Australian-American Roundup

Foster’s, Australian for beer. Throw a shrimp on the barbie. Lies, all lies.

As it turns out, Foster’s is an Australian brand of lager, but it was created by two Irish-American brothers who arrived in Melbourne from New York in 1886, and now it’s owned by a British brewing group. More importantly, Australians don’t actually drink it.

Outback Steakhouse? Yeah, that’s not Aussie either, but it didn’t stop some poor customer from complaining.

Image: themeandoggie, Reddit

Image: themeandoggie, Reddit

Outback Steakhouse is an Australian-themed restaurant, but prawns are called shrimp, chips are called fries, and I don’t recall the burgers having beet root or egg so what exactly is Aussie about it? According to its website, it’s the “consistently high-quality food and service, generous portions at moderate prices and a casual atmosphere suggestive of the Australian Outback.” I’ve never eaten in the Outback so I am unable to confirm the veracity of this statement.

By the way, if you’re a healthy type, it may interest you to know that Men’s Health magazine condemned Outback’s Aussie Cheese Fries as “The Worst Food in America,” with 182 grams (1,638 calories) of fat and nearly 3,000 calories per order. The signature Bloomin’ Onion sometimes goes over 1,500 calories.  And if you’re a political type, it may interest you that Outback and its founders are major contributors to the Republican Party. So, lies, heart attack on a plate, and Republican – three good reasons not to eat there. Your mouth is watering right now, isn’t it?

In other amusing Aussie-Americanisms, there’s this hilarious entry from my fellow expat Cristin, 25 Things American Expats in Australia Inevitably Think.

12. Where’s the closet?

13. Where’s the air conditioner?

14. It is FREEZING in this apartment.

I sympathise. Don’t skip the comments.

I think Cristin should consider expanding her list and submitting it to Buzzfeed. They are geniuses for listicles such as 25 Things No One Tells You About Leaving Miami.  I do miss Farm Stores, but it’s true that my hair looks better in Melbourne.

While I don’t normally condone experimenting on children, I’m certain that there’s research value in having American kids taste Vegemite. Science, people.

And finally, there’s this gorgeous timelapse video of Australia’s Gold Coast.

I hope you enjoyed this little roundup.

Have you seen anything awesome lately?

Your Guide to Melbourne Metro Trains

Melbourne Metro Trains

I don’t reach this.

For the last few weeks I’ve been taking public transport to and from work. I generally enjoy it. You see and hear a lot of interesting and humorous things on the train. Sometimes I run into a friend and that always makes the journey more enjoyable.

The train is packed when I take it both in the morning and afternoon. At first, I was confused about how to fit in with the rush hour train traffic, but now it’s been a month.  So, I’m an expert and totally qualified to give you seriously skilled and insightful tips on travelling in Melbourne’s Metro trains.

Don’t worry about where you need to go. Just hop on a train.

Seriously, don’t do this. Melbourne’s train network appears simple on the surface, but is actually a complex labyrinth full of illusions. About three different lines run on the same tracks near my work and on multiple occasions I’ve had a local ask me what train we’re on only to discover she was on the wrong line. Pay attention when you’re at the station. Download the Public Transport Victoria app here to view service times and map your journey.

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Melbourne, Most Liveable & Friendly City

Melbourne CBD

A view of Melbourne from the Eureka Sky Tower.

Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city. Again. And it’s also the friendliest.

For the fourth year in a row, Melbourne came in number one in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking, which surveyed 140 cities.

The survey rated cities out of 100 in healthcare, education, stability, culture, environment, and infrastructure. Melbourne received 97.5 out of 100. Aside from the arts, cultural, and sporting environments that add to the quality of life in Melbourne, the report noted that the city’s low murder rate contributed to its liveability.

Australian cities Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth also made the top ten along with our neighbours in Auckland, New Zealand.

Melbourne tied with Auckland, New Zealand as the friendliest city in the world in a reader’s survey by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Sorry Sydney, but Condé Nast readers say Melbourne is Australia’s “capital of cool” so it must be true. With it’s “breathtaking” harbor and beaches and helpful residents, Sydney came in at number 5. A couple of American cities made the top ten as well: Savannah, Georgia came in 9th and Charleson, South Carolina came in 4th. Good ole Southern charm and hospitality.

