For many Americans, Oz is an easy expat destination. Australia isn’t so different from the States. People speak English - albeit a rather strange version - and the culture is, well, America-lite. Right?
Australia currently has the 6th-largest American population in the world. But for U.S. expats, how easy is it to adjust?
Yes, Americans and Australians technically share the same language, but Aussie English still takes some getting used to. Australians shorten words - nothing is sacred. Your name will not only be shortened, but often have an “O” or an “A” added to the end. Jackson becomes Jacko. Barry becomes Bazza and Sharon becomes Shazza. Jim and David are Jimbo and Davo. Unless any of those people have red hair and then they’ll probably be called Bluey. If you’re going to the beach, remember to take your cossies and sunnies - which mean your swimsuits and sunglasses. Oh. And thongs are something you wear on your feet.
If someone considers you to be more of an acquaintance than a friend, they’ll be polite. But, if they see you as a good mate, they’ll be ruthless in their put-downs. They like to razz their nearest and dearest. Beware, though. Aussies call it “taking the piss.” And they’re not talking about bathroom etiquette. If someone teases you about a haircut, what you’re wearing, or how cheap you are - it means they like you. A lot.
Australians appreciate the bushranger (outlaw) and the larrikin (dufus). While American culture celebrates the hero, Australian culture has always embraced the underdog. So the minute someone gets too big for their britches, they’ll be labelled a ‘tall poppy’. And cut back down to size.
Americans are used to selling their successes. Australians don’t want to hear about them. Learning to adjust to life in Oz means you need to talk your achievements down, not up. If you really must tell everyone about your promotion, do so - but admit you probably don’t deserve it.
Food’s more expensive Down Under but, generally, Australians eat fresher, healthier food. That said, make sure to pick up a packet of Tim Tams - a special Aussie cookie - and dip them in your cuppa (“cup of” tea). There are fast food outlets, but eating at them is usually a treat, rarely the norm. If you’re looking for a typical Australian meal, head to your local bakery and grab yourself a meat pie; a pastry filled with minced (ground) beef. Being located in the Asia Pacific means excellent Asian cuisine is plentiful. In fact, Thai food is to Australians what Mexican food is to Americans. On that note, finding good Mexican food in Australia is like looking for a pot of gold.
Don’t ever suggest Starbucks as a meeting place. You won’t make friends. Be prepared to spend some serious time researching one or two excellent cafes where the barista is a genius. And, no, a flat white isn’t just a small latte. Once you’re armed with this info, you’ll have an easier time offering something at dinner parties and work functions. Where the art of good coffee is a hot topic of conversation.
Expats may experience a kangaroo on a plate before they see one in the wild. Despite having some truly unusual animals, it’ll be the creepy crawlies that really take some getting used to. Life in Australia can be like living in the Amazon Jungle. When you hear an Aussie say “He’s a big bastard” - it’s likely he’s spotted something with eight legs.
In many places in Australia the internet can be frustratingly slow. Places like Romania have better internet, and even Mongolia’s only slightly slower. Heck. The 1970s had better internet. Expats used to working from home in the States might be frustrated doing so in Oz because of their internet speed.
For those corporate American expats, there are some work adjustments that aren’t quite so hard. Most companies in Australia treat work-life balance as a right. Co-workers won’t bat an eyelid if you go on an annual 3-4 week holiday (vacation). What else do you work for? And while they’re at work, it’s quite normal to take numerous coffee breaks to stay caffeinated. It increases productivity and, well, Australians just like coffee.
If your parents are the type that still send you a check on your birthday, tell them not to bother. Checks - ‘cheques’ as they’re spelled in Australia - are considered relics from the Stone Age. Try to cash an American check at the bank and watch the teller go quiet. Cashing checks are something few folks do in the land of Oz, and the fees - often charging you even for the phone call to your American bank - can total more than your check’s worth.
For a more cost-effective solution, use a service called TransferWise where your parents or grandma can send you money online from the comfort of their couch in the States. Western Union, PayPal and big banks offer poor exchange rates for international transfers whereas TransferWise gives the same rate you’ll find on Google. Which means you’ll have more money for your birthday. And for Tim Tams.
Grab yourself a cuppa and enjoy your time Down Under!