The American’s Guide to Australia

Or, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Australia but were Afraid to Ask.

Just a handy little reference guide for anyone who wants to know more about that crazy land down on the bottom of the Earth.

(Note that some of these terms may not be specific to Australia – for example, some are common to the UK as well as other Commonwealth Realms.)

Prepare to be confused!

Flat White: An espresso based drink, like a latte but with little or no foam.

Tea: The evening meal, what Americans would probably just call “dinner.” Not to be confused with “tea” the drink. Also not to be confused with “teatime,” which is the time you drink the tea, not the time you eat tea (which would be “tea time”, or “time for tea”). Confused yet?

Ute: Short for “utility,” as in “utility vehicle,” what Americans would call a truck or pickup truck. More often than not, this refers to a uniquely Australian type of vehicle that bears more than a passing resemblance to the old Chevy El Camino car/truck thing.

Wrong side of the road: Unlike most of the civilized world, Australians drive on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. This, combined with their relative isolation, means that most Australian cars are either locally produced or come from Japan (which also drives on the left – a.k.a. “wrong” – side of the road), with a smattering of European models (the right-hand drive versions, of course) thrown in for good measure. Even more oddly, one of the biggest Australian car companies (Holden) is actually a subsidiary of GM (General Motors), and there are also a lot of Fords running around. Go figure.

Petrol: Like their UK cousins, this is what Australians call gasoline. Also don’t forget that it’s sold by the liter, not the gallon, and that liters are smaller than gallons… and don’t forget to factor in the exchange rate too. (Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that gasoline is more expensive in Australia, much like it is in Europe.)

$2 coins: Unlike here in the US, where the largest denomination coin you’re likely to run into in normal usage is a quarter ($0.25), in Australia you’re very likely to run into their $1 and $2 coins – the latter of which are ridiculously heavy, given their small size. So don’t just toss your change into your pocket or cup or whatever – it’s probably worth more than you realize!

Alfoil: Aluminum foil, or what Americans might colloquially call “tin foil” (even though it’s not made of tin). A rare case of when the Australian term for something actually makes more sense than the American term, and also an example of the Australian habit of shortening the names of things.

Biscuits: The sweet kind, not the savory kind. What we in America would probably just call “cookies.”

Cool change: This is exactly what it sounds like – a change in temperature (getting cooler). Often – but not always – accompanied by some rain showers (which often come with the cold front that causes the “cool change”).

Weber: A generic term for an outdoor grill. Usually means the big round “kettle” style kind made by the Weber company, but not always. Sometimes even used to refer to any grill – including gas grills!

Barbie: No, not the doll, the stereotypical term for “barbecue,” which I have never actually heard used. If you use this term, you are basically identifying yourself as an ignorant tourist.

Yank or Yankie: Slang term for us – that is, Americans. Generally not used in a negative sense.

Top End: The top (northern) end of Australia, which it is important to remember is closer to the equator, and therefore tropical. Oddly enough, it does not refer to the northernmost part of Australia (which would be Cape York), but instead to the 2nd northernmost part (around Darwin).

Outback: Generally speaking, the large, remote, and very sparsely populated interior of Australia.

The Bush: What we in America would probably just call “the woods” or a “forest,” but drier and of course filled with native Australia trees (usually Eucalyptus trees – see “Gum tree” below).

Gum tree: Colloquial term for a Eucalyptus tree. May refer to any of the several actual species of trees (much the same way we here in the US use the term “pine tree” to refer to any of several different species of trees). Variations on this term include “Red Gum,” “River Gum,” “Snow Gum,” “Ghost Gum,” etc. Have a nasty tendency to drop dead branches without warning, so watch out when walking around them. Has absolutely nothing to do with the stuff you chew.

Ayer’s Rock / Uluru: More commonly referred to these days with its original native name of “Uluru,” this is that big (as in, friggin’ huge) rock out in the near-center of Australia.

Aborigines / Indigenous Australians: The original native people of Australia. Basically, these are Australia’s equivalent to our Native Americans – the people who lived there before Europeans came along and stole their land and destroyed their culture. Be careful what term you use when talking about them – it’s a bit of a sensitive topic, not unlike using the term “Indian” (when used to refer to Native Americans) would be here in the US.

Vegemite: It’s spreadable yeast. It’s gross. Don’t eat it. Trust me.

Chemist: Strangely, this refers to what we in America would call a pharmacy or drugstore. May also refer to the person in the store, which we would call a pharmacist.

Thongs: Amusingly enough, in Australia this refers to footwear, not underwear. What we would call flip-flops or sandals (the kind that have that little strap that goes between your big toe and the next one down).

Toilet: This means both the toilet itself and the room in which it is housed, but NOT necessarily the bathroom, which is often in a separate room.

Track pants: Basically, sweatpants.

Prawn: This means shrimp, for some godforsaken reason. (Actually, “prawn” are technically a different suborder of animal entirely, but which still looks – and tastes – like a shrimp, so this one isn’t as odd as it seems.) Also note that the stereotypical “Australian” catch-phrase “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is technically incorrect – an Australian would almost certainly not say “shrimp,” they’d say “prawn.” And as I mentioned before, they’d probably not use the word “barbie” either. So really, the phrase should be “throw some more prawns on the webber.”

