I’m an American who moved to Melbourne — here are the weirdest things Aussies say and do

I married my Aussie husband in the US. He had a charming accent, some unique phrases and called people “mate.” I was pretty instantly sold and over the past several years, have been slowly acclimating to the Aussie accent and catchphrases.

Then we moved to Australia in July 2020. On the whole, I love being here in Australia and Aussies are warm, generous and very kind. But in these first few months, I have noticed some of the strangest things Aussies do and say. Some are refreshing, some are weird.

Here are my top 10 observations:

10. Chicken salt

This definitely falls into the AMAZING category and I wish I could start an export business of chicken salt to the US. It is exactly what it sounds like. Salt flavored like chicken. It’s all the rage on chips (fries) and you have the option of having chips with chicken salt at every fish and chips place and even McDonald’s! We’ve gone through a bottle a month for our cooking at home. It’s incredible.

9. Coffee

There really isn’t drip coffee here. If you want drip coffee, order an Americano. Espresso is everything and everywhere. In Every. Single. Cafe. Each one will have an espresso machine and very well trained barista. Even McDonald’s has espresso machines. When you go to a cafe and sit down, the first question you will be asked is, “Can I get you a coffee?” to which you then clarify what type of espresso drink you’d like. But beware, there are limited options. There is usually just one size (8oz). For Americans, that is the size of a kid’s hot chocolate at Starbucks — Starbucks doesn’t even serve regular drinks smaller than 12oz. And while you can order cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites etc. you aren’t going to find lots of flavored syrups or whipped creme. Aussies are purists.

8. Milk

And speaking of coffee, let’s talk about milk. While you can now find oat, almond and soy milk everywhere, cow’s milk is a different story. If you don’t specify the milk you want in a drink, it will be full creme milk (whole milk). If you ask for lite/low-fat milk it will be 2%. There is no skim/nonfat milk. None. Can’t buy it. Can’t order it. Can’t get it. For skim milk drinkers, it means that every latte tastes like the richest, best experience ever, and you learn that some dairy fat is good for you.

7. McDonald’s

Also called “Macca’s” here (officially, on signs and in ads). It’s a big deal. They are everywhere and the ambiance and menu are much nicer than in the US. Most ordering is done through self-serve touch-screen kiosks so the efficiency is top notch. There are not as many other fast food chains here, so Macca’s is really where it’s at if you want fast food.

6. “How you going?”

This one always got me when my husband said it in the US and now I hear it constantly. When you first greet someone in Australia, it is common to say “Hello” followed by, “How you going?” Even though there is nothing grammatically correct about that question. I would be inclined to say, “How are you going?” or “How are you doing?” but not, “How you going?” So weird. Can’t jump on board with that one yet.

5. Queen size doona

This one makes me insane. A queen doona in Australia (known to Americans as a duvet or comforter) is square — 210cm x 210cm. A bed is not square. An Australian king or twin size doona is not square. Why on earth would a queen size doona be square? Completely illogical. Someone help me with this.

4. “It’s alright” vs “You’re welcome”

When you thank an Aussie for something, they don’t say, “You’re welcome.” Instead, they respond with, “It’s alright.” It struck me as so funny and slightly insincere when I first heard it, but it doesn’t mean anything other than, you’re welcome. I now find it pretty charming.

3. Bank pay

We left the US when Venmo was an easy way to pay people. Here, people pay each other through bank pay. You send your bank details to someone and then they transfer the money from their bank account. It is quite seamless but took me some time to get comfortable sharing bank account numbers with someone. Also, when people provide a good or service to you, they often don’t expect full payment upfront, but instead a small deposit and then full payment only after the service is complete (or good delivered). It is beyond trusting. Weird.

2. Easy tap payment

US credit cards are so behind. Years ago when we were here, Aussies had chips and we had to swipe. Then we got chips and they tapped. Now we can all tap, but often have to sign. Not sure our US credit cards will ever catch up, so we

  1. Incorrect use of the letter “r”

Aussies use the letter “r” where they don’t belong and omit them where they do. It almost sounds like they are from Boston. Here are some examples:

  • Saw — pronounced “sawr”
  • Power — pronounced “pow-a”
  • Center — pronounced “cent-a”

Bonus: Negotiate everything

I was shocked to learn that when we needed to order some appliances, everything is negotiable. Not only are appliances and furniture negotiable, most stores will match or beat prices from other stores — even other locations of the same store. So, if you have the patience to call around for the best price (which I did because I love a good deal), you can often save many hundreds of dollars by just asking. And, it’s as simple as that. You can just ask, “What is the best price you’d be able to do for this?” and we’ve often been met with 30% discounts and additional reductions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work at places like Target or grocery stores, but you can negotiate for most most big items. So cool!

I continue to notice and appreciate all the idiosyncrasies of living in Australia. It’s fun to encounter new experiences, phrases and approaches. It will only be a matter of time before I jump on board with them too!

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