Here are some hints that you might like to read through if you are coming to Australia for the first time:
Culture, Customs, etc
- When coming in through customs, declare everything you are unsure about. The staff are very helpful to those who declare, and it's often faster than going through the undeclared queue.
- Don't believe Australians on any of the following topics: drop bears, hoop snakes, yowies, ghosts in billabongs or Ivan Milat still being in the Bangalow State Forest. Funnily enough, the story about the Prime Minister who drowned being comemorated by a Memorial Swimming Centre is quite true.
- Australia is pretty much a gun-free country, unless you're a farmer and need them for shooting rabbits. Leave your saturday night special at home (I only say this because of one previous USA traveller who was arrested at Sydney airport for carrying one).
- Our electrical system is 240V AC, 50Hz. A lot of American applicances like hairdyers are dual-voltage though, but unless you're really sure, it's best not to find out by experimentation.
- Our light switches are upside down with respect to the ones in the USA.
- Local phone calls here are not free.
- To call overseas you need to start with 0011 - country code - area code - phone number.
- Pedestrians will tend to keep to the left.
- The legal drinking age is 18. There are stiff penalties including prison sentences for drink-driving offences.
- Australia has a good medical system but it is not free unless you have a Medicare card. Get travel insurance.
Getting around Sydney
- Grab a copy of the train map from the local train station and see if you can pick up a list of bus routes in the area that you are staying in. Public transport is quite good and generally moderately cheap and reliable. Usually faster than private cars. There are day tickets that are available at a good price, but the best value are the weekly tickets that cover bus, train and ferry. These are available from newsagents, chemists drugstore/pharmacy) and corner stores (barios/dairies/convenience stores). If you are only catching the bus, you can buy multiple trip passes of 10 trips from the same locations as the above, these are called Travel Ten tickets. Ask a native guide about what colour you will need as each colour covers a different amount of distance.
- On the buses you can only buy single tickets. You do not need correct change, although large notes will be frowned at. Bus stops are denoted by an arched yellow sign with a black ideogram of a bus on it. Sometimes they even have timetables nearby.
- At the train station you can buy single tickets, day passes and weeklies for combined or train-only travel. You can also buy passes that cover travel to and entry into some popular tourist attractions such as the zoo and aquarium. These usually have a small discount on buying each element separately.
- Do catch the Manly Ferry, it's the best view of the harbour for the lowest price. Walking across the Harbour Bridge on the pedestrian walkway (right hand side as you go from City to North Shore, not the left which is the cycleway) is great too.
- Australians tend to shorten words and nickname everything. Figuring out what a "prezzie" or a "schoolie" is is somewhat intuitive to American-speakers, but "ute" and "op-shop" are not ("pick-up truck" and "thrift-store" being the US equivalents -- but you already knew that). "Seeyasarvo" means "I will see you this afternoon" and is not an expression derived from the Japanese.
Some other equivalents:
| Australian || USA
| Woolworth's || A grocery chain store
| Big W || Wal-Mart
| David Jones / Myer || Macy's
| Snags || Sausages
| Tomato Sauce || Ketchup
| Spag Boll || Spaghetti with meat sauce
| Cordial || A non-alcoholic sweet drink, usually drunk diluted with water.
| Scones || Tea biscuits
| Biscuits || Cookies (mostly)
| Chips || French Fries
| Crisps || Potato Chips
| Capsicum || Bell Pepper
| Gelato || Sherbet
| Cot || Crib (A small bed that a baby sleeps in)
| Chemist || Drugstore
| Jelly || Jell-O
| Westie || Trailer trash
| Shop || Store
| Lemonade || 7-Up
| Soda || Soda water or club soda
| Lollies || Candy
| Boot || Trunk (of car)
- Cider here is always alcoholic, ask for apple juice if you want the non-alcholic variety.
- Do not use the word "fanny" in Australia, it does not mean what you think it means.
- Conversely, bastard and bugger are not rude words here.
