What Not To Do In Australia

On the way to Australia, somewhere over the Pacific, you lose an entire day. I don’t know where this day actually goes but the phenomenon underscores the fact that, even though they speak English and enjoy “Seinfeld” reruns as much as Americans do, you are headed to a place very, very far away. And, like any country, Australia has its own customs and quirks. To help you get along on this continent, which is also a country that is also an island, follow this guide of what not to do.

Believe tales of crazy wildlife
Only the English beat the Aussies when it comes to bullshitting with a straight face and gullible tourists make perfect targets for their tall tales. When I was 20, my first traveling companion was an Australian I made the mistake of asking about kangaroos – essentially my only reference point for her country (sophisticated traveler I was not). “Oh, they are everywhere in Sydney,” she told me. She then proceeded to explain the city’s need for “roo shooers,” men whose job it is to “shoo” the kangaroos off the Harbour Bridge each dusk and dawn. This was followed by warnings about drop bears (they perch in branches and drop onto unsuspecting tourists’ shoulders, so give trees a wide berth) and hoop snakes (who can chase you uphill). Don’t believe a word of this. Sydney and other major Australian cities are as urban and developed as any metropolis. Still, while drop bears and hoop snakes don’t exist, you might run into any number of strange and frightening creatures out in the bush.

Use the phrase “Throw Another Shrimp on the Barbie”(especially in your Australian accent you think is so good but, rest assured, is not)Paul Hogan, of “Crocodile” Dundee fame, starred in a series of Australian Tourism ads in the 1980s aimed at getting U.S. visitors to journey down under. His actual phrasing was, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you” – barbie being short for barbeque (Australians shorten any word they can wrangle into fewer syllables) and the reference to shrimp intended to entice specifically American palettes. Because, you see, Aussies actually eat prawns, and often in ways other than barbecued.

Assume all Australians are related to convicts
Great Britain established Australia as a penal colony in 1788, ultimately sending over 50,000 criminals. The country’s convict past was once almost a taboo topic of conversation – and heaven help the tourist who attempted a joke about it – but recently this legacy has become a point of personal pride. However, that doesn’t mean all Australians, an increasingly multi-cultural country, are descended from criminals. And sure, some of the initial crew were rough and tumble sorts, but many of those brought over had committed only petty crimes. Among the first group, a 70-year-old woman who had stolen some cheese – and I hear it wasn’t even the fancy kind.

Order a drip coffee
Simply put: coffee in Australia kicks ass. It’s not just that they often serve it to you with whimsical designs etched into the milk and chocolate on top, but the seriousness with which they take the quality of their beans and artistry of their drink variations might ruin your taste for American coffee altogether. Whereas in the U.S., a cappuccino or mocha seems like a special indulgence (especially at Starbucks prices); everywhere in Oz, from dive diners to award-winning restaurants, employs a competent barista. These are no Midwestern waitresses named “Flo” ready to refill your mug with burnt beans, so don’t even think about asking.

Surf without knowing the rules
Each coastal town in Australia harbors a group of surfers who are somewhat territorial about their local beach. It’s all well and good to rock up alongside them but don’t get into the water for the first time without an etiquette lesson. Among the rules seasoned surfers know: don’t drop in on someone’s wave, don’t paddle through the middle of the line-up, don’t let go of your board, the surfer closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way. I’d also avoid using the terms “bro” and “surf’s up.” This isn’t California, dude.

Expect hot weather all year round
The same way elderly Irish can spend entire sessions at the pub discussing the rain, Australians are fixated on the sun. Visit on a day with even a hint of cloud cover and a local is likely to apologize on behalf of her country. In Sydney, especially, there is utter denial of the changing seasons. It’s easy to do when many winter mornings are sunny and 60 degrees but interspersed with these are cloudy, rainy stretches where the wind comes close to biting. Yet on these same days you’ll still spot people wearing flip-flops (call them thongs; you’re in Australia, mate) and without proper jackets. These warm weather delusions aren’t helped by “Home and Away,” one of Australia’s longest-running soap operas. It’s set in the fictional coastal town of Summer Bay where, as the name implies, it’s the same season all year round.