Every time I talk to somebody from home I get a lot of the same questions. "What is Australia like?" "What are the people like?" "Do they really talk funny?" "Have you seen any spiders yet?" Now that I've been in this wonderfully weird country for almost two months, I feel like I can answer these questions a bit more accurately. So, without further ado, here are some of the answers to common questions (as well as some tidbits that I just felt were completely necessary to share).
Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects my individual experience in Australia and may not be true for all people or all parts of Australia. I just tell it as I see it.
MYTH: There are deadly, venomous spiders and snakes lurking on every corner. This is not true at all. Granted I live in a major metropolitan area, which doesn't tend to be a breeding ground for oversized creepy crawly things, but I honestly used to see more spiders in Boston and New York than I do here. Most Australians will tell you about the few chance times they encountered a freakishly large Huntsman Spider (which are totally harmless), but other than that they are pretty far and few between. Each year you can count the number of deaths due to spider and snake bites on your fingers, and most frequently they are due to a person trying to kill or catch them. Just let them be, and they will let you be. (Although I still check under my sheets and in my shoes every single day to make sure nothing is hiding out where it shouldn't.)
FACT: Kangaroos are everywhere! Okay, maybe not everywhere. You definitely don't see kangaroos hopping around the streets of Sydney, but outside of major cities they are pretty abundant. So abundant, in fact, that the Australian government needs to control the size of their population so that they don't eat all of the crops or grasses that are meant for cows. You also can't legally own a kangaroo as a pet, but sometimes a kangaroo will find a patch of land that he or she likes that happens to be on your property and will just live there for a couple of years. And you can pet them all you want, just not on the top of the head because that's predatory and they will punch you.
MYTH: All of the guys here look like Chris Hemsworth and all of the girls look like Miranda Kerr. Not all of them.
LINGO: Every single word is abbreviated. For example, breakfast is "brekky" and garbage man is "garbo". They don't even call their supermarkets by their full names - "Woolworths" is actually just called "Woolies". For an entertaining and surprisingly accurate list of all of the shortened words that are a part of the daily Aussie vocabulary, watch this video.
FACT: There are pirates. Or at least I'm convinced that there are. On more than one occasion I have spotted a drunken man with long, stringy hair in boots, a long overcoat, fancy hat and tight pants walking along the street with a bottle concealed in a brown paper bag (obviously rum). Either this is the latest trend in men's fashion in Australia, or they're pirates. I really think it's the latter.
MYTH: The only thing that you throw "on the barbie" is shrimp. Since coming to Australia, I have been to my fair share of barbecues and not once have I been served shrimp (they're not even called shrimp here-they're called prawns). In fact, the only thing I have been served at barbecues are these weird sausage hot dog things that don't even come in hot dog buns. Instead they come in a single slice of white bread. These are known as "sausage sizzles" and are apparently an Aussie favorite. Not exactly a crowd pleaser in my opinion, but I'm never going to turn down free food. The barbecue sauce here, however, is absolutely fantastic.
LINGO: Aussies don't say "How are you?", they say "How ya going?". I actually don't think that the words "do" or "doing" are part of the Australian vocabulary. If you come out of a dressing room, the attendants will ask "How'd ya go?", as will basically any other person who is helping you anywhere (at restaurants/cafes/travel agents). If you want to sound like a true Australian when you introduce yourself, don't stop at just "G'Day mate!", add on the "How ya going?" and make sure you sound super enthusiastic when you say it.
FACT: People are shoe-averse. I think a lot of people imagine Australians to be extremely laid-back and in touch with nature. In movies, you often see Australians surfing at the beach and walking around their little beach towns, sometimes without shoes on, and it seems totally normal and chill. What's mind-boggling for me is that I've seen a lot of people not wearing shoes in the city. I can testify that, although it's no Manhattan or Detroit, the streets of Sydney are not the cleanest. Everybody seems to be totally fine with it though, shoeless people are welcomed into restaurants and stores and classrooms on campus. I'm all for letting my toes free when there's sand and earth beneath them, but would never trust the city streets the way that some people do here.
MYTH: Australia imports all/most of its food. I always heard that the reason why food is so expensive in Australia is because they have to import it all. That is surprisingly not true. Australia actually has a very diverse climate (though not quite as diverse as the U.S.) and can grow an abundance of crops. The majority of vegetables that I purchase in the grocery store are labeled "Australian-grown", and they are extremely fresh, so I believe it. I do think that they import a large portion of American processed foods because they're the best you can get (obviously), but they do also have their own brands of these. (I would highly recommend trying Tim-Tams because they're like the Australian equivalent of an Oreo-chocolately and loved by all!) So this still doesn't explain why I have to spend a small fortune every time I go grocery shopping, but at least it's fresh!
LINGO: Instead of "rent" they say "hire". If you want to go surfing for the day, you can very easily "hire" a surfboard and wetsuit at Bondi Beach or "hire" a car to go for a drive along the coast. Rent is simply the money that is withdrawn from my bank account every fortnight to pay for my apartment and nothing else.
FACT: The pizza is surprisingly good (and as a picky New Yorker you can trust my opinion on this). I'm not saying the quality of the pizza here is anywhere near that of the perfectly cheesy and doughy pizzas found in New York, but it's really not bad. They know how to make up for what's lacking in dough and cheese with a perfect combination of toppings. I'm a personal fan of Hawaiian pizza (ham and pineapple toppings) and that seems to be pretty popular here. They have topping combinations for all foodies-vegetarians, meat lovers, fish lovers, etc. I somehow got fooled into trying anchovies on my pizza a few weeks ago and I actually liked it.
MYTH: Australia is warm and sunny all the time. The day that I arrived in Sydney it was about 40° and overcast. It was technically the dead of winter, but the fact that I stepped out of the airport and wasn't greeted by a beaming hot sun and warm breeze really threw me off. I guess that my expectations were a little bit skewed. There were one or two weeks during the winter when it hovered in the 60-70° range, and other weeks where it was cold and depressingly rainy. I sincerely regret not bringing my winter jacket with me. Now that Spring has arrived, it's definitely starting to be warm more consistently, but the wind is still cold and strong and the sun isn't always out. If you want that stereotypical warm Australian experience, I would recommend going someplace in the north like Cairns or Townsville.
FACT: Like in the U.K., people drive on the left side of the road.This means that they also tend to walk to the left side. At first, this was a surprisingly huge adjustment for me, but I've finally started to get used to it. The problem is that, like many metropolitan cities, a large portion of Sydney's population is not actually from Australia. Everyday there are new people coming in and learning that they need to walk on the opposite side of the street than they're used to. Then you get the people who compensate for those who don't walk on the proper side and basically everybody is just walking into each other and doing the left-right-left shuffle.
Those are all of the facts/myths and lingo that I have at the moment. I learn something new everyday, though, and will be sure to follow up at the end of my stay in Australia with a complete list and see if I prove myself wrong on anything (although I know I'm not wrong about the pirates). If you have any more specific questions about Australia, I would love to answer them to the best of my ability, so feel free to throw them my way via whatever form of communication you prefer! Anyways, have a g'day mates, hope you all are going well!