We are leaving Down Under today, and starting our trip home — so while I might come back to this place for some closing thoughts once we have returned to Stockholm, I wanted to leave you with this list of normal things in Australia that threw me for a loop.
I started collecting these when we first arrived, and I’ve written about some in previous posts. Tucked among those are ideas I wish I’d had more time to explore. Maybe next time…
Normal things Down Under that have thrown me for a loop
- Ibises instead of pigeons (see post – this was the first thing that got me thinking about this list)
- Left-handed driving
My first experience on the road, driving (well, riding a bike) on the left, was SO weird. I’d only recently been getting used to the idea that I have to look right for oncoming traffic when I want to cross the street. After a few walks, a few runs, it was sinking in – amazing what the threat of oncoming death in the form of a huge hulking chunk of metal does for focusing one’s concentration on the road. The weird feeling, first of all, was being passed — yeah, I’m out of shape, but it’s being passed ON THE RIGHT that throws me off.
So, my husband at this point in reading this post will look at me funny: I pass on the right all the time at high speeds on California freeways, whenever I get the chance. Yeah, it’s not exactly illegal, but you can get ticketed for it. It’s reckless driving, passing in the slow lane. Only here, it’s the fast lane on the right. Yikes. I’m left-handed, and there’s always periodic articles about this, how left-handers are at a disadvantage in a right-handers’ world – with turning, merging, exiting the freeway, whatnot. So is that not the case in places where lefthanded driving is the norm? UK, Australia… at one time, Sweden. How do you figure that out??
Cheap wine, expensive beer (see post on “Eating Australian” and the cost of food)
Wine stores in general seem to be run by the two big grocery chains, Woolies and Coles, and are separate from the food stores. Otherwise, you must buy in specialized stores and you can buy at pubs and “bottle shops” – I know I’ve heard that phrase somewhere. We think of Australian wines as cheap to begin with in the US and Sweden (and maybe Canada), but it turns out they are cheap here at home only in some cases – and generally cheaper than beer! Why? Exporting water must be troublesome for this dry country – which is filled with drinkers!
- Fashion – or lack thereof? Hot weather certainly is a killer. (See post) Birkenstocks, flip-flops everywhere; long maxi dresses, short shorts and skirts – and women in headscarves.
- Sun. My first sunburn and stripes – ozone-hole related? Is this not a little like California Central Valley temperatures and sunshine? Or is it really more so? Find out the intensity! (see post!)
- Geckos, lizards, and more… in the house… it’s normal! Like our daddy long leg spiders… Their guano is typically a tiny black dry log tipped by a ball of white phosphorous – how much would it take to collect that gecko poop and turn it into fertilizer?
- Fruit bats in the evening sky
Where do they nest? (in trees!) Where are they going? (to find fruit trees!) Are they native? (yes? They are SO COOL, I WANT ONE!)
- Crazy cicadas accompanied by tropical squawks that sound like monkeys… This would make a nice science story: a bump in cicadas this year means that if I were a birdwatcher, I’d be psyched for the bumper crop of young next year. The tropical monkey sounds are actually kookaburras.
- Female and Male toilets (not Women’s and Men’s bathrooms)
And public toilets are everywhere, thank goodness… that means there’s a source of water, generally (public health concerns!), and no human waste around (ditto, public health concerns!), plus no unpleasant smells of a place like New York City in the summer, where men urinate on the streets seemingly freely.
- Coal train! Pride in mining is big here in Australia, and coal supposedly provides half the electricity here – which makes me want to rant: where are all the solar panels on the houses here? They had subsidies for a while, but those are going away because the business opportunity left too many loopholes for opportunists.
- Trains vs buses: the train stations are clearly signed, you have fair warning for the next stop on the train with screens and announcements; on the buses, not so. You have to know the cross streets, the numbered stop on the bus line, and there are NO announcements of the next stop, no digital signage, NADA. PLUS, you have to flag down the bus as it’s coming to tell them you want them to stop to pick you up… GAH. As Matt says, “public transportation is for chumps.” Support your local public transit and make it better!
