One of the things I love discovering as I've made my meager travels slowly across this world, is the knowledge that is common place in other countries that we are completely oblivious to here in America. My first Dumb American column featured some basic British knowledge I gleaned during my 2007 trip to London.
Here are a few things I picked up in my three weeks abroad in Australia.
The Australian Flag
Always know your flags, that's what I always say! Ok, maybe it's not, but I do love learning the symbolism behind the flag design for every place I visit. The flag of Australia is made up of the Union Jack in the upper left corner pledging Australia's allegiance to the British Empire; the Commonwealth Star, whose seven points represent the 6 original states of Australia plus an extra point for the territories and any future states; and the Southern Cross, the most distinctive constellation visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
Pretty cool! Whatever you do, don't confuse it with rival New Zealand's flag, which is nearly identical:
We've all seen Crocodile Dundee, or maybe the Crocodile Hunter (rest in peace) and have had fun trying to speak in the Aussie accent using what we think are typical Australian words a la "Shrimp on the Barbie" etc. Sorry Outback, but down under, there are no shrimp, but what they do have are prawn. In fact, there are a surprisingly high number of words that needed translation for this dumb American. Aussies call their exclusive string of slang, "Strine," which Wikipedia explains "is a term coined in 1964 and subsequently used to describe a joke or made-up "language" purportedly spoken by Australians. The term is a syncope, derived from a phonetic rendition of the pronunciation of the word "Australian" in an exaggerated Broad Australian accent."
A google search will produce many lists of translations like this one, which are definitely worth checking out for some cultural awareness. Below are a few personal favorites (with their translations) and they were words I certainly did hear with regularity down under!
Cuppa = Cup of Tea
Chips = Fries
Rocket = Arugula
Lollies = Candy
Ankle-biter = child or baby
Arvo = Afternoon
Pot = 285 ml Beer Glass
Brekkie = Breakfast
I've already vented my frustration with the coffee in Australia. To recap, there is no brewed/filtered coffee as we know it in Australia. They've got Italian espresso drinks galore, and believe it or not, tons of instant coffee, but no plain old coffee. To compensate, I got by with what is called a Long Black. Similar to an Americana, a Long Black (or Short Black if you just want a few sips) is a double shot of espresso poured onto hot water (an Americana is the reverse). This is a considerably stronger alternative to coffee, but for those of you, like me, who can't stomach too much dairy, but need their coffee, this is the only way to survive.
Australians have a few other creative espresso drinks including Flat Whites and Babyccinos. In my search for a good pic of a Long Black (out of the hundreds of pics I took, I somehow never got one of the a Long Black, despite how often I drank them!) I came across this great blog that lays out Australian coffees perfectly (as well as a bunch of other posts on being an outsider in Australia). Check it out and consider yourself a little less of a dumb American.
A few more random facts
- Australians don't tip and the tax is included in the price of food. This makes splitting the bill extremely easy. If you order a $10 sandwich and $3 long black, you contribute $13. That's it.
- If an Australian asks you if you want to go to the arcade, they aren't talking about a big dirty room full of pinball machines, video games, and tweens. An Australian arcade is simply a mall.
- Australians drive on the left side of the road just like jolly old England.
- Australian toilets have 2 buttons to flush. One for half tank, to conserve water, which there is always a shortage of, and a second for full tank for those morning-afters when you really need it: