Australia: the country that conjures up images of scary spiders, deadly snakes and shark-infested waters combined with surfer dudes, the Sydney Opera House and the expression “Good Day, mate!” This, combined with what I learned in Finding Nemo, was basically all my knowledge of the Land Down Under before I embarked on my adventure. To me, it was just a far away – a REALLY far away – place that I didn’t even know how to identify on a map. (Did I ever tell you geography wasn’t my best subject?) Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive to venture down there on my own. Based on my research and experience, here’s a list of things I think you should know before you go there yourself:
1. IT’S NOT THAT SCARY AT ALL
I put this first and in caps to hopefully emphasize my point. I’ll repeat it for good measure: IT’S NOT THAT SCARY AT ALL. As soon as you say you’re going to Australia, people automatically bring up the spiders and the snakes and the blue-ringed octopus – it’s as though they are trying to scare you into cancelling your trip. Please do not cancel – I survived and so will you. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to be careful. Use your common sense and follow the safety warnings if there are any, but don’t be afraid to venture to the beach or parks. In my two weeks (albeit not a long time) I didn’t see any snakes and I only saw ONE spider which I don’t even know whether it was poisonous or not.
2. YOU NEED A VISA
To study, work or travel in Australia, YOU NEED A VISA. The cost of the visa will vary depending on which country you have a passport in. Depending on your purpose in going to Australia, you may be able to apply for your visa online. I felt this one was important to put near the top of the list because I only found out I needed one by a lucky chance – two of my friends were not so lucky and ended up having to apply last minute at the airport!!
3. Don’t expect to hear “You’re Welcome” after you say “Thank you”
I’m not saying Australians are rude people. On the contrary, I found them quite lovely and welcoming. But when you say “thank you,” they don’t say “You’re Welcome” like we do in North America and other parts of the world. Instead, you can expect to hear “It’s Okay,” or “It’s alright.” At first, this made me feel as though I was imposing a major inconvenience on them for asking for directions. I think I probably misinterpreted the tone of their voice combined with the strange-to-my-ears expression. After hearing it a few times though, I realized that’s just their way of saying “No problem!”
4. Wear Sunscreen, even when it Looks Cloudy
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Because of the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer, the sun in Australia (and New Zealand) is VERY STRONG. It’s so aggressive that even when the sky looks a bit overcast, you can still come home after a day gallivanting around and look like a lobster! My skin isn’t even that fair compared to some people’s but I still got so burnt. So lather on the sunscreen – make sure its strength is at least 30+!!
5. The Price you See is the Price you Pay
When you buy something at a restaurant or store, the price you see listed is the price you pay. Why? Because tax is already included in the display price! So forget about calculating the final cost including tax – they’ve done it for you. It was kind of a nice surprise.
6. Tips are not expected!
If you plan on going to a restaurant, you aren’t expected to tip your server! This is very different from North American culture where not tipping is unheard of and tipping anything less than 15% is frowned upon. While this is nice on your wallet, it does pay a toll on your service. Don’t expect your server to bend over backwards for you because they most likely won’t. Consider yourself lucky if they even bother to ask you how you’re doing. Don’t feel bad for not tipping – their minimum wage is at least $16/hour!
7. Get Up to Pay the Bill
While we’re on the topic of restaurants, you should also know that servers will not typically bring you your bill. After one of my meals, I was waiting and waiting for my server to bring me the bill so I could pay and leave. Turns out you have to go to the front of the restaurant yourself and pay it there!
8. “Sweet as!”
Sweet as what? I don’t know. I even asked Australians and they didn’t seem to know either. It’s simply an expression that Australians (and Kiwis) say to express that something was awesome or great or cool. (“Here it can mean, Wow, gee whiz, golly wolly!”) Very often, you’ll hear the addition of ‘bro’ at the end. “Sweet as, bro!”
9. Koalas are really not that Exciting
Cute to look at, I suppose, but kinda boring. They pretty much just sleep all day. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see them stretch or climb. I really wanted to hold on but apparently I didn’t have the correct koalafications. Fun fact: koalas are born looking like a red jelly bean after you’ve chewed it. Then they eat their mom’s poop.
10. They drive on the left side of the street!
I almost had a heart attack when the person in the “drivers seat” turned around and started talking to me. Then I remembered: Australians drive on the left side – the person turned around was really in the passenger’s seat! What a relief, ha! It’s a good thing to keep in mind though especially when crossing the road – make sure you look in the direction of incoming traffic.
11. Play of Words
Because Australia has a history with England (it was founded by English convicts), they call certain things by the same names. In particular, french fries are called chips and bathrooms/washrooms are referred to as toilets. And if you need to ask for “ketchup,” make sure you call it tomato sauce. You most likely will need to ask because apparently they don’t include it automatically. Also, if you see a store sign that say “chemist,” it’s not some weird science lab like I thought it was: it’s the pharmacy!
12. It’s Expensive!
The cost of things is higher compared to Canada and probably other places as well. So if you plan on doing a lot of shopping and eating out, be prepared to fork out the dough. On a side note, their money is fun and colorful and their 50 cent coin looks like a play-money – it’s not perfectly round!
13. Kangaroo Crossing Signs
“Kangaroo Crossing” signs may make you chuckle a little at first. At the same time, I half expected Australians to have kangaroos in their backyards. The truth is, I didn’t see any wild kangaroos at all. The only ones I saw were in wildlife parks.
14. Australians are REALLY nice people
I found Australians to be a very welcoming and friendly group of people. With a more laidback and relaxed attitude, they seemed to go about their days with a smile on their face. And they were more than willing to stop whatever they were doing to point me in the right direction. Overall, I was very impressed by the hospitality of the Australian people!