Expat Diaries: 8 Things That Confuse Me About Australia

I’ve been living in Oz for over a year now but there’s still a few things I can’t quite wrap my head around. Read on for an expat’s perspective on this upside down country!

  1. Winter

Everyone knows the seasons Down Under are back to front but I didn’t fully comprehend how confusing it would be to live through a whole year of it. As the leaves changed colour and the temperatures dropped my mind kept playing tricks on me. I got excited about Halloween and started planning what to do for Christmas. Except it was June..

Meanwhile, everyone in Europe is off on their holidays and here in Oz we have neither Christmas nor Summer holidays to look forward to. (Just you wait till Spring arrives though, I’ll be laughing then!)

The Aussies do have an answer to some of this disappointment and it’s called Christmas In July. When we moved here last July I thought ‘Xmas in July’ was the Aussies getting a head start on their Xmas shopping, but it turns out it is an actual event of sorts where many places offer Xmas dinner and parties at what is Australia’s coldest time of year. This July they had Xmas trees in Pitt Street Mall and Justin and I had an Xmas dinner on the harbour which involved crackers, turkey and stuffing. It wasn’t quite like at home seen as we were sitting outside (albeit with a heater on) and not by a roaring fire, but I appreciated the sentiment and the food sure was good.

The sweet but bizarre Bondi Winter Ice Rink
The sweet but bizarre Bondi Winter Ice Rink – notice the beach goers in t-shirts!
  1. TV Schedule

I found the programming in Australia so confusing when I first moved here that I wrote a whole post about it. A year on and I still get enraged when I miss a show starting as 7.20 as the week before it was 8.30, or when I nod off during my favourite shows like Suits and The Mindy Project as they start at 11.40. Why, o why, is good programming pushed back until after the likes of Restaurant Wars, Hot Plate and a number of shows which all seem to be like Come Dine With Me but TERRIBLE?!

  1. TV Ad Breaks

Still on the subject of TV (it really does drive me crazy), Aussie channels do this American thing where they put an ad break 4 minutes before the end of a show. I keep changing the channel assuming it’s over only to miss the actual conclusion. Then sometimes they won’t put an ad break in between 2 different episodes of a show. You’ll blink and the storyline has moved on by 6 months. Confusing, so very confusing.

Me - not watching TV lest it sends me crazy
Me – not watching TV lest it sends me crazy
  1. RBT

An RBT for us foreigners is a Random Breath Test and the Aussie authorities seem to love them! Especially during the holidays or long weekends, the police cordon off a whole lane where everyone has to come through and be checked for alcohol consumption. I was so confused the first time it happened to us, wondering what my partner (the driver) had done wrong, but they pull over almost everyone.

There’s even a TV show called RBT, which treats you to a whole, dedicated hour of people being filmed having a random breath test. Riveting television, it is not!

Plus, get this, in bars you can pay $2 and do your own RBT. You blow into a straw and the machine tells you if you are safe to drive or not. It’s genius really but a very strange concept for me as a Londoner where:

  1. No one owns a car, or
  2. You never want to be the designated driver, and
  3. I can’t imagine anyone ever passing the sobriety test!
  1. The Lingo

I’ve had 12 months of practise but the lingo still trips me up every now and then. I could have done with this lesson a bit sooner.

Justin will often laugh at my pronunciation of place names (you try saying Woolloomooloo after a few cocktails) and a Barista in Bendigo thought I was the poshest thing going when I asked for a ‘Lartay’.

  1. Buying Booze

You can only buy booze in Australia from a ‘Bottle-O” or bottle shop. Rather than grabbing something to go with dinner in the supermarket or picking up a bottle of wine from the newsagent/off-license/Sainsburys Express on the way home, you have to make a concerted effort to go to said Bottle-O, which is often not on the way home. I guess it’s a rule that’s in place to curb drinking and it’s working, sort of. We drink a lot less frequently these days, but drink a lot more in quantity once we’ve made a visit to the drive-thru drinks shop! (An actual thing, my friends!)

  1. Tax Returns

Tax returns are taxing (groan – bad joke, I know) in every country but Australia places the burden on everyone, self-employed or not, to fill one out at the end of the financial year. I had the joy of filling out 2 self-employed tax returns this year (1 in the UK and 1 in Oz) and my partner had to fill in his personal 1 online even though he is employed and paid tax throughout the year. It had him lamenting the automatic end of year process we have in the UK. It’s worth doing properly though as many people get a big pay back at the end of June – hence the end of financial year sales where companies convince you to spend your return on giant TVs and new fridges.

You're never far from good coffee in Oz
You’re never far from good coffee in Oz
  1. The Price Of Coffee

This is actually a great thing about Australia that I still can’t believe is true. Coffee is so cheap here that in many cafes it’s cheaper than buying the water! Everywhere in Oz a good (and I mean really good beans and creamy milk) latte will set you back approx. $3.50. The price of water, however, varies from newsagent to supermarket – I’ve been charged as much as $7 for a small bottle. It makes you want to stick to the caffeinated stuff!

