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An American tourist in Australia

It’s Spring break and the perfect time to visit Australia if you live in the US. Naturally I get asked all the tough questions like where should I go, what should I see and how can we do Australia and New Zealand in two weeks. The answer to the last question is you just can’t … but I can give you some tips on being an American tourist in Australia.

Let’s get the jokes out of the way first

You can’t start a post on being an American tourist in Australia without first starting with a couple of good-natured, all-in-good-fun jokes.

Firstly, let’s get rid of the All-American Jerry Seinfeld look. You know? The jeans and white runners look? And no, just because you have tailored shorts and a polo shirt on you still don’t get to wear your white runners. Just no.

Image taken from Seinfeld in the Nike Air Sonic Flight Mid. Original image via NBCU Photobank/Getty.

Then let’s keep our voices down to using our best inside voice. That’s right, when in Australia the whole bus/ferry/group/tour/restaurant does not want to hear your conversation. Remember you are in a foreign country, representing (let’s face it) a nation with some credibility issues (thinking fake hair, orange face, lily white around the eyes, poor-fitting suits) so you want to keep that conversation contained to your group.

OK, now we can begin.

Here are five tips to navigating being an American tourist in Australia.

(1) We walk and drive on the other side to you–the left not the right

When and if you’re driving in Australia just focus on keeping the steering wheel in the middle of the road and you’ll do just fine. Remember turning right is crossing traffic and turning left you don’t. Sounds easy enough but then everything else is the other way around as well.

When you’re walking you will need to look left instead of looking right. When we hosted the Olympics someone really smart decided to mark each crossing with a sign saying “Look left”. Genius.

When you’re walking along and about to bump into someone next to you your natural tendency would be to move to the right. Well our natural tendency would be to move to the left. When you’re coming at each other that means we’re on a possible collision course. I do it here all the time so get used to it and get over it. I have to.

(2) Speaking of driving

In Australia we’re what we like to (fondly or otherwise) call ourselves the “Nanny State”.

Basically it means if the speed limit says 60km/hr it means exactly that. You may go slower (please no) but you may definitely not go faster. There is no such rule as going with the speed of traffic.

We have countless ways of policing speed too from speed cameras, to police with speed radar guns on the wide open roads (think they’ll be there ready to catch you when the speed limit changes from 100km/hr to 60 km/hr) and at stop lights. These are (un)affectionately know as Red light speed cameras. Yep, it means that if you try to speed up to catch that yellow light they can do you for speeding and going through the red light. Sound unfair? Couldn’t agree more.

There are also time-based speed cameras so there’ll be a camera positioned at Point A and one ten minutes down the road at Point B. It will calculate how long it took you to get from Point A to Point B and work out pretty quickly if you had been speeding. Don’t worry there will be warning signs for these ones.

Also be aware of the legal limit you can drive after consuming a drink. In most (not all) states it is 0.05%. And yes, you’re now getting the picture that this is very heavily policed. We have what’s called Random Breath Testing sites set up all over the place with the aim of catching every single drink driver in the area. As a result, we are very conscious of drink driving laws and do not push the limits at all as it’s not worth it–you can lose your licence for some time and there’s no “buying your way back” either. It’s brutal.

(3) Forget about the old 20 percent tip

Relax. You’re in Australia now. We actually pay our workers a decent wage, there’s no “user pays” system here. Sure our prices might seem higher than yours but you’re not adding in 20% to fund your waiter. Enjoy it.

That’s not to say there’s no tipping. As a general rule, round up your taxi fare, round up your meal bill (or go around 10% is ample) and there’s no need to tip your barman. Bellboys at international hotels will appreciate a couple of dollars and they’ll be seeking you Americans out because quite often us Aussies won’t even bother tipping them.

(4) Same goes for sales tax–it’s included in the price

Shock, horror. You might like to sit down and rest your mental arithmetic skills–you are on holidays after all.

The price you see on the tag is actually the price you’re going to pay.

You heard right. If it says $19.99 you can hand over a $20 and know you don’t need to find extra money to fund the sales tax. (Don’t expect to get 1c back in change though–we got rid of the 1c and 2c copper coins eons ago. Chill, it’s only a couple of cents, if it’s $19.97 the amount will be rounded down and you’ll get 5c back but who is actually going price something for $19.97?) Controversial right? How do they do it? Enjoy it.

(5) Eating out

I blogged about the differences between eating out in the US compared to being in Australia. You might like to brush up on it so you know what you’re in for.

Here are three things to expect when you eat out in Australia.

(1) There’s no ice in the water you get. So either ask for it or move on. It’s a cultural thing. It might be stupid to you but it’s normal to us.

(2) You’ll (most likely) need to ask for the Bill (check) when you want to leave. As much as some restaurants are looking to get more than one sitting in nowadays us Australians like to take our time to eat. Finishing our meal is not the waiter’s cue to bring the Bill. It’s usually a cue for them to take another drink order and clear the plates so you can catch up properly now that you’re done enjoying your meal. Dessert won’t be ordered straight away either–there’s usually time to wait in between. Going in to have a meal knowing these facts will have you managing your expectations–it’s not bad service it’s a cultural thing.

(3) I already talked about tipping. Don’t forget!

So there you have it. A guide to managing your expectations when you visit my beautiful home country. It’s a great place to visit: the food is magnificent and I hope you’ll have a great time–especially now that I’ve given you a leg up.

xx It Started in LA xx

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