After spending ten drought-ridden days in Queensland, I was excited for a change of scenery in Sydney. It poured non-stop for four days in the city I imagined to be sunny. Regardless, I bused and walked everywhere, savoring the iconic sights of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, traipsing through trendy neighborhoods like The Rocks and Surry Hills, enjoying the beach towns of Manly and Bondi, and visiting the amazing SeaLife Aquarium in Darling Harbour, focused on shark conservation. And, of course, there was my favorite: Thai Town, where I savored the most delicious food I’ve ever had (Chat Thai is the place to go).
In the short time that I was in the capital of New South Wales, I learned a lot about Aussie culture, and picked up a few tidbits about the way people live, and I share them here for your amusement.
1) Flip-Flop Culture: Almost everyone wears flip-flops. When you have year-round sunshine (except, of course, when I was there), I bet you’d wear open-toe sandals, too. Women almost always wear flats (no stilettos here). In beach towns, it is common to see folks walking barefoot.
2) Cleanliness: The streets are SPOTLESS and the rain had nothing to do with it. There is no gum, dog poo, litter, and definitely no urine odor that seems to permeate New York City. The ironic part is there aren’t trash bins on every block like we have back home. You have to carry your trash for quite some time before you find a bin. Another downfall is that the smooth cement pavement gets slippery when it rains. My friend and I had to hold hands in some places because we were afraid of falling in our flip-flops. We probably should have gone barefoot.
3) Men: What can I say? They are everywhere, wearing flip-flops, tight pants (sometimes with wide elastic bands at the bottom), and carrying man bags. These are the straight men. And they are quite amusing. Hey, at least they aren’t afraid to experiment a little.
4) Accents: Sydney is wonderfully multi-cultural, given that immigrants account for 75 percent of the city’s annual population growth. Stereotypes may suggest that Australia only consists of the descendants of Europeans and Aboriginals, but this is simply not the case. On the streets, malls, sidewalks, restaurants, you will hear accents from various states, including Asian-Australian, British, Irish-Australian, American-Australian, Islander-Australian. I simply can’t figure out what an authentic Aussie accent sounds like in Sydney.
5) Food: Just like the accents, you will find a wide array of cuisines here. I had Turkish, Indian, Australian (pies from Harry’s Café de Wheels), Thai, and Chinese. The drink of choice is Frozen Coke, which is especially good on a hot day. People here love beets. They juice them; they put them in their salads, burgers, and make sauces. Yum.
6) Cocktails: I didn’t have any, but I heard they are super expensive, costing more than 20 dollars each. Seriously. You all thought New York City was pricey. Wine, on the other hand, is delicious and worth the money. Stick to wines from South and Western Australia.
7) Coffee: Aussies love their coffee and they are snobs about it. It’s imported from all over the world. There’s Starbucks, but only Americans go. Gloria Jean’s Coffee is similar, but Sydneysiders like to visit small coffee shops in their neighborhoods. They all pretty much close around 3 or 4 PM, which wouldn’t work for most New Yorkers, especially writers. Everything else closes around 6 PM. Thursday is the late night.
8) Coins: You can get dollar and two dollar coins and they weigh a ton. Maybe this is why even men carry bags. When I added up all the coins in one of my bag pockets, it came out to $15, enough for a few bus rides (yet not nearly enough for a cocktail).
9) Fitness & Smoking: People here are crazy about fitness. You will see them running, biking, hitting the gym, and swimming. You will also see them smoking up a storm outside those very same gyms, as well as restaurants and bars. Doesn’t that negate the workout?
10) No Tipping: One important thing I was happy to learn is that there is absolutely no tipping here. No tips for bartenders, waiters, taxi drivers. Tax is also included. Minimum wage here is $15. We could learn a thing or two from Australia.
11) No Dryers: Everyone dries their clothes outside on stands. It’s amazing. I do this back home in the summer to save on electricity. I suppose in a place where there is plenty of sunshine, it’d be a waste to use dryers.
12) Trees: As a tree lover, I was delighted that all of the roads are tree-lined. And these are no ordinary trees; they are gigantic, sprawling green masses – called Moreton Bay figs – that provide shade to stores, sidewalks, and even the cars on the road. My friend calls them storybook trees. The city also features oaks, eucalyptus, and palm trees. In Manly, you will find giants rising from the cement pavement on the roadsides. There was even one in the middle of the road on Main Street, its thick roots spreading far and wide, providing a barrier between both sides of the road. Naturally, I went and hugged this one.
I hope you get to experience the diverse, amazing culture that makes Sydney such a sought after destination. Leave a comment if you think I missed anything.