Update: 9. “Credit, savings or cheque?”

I had to add this one in after Vanessa reminded me on Facebook. Every now and then a shop in Australia might ask you the baffling question of ‘credit, savings or cheque’ despite you proffering a card which will be clearly labelled debit or credit. The Aussie Other Half explains that this is some hangover from EFTPOS days but it never fails to stump me every time I’m asked it. Generally if you answer credit the transaction goes through – no matter what card you are using – unless, of course, the store says they charge extra for credit transactions, in which case I try all the other options instead!

Another thing to watch out for in Oz is ATM fees. The high street banks charge you for using each other’s cash points – ie. I’m with Westpac so if the only ATM in town is a Commbank one you have to stump up $2.50 to withdraw even $20. This makes me very angry! I’ve been told ING direct have an account that reimburses all these ATM fees but it has a minimum deposit requirement each month.

Are you an expat in Oz? What has got you baffled about living here?

Find more of my thoughts on settling into life as a UK expat in Sydney in this interview I did with Sydney Moving Guide.

About the author

I’m Jayne, a travel blogger, content creator and mum to a 4-year-old son. I’ve been blogging since 2010, travelled to 65 countries and share travel guides and tips to help you plan stylish, stress-free trips.

29 thoughts on “Expat Diaries: 8 Things That Confuse Me About Australia”

  1. I’m the other way around – I am from Australia, and am an expat in England, and it’s all so confusing going the other way! And can I just mention how insanely long the EFTPOS machines take in the UK? In Aus they are almost instantaneous (like paypass actually is a quicker way to pay)!
    Anyway, rant over, loved this post!

    Reply
    • Ha how funny, I never noticed how slow our machines are. Paypass is awesome in Oz, it just gets a bit confusing when a store doesn’t have it!

      Reply
    • They’re so bad aren’t they. My Aussie friends say it’s my fault for watching free to air TV but it’s been quite a learning curve!

      Reply
  2. The TV and ad breaks here in the US are really similar to what happens in Australia, and not being able to buy a bottle of wine in the supermarket still confuses me at times (although here, that does depend on the state you’re in). Love your expat diaries – it’s fun reading about other people’s expat experiences!

    Reply
  3. Yes to 1, 3 and 9! I hate watching TV here- I would much rather just buy a tv series now as the adverts just p*** me off (especially the ones during football matches etc aired on tv.. “and now for the Harvey Norman Replay..”!). Infact, I just miss British TV shows in general- they’re way better haha. When I first moved here the whole paying with a card thing completely had me stumped as well.

    Lizzy from Nomad Notebook

    Reply
  4. Not officially expats, but we’ve spent the last two months in Melbourne. This list is excellent! A couple of things we could add: 1) The internet speed is insanely (and quite painfully!) slow and 2) The music (like the internet) is stuck in the 80s. Fortunately, it was a pretty good decade for music. 😉

    Reply
    • Haha! I’ve got used to the internet – although hate that some hotels still charge for it! As for music my partner listens to Triple J which seems to have a lot of current stuff. I’m a 90s fan myself so music from the past is not a problem for me 😉

      Reply
  5. Oh my gosh this post, YES! When I first moved to Sydney I didn’t have a job so I watched a lot of daytime TV. It seemed like every other commercial was about funeral and life insurance. I barely see any of those back home in the States so it drove me mad haha!

    Reply
  6. Oh my goodness Credit, Savings or Cheque confuses me so much! I still don’t know which one I’m supposed to use! I used Credit all the time and then I was with a friend who was asked and she responded “Savings” then I suddenly thought, wait is that the right option? In which case what is credit? I don’t have a savings account and it’s not a credit card and it’s definitely not a cheque. What on earth is the right answer? I still have no idea but they luckily it’s always just gone through with whatever I’ve said.

    Reply
    • Haha I feel your pain. I always replied credit as I heard that had more success at getting approved but it turns out some places charge you for credit so now I say cheque and that seems to work. #confusion

      Reply
  7. Great post! I AM an Aussie, living abroad, and recently went home for a few weeks, So now that I know how the other half live, I can sooo relate to your comments. Yep, TV (and the ads!) is getting worse. It never used to be that bad, really! But then again, even when I did live in Oz I stopped watching TV about 6 years ago (ha ha). I really miss the cheap coffee in Oz. I now pay the equiv of $6 or $7 Oz dollars. 🙁

    Reply
  8. I lived there for a year in 2009 and yeah you really appreciate the free cash withdrawals over here afterwards! What about chicken salt, I mean what is that all about haha?!

    Reply

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