Do you agree? Is Melbourne your favourite city?

My Australian English

Image: DTTSP

Image: DTTSP

There are certain words that will probably never come out of my mouth.

For starters, I can’t shorten much in the way Aussies do. I still say sunglasses, breakfast, and chicken rather than sunnies, brekkie, and chook. Speaking in abbreviations is forced and unnatural for me. Like text speak. I can’t do that either. I text in complete, grammatically-correct, properly-punctuated sentences. It’s not because I’m a snob (I am a little bit of a snob). It’s because I actually have to concentrate more and it takes me longer to type something such as, “My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.” In translation: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place.” That’s an actual text message from a 13-year-old girl.

Australian English is not as cryptic as a teenager’s text message, but it just sounds wrong coming out of my American mouth with its Miami accent. Part of the Aussie charm is the accent and some words depend on it to sound right. I said g’day once by accident and I was horrified. My partner Theo makes fun of me for (allegedly) being unable to pronounce his best friend’s name: Graeme – gram, gray-em, gray-um. Gray or grey? Apparently, these are pronounced differently.

Having said that, I have adopted some Australian English words. Some of them occurred naturally simply because there are words and expressions used here that are not widely used back in the US. Other words require more thought, but I like to use them for convenience as well as for adaptation. Here are some of the local words I’ve adopted.

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My Place in Australian Politics

You know how Buzzfeed has all those quizzes? Which Contemporary Artist Are You? Which “Twin Peaks” Character Are You? What Kind of Pocket Are You? Really, I’m not making that up. I need What Australian Political Party Do You Belong In?

There are several political parties, but the two major players here are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party of Australia (Libs). At first glance, this sounded to me like two sides of the U.S. Democratic Party, but in Australia, Labor and Liberal are different, and liberal here means something else.

What’s the difference between the Labor and Liberal parties? The Labor Party represents the centre-left, which means what you might expect as an American, and is a self-described social democratic party. The Liberal Party is centre-right and represents Australian conservatism. So, yeah, in Australia, liberals are conservative.

When I first arrived in Australia, Labor was in power and Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister. She had ousted Kevin Rudd and, later, he ousted her. That may seem odd to Americans, but Australia has a parliamentary system; you vote for the party, not the person, and the party can make changes to its leadership. Rudd was no more popular the second time around. When election time arrived, the Liberal Party, headed by Tony Abbott, won.

When Labor was in control, discussions about the difference between it and the Libs were mostly about approaches to the economy. In the U.S., we tend to divide social issues such as women’s rights, GLBT rights, and church and state issues along party lines. Those who are pro-choice or for marriage equality, for example, are generally described as liberal. In Australia, the discourse was mostly around jobs, taxes, and, to a lesser degree, education, but since Abbott has been in office, there has been a greater shift towards social issues.

Abbott is popularly viewed as being extremely conservative, in the American sense of the word – too religious, against marriage equality, sexist, unsympathetic to asylum seekers, environmentally irresponsible, and too strongly favouring the interests of the wealthy. In contrast, the Labor Party is viewed as the party of the people, as socialist parties often are.

The Labor Party is the party that creates a lot of social programs and enables a lot of people to get financial assistance from the government. The Labor Party creates a tremendous amount of debt in funding these schemes, but many people believe that’s okay. An interesting feature of Australian politics is that a lot of people believe the government ought to financially provide for them. It’s been quite a surprise to me to realize that many people I know are on some kind of government assistance even if they don’t really need it. People feel entitled to it and it’s not that hard to game the system.

To me, both Labor and Liberal seem extreme and I find it impossible to align myself with either party. I believe education and medical care are basic human rights, and that these should be affordable. I believe in social equality and in welcoming all refugees. I believe every political party should have a responsible environmental policy. I believe in investing in small businesses and in science and technology. I believe the arts are important. I believe people who are struggling should get the support they need to get on their feet. I don’t believe in throwing money at a problem and I don’t believe in keeping people on welfare indefinitely.

