Australia may not be the most exotic country to a North American. It’s even a Commonwealth country, just like Canada. Yet, Australians do have their own culture and customs, which lead to minor but sometimes significant differences in daily life. And nature likes to do its own thing too!

10 Australian differences

You notice these Australian differences when you first arrive, and then quickly get used to them. Only to notice them again by their absence after you return home in a sort of “reverse culture shock”. Some of them are well known, while others may surprise you. (And it’s pretty much the same deal in New Zealand, if you’re ever down that way.)

1. Australians don’t feel the need for caffeine after 4 PM

Need a little pick me up after a long day of exploring? You’ll probably realize pretty quickly that coffee shops in Australia all close by 4 pm, and in some cases even 3 PM! Why? Why? Don’t Australians ever drink coffee in late afternoon, on their way home from work? Apparently not.

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Talking about coffee, cappuccinos and lattes in Australia all get served with cocoa sprinkled on top. Sometimes it covers the whole surface of the coffee, forming a thick gooey chocolatey film. Sounds off-putting but it’s delicious and it actually grows on you.

For some reason, preparing a latte in Australia also seems to take a very long time. It’s not unusual to wait 10 minutes after ordering a coffee. Australians do take their coffee seriously, so perhaps they’re just being extra careful to prepare the perfect cuppa for you.

2. Australians don’t expect table service

Cafés and casual restaurants in Australia don’t provide full table service. You consult the menu, order at the counter, and pay. They give you a number to put on your table and they bring your food once it’s ready. If you want to order something else, you go back to the counter (and possibly line up again). You also get your own tap water from a self-serve station.

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3. The price you see is what you pay

If the menu says your pizza is $15 and your drink is $3, the total you pay is $18. No need for complicated calculations involving taxes and tip. The tax is already included in the price. And waiters don’t expect tips in Australia.

You read that right. Unlike in North America, restaurant wait staff is paid a living wage and doesn’t rely on tips. You won’t see tip jars, except perhaps in very touristy places. The credit card machine won’t nag you to add a % or $ tip amount either. The fact that table service is minimal probably also contributes to the non-tipping culture.

4. Keep to the left

You probably already know that Australians drive on the left, like the British. But this also extends to the side people will stand on an escalator, and which way they squeeze when encountering other pedestrians on the sidewalk. You always stand left and squeeze left, and keep to the left.

One of the hardest reflexes to fight is the direction in which you look when you’re about to cross a road. Even though you know the traffic is coming from the left, your head insists it must look right. It can get quite confusing. That and waiting for the bus on the wrong side of the road. Australians will also get a chuckle out of you heading for the driver’s side of the car instead of the passenger’s side.

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And they have some cute road signs you won’t find in North America!

5. Pedestrians enjoy some nice perks

Every intersection with a traffic light comes equipped with buttons that pedestrians can push to get a green light. Back home in Toronto, I now find myself looking for those every time I’m waiting at a light. They seem to only exist at the busiest crossings here.

Talking of crossings, you don’t need to do that ridiculous pointing motion to cross at a pedestrian crossing in Australia. If you so much as stand on the sidewalk facing the street at a crossing, most drivers will stop.

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6. Public transit is more integrated and easier to use

Large cities in Australia have public transit (trains, buses, ferries) that extends into their far suburbs. All you need to access the whole thing is a rechargeable plastic smartcard that you tap on and off as you enter and exit the transport.

This system puts Canadian cities to shame, with our little tokens, cardboard tickets, and paper transfers. Although I believe Vancouver has just introduced its own smartcard.

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7. Australian chickens produce eggs with darker yolks

Australian egg yolks are dark yellow bordering on orange, unlike their North American counterparts which are a much paler yellow. This doesn’t really seem to affect the taste though. It just takes you by surprise the first time you see them.

Something else you’ll notice in Australia’s supermarkets are eggs from uncaged chickens. Of course, they’re priced at a premium.

8. Australians are very eco-conscious

Australia has few lakes and is mostly a big desert, experiencing frequent droughts. People are used to conserving water. One very smart way to do this is the two-settings flush on toilets. You push the full-flush button for a number two, and the half-flush button otherwise.

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They’re also keen electricity savers. Every power outlet comes equipped with its own little on/off switch. I can’t count the number of times when I turned on an appliance which didn’t seem to work, only to realize (or be told) that I had to flip the wall switch. Duh!

Surprisingly, for such an eco-conscious people, they haven’t yet started charging for plastic bags.

9. Australian birds are really loud

Several of Australia’s birds are extremely loud. They’ll wake you up at sunrise with their strident cawing and bleating. The crows go “baaah baaah baaah”. The kookaburras a.k.a. laughing birds well… laugh like an evil witch. And the cockatoos just scream obnoxiously. I’ve never heard so many loud annoying birds anywhere else, especially in rural areas like Tamborine Mountain.

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10. Australians have a unique way of speaking

Yes, Australians have a cute accent, but they also use a different terminology for several things. A dude is a “mate”. The counter top is the “bench”, and the car trunk the “boot”. You walk your dog on a “lead” (not a leash). You ask for a “cake” at the coffee shop, not a pastry (which means pastry dough). Good for you becomes “good on you” and you’re often told “no worries” (no problem).

Aussies also like to shorten words and place names to two-syllable words that end in “y” or “ie(s)”: mozzies (mosquitoes), barby (barbeque), brekky (breakfast), Straddie (Stradbroke Island), Coochie (Coochiemudlo Island) and so on. Here’s a funny video if you want to hear more.

It happened gradually, but after two months in Australia, their accent sounded so normal to me that I mistook an Australian woman for an American at Honolulu airport!

Have you been to Australia? Did you find any other differences? Let me know in the comments.


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