19 February 2003
A dummy's guide to Australia part 1

Welcome to Australia. Please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage and enjoy the ride.

I have a dear friend coming to visit from San Francisco next week and it reminded me of how little most 'Merkins know about where I live. So, based on the many strange and, frankly, stupid questions I've been asked about my home, here's a little heads up on the land down under.

Part I: Geography

Australia is big.

No, not Texas big. I mean really fucking big.

Our largest state? Four times the size of Texas. Twice the size of Alaska. In fact, most of the continental US fits INSIDE the island of Australia. There would be a couple of bits hanging over, but I'm sure no one would miss them.

If you're planning a holiday and you're thinking that you can catch the sunrise at Uluru and then whip on over to the Great Barrier Reef for a quick snorkel and then dinner at Sydney Harbour, then be prepared to spend a metric fuckload (remember, we use the metric system, not imperial) on airfares because it's a really, REALLY long way to travel.

On the other hand, our population is only a fourteenth the size of yours. This does not mean that there are vast tracts of land waiting to be settled. What it means is that there are vast tracts of land that are completely inhospitable and you'd be mad to live there.

We're in the southern hemisphere. The bottom part of the globe. While this doesn't mean the water goes down the toilet the other way, it does mean that cyclones do and we use being in the southern hemisphere as an excuse for driving on the other side of the road and reversing light switches (yes, you flip them down to turn them on, not up).

Part II: Time Zone

As Charles Schultz once said, "Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia." We are 15 time zones ahead of the east coast of the US and 18 ahead of the west coast. New Yorkers calling at the perfectly reasonable hour of 10am will wake me at 2am the following morning (and make me very, VERY angry).

This also means that when you fly here, you travel forward in time. It takes about 15 hours to fly from LA to Melbourne. But if you leave Monday, you arrive Wednesday. So what happened to Tuesday? Welcome to the international dateline, the Bermuda Triangle of time.

Of course, you go back in time when you fly home. That same 15-hour flight will deposit you in LA about 2 hours after you left Melbourne. Confused yet? Excellent.

Part III: Language & Customs

I know I've ranted about this before, but here's something to keep in mind. Australia, like the US, was colonised by the British. This means that we have a lot in common. Yes, we speak English. Yes, we celebrate Christmas and Easter. Halloween never caught on the way you guys do it, but we are aware it exists. We do not celebrate Thanksgiving. Why would we celebrate Native American Indians saving the arses of a bunch of pilgrims on a completely different continent?

Our British heritage also means we are fairly civilised. We have electricity, running water, cars, television and most of the amenities that you enjoy in the US. As long as you won't go into catatonic schizophrenia if you don't eat at Olive Garden or consume Fruity Pebbles once a week, you should be fairly comfortable down here.

Outback Steak House, Steve Irwin (Crocodile Hunter) and Paul Hogan bear no resemblance to anything actually found in Australia. Nor does your attempt at an Australian accent. If Meryl Streep couldn't do one, what makes you think you can?

On the other hand, here is a quick guide to pronunciation:
Sydney -- Sid-knee (I'm only including this because the head of the Olympic committee seemed to think this had three syllables)
Melbourne -- Melb-n (say it as if there are no vowels after the 'b')
Brisbane -- Brisb-n (again, who needs those pesky vowels?)
Indooroopilly -- In-dra-pilly (see what I mean about vowels?)
G'day -- Run the 'g' and the 'd' together, there are no vowels (of course) or pauses between them
Emu -- eem-you. If it was pronounced 'emoo', we'd fucking spell it that way
Kookaburra -- the 'oo' is short as in cook, not long as in kooky
Koala -- notice the distinct lack of the word 'bear' on the end. Because they are not bears. Got it?

Nobody on this continent uses the following words: cobber, crikey, shrimp. It is a source of national embarrassment that our Prime Minister recently used the phrase 'fair dinkum' (meaning honest and genuine) to refer to Saddam Hussein's attempts at disarmament and while 'mate' is a common word (pronounced 'mAAAAAAAAYte!') we don't want it appearing in our constitution.

There are some peculiarities of language down here (and by this I do not mean the fact that colour is spelled with a 'u'). For example:
Bastard -- if someone calls you a bastard, it's probably a term of endearment ("He's a funny bastard!") so don't take offence.
Football -- football here means Australian Rules football, not American football. We call that gridiron. We call English football soccer. We also play rugby of various sorts, but that is as far as my knowledge of sport extends. This makes me extremely atypical in this country. Sport is a Very Big Deal.
Beer -- like the Eskimo and snow, we have many different words that mean beer: coldy, stubby, tinny, the list goes on. Alcohol is very important down here. We began as a prison colony that traded in rum instead of currency. Some things never change.
Pissed -- if you are pissed, it means that you have consumed too much beer. It has nothing to do with your anger management skills.
Biscuit -- cookie
Jam -- jelly
Jelly -- jello
Entrée -- starter or appetiser, not main course
First floor -- the floor above the ground floor
Croco-snacky -- this is not a word. I made it up. But it sounds good, doesn't it?
Budweiser (or any other brand of US beer for that matter) -- cat piss. Be aware that the alcohol content of most Australian beers far outweighs most US beers. We only have a reputation for being big drinkers in the US because it takes three times as much American beer to get us pissed as it does the local stuff.
Fanny -- do not, under any circumstances, use the word fanny. It means something quite different here. Threatening to spank a child's fanny will probably result in having Child Protection Services called. Asking to buy a fanny pack will probably get you referred to the feminine hygiene section of a chemist (or raucous laughter). Need I elaborate further?

