I’ve lived in Australia for 5 months now, and although I’m yet to venture outside of Sydney, I feel fully qualified to provide some tips on making the most of your time should you ever come over.
1. Explore the Tim Tams
If you visit Australia, you will encounter the concept of Tim Tams as you board the plane. Qantas’s in-flight magazine will almost certainly feature an article sorrowfully declaring that even Tim Tams aren’t really Australian any more. People get very passionate about Tim Tams over here; taste one, and you’ll discover that they are deeply worthy of such passion.
A Tim Tam is a rectangular, chocolate-dipped snack, consisting of a smooth filling sandwiched between two biscuity layers. If you’re English and biscuit-savvy, you’re probably imagining a Penguin. Don’t be fooled: the resemblance is entirely superficial. Aside from the fact that they are packaged in trays rather than being individually wrapped, Tim Tams have a much richer flavour than Penguins: the crunchy bits are more buttery, the filling more creamy, and the chocolate coating is thicker and tastier. Furthermore, they come in a formidable array of flavours, ranging from the intense Classic Dark, to the complex Black Forest.
I’ve had roughly a packet per week since I’ve been here.
2. Make stuff up about animals
This one’s a classic. Anyone who has read about Ozzy fauna has considered doing it, and most Australians do it on a regular basis. Bill Bryson wrote half a book about it1.
You can entertain friends and family with imaginary factoids about animals, because people just expect Australian wildlife to be bizarre – and that’s because it is. For example, the Australian white ibis has recently gained fame for exemplifying an extremely rapid form evolution: individuals with shorter beaks are dying out at an alarming rate, whereas those with longer beaks – and therefore a better ability to scavenge from rubbish bins – are thriving. Recently, a few monstrously deformed birds have been spotted with beaks long enough to scrape the bottom of wheelie bins and industrial skips.
3. Play “Dodge the Banana Bread”
The game works as follows:
- Wander into Sydney.
- Using a map, select a point 50m to 100m away from your current location. This is your destination.
- Devise a path from your current location to your destination, such that no establishment en-route offers to sell you banana bread.
I am yet to win a single round of Dodge the Banana Bread. Service stations, supermarkets, schools, gyms, cafés, pubs, hotels, convenience stores, grocery stores, ambiguous stands on busy pavements, bakeries, bus stops and brothels2 all sell banana bread. There is no escaping its healthy-sounding-yet-satisfyingly-cakey presence.
Slices of banana bread can cost anywhere between $1 and $4.50, and usually come individually wrapped in clingfilm, giving them a lovely home-made feel. They can also be served “toasted with butter”.
I have no idea what they taste like, because I haven’t eaten any yet.
4. Re-discover ye olde ways of “Cash”
Cash only. If you’re lucky, a hurriedly scribbled sign will warn you up-front. Most of the time, however, you’ll realise after prodding the shopkeeper four or five times with your debit/credit card and receiving no reaction whatsoever. Incomprehensibly, a viciously large proportion of establishments in Australia won’t let you pay by card. So you get to reenact the the good old days of fumbling with pocketfuls of coins, whilst trying to untangle notes that have somehow fused with a wad of old receipts.
I’m told there’s a complex story behind the poor adoption of a modern-age payment infrastructure in Australia. I’ve never been able to hear that story, though, because I keep having to rush off to ATMs to withdraw cash (and to confront the infuriatingly medieval practice of incurring a fee for using the wrong bank’s cash point). However, I do know that the story features EFTPOS – Australia’s original electronic funds transfer system, which apparently became entrenched before the propagation of Visa and Mastercard’s infrastructure, and seems to have lead to some kind of unhealthy competition, which discourages merchants from accepting any kind of electronic payment at all.3
EFTPOS is pronounced eh-ft-poz. If your surroundings permit it, I’d be grateful if you could say EFTPOS out loud, and let me know how that makes you feel. I’m not usually affected by phonetic aesthetics – and I’m no more prone to synesthesia than the average person – yet something about the sound of this word makes me feel physically sick. It’s the ugliest-sounding word I’ve ever heard. What do you think?
Also, the moon is upside down over here.
That’s the extent of my antipodean wisdom so far. Do you have anything to add? If so, drop a comment below!
1 Well, a few paragraphs.
2 I have not yet witnessed a bus stop or a brothel that sells banana bread, but I fully expect to find one or both at some point in the near future.
3 NB: I don’t really know what I’m talking about.