I’ve been living in Australia for a year, and I think it’s the best country on Earth. It’s BEAUTIFUL. The coastlines are beautiful, the men are beautiful, the food is beautiful. The entire 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 that 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.
Pretty much every day when I first moved, I encountered something that totally baffled me. Random animals kept falling from trees or flying at me. Someone would say a word I didn’t understand, I’d try to order something and receive something completely different, or I’d wildly misinterpret some local custom. Australia is the best, but it’s also a unique and weird place that takes some getting used to! Here are the 20 things that surprised me most.
THEY DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH
Let’s just get this out of the way. You think you are moving to a country that speaks the same language as you, albeit with a hilarious accent, but you are 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.
Within days of my arrival in Aus I was baffled by “how are you going” (how are you), “bathers” (swimsuit), “chuck it in the bin” (throw it away), “ute” (pickup truck), “arvo” (afternoon), “bottle-o” (liquor store), and “Maccas” (McDonalds). American classics like corn dogs are “Dagwood dogs”, ketchup is “tomato sauce”, and “lemonade” is an abomination that in no way resembles actual lemonade, and should be chucked in the bin.
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.
THERE ARE WEIRD BIRDS EVERYWHERE
In America, the humble pigeon, aka rat of the sky, was my worst enemy. Little did I know that birds exist which are even more fuckin annoying.
Australia has a lot of cool animals, but its birds are not one of them. The Sydney equivalent of a pigeon is the ibis, which you will find literally everywhere – roaming the parks and streets, flapping around annoyingly, and not being aggressive but just being an absolute bother.
Magpies, on the other hand, are the most horrible birds you will ever encounter. Some birds, like the comparably very sweet crow, look evil but don’t seem to despise human life. Magpies are ACTUALLY 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.
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. There’s also a cute little box jellyfish and blue-ringed octopus which will both kill you within minutes. In Northern Australia, you can’t swim at all for a good portion of the year because you may well be eaten by a crocodile or stung by a jelly. While shark attacks aren’t common, they do still occur – there’s an average of three deaths per year. And don’t even get me started on cassowaries.
Aside from all the lethal animals, there are also just a lot of weird wildlife. In Darwin my apartment was filled with geckos, I’d see wallabies on my walk home all the time, a friend of mine was hit in the face by a disoriented bat, I got over 300 sand-fly bites from a single fishing trip. The Botanical Gardens in Sydney have a pool filled with eels, and the first week I was there a possum fell out of a tree directly in front of me. 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 does not 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 bacon, aka a fucking waste of my time. Chips refers to fries and chips.
The first time I went grocery shopping I wanted to light myself on fire.
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 is 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. It’s not even worth a try.
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, as is pretty much every other type of Asian food. Instant ramen in Aus puts America’s to shame – the best one (Indomie Mie Goreng) comes with FIVE flavor packets including sweet soy sauce and crispy onions. 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. However, 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, and extremely spread out – between major cities there’s often nothing but wasteland. If you are planning a trip here, for the love of god look up how far you have to travel between destinations before you book anything. Even within the major cities, everything is quite spread out. It takes me a good hour+ to get to some of my friends’ houses in Sydney, and we both live well within the main metropolitan area.
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. I usually fly JetStar – it’s not pretty, but it’s the cheapest option by far, and totally safe.
I mean this in a totally non-judgmental way, but since Australia is such a health-conscious country I assumed smoking would be as taboo here as it is in the United States. Not the case at all. It’s super common and pretty much every bar has a designated smoking area.
If you come from a country like the US, you will be SHOCKED at how much everyone smokes here. Numerous times I’ve been the only person in a group not smoking, and felt awkward and left out, especially among the hostel crowd. All my American smoker friends love it since they can finally light up without someone side-eying them.
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, although the food quality is GREAT and the food scene is booming.
There are a few things you’ll spot in Aussie restaurants – pretty much everywhere serves some type of fish and chips and a “schnitty” aka chicken schnitzel, burgers usually come with a slice of “beetroot” aka beet (horrible tbh, make sure you ask for your burger without), and ice cream on your pancakes/waffles is SUPER COMMON and I am all for it.
Meat pies, sausage rolls, hot cross buns, lamingtons, Golden Gaytimes (look it up lol) and Maltesers are all things I had never encountered before but am all about now. And though Australian cuisine might not be as elevated as you’d expect, it’s all delicious.
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.
MILKSHAKES ARE NOT MILKSHAKES, ICED COFFEE IS NOT ICED COFFEE, AND LEMONADE IS NOT LEMONADE
I’m going to spare you from three nasty surprises.
First off, milkshakes are not milkshakes. They are a thin, weird, ice cream soup. To get what I consider a milkshake, I have to find somewhere which offers “thickshakes”. To make up for this, though, Australia has a ton of “freakshakes”, which are milkshakes topped with all kinds of crazy toppings like donuts, waffles, or slices of cheesecake.
A friend of mine ordered an “iced coffee” in Australia before me, so I was warned about this one. What it is not: coffee + milk over ice. What it is: coffee, milk, and ice cream. Wtf?!! It’s actually really good, but it is definitely not an iced coffee.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier in this article, Aussie “lemonade” is not the delicious, refreshing beverage that we know and love. It’s basically Sprite. A carbonated, vaguely lemon-flavored drink, that probably does not contain any actual lemon whatsoever. Australia is great, but they have this one all wrong.
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, spotless 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 GET PAID PENALTY RATES
Maybe this is a Thing in other parts of the world, but as an American I was shocked and delighted to find out that you get paid extra for working weekends. I worked a lot of Sundays at my hotel reception job in Darwin, and I got time and a half! I always volunteered to pick up an extra weekend shift because it was such easy money.
Australia is a lot bigger on worker’s rights than the US. Minimum wage is actually a liveable wage, and if you’re a full-time employee you can expect about a month paid leave per year! I felt lucky to get two weeks paid back home.
PEOPLE WALK ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET
Since Australians drive on the other side of the road, they also walk on the other side of the sidewalk. So if you’re walking down the street on the right side, people are going to give you a Look, because you’re messing up the entire flow of pedestrian traffic. If you and another person are walking straight towards each other, break left, otherwise you’ll probably run into each other.
Same thing goes for escalators. If you’re standing on the right side, you will piss people off. Stand on the left and let people who want to walk faster go on the right. I trained myself to do this so well that I still get it wrong when I’m back home, and am constantly annoying people on the street/subway/everywhere I go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
IT’S INCREDIBLY INTERNATIONAL
Australia is a top destination for travelers, and this pretty much guarantees that you will meet awesome people from all around the world. Whether you’re in the middle of the Sydney CBD or in the middle of nowhere in the Northern Territory, you’ll befriend people from all across the globe. I’ve got close friends from England, Italy, Australia (duh), Ireland, France, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, Spain, Indonesia, and more!
Even though the United States is a melting pot also, it doesn’t feel as international as Australia, because I don’t think we have as much of a travel culture. Hostels aren’t a very big thing in the US, and less than 10% of Americans travel internationally per year. So living somewhere that prioritizes travel and that attracts other travel addicts is pretty cool.
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 🙂