Many words will be abbreviated and have 'ie' or 'y' tacked on the end.
Present -- pressie
Football -- footy
Christmas -- Chrissie
Biscuit -- bikkie
Lipstick - lippie
There is no known explanation for this phenomenonie.

Part IV: Flora & Fauna

Try to recall the last time you saw a bald eagle, buffalo or coyote wander down the main street of a city. That was probably the last time an emu, kangaroo or dingo wandered down one of ours. Do you keep any native animals as pets? No? Neither do we. However, unlike you, we do eat the animals on the national coat of arms and they are delicious.

Many of the most dangerous creatures on earth live right here in Australia. However, this does not mean that they will assault you the minute you walk out the door. You have to make a pretty concerted effort (and be monumentally stupid) to be bitten or eaten by anything down here and a remarkable number of tourists leave without even seeing anything remotely threatening.

Part V: Climate

Like the song said, wear sunscreen, even if it's pissing down rain outside. We have the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Children are not allowed out to play outside at school if they forget their hat, it's that bad. We don't worry about getting wrinkly in the sun, we worry about it killing us.

Neil Finn (ex Crowded House member) allegedly wrote the song 'Four Seasons in One Day' about Melbourne. He wasn't kidding. If you don't like the weather now, wait five minutes.

People in Sydney will try to tell you it rains more in Melbourne than in Sydney. They are lying.

Since we are in the southern hemisphere, the weather gets hotter the further north you get (upside down, remember?) In the tropical north, you have two seasons. The wet and the dry. They are fairly self-explanatory. Also remember that the seasons are reversed. So if you're planning a lovely summer holiday in Australia in July, you're fucked. It's winter down here.

There you have it. A beginner's guide to the more stupid questions asked about Australia. I hope it has been informative and faintly amusing. If you have any other questions (preferably NOT stupid), let me know and I'll do my best to answer them (and mock you if they are stupid).

ladymisstree • 12:47 AM

You forgot the part that I don't understand (as a kiwi chick)... and that is if your name is Tim you are Tim-bo. I thought my guy's name was Ross, nOOOOOOO.... Rosco.

Last name Parker? Park-o.
James? Jim-bo.

What's with the the o's? Huuumm?

deevaa told me at 12:59 PM on 19|02|03

Mosta badly wants to visit and specifically to meet a dingo. She knows that they are mean, but thinks that she would like them anyway. She has told me this ten times at least. :P

VeryModern told me at 01:28 PM on 19|02|03

ps - love your power thing here.

VeryModern told me at 01:29 PM on 19|02|03

I LOVE this...even tho I'm 'Merkin', I knew most of this, thanks in large part to Morgane! But I didn't know the jelly/jello/first floor bit. And utes? That one blew me away...I live in a region that was originally inhabited by the Ute Indians hehe.

Kallikrates told me at 02:57 PM on 19|02|03

I think you've just about covered everything here! :)

fwak told me at 06:23 PM on 19|02|03

Hmm, the '-ie' thing is interesting. Scousers do it a lot too. So you have 'leccy' for electricity, for example. Everything that can be abbreviated is abbreviated.

milesawaygirl told me at 10:59 PM on 19|02|03

personally, everything i needed to know about australia, i learned in "priscilla, queen of the dessert".
egypt has the same deal with the upside-down light switches- as well as with the lack of fruity pebbles, too which i say too you- don't knock em untill you try em!!
thanks for the lesson!

fixingherhair told me at 11:27 PM on 19|02|03

This is one of the funniest, smartest and overall best blogs I've ever read...it was just hysterical!

Great stuff ;)

MrsBastage told me at 01:37 AM on 20|02|03

Terrific blog. Most entertaining! I knew quite a lot of it, but learned enough to feel like my employer isn't getting ripped off by paying me for the time I spent reading it. I was being productive by gettin' myself some edyoocashun :P

FatAndFeisty told me at 06:08 AM on 20|02|03

Outstanding. A close friend of mine from Oz travelled the country for almost a year recently, and through being exposed to her I was exposed to much of this, but didn't realise that she was speaking the National Standard.

I adore things like this. The world, at times, is indeed a splendid place.

SaintMahone told me at 07:20 AM on 20|02|03

snicker, yeah but can I beat your fanny for you? HUH HUH?? :D

This was wonderful!! Very funny. MORE! :)

zoodom told me at 11:37 AM on 20|02|03

oh and PINK!!! its pretty!! PINNNKK!!!!

zoodom told me at 11:38 AM on 20|02|03

oh, my dear god. that was perfect. you are deviously clever! sign me up!

the8rgrl told me at 02:31 AM on 21|02|03

This really was quite exceptional... thanks. :)

borderlineblue told me at 10:07 AM on 21|02|03

you may have inadvertantly stumbled across a previously unsuspected relationship between centrifugal firce and ol 'leccy: here in near-equatorial costa rica: LIGHTSWITCHES ARE ON SIDEWAYS!!!! I KID YOU NOT!!!! Whoaaa! Beam me up Scot~te!!!!

loopdeloup told me at 01:18 AM on 22|02|03

Due to the amount of comment spam I'm receiving on old entires, comments are now closed for this entry. Please feel free to add a comment on a more recent post or drop me an email!

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