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!

Traveling around the Southeast

Not as photogenic as the southwest, but still pretty fun!

I recently did a little bit of traveling around the southeast US – namely, Florida and Louisiana – and of course I took a whole bunch of photos while I was there.

You can view the whole collection here, but here’s the short version:

mother alligator

baby alligator closeup

I went to Florida and saw some alligators, both big and small.

the everglades

I saw the Everglades.

view of the 7-mile bridge

I drove across a LOT of long (and short) bridges.

keith and the southernmost point marker in key west

I stood at the (almost) southernmost point in the continental United States.

bourbon street lit up at night

Then I jumped over to New Orleans and experienced Bourbon Street in the French Quarter at night.

steamer natchez (side)

Then I took a steamboat ride on the only remaining truly steam-powered passenger paddle steamer left on the Mississippi River.

sunset aboard the natchez - port side, looking aft

sunset and the city of new orleans

Did I mention the steamboat ride was a leisurely 2-hour cruise at sunset?

wall of graves

Then I saw a neat cemetery.

st charles tram

And rode on an old tram train.

houmas house from the front

Before finally visiting some beautiful old plantations…

bocage plantation at dusk

…VERY beautiful plantations…

having some light snacks at bocage plantation

…one of which we stayed in overnight!

amanda in the red room in the morning

As you can imagine, it was a very fun trip and we saw a lot of neat things and places. If you’d like to see more pictures (along with comments about what I was doing at the time), feel free to check out the full collection over on Flickr.

Traveling around the Southwest

Vacation pictures from a trip around the Southwest US.

I recently took a little vacation to the Southwest US, and of course I used this opportunity to take lots and lots of pictures.

You can view the full collection of photos here, but be warned – there are a lot of photos. If you’d rather not spend all day looking at all those photos (and keep in mind, those are just the GOOD ones – I actually took a lot more than that; it took me nearly 3 days to sort through them all) then here are some highlights:

our plane for the ride to the bar 10 ranch from las vegas

I flew on a very small plane.

keith gets ready to shoot-1

Did a little skeet shooting at a ranch.

keith and helicopter

Took a helicopter ride…

into the grand canyon by helicopter

…down into the Grand Canyon.

getting the raft ready for our first day on the river

Got on a raft.

shooting some rapids

Went through some rapids.

my wet foot

Got soaked.

keith's adventuring pose on the raft on day 2

Did some adventuring.

my bed

Camped out.

beautiful clear blue skies and gold canyon walls on the 3rd day

Saw the Grand Canyon from the bottom.

keith at the hoover dam (nevada side)

Saw the Hoover Dam.

flower snail

Spent some time in that crazy place known as Las Vegas.

keith the adventurer

Did some more adventuring in canyons (different ones this time).

sunrise with filter

Saw the sun rise from 8000 feet above sea level.

keith does his adventurer pose at zion national park

Did lots of hiking.

the virgin river in the zion narrows

Did some hiking through some very narrow places.

grand canyon panorama 1

Saw the Grand Canyon (from the top this time).

grand canyon rim at sunset

Both at sunset…

the sun rises over the rim of the grand canyon

…and at sunrise.

All in all, a fun trip. And a great chance for me to really use my camera and try and take some interesting photos (different from the photos I usually get to take around home).

The full collection of photos is available (and nicely organized) over on Flickr, if you care to look.

Culture Shock in the Digital Age

My thoughts on what constitutes “culture shock” these days for us always-connected Americans.

great bay in the daytimeAmanda and I recently got back from a trip to the Caribbean – specifically, to the island of Saint Martin – and while it was tropical and warm and lovely (you can see all my pictures from the trip here), it was also a bit of a culture shock – but not for the reasons you might think.

It wasn’t the food – there are enough tourists coming to this island to ensure that there’s always some typical American-style food near at hand if you aren’t feeling gastronomically adventurous.

It wasn’t the language – almost everyone spoke English, except for a few people in the remoter sections of the French side (naturally).

It wasn’t the fact that they use different money – the Dutch side pretty much exclusively uses the US Dollar (although their official currency is still the Netherlands Antillean guilder), and although the French side officially uses the Euro, they also accept US dollars pretty much everywhere (although sometimes at a slightly unfavorable fixed exchange rate).

It wasn’t the people – aside from their crrraaaazy driving, they were pretty much like people anywhere else, with the usual variations for culture (Dutch/French) and for climate.

It wasn’t the culture – although it was quite a bit more “relaxed” than our often tense, high-strung east-coast culture here in the US, it was quiet and nice and not at all jarring.

No, the biggest shock to us was the almost complete lack of Internet access.wireless icon

Now, as Americans, we’ve become accustomed (in just a few short years, if you think about it) to ubiquitous, free, unlimited high-speed Internet access (via both wired and wireless connections).

We’ve become so used to it that we sort of expect it wherever we go – we expect it to be always on, and always available, no matter where we go. We expect to be able to pull out our iPhone or whatever and update our Facebook page from wherever we are in the world.

And when we finally find ourselves someplace where this is no longer true, it can be a bit of a shock!

In Saint Martin, for example, we landed and found that there was NO signal whatsoever for Amanda’s iPhone – it just could not pick up anything. It detected some of the cell networks on the island, but it could not connect to them. (Ironically, my old, old, old Motorola RAZR phone connected just fine – but of course it can’t browse the web or send email or really do anything besides make calls and send text messages.) Even at the airport there was no Wi-Fi available (not even the paid variety!).

Our situation did not improve when we arrived at our hotel, either. Again, our expectations were tempered by what was commonplace back in the US – where a hotel without Wi-Fi, or at least a wired Internet connection in each room was considered an abomination.

Oh, the hotel had Wi-Fi – but it wasn’t free. In fact, it was ridiculously expensive (by our standards, at least). And it was also slow – a single 1 MB connection was shared by the entire hotel (both guests and staff!). And of course it was only accessible from your room – there was not enough range to keep using the Internet all the way down to the pool or the beach, even when the pool and beach were only a couple dozen feet from the hotel.

So in the end, our use of Internet was limited to short bursts in our hotel room, checking mobile sites (mainly Gmail) that were very light & fast, so that they didn’t feel abysmally slow on the pitiful 1 MB connection.

In truth though, it was a very eye-opening experience – a reminder that although the Internet has indeed become ubiquitous in many places, it is not everywhere… and even in places where it is available, sometimes that availability is much more limited than we here in the US are used to. It also made me realize just how much we take it (the Internet) for granted sometimes.

But at the same time, it was also interesting to “unplug” for a while – easy enough for me to do, actually – and remember what life was like before we were all electronically connected to one another.

Although I wait eagerly for the day when fast Internet is freely (or cheaply) available world-wide, I think it’s still worth having a few places where the Internet can’t reach, if only to let us “escape” it for a while. Even though going somewhere without Internet can be a bit of a culture shock to those of us who’ve grown up with it, I think it’s still good to get culturally shocked from time to time – just to keep us all on our toes, and remind us of how good we all have it.

A Castle… In New York?

Yep. Near Bear Mountain in New York State, there is a castle sitting on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

ny castle closeup (2)

Who knew?