- "Go for your life" means, "I am agreeing to whatever you have just requested and wish you the best with it." not "Run away or I will kill you."
Oh, and the "bathroom" and the "toilet" are often separate rooms in Australian houses. The bathroom may contain a sink, shower, bath, etc, but you may not be able to relieve yourself there. You should ask for the "little boys/girls room" or "toilet" or "loo" instead.
Yes, our toilets are supposed to do that. Just because it doesn't look like a swimming pool doesn't mean it won't flush properly.
- Australian money comes in 5c, 10c, 20c and 50c (silver), $1 and $2 (gold) coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. A five cent piece is the smallest coin, a ten cent is a bit bigger, a twenty cent piece bigger still and a fifty cent piece is slightly bigger again but is a polygon, not circular. Confusingly, a 2 dollar coin is smaller than a 1 dollar coin. The notes get larger the bigger the denomination and really are made of plastic and are different colours.
- Most of your major credit cards from home will be accepted here. It varies from place to place, but expect at least Mastercard and Visa to be accepted virtually everywhere including ATMs, and Diners and American Express to be accepted in major department stores and larger restaurants.
- The price that's advertised is the price you expect to pay. Taxes are included.
- You'll find the best thing to do is to bring a credit card with a PIN number. Then you can draw out whatever Australian cash you need from the local ATMs. Most airports have ATMs in them that take credit cards, so you don't have to go far to find cash. Just inject some $ into your credit card before you leave and keep an eye on the exchange rates.
- Most shops here, including airport duty free (which is the only thing you'll hit before passing customs and finding ATMs), will take credit cards so there's no need to bring a stack of pre-converted cash.
Food and Drink
- Our coffee is surprisingly different to american coffee, and sold in a range of different types especially in expensive cafes. Experiement with it.
- In a restaurant, if you ask for an "entree" you will get an appetiser. If you want a main course, ask for a "main course".
- If you ask for the following things, you may get them, or you may not get them, or you'll get something you don't quite recognize: iced coffee, iced tea, Kool-Aid, fruit juice made from frozen-juice concentrate, lemonade, limeade, pink lemonade, sherbet, soft pretzels, eggs cooked "over easy," bacon cooked really crispy (here it's thicker, and it includes the "Canadian bacon"), prime rib (to be had, but hard to find), commercial-dairy-made eggnog, many kinds of sausages such as bratwurst and weisswurst, breakfast sausages, General Tsao's Chicken or Mu Shu Pork, hot dogs, raisins (don't think "sultanas" are the same thing!), custard, rye bread, pumpernickel bread.
- A burger with the lot will get you every conceivable thing you can fit in a burger up to and possibly including the kitchen sink. Stuff like fried egg, pickled beetroot, tinned pineapple, bacon, fish cakes, potato cakes, fried and fresh onions, sandwich steak, ham steak, etc.
- Mustard can be anything from American Sweet to English Hot to the cook's own Mouth Volcano mix. Ask first!
- Cinnamon is not a common flavour here. If you can't live without your cinnamon chewing gum, bring it with you (and you may find several adoring friends if you bring extra). "Purple flavour" is blackcurrant, not grape.
- Alcohol is measured in percentage of alcohol per volume, not proof. For a very rough and ready estimate, double the percentage and that's what it would be in proof. Beer is generally stronger, as are the alco-pops - check before you drink, especially if you are driving!
- Try the Tim Tams, and Violet Crumble. They're good.
Out On The Town
- We don't tend to tip, anywhere, not even in restaurants. Some restaurants will have a bowl or something where you can leave a few coins but this is optional, not necessary.
- "Your shout" is an Australian's gentle way of inviting you to purchase the next round of drinks. Declining such an invitation is unusual, and occasionally painful.
Driving and Travelling Tips
- We drive on the left hand side of the road. This should be familiar to UK travellers, but people from the USA need to remember this, especially when crossing the road! Cars may be coming from the opposite direction to what you expect.
- Hiring an automatic car, rather than a manual, will make the transition from driving on the right to driving on the left much easier.