I was born on a communist island. My family fled an oppressive regime that has been in power for more than 50 years. There is a long list of Cuban atrocities, but I want to focus on two characteristics that communism cultivates in the Cuban people. One is that it makes people lazy. It makes them dependent on the government. They don’t want to work and they feel they shouldn’t have to. The second is a consequence of the first. It turns people into con-artists and they abuse a public aid system that is intended to help people who really need it. That’s what I see the Labor Party does and so I can’t support it. A January article in the Advertiser (from Adelaide) reported that 1400 South Australians have been claiming unemployment benefits for more than a decade. Australians call these people “dole bludgers”.

I may be oversimplifying. Australia is an expensive country to live in and the job market is tough. People struggle and so they look for government assistance to help them get by. The government creates programs, which need funding, which come from taxpayers, and so forth. It’s a vicious circle of problems.

In practice, this isn’t something I have to worry about; I can’t vote. Still, politics are important and the topic comes up. More often than not, I find it hard to engage in the daily political conversations.

For you expats that have been here a while, how is your understanding of the local political landscape? Are you able to align yourself easily with a political party?

Australian Culture and the Workplace

G'day BossI visit my local library two or three times a month. Browsing, I came across this little book and I had to share it.

G’day Boss!: Australian Culture and the Workplace, by Barbara A. West and Frances T. Murphy, is a study into the diverse cultural environments of Australian workplaces. It is specifically aimed at migrants seeking to understand, adapt, and succeed in the Australian workplace.

Discussions about culture require a degree of generalising, which the authors of this book acknowledge, but they actively avoid stereotyping and simply present guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The book includes the voices of migrants as well as of Australian workers and sometimes they (humorously) contradict because everyone experiences their new culture in comparison to their own. For example, on tone and volume:

France to Australian perspective

My workplace is so loud! It was the first thing I noticed about working in Australia; people are so loud. It really disturbed my inner self.

United States to Australian perspective

I can always hear other US-Americans in public because we are so loud! My advice to them: turn down the volume when you’re in public because Australia is a much quieter place.

Chapter 1 is a general introduction to the book. Chapter 2 provides an explanation of terms used throughout the book such as ‘culture’ and ‘adaptation’. Chapter 3 defines values and begins on Australian value contrasts, beliefs, and behaviours. Chapters 4-7 explore these different value contrasts and chapters 8-10 examine communication.

At just 135 pages (including the appendix and bibliography), this little book is packed with useful information. Here are some of the findings that surprised me most.

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Anzac Day

I’ve blogged before about how traditional holidays don’t feel as festive to me here in Australia as they do back in the USA. I still stand by those controversial entries, but what I’ve discovered since then is that there are other holidays that Aussies care very much about. Anzac Day is one of them.

Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli (in modern day Turkey) during World War I. It was the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. However, Anzac Day now goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. It is a day on which we remember all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of Anzac – courage, endurance, mateship, and sacrifice – has tremendous meaning to Australians and their sense of national identity. Anzac Day is probably Australia’s most important national occasion.

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Hamilton Watts Migration Services

migrant services

Hamilton Watts International Migrant Services

Throughout my writings about my visa process, I’ve mentioned that I have been using a migrant agent. Today I’m going to plug the agency. I don’t know how I would be getting through this migration process without them.

Hamilton Watts provides high quality migration services. They have offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Canberra, and represent clients throughout Australia and overseas. I worked directly with Laurie Duncan, the current Chairman of Hamilton Watts, who joined the company as Operations Manager in 1997 after 29 years with the Department of Immigration.

Laurie Duncan

On my first meeting with Laurie, I learned that my visa expired nine months later than I thought. One of the great benefits of using a migrant agent is not just that they are familiar with the law, they understand the tricky language government agencies use. They know what goes on behind the scenes and how to read between the lines. Laurie laid it all out for me. He has always been accessible. He returns every email and reaching him on the phone has never been a problem. He checks in, he reminded me of what I needed to do next, kept me informed of changes, and keeps me updated. On top of being as professional as can be, Laurie is nice person. He is confident, but relaxed, never arrogant, never flippant nor dismissive, never too busy to deal with you.

