“So is it really that different from the UK, living in Australia?” This is something I’m asked on a semi-regular basis. And actually, it sort of is. But in a very subtle way.
Now that I’ve lived here a full year, I think it’s high time I shared what I’ve learned about these subtleties, in case it might help some other poor pom.
You stand on the left on escalators, not on the right
This one fully blew my mind. And got S fully grumped at by a so-called laid back Sydneysider when he got it wrong. This makes no sense to me. In the UK we drive on the left hand side of the road, same as the Australians, and we all speak English. In the UK, as any Londoner worth their salt will know, you stand on the right of an escalator. So why do they stand on the left of the escalators here?!
You need a PhD in signs
The parking signs here are beyond complicated. It’s 6.24pm on a Tuesday. Can I park here???
I have been known to have to park, get out, study the sign for a good five minutes, do a google, and the move on because I’m still not sure. On the plus side, parking machines here take cards which is extremely sensible and gives me a huge sense of relief every time I approach a meter.
The kerbs are vicious
You know that horrible noise of the underneath of your car scraping against something hard and unyeilding? The one that makes you wince, suck in your breath and go “ooooohhhhrrrrrr”? Yeah that happens about once a week here when turning into driveways, ramps, shopping centres, etc. Despite going extremely slowly and taking things at an angle, the kerbs just keep coming to get me. They’re massive, and unforgiving. Partly it’s because I don’t drive an SUV, and partly it’s down to the gutters and drains built to withstand Sydney downpours, but it’s miserable and I don’t like it.
Houses are often wooden
I am from a country of stone or brick houses. Those are really your two options, materials wise. So to find a significant proportion of houses being wood makes me wonder how it’s not just going to fall down around my ears one day. It does make renovations a heck of a lot easier though, as I have learned through watching The Block.
People still wear ties to work
I don’t remember the last time I saw someone wearing a tie to work in London. But here in Sydney CBD there were ties a-bristling at a breakfast meeting I went to a few months ago. People here generally dress up super smart for work, which is an interesting contrast to the laid back image of Australia. Designer labels are big here, too. It’s been quite a shock for my charity shop loving self.
Shopping malls are a big deal
If you’ve ever been to Bangkok you’ll know what I mean when I say shopping mall culture. Instead of a familiar British high street, with a mixture of modern and ancient buildings all happily rubbing alongside each other and a familiar suite of shops (WH Smiths, Boots, M&S, Topshop and 17 betting shops) you’ve got shopping centres (called malls here) at the centre of the community in Australia. They will usually have a similar set of shops as well (Kmart or Big W, Woolies, Coles, Target, Sportsgirl, and a juice bar) but all set in a (usually very nice) mall. As well as free loos (!) and plenty of air conditioning there will usually be a food court which has its very own culture that I’m only just beginning to understand. Shopping malls have their pros and cons vs high streets, of course, but I have to say I am enjoying the novelty of the mall experience.
Eating out isn’t so expensive
Compared to the general cost of living, eating out isn’t quite as expensive as it is in the UK. Ok, it’s still a long way from being described as cheap, but in the context of everything else in Australia being extremely expensive, eating out is only quite expensive. One game changer is the aforementioned food courts, which can actually have some pretty decent restaurants in and are a perfectly acceptable place to go for an evening meal.
Also sushi is a lot cheaper here. And better.
You can buy painkillers in big boxes
In the UK, you can only buy one pack of 16 painkillers (paracetamol or ibuprofen) at any one time to try and cut down on overdoses. Fair enough, however I have chronic pain and my husband has some issues too so 8 pills each was generally not enough to get us through the 2-3 weeks we’d have between trips to the shops. And the last thing you want to do when you have pain is travel to the shops just to buy pain relief. So I’m (selfishly) quite glad that there are no restrictions on how many painkillers you can buy in one go here. Hooray!
Wog is not a rude term
The first time I heard someone refer to someone else as a ‘wog’, I gasped. Turns out, it’s not a rude term here, and refers to people of Mediterranean-ish origin. I say ish because it can be used pretty widely, but it’s generally not considered to be offensive. I still won’t say it anyway. Oh and there’s also a brand of cheese here called ‘Coon’.
Cadbury’s are on steroids
I am a big fan of Cadbury’s, having lived just down the road from their famous Bournville factory for a 3 years when we were newlyweds. But over here it’s like having walked directly through the looking glass into alternate universe Cadbury’s – it’s not just the standard Dairy Milk, Bournville, Cadbury Caramel… Here there are banks and banks of different flavours. You’ve got some old favourites like Top Deck (one layer of milk chocolate, one of white) which will always be around, then the limited editions of which there seems to be a new one every week. At the moment there are a lot of Spiders, which is not a nod to the venomous flora here but rather to a milkshake with ice cream in, apparently known here as a Spider. Who. Knew.
The downside to this is that just as you discover your new ultimate favourite flavour, it is in danger of being discontinued. Speaking from bitter personal experience.
But the sweets are rubbish
If you know me you know I have a sweet tooth, but it’s quite tricky to find decent sweets here (all referred to as lollies, even if they’re not lollipops. It makes no sense to me either). There just aren’t that many types to choose from, and the pick n mix is usually a bit suspect, too. I really miss dolly mixtures, and Haribo, and those little 3-for-£1 packs of teeth and lips, foam bananas, milk bottles, raspberry mushrooms, fizzy cola bottles…
Getting a plane is like getting a bus
In the UK if you’re flying anywhere you’re generally going to be going international. Which means for every flight there’s the passport shenanigans, extensive security, liquid restrictions, and arriving 3 hours before your flight or however long your anxious tendency/traffic dictates you arrive.
Here, a lot of flying is done domestically. This means you can waltz up to the airport half an hour before your flight departs and still have time to hang around at the gate. Just as long as you’re not checking a bag. In which case you’ll probably need to get there 45 minutes before your flight leaves, just in case. Airports are smaller here, too, so there’s much less ground to cover in general.
You can get on a plane with liquids over 100ml
This one blew my mind, as well. Not only is timeliness not so much of an issue, but neither are the stringent security rules we follow in the UK. Here, if you’re flying domestic, you can take whatever you like on the plane with you as long as it’s not an aerosol. That’s literally it. Yes you have to take out your laptop to go through security but it’s such a light procedure compared to the UK that it’s basically a frequent traveller’s dream.
For a little while after I moved here I kept unpacking my little ziploc bag of tiny toiletries every time I went through domestic security, out of sheer habit. That was one habit I was happy to kick once I realised I was getting strange looks from the security staff.
You can go airside without a boarding pass
A final airport related realisation. Again, in the domestic terminal, you can go through security without a boarding pass. This means you are free to see people off to gates, meet folks arriving, or even hold meetings in the airside Qantas meeting rooms. Or just, y’know, sample the excellent cuisine available in the terminal*.
*NB heavy sarcasm.
So I have to know. Are you totally side-eyeing me like how did you not know this? Or do you find any of these points particularly strange?