oh, and no need for a corkscrew, ALL wine here has screw caps. I know?!

People who live in Australia will tell you there’s no tipping here, but it’s catching on... They usually leave whatever change comes back from the “bill,” (never the check, they don’t what that means…). Only the “shrapnel” (coins) not the dollars. But, even in a nice restaurant, it’s only 10% … tops. Servers will thank you profusely instead of following you down Lexington Avenue asking “why the hell you left anything less than 20%?!?!?”

Australians don’t put their napkins in their laps when they eat. They merely use them to wipe their hands, faces. Conversely, I seemingly eat like a savage here, not using the left-handed, overturned fork, right handed cut scenario the entire meal. They’ll eat, say, salad with a left hand, upside-down fork, pushing lettuce onto it with their right-handed knife. I’m practicing, because I feel a bit primitive in ALL parts of the world except the States for my cut/switch (always using the right hand to actually FEED myself) scenario. And, they’ve noticed AND commented here. Mom…why didn’t you teach me to eat like a European!?

Hot tea here is served already brewed, and teapots don’t go on the stove, they get plugged into the wall! Coffee presses are also popular. I’ve never seen either of these two things before coming to Australia. Maybe that’s a ME thing, everyone seems baffled that I haven’t a familiarity with either one.

Obviously, they drive on the left side of the street. They also walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk. They walk left, we walk right. They always ask (the nice ones) if I’m American when I’m passing people…on the wrong side, leading into a both-moving-to-the-same-side-over-and-over-in-an-attempt-to-let-the-other-pass. Embarrassing. I also wait for buses to open their doors on the wrong side of the bus. Over and over again. And the people in the window, watching me from the wrong side, laugh at me. It’s been six weeks; I still can’t get it right.

There are roundabouts in the middle of EVERY street. Rather than stoplights, they have roundabouts to slow down traffic. The roundabouts are usually accompanied by speed bumps. It’s highly annoying to drive with all these little circular annoyances in your way at every mile. It’s like driving through your parents’ condo development every time you leave the house.

People are really friendly. In a park, on a bus, in the “cue” (line) at a shop, people will ask “how you going, today?” “Having a good day, mate?” “Do anything fun today?” Out of nowhere. I’ve come to expect it. For absolute strangers to initiate conversation with me for the moment of time we’re in each other’s company to pass the time. No phone number exchanges after the fact, just chit-chat for a bit, move on. It’s actually really nice…

On the same idea, strangers use terms of endearment very casually. When my father calls my mom “Babe,” it’s a little creepy (they’re divorced over 20 years) but here, like the British “Love,” anyone can call anyone “Babe,” or “Darling” (pronounced dahling). Waitresses call me “Babe,” cabbies call me “Darling,” and it’s all good. If they didn’t call me niceties, I think I’d be sad. They also say things like “you’re alright” (meaning all good, like when you say excuse me, or sorry) “good one” and “you’re a star,” or “you’re divine.”

They also call their aunts, “aunties” but that’s a little different and downright weird. Example: My Auntie Claire. OK...can’t she just be Aunt Claire?

Australians say “called” when they’re referring to someone’s name. Example: I met this cute guy. He’s called James. See how that works. Everyone’s name is Simon, James, Sarah, or Fiona. About 97% of the population is that way. If you have a different name than those here, you’re very special.

There are very few African Americans in Australia (that I’ve seen), but there are tons of Poms (Brits), Kiwis (NZealanders), Yanks (Americans), and of course, Aussies (pronounced Ozzies). Tons of Asians, that speak with an Australian accent. It throws me off when I get my nails done.

When going to a “pub” (they rarely call anywhere a bar or lounge), everyone gets a “shout” (to pay for a round). “It’s my shout! What do you want?” They rarely split bills between four-five credit cards at dinner. Bartenders use shot glasses to measure out drinks (I haven’t once been served more than a shot in ANY of my drinks) and are rigid about it. This ain’t no Angelo and Maxies, that’s for sure. The Aussie beer is Coopers and a lot of people are into Bailey's.

If you’re not a “piker,” (someone who always bails early), at pubs you get “pissed,” then go “blind” or get “annihilated,” before (if you’re lucky) indulging in a “party-pash” (drunken public kiss). Possibly you might get “loved-up” by some surfer boy or “pocket-rocket” (hot-bodied girl) and go home for a good “rooting.” You wake up in the morning, hoping the person you “shagged” isn’t “feral.”

Speaking of feral, the toilets here have two flushers. One is half-flush; one is a full flush. I didn’t get it. (Again, maybe it’s me on this one…) but I was told that half a tank is for “wee” and a full tank is for “poo.” Water conservation (there’s always a drought here…even though they’re an island).

They have Cadbury not Hersheys chocolate products, go to Woolworths for their food (it’s their national supermarket), indulge in cricket as the national pastime sport rather than baseball (flat bats, no mitts, more innings), live in one-“bedder,” two-“bedder,” or three-“bedder” apartments, and get paid for owning real estate in the country. They have to turn their electric sockets on/off by a switch, call their journals or daybooks diaries (making the whole writing thing feel a little bit 5th grade), and call me a flashpacker because I choose hotels not hostels, heels not flats, and restaurants not food carts. Australians attend “uni,” make “bookings” not reservations, and have Hens and Bucks parties when a couple is getting married. They might ask you to “walk them through it” when they want to hear a story. (I will use that one…)

Whenever I told people what I was doing in Australia, they would reply, “Well, good on you, mate!” and settle in to hear about my life. Usually, by the end of our chat, I would have made a new friend. That’s just the way Australia is and I’ve come to love all of the little differences. I’m “keen” to come back to this gorgeous country, filled with lovely people and positive spirit. I can’t imagine NOT coming back. If even just for a “fortnight” (two week period) …

More soon from New Zealand.


1 comment:

Steve said...


The best blog entry I've ever read from a yank!!! Wish I'd met you while you were in Port Douglas.

As a kiwi I can't wait to read about your time in the land of the long white cloud.

Have a great time!