Monday, July 12, 2010

Same same, but different

Now that I've been out of Oz for a few days and have had time to reflect on it, I suppose it's a good time to tell about my overall impressions of Australia. The big thing is that it's really similar to the US, but there are enough differences that it's noticeable. It's a bit hard to describe in writing, but there's a saying among backpackers, particularly in Asia: "same same, but different." (And, actually, I'm surprised I haven't mentioned it here before. I know I sent a shirt home for my brother with this written on it, though!) What comes closest for Americans (or at least Marylanders) is the phrase "same difference." In comparison to the US, it describes Australia well.

The biggest and most obvious similarity is that both countries are English speaking. You can find Target, Costco, KFC, and a lot of other familiar stores and fast food chains - but not Burger King! (A local chain was already called Burger King and they refused to sell out to the bigger chain. Instead, the exact same restaurant, complete with Whoppers, are called Hungry Jacks.) Bathrooms with hot showers and toilet paper are the norm. Before anyone questions why something so silly would be included on this list, you have to remember that I spent six months in Asia where the same could not be said. ;-) And french fries/chips! For the longest time for me, fries were a special treat that were hard to come by and usually overpriced and/or not that good when you could get them. In Australia chips come with everything. Sure, it makes sense for fries to come with burgers or sandwiches, but lasagne? That's just weird. Aussies like their chips so much, that I'm pretty sure if you cut them, they'd bleed chips.

As for the differences, let's put them in bullet form because there's quite a few more of those.
* Americans could learn a lot from the water conservation practices of Aussies. There's almost always a drought somewhere in Australia so everyone is really conscientious of their water usage. It's a bit hard to enjoy those hot showers when there are signs everywhere encouraging showers lasting four minutes or less! Also, toilets are equipped with two flush modes; one gives a full flush and the other gives a half flush, so you can choose how much water you're using.

* Larger than life food portions. I thought portion sizes in the US were huge, but I think they're actually bigger in Oz. After a few meals, Will and I realized that we could save money by splitting entrees. When he left, I continued to save money by turning one meal into two.

* Expensive! Yes, at first I had sticker shock just because I was used to prices in SE Asia. Eventually, though, I realized that everything just costs more, even when you take into consideration the currency exchange (which is pretty crappy for Americans right now, almost even to our dollar). A cocktail costs $17, a pair of souvenir underwear costs $20, a movie costs $18, internet is at least $4/hour, and a candy bar is $3. I even saw a box of PopTarts for sale that I was initially VERY excited about. . .until I saw the $17.95 price tag. I get that it's imported and all, but it was still five times as much as in the US.

* No drip coffee and coffee with names like flat white (cafe latte) and long black (espresso with hot water added). Took me awhile to figure those out. The coffee's still good, though, it's just espresso based instead. No Nescafe in sight!

* Early closing times/shorter business hours (or "trading hours" as they're called there). With the exception of a handful of 24 hour supermarkets or McDonald's, and Sydney where most places are open late, everything closes early. My first night in Perth, Will and I were catching up over a beer when we realized that the bar was closing. At first I thought we must've been chatting for hours and hours for it to be closing time already. In reality, it was only 8:45pm. In Melbourne, I went into a restaurant/bar at 5:30pm and was kicked out a half hour later because they were closing. Even shops are generally open from 10am to about 5pm and that's it (with even shorter hours on the weekend).

* Music videos. This is a bit of an odd one, although it's harmless and even a little bit fun. Lots of bars and restaurants in the States play music in the background as they do in Australia. But in Australia, the music video that goes with it is always playing on at least one of the large screen tvs. 

* (Road) Rule followers. Aussies love to follow the rules! At crosswalks only a few rogues dare to cross before the little green man tells them it's safe to do so. If the speed limit is 80km/hr, you can bet that that's how fast people will be driving. No hot drinks are allowed in cars or trucks and bus drivers and tour guides actually enforce it. (Hot drinks aren't served on planes either. I think it's an actual law of some sort. I have no idea how Aussies make it during a morning commute without coffee for the road, though.) 

I'm sure there are many others that I'll remember as soon as I hit 'publish,' but this is a good sampling, I think.

Two remaining thoughts as I wrap up Australia: 1) The similarities between the US and Australia are what made me so homesick because the sameness of it all only made me remember how far away I was from home. But those are the same things that make it easy for Americans to travel to Australia, so YOU should go if you ever have the chance. 2) If and when you go, try to spend more time on the west coast than the east coast. People were super friendly there and there's not nearly as many tourists. I wish I'd spent more time there and that's where I would head if I come back.


  1. The differences/similarities are always quite intriguing. The two-flush toilet thing is one of those "why didn't we thing of that" things. How about bags at supermarkets? In the US, being eco-friendly is a choice. Abroad, you don't have a bag of your own? You better have big pockets or crazy juggling skills. And road rules? I'll have to do an entire post about road rules in Europe and people following them. So, is NZ less like home? Love ya!

  2. Darn, I knew there'd be something I forgot and you just reminded me. Plastic bags. They are for sure being phased out and you have to pay extra if you want one. I was even charged $.80 for a carry-out container when I couldn't finish my meal at a restaurant.

    If Australia is a combination of the US and the UK, but leaning more British, then so far it seems like New Zealand is the same combo, but leaning more American.