Almost immediately after I hit the Publish button on The Little Things, I thought of more things I should have written about. I realized there would be more of these kinds of entries because there is so much to learn and so much that is different.
On the Road
In my last entry, I mentioned that although there’s an extensive process for a young adult getting his/her driver’s license, a tourist like me with almost zero knowledge of local driving laws and habits can freely get behind the wheel; “petrol” costs twice as much here as in Miami and you can pump before paying, but you have to pay inside; there’s more to Melbourne than little Euro-style cars; and there’s a complicated public transport system.
Another noticeable difference is that drivers here don’t generally honk. Now I know that this is true in some parts of the United States where drivers are polite. In St. Albans, VT, drivers even stop for pedestrians. “They do that here,” my transplanted friend Monica told me to my surprise.
I don’t know what Miami drivers would do without their horns. They honk at other cars, pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, marathon runners. They honk to flirt, to wake you up, to warn you you’re about to crash, to let you know they were there first or should have been, to get you to move when the traffic light is still red, to get you to sprout your car’s wings and fly out of the traffic build-up. Honking the horn is a way of life in Miami. It’s part of the audio landscape. It’s no surprise then that Miami drivers consistently rank among the worst in the U.S.
Like Americans, Aussies love their animals. Unlike Miami, however, dogs and cats over the age of three months must be registered and micro-chipped, and a multiple animal permit is required if you have more than two dogs and/or two cats. Miami has a feral cat problem. In three months here, I’ve only seen a stray cat twice.
Here, the recycling bin is larger than the “rubbish” bin and there’s two of them – one for plastics, cartons, glass, cans, paper, and so forth, and the other for organics like grass, leaves, etc. In Miami, particularly in my neighborhood of Little Havana, the small, blue recycling bins are used for extra storage. People in my neighborhood don’t recycle. When we tried to at my place, the City refused to collect it anyway. I like that they recycle so much here and, if that weren’t enough, Theo has a compost bin too. He also has a garden where he grows tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, and herbs such as parsley, rosemary, mint, chives, and oregano. I’ve noticed other Aussies also have gardens.
Australia, in general, is quite green. There’s even a Green Party. The U.S. has a Green Party too, but the Australian Greens are a real political force to reckon with. Perhaps it’s because of the high cost of living, but people here are conscious of their energy and water usage. On the other hand, I’ve never seen so much junk mail in my life. Australian homes all seem to have two mailboxes, one for regular mail and one originally meant for newspapers, but these are now filled with junk, which is not delivered by the postal worker, but rather by private messengers, and it comes in throughout the day, not just once. Some people put up “No Junk Mail” signs.
Back home, we use words like “restroom” and “bathroom”. Here, “toilet” seems to be the preferred term. Let me tell you, I hate saying “toilet”. Pardon, where is the toilet? Do you have a toilet for customers? Excuse me while I go to the toilet. It just sounds crass. On the bright side, the standard Australian toilet is dual flush. This is really brilliant.
The dual flush toilet, invented by Australian inventor Bruce Thompson in 1980, has two buttons to flush different levels of water. It makes sense, right? You don’t need as much water to flush with number one as you do with number two. The dual flush toilet saves up to 67% of water usage in most homes. But here’s another weird thing. The toilet is not always in the same room as the basin, which may be in another room with the shower or tub. It makes me wonder how many Aussies wash their hands after going.
More at Home
Electrical outlets are more commonly referred to here as powerpoints. They have switches for added safety. Good idea!
I’ve no idea what’s going on with the coffee in this country. When you go to one of the many, many cafes, you see options such as “long black” and “flat white” and I haven’t a clue as to what this means. I’ve never received a chai or a latte without a pretty frothy design on top and all this suggest a sophisticated coffee culture. Yet, according to one report, 80% of coffee consumed in the home is instant. Instant! Coffee makers are rare in Aussie homes. Instead they put on the electric kettle and heat water to add to Nescafe. Yes, electric kettles. Americans are old school with our stovetop kettles.
Smoking, Drinking, and Gambling
Smoking and the sale of tobacco are strictly controlled here in the state of Victoria. Most places are smoke-free and I had to ask Theo where cigarettes are sold because I’ve not seen any. They’re sold in supermarkets, some bottle shops (liquor stores), gas stations, and newsstands, but you won’t see them. They’re not on display and you have to ask for them at the counter. They come plainly packaged and with various disgusting images of black lungs, rotting teeth, and other effects of cigarette smoking. They’re also two to three times more expensive than cigarettes in the States. About 20% of Australians smoke. Most of them are aged 25-29.
The legal drinking age in Australia is 18; it’s 21 in the United States. In both countries, however, people can legally drink below these ages under different circumstances. A person with a full license (that is, not a learner or probationary driver) cannot drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level higher than 0.05 in Australia; it’s 0.08 in Florida. To help you drink responsibly, bottles of booze here are marked with the number of “standard drinks” each bottle contains. Instead of counting glasses or containers, Aussie count standard drinks as a more reliable method of keeping track of how much alcohol they consume. From here, there’s a calculation to help you determine your BAC, but my mathematically-challenged brain can’t quite figure it out.
In Miami, if you want to gamble, you have a few options. There are a couple of major casinos, the dog and horse tracks, and cruise ships. In Melbourne, gambling is everywhere. Aside from the impressive Crown Casino and the tracks, there are over 25,000 “pokies” (poker machines) across hundreds of venues, mainly pubs, in the state of Victoria. Plus you can wager on nearly anything. Tabcorp, the Australian wagering company, one of the world’s largest gambling companies, even has a smartphone app. During last night’s footy game (go Pies!), I saw one of its commercials encouraging viewers to bet on an upcoming game.
For those of you that have traveled to both the U.S. and Australia, what little differences have you noticed?