There are obvious differences between the US and Australia. We drive on different sides of the road, seasons are opposite and there is an accent (though who actually has the accent is debatable…)
As someone just off a five-week trip to the US, here are ten lesser known differences between the two countries:
1. The formality of language. Mr. and Mrs Martin, Dr Wilcox, Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Justin…. My children call very few adults by their first names in America and very few adults by their last names in Australia. I miss the protocol and formality of the US- some people may think it’s stuffy and archaic, but I like the tone of respect that is set. Fortunately, my kids know they need to revert to their “American manners” as soon as they set foot back on US soil.
2. Sugary drinks… Capri Suns, Kool-Aid, juice boxes, soda… what about water? It really is no surprise that America has an obesity problem when you see the selection of liquid refreshment available during a US summer. In the US, I served water as an afterthought, in Australia, it’s the first thing offered to kids.
3. Americans drive fast… and you’d better too or you’ll cause an accident. Just merge over to let the cop fly by. Probably better to go slighter slower than the authorities, but that’s not too hard when officers of the law fly by 15 miles over the speed limit. Frankly, I like driving fast. The US isn’t the Autobahn, but it’s nice to be trusted to flow with current traffic conditions without the fear of a speed camera targeting your plates.
4. Holidays are a big deal with a lot of accessories… I love holidays (as in special days, not vacations… though I love those too). I love that Americans make a big deal out of a holiday. We were in the US over the 4th of July which meant red, white and blue clothing, parades, flags flying, fireworks, a traditional Fourth of July BBQ, and if you wanted themed decorations (and why wouldn’t you?) they’re cheap and accessible. Would anyone care for an American flag themed cake on a star-spangled dessert platter?
5. Convenience… is the modus operandi of America. Need cash? Go to a drive-thru ATM. Need a coffee? Ditto. Putting gas (petrol) in your car? No need to actually walk into the station to pay- just slide your credit card at the pump. Need to shop for groceries at 2 am? Why not? The store will be open and you won’t have to battle crowds (though you may need to wake the deli worker).
Road tripping in New York last month, my girlfriends and I were on the hunt for a quick coffee stop. We found a Starbucks just off the exit… combined with a BANK. Need to get a latte while you wait for your loan to be approved? Done…
6. (Most) EVERYTHING IS CHEAP (until you get used to it). God Bless America, the Land of Shopping. Clothing, shoes and food. I ate buckets of blueberries every morning for breakfast- stocking up on my antioxidants for when I returned to where a dozen blueberries might cost me three dollars. Can’t decide between two pairs of sandals? At that price, just grab both. P and I were nearly gleeful as we threw down our credit card at restaurants…
7. The Toilets have a lot of water… random, but true. When my father-in-law first visited the States, he returned from our bathroom shaking his head. “Something’s wrong with your toilet,” he said. “The water nearly fills the bowl.” Sure enough, I saw what he meant on this visit. Australian toilets have a minimum of water sitting in the toilet- and toilets never flush in a swirl like they do in North America. A quick rush of water, and you’re done. (Granted, a toilet brush gets much more of a work-out down under. Kind of gross, but that’s how it goes.)
And speaking of toilets… Americans never do. You ask for the restroom, the bathroom or the men’s or ladies’ room, but never for the toilet. In America, the toilet is the actual porcelain throne, never the room itself. In Australia, go ahead and ask for the toilet or even the loo… it will get you where you need to go… literally.
8. Your bill is never your bill… Restaurants may be cheaper in the US, but don’t forget to tip. The rule is 15-20% of the bill, depending on the service. Unless the waiter spits in your food, I would still tip 10% for poor service- when the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour, wait staff depend on tips to survive (and if a waiter did spit in your food, I’m assuming you’ve left before the bill even came).
And don’t forget sales tax. An item may be marked at $45.99, but a tax as high as 9.45% (depending on the state you are in) will be added when you get to the register. Just to keep you slightly confused….
9. Pennies are a pain, and the US should lose paper dollar bills too. I prefer Aussie money with its colorful plastic notes and its gold $1 and $2 coins (have a handful of change? In Australia, that might actually buy you a coffee!). If something costs $4.08 (after tax) in America, you need to dig around for some copper coins. In Australia, they just round up or down.
10. To Hug or to Kiss…? Greeting an American friend? Give ‘em a big hug. Ran into an Aussie friend? Lean in to give them a kiss on the cheek. Me? I’ve become confused, kissing some and hugging others, but never doing what’s expected. I recently moved in to kiss the cheek of an Aussie friend we met for drinks in a Melbourne pub. He met me halfway with a hug and we ended up doing an awkward dance. Granted, he was visiting from the US (where he had lived for 20 years), but I thought the location would determine the motions. Now I just stand there slightly perplexed and with what I hope is a warm smile on my face. I may forgo any physical contact… but I’m still happy to see you.
Did I miss any?