- A post on branding –
I’ve alluded to Burger King in one of my first posts. But the slightly off-kilter branding doesn’t stop there. First example: Cheerios. Check out that label. Isn’t that a General Mills product elsewhere? That’s actually owned by Nestle?
But it’s not that all things are made somewhere else or by a foreign company’s hidden auspices. The REI/EMS equivalent here is Kathmandu, and they have things I’ve never seen – though that doesn’t mean much, considering that I have not been to either place in ages – but I’m thinking of a light tea kettle, for example, and their own water containers that are flat plastic triangles, as well as the SIGG knockoffs that are now ubiquitous… oooh, so many cool things to buy! And last thought: Target is ubiquitous here, and K-Mart still exists, but there’s no WalMart, not yet at least…
- Sales – special deals – Tuesday evenings, you can pick up $6 pizzas over at Eagle Brothers – does it ruin their business or bring more? A lot of restaurants have these deal nights. And the Coles/Woolworths competition: One clerk at a nearby liquor store that is owned by Woolworths told me that one week, one chain will have a deal that will show up in the other competition stores the following week – it’s hit or miss. Does it help? How does this fit into the culture of re-use if there is one? (Lifeline, for example, is a charitable secondhand shop, and it’s everywhere.)
- How green is Australia? I’ve been picking up plastic bags from various stores labeled “epl”: They seem to be compostable, biodegradable, AND recyclable. How’s that work??
Bonus: I bought Eucalyptus soap for doing wool/fine washing. Cool!
- WATER: and an unexpected rainy season in January – same as Sacramento, only much, much warmer while that rain is pouring down. Plus, there’s that fear of flooding, after the deluges in 2011 here in Brisbane.
- Invasive species
Entering the country, you see a ton of signs about how much they will fine you if you are bringing in plants, insects, anything not native – and yet, Australia has already been conquered. Rabbits, toads, jacaranda – the list goes on and on. I want to read Feral Future by Tim Low (http://www.feral.org.au/feral-future-the-untold-story-of-australias-exotic-invaders/)
Fear of the wrong species. Or lack thereof. I’m accustomed to thinking of spiders as my friends: they eat pesky moths, ants, flies, whatnot. And here, they simply freak me out. As do the giant ants. And pretty much anything else that moves. Makes me skittish!
- Magazine headlines? Television news? The media are supposed to be extremely sensationalized here, but there’s some good reporting still. [see post!]
- Local food – Haas avocados, $3 a pop, but local [[versus the extreme warnings at customs not to import exotics…]] $2 for a bag of unripe ones off the side of the road
- Possums, ants, and … other species that have similar counterparts elsewhere, a world away in so many ways – size, for example. Possums and Opossums are totally different species, but the first white people to settle here and in North America assumed they were the same.
- Food frisson: Sushi with mayonnaise — why?? Beets with burgers, with everything – yes!!! Smoked cod poached in milk – ugh. Vegemite: It’s our last day here, and we still haven’t tried it. And that is okay.
- Music in the stores: Paul Simon, Eurythmics/Annie Lennox, Thompson Twins – they found me. I’m their demographic. It’s been really trippy to hear the music from my high school and college years on the background soundtracks here…
- Free stuff (see post)
Phrases and different meanings
- “Flybuys” (discount programs you can pay to join — huh?)
- Capsicum = sweet red peppers? hot red peppers? I’m not entirely sure.
- Cucumbers are either European (the long hothouse kind) or Lebanese (smaller, thin-skinned and sweeter, juicier).
- “A very good morning” – and yes, they say “no worries” allllll the time.
- “Flat white.” That’s a shot of espresso mixed with hot water and slightly foamed milk – not an Americano or a cappuccino, mind you, nor a latté. It’s a flat white. Flat black means without milk.
- “Uniting churches,” not “United”!
- Like I mentioned above, Female and Male (not Women and Men, for bathrooms for example and just about everything else…)