Tomorrow marks 9 weeks since we left Australia! Here are some things that have surprised, interested and confounded me over the last two months, from the mundane to the more profound. I want to emphasise that these are observations, not criticisms! As a teacher or parent would say “it’s not bad or good, just different” 😉
Since we are mostly camping and making our own meals, it would make sense for us to buy long life milk, keep a few cartons in the car and not have to go to a store every couple of days. But Americans (and Canadians, I imagine) don’t do long life milk! You will not find milk on a shelf here. I was really confused at first but then I found this article which basically explains that Americans couldn’t get used to the idea of buying milk off a shelf, so much so that some soy milk companies whose product does not require refrigeration, pay supermarkets to store their milk in the fridge to please consumers. Bizarre!
While we are on the subject of dairy, we’ve found it really hard to get full fat milk and yoghurt here. It’s all low to no fat. Which is a shame because low fat dairy is chock full of sugar and tastes awful.
2. Americans are far more outdoorsy than Australians
I don’t know where Australians got a name for being buff, tanned outdoorsy types, but it’s such a lie! I’ve never seen so many hiking trails (and not just in the national parks) packed with families, young professionals, elderly people and everyone in between than in America. The city, suburban and national parks are busy at the weekends with people barbecuing, playing sports and just soaking up the outdoors.
Before we got here I had probably done two hikes in the past 3 years (here and here) and on those occasions half our party stayed home to sit on the couch! People love to be outside here and if you head to an REI (Recreation Equipment Inc) store in any location it will be packed with people buying hiking/climbing gear, kayaks and tents.
3. Australian accents are undetectable and indecipherable
The only person who has correctly guessed our Australian accents was a child on the shore of Flathead Lake, Montanta, two days ago. Clearly Ruby Rose’s appearance on Orange is the New Black has done nothing for Aussie accent awareness. So we’ve been South African, New Zealanders and English. But not Australian.
We’ve often found it hard to be understood here, some examples:
Andrew: “Which is the best way to get to Glacier National Park?”
American: … blank stare… “Oh you mean Glayy-sherr?”
Me, trying to spell out my last name: “B, R, E..”
Me: “No, E”
Also we have stopped saying esky, boot and thongs in favour of cooler, trunk and flip flops. When we first got here Andrew kept asking where the ‘toilet’ was and I literally kept seeing people wince. Say ‘restroom’ ‘washroom’ or ‘bathroom’, anything other than what it actually is!
4. Canada has been invaded by Australians
I kind of already knew this, but I thought most of the Australians were in Whistler. I was wrong. Australians are everywhere and while being Aussie in America will be met with smiles, interest and polite questioning, Canadians couldn’t care less (I mean that in the nicest possible way). Pretty much every second person from Vancouver to Banff to Calgary is from Australia. We heard Australian music on the radio, The Temper Trap and weirdly, Hilltop Hoods.
Also because there are so many long term travelling Aussies in Canada, they are used to the concept. Whereas when we tell Americans we quit our jobs and packed up to travel indefinitely they are floored/impressed/incredulous and tell us we should write a book.
5. People still use cheques in America
Or checks, I should say. I don’t think I know anyone in Australia who has used a cheque to pay for something since before 2000. In America there are places everywhere (often along highways) that have big signs out front saying “We cash checks!” and in shops there are lists of rules next to the cash register for people paying with checks. It’s just like on The Simpsons. Usually they say ‘local checks only’. I have no idea what that means.
6. People really don’t want to talk about gun control
I was reluctant to put this in, because I don’t know a whole lot on the topic of gun control other than the NRA is really powerful here. I don’t want to pretend I know a lot or upset anyone. But Andrew and I were both interested to observe the discussion after the Charleston church shooting in June was entirely centred around the Confederate Flag and its modern relevance. Listening mostly to NPR (National Public Radio), we heard politicians speak about whether the controversial flag should fly over state buildings or not. But no one brought up gun control. Obviously I think it’s hugely important that a flag, which for so many people symbolises racism and slavery, has been removed from the South Carolina State House and flag related merchandise has been removed from many of the major retailers. But didn’t guns play a role too?
I didn’t grow up in a country where guns are a constitutional right though. Australia hasn’t witnessed a mass shooting since introducing strict laws in response to an incident in 1996 when 35 people were killed in Tasmania.
7. Convenience is king
I can’t think of many shops in Australia that offer you free wifi, toilets and water fountains. Malls yes, but not stand alone shops. It’s really nice that you can head into a Walmart, Best Buy, REI or whatever and be ultra comfortable while you shop! There are also Starbucks stores inside Safeway supermarkets, so you can get your coffee hit as you peruse the aisles. Aisles which include alcohol, which is super convenient, you don’t have to go to another store. Also the pharmacies sell beer, amazing!
8. People take their dogs everywhere
Dogs aren’t allowed in national parks in Australia, so it always surprises me to see dogs there as well as in camping grounds. Especially where there are bears and other wildlife around. Yesterday I did a double take when I saw paws sticking out underneath a bathroom stall door instead of human feet, someone had taken their dog in with them! It’s also not uncommon to see dogs in supermarkets and other shops.
I’m sure there are many other things that have surprised me over the last little while, but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Got any to add? Or have you visited Australia and been surprised by something there? Would love to hear your thoughts.