I’ve been living in Australia for a year, and I think it’s the best country on Earth.The coastlines are beautiful, the men are beautiful, the food is beautiful. The culture is super laid-back, work-life balance is high-priority, and everyone just seems a lot happier and more relaxed than back home in the US.
But moving there was not the smooth transition I expected. I assumed, since it was an English-speaking, similarly-developed country, that I would just fit right in. I was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Australia might as well be another planet. Here are the 15 things that surprised me most.
THEY DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH
You think you’re moving to a country that speaks the same language as you, albeit with a hilarious accent, but you’re wrong. You will arrive in Australia, attempt to have a conversation, and end up sitting there wondering what the actual hale any of those words meant.
When I first arrived in Aus, sentences like “I sculled some Goon from the bottle-o this arvo” were a meaningless jumble of words to me. Now that I’ve assimilated, I know this translates to “I chugged some boxed wine from the liquor store this afternoon”.
I know that “ute” means “pickup truck” and “bathers” means “swimsuit”, that saying “McDonalds” is a waste of syllables, and that I should really stop talking about rooting for things.
There was a steep learning curve lol. Australian is a weird and delightful language, and once you are finally fluent you will feel like you’re part of a secret society. GOOD ON YA.
VEGEMITE IS THE ABSOLUTE MOST FOUL CONCOCTION OF ALL TIME
So everyone from Australia will tell you that Vegemite gets a bad rap because you’re supposed to spread it very thinly on toast with butter, not slather it on. And that anyone who spread such a thick coating on their bread would obviously think it’s disgusting, but everyone does it wrong, and that’s why it’s so misunderstood. And that it’s an acquired taste.
All those people are wrong. Vegemite is an absolute abomination and one of the foulest things I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. It tastes exactly how you would expect a freaking fermented yeast spread to taste – salty, bitter, and pungent. I gagged. I gagged just now, thinking about gagging on it. Never again.
THERE ARE WEIRD BIRDS EVERYWHERE
The Sydney equivalent of a pigeon is the ibis (fondly referred to colloquially as the “bin chicken”), which you will find literally everywhere, flapping around annoyingly and just being an absolute bother. Why is this weird bird so common? Wtf?
My personal fave is the magpie, which literally despises human life. Magpies are EVIL. They are extremely aggressive birds and actually attack people! Often!! Every spring is “swooping season”, where they will literally dive-bomb you from the sky just because they can.
And don’t even get me started on cassowaries.
A LOT OF ANIMALS ACTUALLY DO WANT TO KILL YOU
It’s not just magpies that want to kill you. Australia is home to plenty of other deadly animals, including twenty of the most venomous snakes in the world, a lethal box jellyfish, and a cute mini octopus which will kill you within minutes 🙂 There’s a deadly fish, plus the standard sharks + crocs.
There’s just a lot of weird wildlife in general. A friend of mine was hit in the face by a disoriented bat in Darwin, I got over 300 sand-fly bites from a single fishing trip, I witnessed a horrifying eel feeding frenzy in the Sydney Botanical Gardens, and I was almost hit by a falling possum while walking underneath a tree. Sometimes after one of these encounters I’m just like… why do I live in this place.
GROCERY STORES ARE SO CONFUSING
Good luck finding cilantro – it’s called “coriander” here. Want to buy some red peppers? Ur outta luck because they are called “capsicum”.
“Biscuits” are what we know as cookies, and what we call biscuits don’t exist. The closest thing you can get is a “scone”, which is not even close to what we think of as a scone.
Devastatingly, cheddar cheese literally doesn’t exist – you can get something called “tasty cheese” but it doesn’t even come close.
I have NEVER been able to find heavy whipping cream.
Bacon is not bacon, but UK-style rashers, aka a f*cking waste of my time.
Chips refers to fries and chips.
The first time I went grocery shopping I wanted to light myself on fire.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND GOOD MEXICAN FOOD
Probably because Australia is far as hell from Mexico, it has some of the worst Mexican food I’ve ever encountered. Even “great” Mexican food in Australia probably ranks below Chipotle in terms of taste/authenticity. This is one of the things I really, really miss about living in California.
Fortunately, other cuisines are really good to make up for it. Thai food and Vietnamese food are amazing. Instant ramen in Aus puts America’s to shame – the best one (Indomie Mie Goreng) comes with FIVE flavor packets and it’s seriously addicting.
And you might not be able to find a late-night taco truck, but you will almost definitely find a kebab shop to satisfy your drunken cravings.
DRINKS ARE EXPENSIVE. EVERYTHING IS EXPENSIVE
A typical cocktail will set you back $18-22 AUD, and a dirt-cheap happy hour drink is usually $10. You can’t buy liquor at the grocery store, you can only get it at the bottle-o, and even the cheap crap like Jack Daniels is a good $50 AUD for a 700 mL container. A 24-pack of shitty beer will cost you $45.
