Oz Culture Capsule PART II - Is that really a calling card?

Lately, I’ve had many culture capsule topics on my mind that I wanted to share with you guys, so here’s my next edition of my Aussie culture capsule catapult.

Also of note, I have recently put up my latest Aussie Funnies Part II Photo Gallery (~90 pics) that I have been collecting for the last three weeks.

Ring Me Up

Looking to make an inexpensive call home on my first day’s arrival in Sydney , I went straight to the nearest convenience store for a phone card. After reviewing the available options, I selected one, paid for it and got my receipt. Suddenly an uncomfortable silence crept between the store clerk and I. I suspiciously asked “Can I have my calling card now?” to which he replied “You’ve already got it. It’s on the receipt. If you want I can give you an actual card version instead.” Wow, what concept… all the card information was included on the receipt itself. What a great way to reduce wastage caused by all those $5-$20 plastic calling cards.

Upon receiving an old cell phone on day one from a new friend (now, that’s a welcome package!), I set up a prepay service and phone number with Vodafone, a large telco brand here. I purchased $49 in credit which gave me $230 worth of phone calls and SMS text messaging (amazing!)… to be used up in 30 days (ah, there’s the catch). The phone also allows you to use one of their 30 pre-recorded cheesy voice mail messages which throw in your name at the appropriate moment. Every theme is available, from Mission Impossible (“You’re mission is to leave a message…”) to Australian crocodile hunter Steve Irwin (“Crikey, you’ve reached one of the deadliest creatures of the wild…”) to a reggae style "Man, due to global mobalization, you can't make conversation with … . But no consternation, just leave vocalization after audio notification. Man, it just means leave message after the beep."

Another aspect I love about Sydney (among many things) is that you can actually use those cell phones in most elevators and subway areas. Canada still has a long way to go in that respect.

Getting From A to B on Public Transit

Subways, or rather I should use the local term “CityRail”, seems to be much more efficient here in Sydney . With digital screens in every train platform that display the next arrival time and what stops the next train will make is something every modern public transportation system should have. Also a testament to efficiency, Sydney trains all have a two-floor seating structure of the trains… similar to the Go Trains in Canada . And, for a reason that I can’t quite pin down other than greater customer satisfaction, you can also choose to rotate the back of the seats to have people sitting in front of you face you or not.

Of course that added service doesn’t come without a price. Return trip within Sydney can cost anywhere from CAD$3.50 to $6.00. Yikes! Still, some features are definitely worth the trade off for better service.

How Can I REALLY Help You?

Since my arrival, I have been overwhelmed with the amazing customer service served up here in Australia compared to Canadian service. For instance, I asked a lady behind the counter of a coffee kiosk where the bathroom was and since it was a little far away, she walked me all the way to it ! Wow !

Even strangers in the streets are always more than happy to give you directions or help you on your way. They always make me feel like I have made their day better for giving them the opportunity to help someone, instead of the opposite. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Sun and Tanning in the Land of Sunshine

The Australian are naturally sun-loving and active outdoorsy people. And with all the sun that is available here even in the “dreary” wintertime, it’s no wonder that the artificial tanning business is not big here. However, seeing as skin cancer per capita ratings are globally the worst in Australia , the people here are really good about keeping the sun block on regularly.

Thanks for asking the question Georgina, that’s about all I’ve heard so far on the topic… more to come in the summertime… er, that’s December and January to most of you out there !

Is There Really Skiing Downunder??

Another goodie from Georgina ! It’s now the skiing and snowboarding season in Australia … REALLY! So what if Sydney’s average winter weather is 15 degrees celcius, so what if you have to fly out to the southern state of Victoria to ski in the “Victorian Alps”, and so what if Australia’s highest peak is only 2745 meters (and not even on the mainland)… tourist travel companies are offering ski packages and sports shops are selling ski jackets. It’s time for locals and tourists to get skiing while there is still snow out there! .

Mind you… the really dedicated skiers here head off to New Zealand for top “local” skiing or of course in Europe or Western US/Canada for amazing international skiing.

Rent & Other Wallet-Emptying Systems

With reluctant first-time house buyers, tons of tourists/international students and a lack of new properties becoming available, rental vacancies are at a five-year low and rental rates are sky high in Sydney these days. For instance, an inexpensive SHARED apartment can easily go for CAD$175 - $230 / week ($700 - $920 / month), whereas in Toronto you can easily find a similar one for 30-40% less.

Rental agreements are pretty flexible here though, with the rent being paid weekly (they were of course very excited when I suggested to pay them monthly instead as it was one less thing to worry about the other 3 Saturdays in a month). While there is no “last month’s deposit” required, a “bond payment”, which is a deposit for the equivalent of 2 - 4 weeks rental rates, is usually part of the official lease and gets handed back to you on your last day in the apartment.

Frank Lloyd Wright Has Taken Sydney by Storm – Art Deco is Everywhere!

Across various office and retail buildings and even some residential condos, you can find hints of 1920s/1930s art deco style in the architecture and fonts that surround you. See proof in the “Funny Oz II” pictures.

Job Searching, The Aussie Way

In the last few weeks during my job search here, people have asked if the process is any different from Canada . Overall, I must say, it’s very similar but there’s a handful of things that are different.

Otherwise, it’s all pretty much the same here.

Do You Have Any Grey Poupon?

I know I spoke of food in the last culture capsule, but anyone who knows this determined foodie won’t be overly surprised to see more gastronomic goodies this time around and quite possibly again in the next editions.

I have come to realize that Australia is a gourmet’s mecca. For one, cafes here do not only offer various sweet breads including Banana bread and Raspberry Pear bread… but they also ask you if you want it to be toasted! I can never go back to just plain untoasted banana bread now… I have been spoiled. And I love it!

Even Aussie supermarkets offer gourmet products like Cointreau Liqueur with blood orange yogurt and sundried tomato sausages (yes, now that we consumers have gotten over the fact that it’s not just meat in sausages, they start adding in other stuff).

Apart from the groceries stores, there are tons of butchers, fresh seafood shops, bakers and vegetable/fruit stands both on the streets and in the shopping malls (somewhat common on the streets in Canada, but not typical in shopping malls at all).

On the topic of strange food this week… my latest find is “Schnitzel Sushi”. Two food favourites in one. Not bad as taste goes… and I certainly like the crunch part of it anyway.

Ok, well folks that’s it for the second Australia culture capsule. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!

NEXT CULTURE CAPSULE : Beer, Aussie Shopping Experience, Ridiculously Expensive Things, More Food (of course!).

If you’ve got a topic you are wondering about, just let me know. I’ll include it in my next culture capsule.

Natia / Travelfrog