Mince: Ground beef (as in, “minced beef”). Another case of Australia’s love of shortening the names of things.

Pies: Might refer to the things you eat for dessert (fruit pies, etc.), but might also mean meat pies – which are just what they sound like: pies with meat (and gravy) in them, instead of sweet stuff.

Chips: French fries; as in “fish & chips.” Outside of fast-food restaurants, they are likely to be much thicker than typical American french fries (often more like what we would call “steak fries”). Which brings us to…

Chips & Gravy: French fries doused with brown gravy. Surprisingly good!

Wedges: Fried potato wedges. Like french fries, but thicker and more… wedge shaped.

Hungry Jack’s: Australian Burger King – so named because someone else owned the trademark to “Burger King” in Adelaide, South Australia.

Crayfish: Just to make things really extra-super-confusing, this is what Australians call the lobsters they get from the ocean… but this is actually a spiny lobster, which doesn’t have claws like our lobsters, and in fact is not a true lobster at all! Compare with true crayfish, which are a fresh water species, and which DO have claws! Speaking of which…

Yabby: As if things weren’t confusing enough, this is what Australians call their freshwater crayfish (and these are true crayfish), which look more like the true lobsters Americans are familiar with (although they are somewhat smaller).

That’s about all I’ve got for now – I hope you found this little guide to be useful, or at least entertaining. Although Australia can be somewhat confusing, it really is a lovely country, and if you find yourself there, just relax and have a great time!

Let’s Play

Wait, what?

In case you don’t know what I mean by “Let’s Play,” let me explain.

In a nutshell, a “Let’s Play” is a walkthrough and/or commentary on a video game, sometimes done via screenshots and text (as in a forum), or (more often these days) via video (e.g., YouTube). If you enjoy watching DVDs with director commentary, you might like watching a Let’s Play video.

Basically, you watch someone play through a game as they provide commentary. While this might sounds somewhat boring on the surface (and it certainly can be), it can also be absolutely awesome (think: Mystery Science Theater 3000, but for video games).

YouTube is absolutely chock full of Let’s Play videos, and sites like lparchive.org  (along with others) keep archives of older Let’s Play series (many older ones are screenshot/text instead of video). Some of these are true gems, witty and fun to watch. It takes a bit of effort to make a quality Let’s Play video, because you have to:

  1. Set up the recording (usually involving screen capture or video capture for best quality)
  2. Edit the recordings (often to take out boring stuff, such as random battles in RPGs)
  3. Provide some sort of running commentary which needs to both be interesting (harder than it sounds) and usually be done in real time, as you are playing the game; and,
  4. Typically, you also need to not suck at the game you are playing

Now, where am I going with all this?

Well, basically I’ve been watching a lot of these sorts of videos of late. It’s fun to watch people play through all the old games I used to enjoy as a kid! But more than that, it sort of inspired me to give it a try – I mean, how hard can it be?

Well, as it turns out, it can be pretty hard. As I said, YouTube is absolutely chock full of Let’s Play videos, which means just about every game you can think of has already been done by someone who is probably better at it (both the game and the commentary) than you. Plus, as I pointed out above, you have a bunch of other, let’s call it “production related” stuff to deal with as well. So it’s not just “sit down, play a game, and talk about it.”

Nevertheless, I decided I was going to give it a go – I even decided on a game to start with, a game which has surprisingly little coverage (at least, as of the time I started – it seems like there are more videos now). The game I decided to play? The Legend of Zelda. That’s right, the original NES classic.

I mean, hey, I used to be pretty darned good at this game, and I do still remember where pretty much all the secrets are, so it shouldn’t be too hard for me to do.

Well, it took a bit longer than I thought, and I learned a few lessons along the way (surprisingly, balancing the audio is really hard, especially if you don’t have an external mixer), but in the end, I finished the game, and the videos.

So, here it is – my first (and, honestly, probably my last) attempt at doing a “Let’s Play” video series – featuring the original Legend of Zelda for the NES.

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube here if you prefer.

(Please excuse the crappy framerate and volume for the first 4 videos – I did all of them at once, just to try things out, and they were before I really got the hang of what I was doing.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this, or at least find it somewhat amusing!

New Jersey Slogans

The other day I was trying to come up with some slogans for New Jersey, since everyone seems to have a bad opinion of the place.

Though I’m not sure if these slogans will help New Jersey’s reputation very much!

"New Jersey: Come for the shore, stay stuck in traffic for 6 hours." #njslogans
@ksurvell
Keithius
"New Jersey: At least you don't have to pump your own gas!"
@ksurvell
Keithius
"New Jersey: Living in the shadow of New York since 1787"
@ksurvell
Keithius
"New Jersey: It's not THAT bad!"
@ksurvell
Keithius
"New Jersey: It's more than just Newark and the gloomy bits of the Turnpike!"
@ksurvell
Keithius

Unhappy Valentine’s Day

Ah, Valentine’s day. Some people claim it is an invention of chocolate manufacturers, others the greeting card industry. Others take offense to the idea that they need a special day to be nice to their significant other.

And of course, still others just get pissed off because they don’t have a significant other, and the whole day and everything associated with it seems to be just rubbing that fact in their face, making them very bitter and cranky.

Around here, I sort of have a tradition of mocking Valentine’s Day in the strongest way possible. And this year is no different.

Enjoy.