For those of you who don’t know, I lived in Australia for a year and a half while getting my masters degree at the University of Melbourne. I know it’s cliché, but it truly was a life-changing experience. If you ever get the chance to live abroad, DO IT. Not only will you learn more about that country and its culture, but you will learn more about your own culture and, most importantly, about yourself. My time in Australia will forever have an impact on my life, so I thought I’d share a little with you. Here are some interesting things I learned during my time in the land down under and developed my “Aussielust”.
Water is sacred.
Because of the occasional droughts, there are restrictions on when and how much water you are allowed to use. For example, it is recommended that you only take 4 minutes in the shower, so at one point the government issued small hourglass timers that you can stick to the side of your shower so you know how long you have been in there. And toilets are in their own rooms or ‘water closets’, separate from the rest of the bathroom. Some bathrooms do have them en suite though.
New drivers are flagged.
You can’t get your license until you’re 18. And when you do, you have to put a red “P” on the windshield and back window of your car for the first year of your license. After that year, it changes to a green “P” until you have proven your driving skills. Then you get to take it off and drive without judgement. Like their mother country, Aussies drive on the left side of the road too.
What you see is what you pay.
The prices that you see on tags and signs in the stores include tax or ‘GST’ (goods & services tax) – so you know exactly how much you will spend. Just be prepared for sticker shock – the prices are much higher than they are in the states. Cost of living is much higher, but wages are typically higher too. Another thing to keep in mind – tipping at restaurants is not standard. In fact, most of the tip jars I saw at cafés contained American bills, because we are so accustomed to tipping! It’s not expected in Australia, and waitstaff is paid much higher than they are in the states.
Aussie money can’t be destroyed easily.
For Americans, it’s so easy to destroy our bills. We can rip, burn, or crumple them. And they all look the same! But Aussie money is different – it’s plastic and colorful. The bills are also slightly different sizes depending on the denomination, getting longer as the value increase. There are notes for $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. There are coins for $.05, $.10, $.20, $.50, $1 and $2. The smaller amounts are silver the and the size increases as the value increases. The dollar coins are gold, thicker, and surprisingly smaller.
Driving rules are strict.
Speed cameras are everywhere! Some are permanently placed, while others move regularly. But, they publish the locations of the rotating cameras in the newspaper, so you get a heads up. Speeding tickets come very easily from the data caught on the cameras – but because of the nature of them, you don’t know you’re caught until you get the ticket in the mail a few weeks after the incident. The speed limit buffer is only 3 km/hr (roughly 1.8 mph), and tickets are issued once you go 5 kph over the limit. Be careful! Also, cars have “e-tags” which are similar to EZ passes, but they are mandatory – not optional. The sensors are built into towers on the highways so you don’t have any toll booths. If you don’t have an e-tag, you can’t use certain highways. (Temporary tags are available for visitors.)
Parents can choose their children’s schools.
Aussies are not districted into schools like children are in the states. In Australia students (and their parents) can choose which schools to attend. I also learned that each school campus has a reputation for excelling in a different subject areas – some focus more heavily on arts while others are more science-based. The only downfall is that there is no school busing system, so students have to find their own ways to school. Also, all public school students are required to wear school uniforms. Kids can usually be identified by what school they attend based on what uniform they are wearing.
Gas is not gas.
Most cars in Australia run on petrol (petroleum), the same as American gas (gasoline). But some cars run on ‘gas’ which is actually a vaporized form of petrol. Cars running on ‘gas’ have a special adapter in them. Confused? So was I. Of course, prices are per liter and when I was there petrol was about $1.30 per liter (over $5 per gallon).
Internet is limited.
Internet usage is limited per month by how many GBs of data you can download. After you use up your allocated amount (however many GBs you have paid for in your plan), the speed reduces back to dial-up speed. Ugh.
Know your DVD region.
US/Canada DVDs and players are region 1. Aussies use region 4. Don’t expect to be able to bring a DVD from one country to the other and get to watch it without having a particular software! You can change the region on your laptop, but some laptops will limit the number of times you can do this. Keep in mind some online streaming services won’t be accessible if your computer knows your physical location. (With the limited internet GB, this would drain it fast anyway! I learned the hard way…)
Greetings are different!
One of the most important things to learn when traveling is how people greet each other. The common greeting/farewell for friends in Australia is a cheek-to-cheek air kiss and a light hug. It took me a little while to get used to doing that instead of the typical American hug, but I learned. Cultural differences can lead to awkward moments when people go to greet each other in different ways!
Forget Nesquik; Milo is here.
Aussies are in love with Milo! It’s a chocolate flavored powder that is made from malted barley. It has more of a malty taste than Nesquik. You mix it in with milk to create a yummy drink. It was created by Nestle in the 1930s depression era to help kids get more nutrients in their diet and today it’s extremely popular. You may be tempted to ask an Aussie if they want some milk with their Milo because of how much they love it! It has become a popular ice cream topping as well.
Voting is compulsory.
In my opinion, many Americans take their right to vote for granted. But in Australia, you don’t have the choice. When election time comes, everyone heads to the polls. Yes, that’s right – everyone. Because voting is compulsory in Australia. And if you don’t go vote, you get slapped with a fine. Granted, the fine is only $20, but still who would want to pay an unnecessary fine? Go vote.
21st birthdays are a VERY big deal.
Even though the drinking age is 18, Aussies ‘go big or go home’ for their 21sts. Most people throw a huge party with lots of planning and make a big night of it. It signifies the unofficial transition to adulthood. I was lucky enough to be the right age to have several friends turning 21 while I was there, so I got to go to lots of 21st birthday parties!
I hope you’ve enjoyed learned these little snippets about Aussie culture. I’ll have more to share in the future.