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Australian vs Canadian Culture Capsule Part 1

"How are ya goin'?," she asked.

I did a double take. "You mean how are ya doin'?," I thought. It was a subtle change, but enough of one to make me hesitate in my answer. The store clerk started looking concerned. "Fine, fine," I mumbled, as I pretended to be distracted by some merchandise.

Australia is pretty similar to Canada. They even say that Australians' good humoured and friendly people are more like Canadians than Americans. But every now and then, they throw you a cultural curve ball just to make sure you're still paying attention.

Take for example another linguist variance I stumbled upon. After paying the store clerk for a cheesy-but-had-to-get-it "Essential Aussie Songs" CD, I thanked her and she replied "That's alright." Now it was my turn to be concerned. Did I do something wrong? Say the wrong thing? I'm surprised that I didn't accidentally mumbled a very typical Canadian "sorry" to her retort... we Canadians tend to apologize for things that are typically not our fault like other people bumping into us. Anyway, it seems that this was a typical way to answer when someone thanks you.

Having a ton of fun with all these cultural differences, I figured I would collect them in a Canadian-Australian cultural comparison chart. For those who want to cut all the drama, you can check out the chart on this link : www.aboutnatia.com/travel/oz/compchart.htm

Otherwise, for your reading pleasure, here is the non-abrieviated version of that culture comparison chart.

MONEY
One of the first things you noticed when you land in a foreign country is their currency. Things I noticed include the absolutely indestructible australian dollar bills -- that's what happens when you make money out of plastic (and yes it is called an Aussie Dollar here). There's no giving the cashier bills with missing pieces or badly taped-up bills here!

Coins on the other hand are largely impractical... often worth more in the value of their raw materials (ie. nickel) than they are actually monetarily worth. The reason behind this is the sheer ridiculous size of some of their coins. Funnily enough, the highest valued coin (a $2 coin) is the size of a penny... easily lost in that hole in pocket. Whereas the 20 cent coin is about the size of the Canadian loonie ($1) or toonie ($2) and the 50 cent coin is about 15% bigger still and twice as heavy. Now there is one saving grace on Australian change here... they have NO PENNIES! How brilliant and appreciated.

On the "other money format" side, most local bank cards here have both debit and credit payment options on one card. Canada still hasn't caught on to this convenient two-for-one idea. Another interesting note about credit is the impressive regularity with which Australians check your signature with the back of the card. I even had to resign it once because I was slacking off and didn't have the exact same signature. Wow, I feel much better about that!

LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD
As most of you know, Australians, similarly to the Brits, drive on the left side of the road. This has caused many close calls for me in the first week here. What you may not have realized however, is that this "left side mentality" is so ingrained here that they also on the left side of the sidewalks and on the left side of the escalators (right side is for tired people who prefer just standing patiently). It's funny how when you have to learn how to do things the opposite way, you discover all sorts of other things you need to do the opposite way too.

INTERSECTIONS
Australian intersections are the only thing driving me mad so far. First, as a pedestrian, you need to indicate that you want to cross the street by hitting a button on a nearby post. If you don't do this and wait patiently like we Canadians do... the little "green walking guy" would never show up. Took me a while to realize this (and stop dangerously jaywalking). Also, even when you do hit the crossing button, it seems to take an awfully long time to get your turn. But I'll get used to it... or go back to my jaywalking habits.

ECO-CONSERVATION
This is a funny topic in Australia. First I thought, how terrible, there are no recycling bins anywhere on the streets... where am I to put this little receipt I'd hate to throw in the trash. Turns out that, similar to the Brits, Australians are mega obsessed with preventing any type of terrorist activities. "If you see something, say something" says the ads all around the train stations and bus stops.

On the other hand, Aussies really seem to like to take bright green cotton bags to carry their groceries (in a big way!) and minimize plastic bag waste.

Similarly, as water conservation is a very big deal here, toilets have an option for choosing a half flush or full flush (people give me a funny look when I say "bathroom" or "washroom"... they think I want to take a shower at the mall). They've come up with all sorts of cool ways to design the half/full flush buttons. I'll be sending along a series for your enjoyment in the next batch of pics.

