I went to the land down under and let me say - it was nothing like I expected. As an American, my perception of Australia was shaped by movies such as “Crocodile Dundee,” television shows like “The Crocodile Hunter,” and the restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse.
I knew that Australian seasons would be reversed from mine (no white Christmas), I’d be driving on the left-hand side of the road (no biggie, I was a passenger), and that legend had it, that water would drain counterclockwise. To go a bit deeper, I anticipated seeing incredible animals (marsupials for the win), eating some Vegemite (with B vitamins for vitality), and trying my hand at both “G’day, mate” and “No worries.”
With my passport in hand and a day’s worth of flights, I was ready to discover Australia. Here is what surprised me.
1) Futuristic currency. Not only is Australian money gorgeous and colorful (unlike American currency), but also it now features transparent panels! That’s right, see-through money!
2) Making it rain. Although I was thrilled that the conversion rate was finally in my favor, Australia was wildly expensive, and I spent more than I originally planned. Sydney is especially pricey, but equally wonderful.
3) Exotic roadkill. I was excited to see my first kangaroo and wombat, but was less thrilled that they were dead by the side of the road. I frequently saw crossing signs for each animal, but apparently it’s still a big issue in Australia, because I saw more than one squished marsupial...
4) Australians shorten everything. You don’t eat “breakfast,” it’s “brekky.” You don’t go to “McDonald’s,” it’s “Maccas.” Forget calling it the “afternoon” and instead say “arvo.” And in the summer, you don’t exchange “Christmas presents,” they’re “Chrissy pressies.” It’s pretty adorable, but highly confusing if you aren’t on the level.
5) It isn’t all the Outback. This is almost embarrassing to admit, but I expected arid desert filled with snakes that were ready to eat me at any turn. I couldn’t be more wrong -- instead we stuck to New South Wales which boasts both the lush Blue Mountains and world-class Bondi Beach with its majestic rocks and aqua waters.
6) Their laws are strict. I was quick to joke with my Australian friends that Oz began as a penal colony, but was surprised to learn that they do random traffic stops and checks for DUIs, that their legal blood alcohol limit (.05) is lower than ours (.08) and that they have strict gun laws. Needless to say, I felt quite safe over there.
7) Their coffee game is strong. I assumed that because of a heavy British influence and being close to Asia that tea would rule. Let me tell you, I discovered gourmet coffee in Australia and can’t wait to go back for more. The ingredients, procedures and presentation were well-executed, and flat white coffee is my new favorite beverage.
8) Their food is on point. I’m now hooked on meat pies -- they are the perfect grab-and-go snack that couples beautifully with a packet of tomato sauce. Additionally, their seafood is incredible (yes, I had shrimp on the barbie), and the proximity to Asia provided for delicious Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine as well.
9) Their birds sound like dinosaurs. I joke that thanks to the Pangea split, Australia hosts animals that evolution forgot. I was astonished at how loud and brash the squawking birds sounded compared to our Disney-esque sing-songy American birds. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it, and it’s pretty hilarious.
10) Aw yeah, RnB Fridays. If I had a dollar for every time I heard Snoop or Dre while in Australia, I’d have at least five dollars after ten days! But truly, the radio stations play amazing throwbacks on Fridays and perfectly set the mood for the weekend.
11) The accent is contagious. After only ten days, I found that my words were coming out as a jumble between an American accent and an Aussie one. Theirs is truly music to my ears and sounds so lovely, and both formal, yet more relaxed than its British counterpart. I bet if I stayed there longer, I’d easily pick up the slang AND the accent. And perhaps I’d learn to make meat pies as well?
So if you’re ready to make the journey (which is well worth the time and money spent) -- have fun, enjoy the sunshine, surfers, cuisine, culture and animals (even those that might kill you). Step into the beautiful paradise that is Australia, and see what Southern hospitality is like in the deep, Deep South -- Southern Hemisphere south! Enjoy, Mate!