The cost of living (in Sydney, anyway) is just really high in general. Aside from rent, food is expensive (avocados are like $4 each right now, lol), transit is expensive, movie tickets and events are expensive, “petrol” (gas) is expensive.
But wages are high to compensate. Minimum wage is $17.70 AUD/hr and a typical service job will usually get you slightly more than that. When I was working hotel reception in Darwin I was making $25/hr!
IT IS HUGE
Australia is HUGE – between major cities there’s often nothing but wasteland. If you are planning a trip or move here, for the love of god look up how far you have to travel between destinations before you book anything. If you book an AirBnb in Botany or Mascot expecting a quick jaunt to Bondi Beach, You’re Gonna Have A Bad Time.
If you’re thinking of heading over to Melbourne or up to Cairns from Sydney, you’re looking at 10 or 27 hour drives (lol). Flights within Australia also aren’t cheap (because it’s huge), so plan ahead.
YOU DONT HAVE TO TIP, BUT YOU DO HAVE TO HARASS UR WAITER FOR THE BILL
Tipping isn’t expected in Australia, and initially it feels super weird and rude not to include anything extra when paying your bill. But once you get used to it, it’s so much better! I love knowing that the price I see on the menu is the price I’m going to pay for my meal, period. It also helps when I am out at brunch and too hungover to even be alive, let alone try to calculate 20%.
As a consequence, though, I think the service isn’t as good in Australia as it is in the US. Servers don’t check in on you as often and they aren’t as friendly. They also usually will not bring you your bill – it’s on you to go up to the counter and pay when you’re ready to leave.
SHRIMP ON THE BARBIE IS NOT A THING
They are called prawns… That is all.
AUSTRALIAN CUISINE IS NOT WHAT YOU’D EXPECT
Mainly, because it doesn’t really exist. Aus doesn’t really have much of a distinct cuisine. You’ll see a lot of fish and chips, a lot of “schnitties” aka chicken schnitzel, burgers with “beetroot” aka beet (horrible tbh, make sure you ask for your burger without), meat pies, sausage rolls, etc. Nothing healthy, nothing particularly unique, but all tasty.
Aus is also home to the greatest ice cream bar of all time (both in taste and name), the Golden Gaytime. It’s a toffee & vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in honeycomb biscuits and it is LIKE CRACK. So good.
THE INTERNET IS LITERALLY SO BAD
For a developed country, Australia has astoundingly bad internet. Wi-fi is painfully slow and unreliable pretty much everywhere you go, and for some reason this is just accepted as a normal way of life. Even in the biggest and most built-up areas like Sydney, it’s still terrible.
Free wi-fi is uncommon, and I often find myself using my phone’s hotspot just to survive. I work remotely and need a good internet connection to get anything done, so on that end Australia was a very poor choice lol. I am hopeful that they will figure this one out in the near future.
YOU WILL EITHER GET USED TO COCKROACHES OR GO HOME
Cockroaches are just a way of life in Australia. Whether you live in a fancy apartment, or on the first floor of an old house, you will encounter roaches, and you will encounter them often. It’s nothing to do with sanitation – they are just kind of everywhere. Despite my best efforts to ward them away, they still show up every now and then.
When it’s you and a huge roach in your kitchen in the middle of the night, either you kill it or it kills you. Once upon a time I’d leap a foot in the air crossing a roach on the street. Now I see one in my house, roll my eyes, and get the spray.
RENT IS PER WEEK, NOT PER MONTH
That sweet deal you just found? Look again, lol.
Rent is paid per week, not by month, which you have to keep in mind when apartment hunting. When I was first hunting for a place I thought I’d found an incredible apartment, only to realize it was going to set me back a cool $1k per week.
I pay $300 AUD/wk to live in one of the most popular suburbs in Sydney (Bondi), and I paid $200/wk when I was living in Darwin. Depending where you’re from, those prices might seem crazy to you. But coming from San Francisco where a dirt-cheap monthly rent is $1500 USD, I’m all about it.
YOU WILL NEVER WANT TO LEAVE
Australia is so great that thousands of travelers a year will work on literal farms picking fruit for three months, just to get a chance at a second-year visa. It’s the kind of place that you just fall in love with immediately.
As dumb as it sounds, the second I got to Australia I felt like I had finally found my home. It really is the loveliest, most laid-back place. Everyone else I’ve met there feels the same way, which I think says a lot about how fantastic it really is! I’m going to do my best to find a sponsor and stay permanently, so wish me luck!
Despite the garbage internet, terrifying animals, and total lack of In-N-Out, Australia is the best, and I can’t imagine calling anywhere else home anymore. I’m sure if you visit you’ll feel the same way 🙂