Lastly, and I'm not sure if this is for conservation or protection or some other reason, but all the electrical outlets here have on and off switches... just in case you wanted to plug something in but didn't want any power for it just yet. Shrug. I'll have to ask the locals more about it.

SENSE OF HUMOUR
The one thing I have noticed loud and clear in people's every day interactions as well as in the names of things around me is the wonderfully refreshing and unabashed sense of humour that the Aussies have. It's a "no nonsense, get to the point but have a good time while you're at it" kind of attitude. They clearly don't take themselves or life too seriously. It's fantastic. Of course, this all reminds me how stuffy we Canadians can be sometimes.

For instance, and I know you're dying for examples now that I've built the topic up like this, there's the hairdresser who's store name is "Noddy's on King - Hairdressers for Humans", street signs that say "Don't even think of parking here" and as mentioned previously the "Holy Sheet" bedsheet store. This is one category I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for pics.

FOOD
Of course, no AboutNatia culture capsule is complete without at least a mention of food. Well, if you've brought your appetite here, I've got more than a mention for you!

Starting at the beginning of the day, a typical aussie diner breakfast ("breakie" as they call it here) includes eggs, toast, bacon and a grilled tomato (the latter a nice touch we don't usually get the pleasure of in Canada). The bacon, interestingly, looks like someone couldn't make up their mind... it's half round hock of ham and half classic american bacon strip, resulting in a "d"-shaped piece. It's probably a little leaner and therefore healthier than what we've got back at home. Now if you're a sausage fan and would prefer to go for that option, don't do what I did. When I was told that the couple of pieces of bacon would only be exchanged for one sausage, I was dissapointed... but no less determined! So, I arranged to have an extra sausage for a dollar extra which still seemed pretty steeply priced to me, that is until they brought me my breakie plate! Ok, lesson learnt. Each sausage here is the equivalent of three Canadian sausages. Needless to say, I had more than my fair share that morning. Also, the sausages are usually made of lamb, which is plentiful here since sheep is available in large quantities in Australia and its neighbour New Zealand.

Also on the food front, I noticed that I almost seem to have more international dining options around than in Toronto. The expected Asian restaurants (Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai, Laotian, Indian, Sushi, Dim Sim (note the spelling difference with Canada's "Dim Sum")) abound due to the continent's closer proximity.... but I was also surprised to see that there are also a healthy helping of South/East African (and not your typical Ethiopian which is very accessible in Canada) and a few Columbian restaurants even. Even in the supermarkets, I was pleasantly (oh so pleasantly!) surprised to see so many international food options available in every aisle (especially tons of frozen indian curries and pad thais).

Getting back to REAL aussie food, there's a few favourites to point out : beetroot and egg burgers (yes, that's with a quarter pounder meat patty), passion-fruit cheesecakes (yum!), lamb & mint potato chips, kangaroo and emu (haven't tried those yet, but it's on the list). Plus, for those especially daring people out there, you can dig into "bush tucker" (outback food) which includes cooked grubs. Eek. We'll have to see how courageous I'll feel at the moment.

And of course, there are meat pies! Who could forget pies?! Small meat pies and the also ubiquitous sausage rolls are available everywhere from bakeries to specialty fast food chains "Pie in the face" to convenience stores to eat on the go. They are much more flavourful than their Canadian meat pie cousins, who are definitely not available everywhere. Aussie meat pies are offered in variations such as peppered beef, coconut curry, tomato basil, and many many more. Trust me. They're taking over here!

TOPICS NEXT TIME : CUSTOMER SERVICE, PHONE CARDS, PUBLIC TRANSPORT, RENT

Phewph... I think I'll give you a break for now. Hope you've enjoyed my first Australian culture capsule (or catapult as some would call it, since I'm throwing it out at you).

I'm off to search out the next batch of adventures that await me.

In the meantime, let me know if you have any additional topics you'd like to learn more about. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Cheers,
Natia / Travelfrog

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