The American’s Guide to Australia

Everything you ever wanted to know about Australia (but were afraid to ask). It’s a fantastic reference guide!

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. (You may also hear them referred to as just “trackies.”)

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 more likely it means meat (or savory) pies. These are just what they sound like: pies with savory fillings like meat & gravy, or sometimes vegetables (often potatoes) and curry-like sauces 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!

Christmas Eve in Australia

Well, it’s not that cold out, and it’s certainly not snowing, but it’s definitely Christmas Eve.

Well, it’s not that cold out, and it’s certainly not snowing, but it’s definitely Christmas Eve. You might as well imagine things here as in that Corona Light commercial that always plays at Christmas time – the one of the palm tree at night being lit up with lights while someone slowly whistles “Oh Christmas Tree.”

To mark the occasion, I had a warm, luxurious bath in the spa while listening (and occasionally singing) to Christmas carols on Amanda’s iPod. Now this is a Christmas tradition I could get used to!

To everyone back home – Merry Christmas!

Those Elusive Crabs (and some off-roading)

Sometimes, even if you get up early and go out crabbing, you don’t get any crabs. Go figure.

I got up very, very early this morning to go crabbing with Amanda’s uncle Bruce. (I find this very amusing, given that a particular movie character’s name is also Bruce.) So we set off in Bruce’s “ute” (basically a Nissan 4×4 quad-cab truck, similar to the Nissan Titan but slightly smaller and with 4 doors) up north to some deserted beach which has an insanely small slope to it – when the tide goes out, you can walk for nearly a kilometer.

Unfortunately, at 8am the tide was just starting to go out, which was not good since we were here to rake crabs from the sand. Bruce didn’t like the look of things at the first beach, so we set off into the bush along some very bumpy trails to find a better beach – or maybe just to kill some time while the tide went out. Either way, it was fun – as you know, I love off-roading!

After a while we came to a secluded part of the beach (not that the previous beach had been busy – in fact there was no one at either beach) and went out. The tide was still too far in to get to the crabs, but we were determined, so we waded out into the sea. Because of the low slope, we were able to walk for quite a distance before the water came up to our shorts, and quite a distance beyond even that as it ever so slowly rose higher. Eventually we reached a spot where we didn’t want to go much further – if you’re a man whose ever waded into cold water in the morning, you’ll know why; for the rest of you, just use your imagination.

We did end up finding some crab – zipping along the sand about at about the spot where the water went past my knees. They’re crazy little things that put up their claws when you come near (to try to scare you off, I guess), and I had been advised to wear old sneakers into the water, lest I end up with pinched toes. I like my toes, so I did wear sneakers – which makes it a bit hard to walk, but I was glad I did. Those little buggers are quite aggressive!

Unfortunately, they were all too small to capture (legally). So we ended up not geting any crab to take home & eat (which is a shame; Amanda was going to make fresh crab cakes!). But I still got to see the crabs, which was cool, and do some off-roading, which was also cool. All-in-all, a pretty good day!

Peculiarities of Australia

Let’s spend some time talking about what’s just a little bit different here in Australia compared with back in the U.S., shall we?

Let’s spend some time talking about what’s just a little bit different down here – different enough to spend some time talking about it, at least.

First: Driving. My favorite subject, usually. But down here, it’s different. I’ve seen aggressive city drivers before – I’ve driven in Boston, after all – but this is a whole different level of rage. Nearly everyone drives like their life depends on getting ahead of every single car on the road, making them the first one to get to the lights or whatever. It’s absolutely insane. People weaving in and out of lanes, riding right up each other’s bumpers, tailgating like you’ve never seen… and then there’s the starting & stopping.

Actually, it’s more just the stopping. People here don’t stomp on the gas & burn rubber like they do in America – but that’s probably because a 2 liter engine is considered “big.” (Although there are a number of “muscle cars” running around.) But once they get going – my god do they stop hard. I can understand why there are so many “red light cameras” here – without them, people would be running red lights like there’s no tomorrow. They just don’t want to stop – and when they are forced to, they stop hard, at the last possible moment. Given the heat here, I wonder how long people’s brake pads last. Quite frankly I expect to look at people’s wheels and see the rotors glowing when I am at a stoplight.

And let’s not forget the stranges habit of all – not only are most of the drivers here insane, but nearly everyone – and not just the drivers, but passengers, too – talks about other drivers, as they are riding along. Usually this boils down to “he’s driving too slow,” or “he shouldn’t have pulled out,” or “bloody idiot, why didn’t you turn?”

Secondly: Language. There’s a lot of unusual words used down here, but you probably already knew that. After all, who calls a grill a “barbie?” Most of them are shortened versions of longer words, and that’s OK, really – except when they appear in places where you would expect more “formal” language to prevail. Such as on signs for businesses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “brekkie” or “brecky” or “brekky” or however it’s actually spelled. It’s short for “breakfast,” and it’s a cute phrase (I even say it to the bunnies when I feed them), but to see it in print is a bit disturbing. I’ve also seen “prezzies” (short for “presents”). And all I can say is: WEIRD.

Nevertheless, most of this stuff is pretty harmless (except for the driving, although I haven’t seen an accident yet, which frankly surprises me). It’s funny to watch all the little cars go by – and then see a big, hulking Holden roar by with it’s monstorous V8, looking for all the world like a modern classic American “muscle car.” (Which, I suppose, it is, since a modified Holden was used as the basis for the new Pontiac GTO.)

One thing that’s actually less than harmless, something that’s actually very, very good (at least for people here), is that there are basically NO overly obese people here. EVERYONE is, for the most part, amazingly good looking and in fantastic physical shape. It really puts America (especially the northeast) to shame. Even I feel bad here – and I’m actually quite skinny at the moment (more on that in a different post) – mostly because I’m not “buff” enough. It’s uncanny, really. When I go out, the people I see can be basically put into one of two groups: either they are absolutely fantastic looking (both male and female), or they didn’t get the memo that said “the 80’s are over.” For the second class of people, it’s really a shock to see them – the mullets, the big hair, and the bright, flourescent, colorful ripped shirts that were so common in the 80’s.

Still, everyone here generally seems so much more polite and friendly, that it’s hard to find fault with them – and of course we Americans are not immune from this sort of stuff as well. But hey, what kind of observations would you expect from an American in Australia, anyway? I’ll leave it to Amanda to present the opposing view – if she ever gets back to her blog! Ha!

Mangrove Forest

Exploring Australian mangrove forests and discovering the joy that is pre-packaged coffee & milk.

Yesterday was a quiet day – we went up north of the city a bit to see a mangrove forest that has a nice educational boardwalk through it (I love these sorts of things). It was quite interesting; nothing like the salt marshes we have back in New England. And the roots on those trees – creepy!

Beyond that, I’ve discovered the joy of pre-packaged milk & coffee here – a little can or paper carton (like milk) that contains an iced-coffee-like combination. The crazy thing is, it’s actually pretty good! Apparently, South Australia is the only state in Australia where this coffee drink is more popular than Coke (in terms of sales). Go figure!

Well, I’ll write more tomorrow (don’t trust the date stamp on this post – it’s calibrated for US Eastern Time, which is most definately NOT where I am right now!). Ta-ta!