1. Wear thongs (especially at the beach!).
One morning in lectures we were asked if “someone wearing thongs” could come up and pray for our speaker. Gasps, looks of horror, and bursts of laughter exploded from the many North Americans in the room. What many didn’t realise (until a clear explanation!) is that he was referring to the shoes you wear at the beach: “flip-flops” to Americans, “jandals” to the New Zealanders, and “slippers” to me and my friend from Hawaii. Even though many people travel to Australia expecting to speak English, there are many undercover differences. I’ve learned to order “capsicum” instead of bell pepper, drive into the “car park” instead of parking lot– and, without skipping a beat, raise my hand when asked who is wearing thongs.
2. Watch rugby (or cricket, netball, and AFL).
Growing up in Hawaii, American football was on TV every Sunday afternoon. However, my dad, originally from New Zealand, cared far more about the latest rugby game. As a girl with an American accent, I’m not expected to know much about this sport. However, it is so much fun to see an Australian’s face light up when I ask them about an upcoming match, or this year’s World Cup. We joke and banter back and forth, like Kiwis and Aussies do, with a connection point that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Much like learning a language, a nation’s sport is part of their identity. So, as I know with language, it’s so valuable when you understand even the shortest “phrases” about Aussie sports.
3. Be genuine, then joke around.
Americans are generally known for gathering around a plate of chicken wings and pizza and cracking jokes– even if it’s a party full of strangers. It’s a way to dispel the awkwardness, to lighten the mood, and bring their trademark positivity to any situation. Not saying that every American is like that– but bear with some generalisations for a moment. In contrast, in my experience in Australia, the sooner you are bluntly honest about who you are and what you are about? That’s when you can begin joking. It’s not that any particular order is wrong, it’s just different. And almost like the little boy who teases the girl in the playground because he likes her, if an Aussie is giving you a hard time (with a cheeky, suppressed smile), they might just want you to stick around.
4. Explore the places right in front of you.
Living day-to-day life in Australia, sometimes I forget to explore what is hidden in plain sight. Yet one summer, family friends and I rambled into a clearing surrounded by eucalyptus trees, just an hour drive away. I’d never been camping by a lake before, and soon enough we were leaping off its dock. We then laughed hysterically as we were towed by a boat, bouncing off the waves on a giant inflatable cushion. That’s just one quick memory. But when I picture the places I’ve visited here in Australia? I also see sparkling sand dunes, ocean pools underneath rocky cliffs, and forest-covered mountains– all a short drive away. Even though it’s easy to carry on with normal life, I’ve learned to look for the many adventures that are natural to Australia.
5. Be a mate to those who need it.
“Mate” is an expression often used Down Under, similar to ‘friend’ or ‘bro’. However, the old-fashioned term ‘comrade’ is closer to what I’ve experienced in Australia. Before I ever stayed here, I’d been in and out as an uncertain visitor five times. Yet every trip I was welcomed like a fellow solider-in-arms who had been known for years. Where my hosts could have seen me as just another tourist soon to leave, instead I was “mate”. Therefore, years later, deciding to come to Australia was a no-brainer. I still have an American accent and I am still learning heaps about the culture. However, as a result of Aussies welcoming one uncertain visitor, I now want to treat others as friend, bro, comrade– and of course, mate.
By Kayla Norris