- A "zebra crossing" is an alternate series of wide white and black marks across the road. Traffic is obliged to give way to pedestrians at such places.
- The emergency phone number is "000", Australia-wide.
- Gasoline for your car is called petrol - ask for gas and you get LPG which most cars don't use. IT IS VERY EXPENSIVE BY USA STANDARDS! And nearly all petrol stations are self serve.
- We use the metric system here. A litre is very roughly two pints. A kilo is roughly two pounds. A kilometre is roughly 2/3 of a mile.
- Australia is the same size as the USA not including Alaska. This is a big country. Australians tend to describe distance in terms of how long it takes to get there. This can be confusing as city driving takes longer than cross country driving. Saying Melbourne to Adelaide is about 8 hours, means you get in a car, drive at 100kph for 8 hours, then get out in the other city. When driving long distances, stay on the main roads as smaller ones may not see a car for several days and people do die of dehydration/exposure before anyone finds them broken down.
- Your cell phone (mobile phone) will not work here unless it is a tri-band phone. Many rural areas do not have mobile phone coverage.
- We have three time zones - Eastern, Central and Western; Eastern is half an hour ahead of Central, Central is one and a half hours ahead of Western.
Despite what you have been told, Australian wildlife is not "everywhere" nor is it universally toxic. You are unlikely to be sharing a suburban house or hotel room with anything that will kill you.
- If your shoes have been left outside, always tip them upside down and shake them before putting them on, especially if you've been camping or in the bush.
- Never put your hand into any darkened space such as under a pile of wood or into a cranny on a tree.
- Of the worlds 7 most venomous snakes, 7 live in Australia. We also have the only poisonous mammal, the only (extremely) poisonous octopus, various spiders, sea wasps, cone shells and a long list other other dangerous fauna. We even have some very interesting poisonous vegetation. Ask locals before touching anything you have not already been introduced to.
- We do not have mountain lions, dangerous bears, or any other form of wildlife that will chase after you, maim you, or eat you. An angry male red kangaroo will, however, give you a disembowelling kick if you try boxing with it. If you leave our wildlife alone it will leave you alone, and that's a good survival skill. Even our most toxic wildlife is rather timid.
- The risk from sharks is usually overestimated. If you are in crocodile country however, the reverse is true. Never swim in an area you have not been told is safe by a reliable local.
- If you see a large spider-web (usually with a spider in the middle) strung across a path it is just an orb spinner and quite harmless. Just dodge around it. The dangerous spiders are all hunters.
- Kangaroos are equivalent to deer in a surprising number of ways, starting with their danger to drivers, especially at night but going on through their pest status amongst farmers (eating the garden veggies and the crops, or competing with sheep and cattle for pasture feed), to their protected legal status resulting in areas of tragic and expensive over-population. Don't expect to see kangaroos in downtown areas here -- but Canberra is the exception, with all the green spaces planned into it. Kangaroos in the actual Canberra CBD are rare, but are seen regularly even in nearby suburbs. Hitting a kangaroo with your car is dangerous and very expensive, just like hitting a deer.
- Hitting a wombat with your car is like hitting a moose. More danger, more damage, more expensive repairs.
You're On The Other Side Of The Planet
- Unlike the northern hemisphere, it will be winter in Sydney in July. Remember that! It will be cold, not hot! Although Sydney winters are very mild by comparison to some places -- daytime temperatures are around 18 - 22 degrees C and at night it rarely drops below 8 C, and doesn't frost or snow. You may want to bring a warm coat or jacket for heading out of doors, however.
- Winter sports here include rugby, rugby league, "australian rules" football (in the southern & western states), soccer, and basketball. If you say "football" to someone, the meaning may vary between states but probably won't be American Football or soccer.
- The sun is in the North. East and West are swapped around compared to the position of the sun. Your natural sense of direction may lead you to believe you are travelling in the opposite direction to the one that you are really travelling in.
Of course there are many more small cultural differences! Our international liaison -- mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org will be more than happy to help with answering any questions.