12 Things That Surprised Me About Australian Culture

12 Things That Surprised Me About Australian Culture
Australia and the USA watch the same TV and movies, eat the same foods, and have the same four seasons, albeit at opposite times. So what’s the difference between the two countries? Early on, one of my biggest surprises was how similar Australian culture is to American. Yet after six years of living in Adelaide, Australia, I’ve noticed more than a few differences between my adopted country and the east coast of the United States. Here are the most notable surprises I’ve found about Australian culture.

1. Driving great distances is a way of life

There are toilets, playgrounds, and tables and benches for eating lunch outside in every town on your way. Most Australians pack their own food for the trip—no need to stop at a greasy fast food chain. Airfares are typically high for domestic travel, and the idea of driving 1 or 2 thousand kilometres doesn’t sound that bad to the average Australian.

2. They sing winter Christmas carols under a blazing sun

Just because Christmas takes place in the middle of summer doesn’t mean the old Christmas carols we’re used to in the northern hemisphere are shelved. It’s disorienting to see Santa dressed up in his red winter coat, replicas of reindeer mushing snow, and listen to songs about a winter wonderland in noonday heat. Most Australians like the idea of experiencing a ‘white Christmas’ but mainly prefer having a barbecue and going to the beach on the day.

3. Tall poppy syndrome

Australians don’t want to stand out. Once, I proudly told two Australian friends that they should come watch me and nine other PhD students in a speaking competition about our PhD projects. I boasted that the PowerPoint slide I created to go along with my talk was ‘the best one.’ My friend laughed and said, “You’d never hear an Australian saying that!”

Rebel Wilson also spoke about this as a reason why she left Australia to act in American movies. She was becoming too popular in Australia, and, true to Australian character, her audience wanted her to give someone else a go.

4. They don’t care where you’re from–at least, not in Adelaide

It could be that I have a mild accent, but more likely, Australians just don’t care. I can count on one hand the number of times an Australian has asked me where I’m from based on my accent, and I’ve lived here for six years. There’s a great mix of nationalities and accents just in Adelaide, a small capital city. No one treats me differently as an American. It’s just expected that I’ll catch on and fit in.

5. They’re handy

Far more than any American, I would count on an Australian to know how to do practical things, like gardening, basic plumbing, construct something simple with wood, and even brew beer or make wine. I’ve listened to so many conversations where my Australian husband and his friends are discussing how to install a hose, or improve their brew, or give their herbs a better chance to grow, and felt utterly unable to contribute to this conversation. They’ve got it covered.

6. Australians know a great deal about flora and fauna

I would bet on an Australian being able to identify a plant or bird far more than I would a fellow American. It seems part of their education to learn to appreciate their unique plant and animal life. They have a general knowledge about bugs and rocks and geology that I have not encountered in America.

7. Australians are more environmentally conscious

They compost, use less water, and don’t use dryers. In Australia we hang our clothes on the line, even though most of us can afford clothes dryers. Why? Because we don’t need them. Drying clothes in the sun, or in the winter chill, is better for the environment.

8. They’re not in a hurry, but they do shorten any word they can

From Brissie (Brisbane) to Chrissie (Christmas) to kindi (kindergarten) and arvo (afternoon), everything seems to get a nickname.

9. Australia has high food standards

I once told my husband that I was going to get out of some obligation by lying and saying I had ‘food poisoning’. Where I come from, food poisoning is an unfortunate, but understandable, thing that can happen. Here, not so much. My husband gasped at my idea. ‘That’s serious. They’ll think you’re in the hospital!” If you end up eating in what seems like a dodgy Mexican joint, don’t worry. You won’t get sick. Only when we traveled to America did my husband get a case of food poisoning.

10. The wages are so high

Minimum wage here is around 18 dollars. This is a good thing, but not always. An unskilled teenager working at a food stand at a footy game makes about 25 dollars an hour for working on a Sunday. While it’s great to earn such a high wage, it does drive up the cost of the ticket for everyone else.

11. They make curious, and safe, travellers

When I ran a travel memoir writing workshop in Adelaide, it sold out. Most Australians have been somewhere outside their country, and are saving up to go somewhere else. They get more time off work than Americans, and can typically spend a month travelling overseas, if not longer. They also always get travel insurance.

12. “She’ll be right”

They love when things work out, and they usually do, because this is Australia.

About Jillian Schedneck

AvatarJillian Schedneck is the author of the travel memoir Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights . She runs a website for travel memoir writers called Writing From Near and Far. Jillian holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Gender Studies. She lives in Adelaide, Australia with her husband and daughter.

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