I dealt a little bit with other members of the Hamilton Watts team, a couple of ladies, secretaries perhaps, that helped me with the payment process and answered some questions. They were delightful as well. Reviewing the profiles of others at Hamilton Watts reveals some impressive credentials. I doubt I could find a more knowledgeable group of agents.

Have you used a migrant agent? If so, what’s your experience been like? If not, why not? Would you use one?

10 More Fun Facts About Australia

Dog Fence

My entry 12 Fun Facts About Australia is very popular so I thought I’d go for another round. I wrote it in 2012 and have since discovered many new fun and interesting facts.

  1. Australia’s first police force was a band of 12 of the most well behaved convicts.
  2. Australia has the highest gambling rate in the world with over 80% of Australian adults engaging in gambling.
  3. In 1954, Australian Bob Hawke set a new world speed record for beer drinking. He drank 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. In 1983, Hawke became the Prime Minister of Australia.
  4. Australia is the only continent without an active volcano, which is good because even the trees are out to kill people here.
  5. Australia has like 100 million sheep, which are a tasty snack for its dingos and other wild dogs. So, Australians started building a fence to protect the sheep and now it’s the longest fence in the world. The Dingo Fence stretches 5,614 kilometres (3,488 miles).
  6. Australia is the only country in the world that eats its national emblem. Kangaroo meat is low in fat and has a delicious and rich gamey flavour when cooked properly.
  7. Australia does not have a bill of rights and freedom of speech is not actually enshrined. You can be fined by police for using profanity in public. In another unique example of censorship in Australia, the use of telephone, email, fax, or internet to discuss the practical aspects of assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia is prohibited by the Suicide Related Materials Offences Act. Breaching this act carries a fine of fine of $110,000 for an individual and $550,000 for an organisation.
  8. In December 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming. It is presumed he drowned.
  9. Wombat poop is square.
  10. Moomba is Australia’s largest free festival and it’s held right here in Melbourne. Officially, Moomba means “let’s get together and have fun,” but there is a persistent rrumourthat, in the local Aboriginal language, it may actually mean “up your bum”.

Happy Labour Day, Australia!

Labour Day

Eight Hour Day Banner, Melbourne, 1856. Wikimedia Common, public domain.

Today is Labour Day in Australia, the day in which Aussies commemorate the achievements of the Australian labour movement.

Once upon a time, workers to Australia came from England under Penal transportation and prisoners were under the condition of slavery. Under the Master and Servant Act, workers worked long hours, 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes more, six days a week. As little as an hour’s absence from work resulted in the forfeit of wages and even imprisonment. The Act, which required obedience and loyalty from servants to their contracted employer, was also used against workers organizing for better conditions.

It didn’t stop a courageous group of workers though. On April 21, 1856, Stonemasons and other building workers on building sites throughout Melbourne stopped working. They marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House demanding an eight-hour day. Their protest was a success and they are noted as being among the first organized workers in the world to achieve an eight-hour day with no loss of pay.

There have been many more developments since then including the improvement of working conditions, better wages, the five-day work week, and, of course, the emergence of the Australian Labour Party.

Take a load off, have fun, and stay safe on this Labour Day holiday!

Expat Syndrome


Image: DTTSP

Today’s prompt in the Expat Blog Challenge is to respond to the following quote by T. Crossley:

‘Expat Syndrome’ is a condition whereby many expatriates see mostly either the best of their own nationality & the worst of the locals, or see the opposite.

I’ve struggled in this blog and in my life here in Melbourne to view cultural differences as just that, differences, and avoid judging them against each other and deciding one is better than the other. I feel that Crossley’s quote demands that I do exactly that, choose between one experience or the other, but he (or she – I have no idea who this Crossley is) is wrong.

I think the USA is a wonderful place to live, but I’ve never been blind to its problems. We are too apathetic. We are far more concerned with Justin Bieber and other celebrity train wrecks than with issues that matter such as alienating GLBT people, the lack of empathy in our young people, the threat of internet censorship, the unfairness and inherent racism of our justice system. The things that so many Americans believe to be true or simply don’t know is astounding.

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