Things Australia Does Best?

31 Oct

There’s a story in The Age today about the things Australia does best. It’s written by an Australian who calls himself the Backpacker.

I always find it interesting to see what things Australians tend to give themselves credit for because they are almost never the things I, as a foreigner, would choose to put on the list. It’s insightful to see how Australians view themselves versus how outsiders like me view them. It should come as no surprise, then, that I agree with very few of the items on this list!

Pedestrian safety

You can tell a lot about country by how seriously its drivers take pedestrian crossings. In Italy, for example, they couldn’t give a flying, um, fusilli about them. In Mexico I’m not even sure why they exist. In Australia, however, (most) people politely stop if they see someone even considering crossing a road. It must can take a bit of getting used to for visitors.

It was just a few weeks ago that I saw a pedestrian run down on Punt Road and sent flying through the intersection. He was in pretty bad shape and I don’t know if he made it. Additionally, Australians LOVE to jaywalk, even on busy streets, and they will just stand on the center line as traffic whizzes past them, waiting for an opening in which they can dart in front of an oncoming car. Personally, I think this is a dangerous habit, so if I see someone standing in the road like that, I will usually stop and wave them across, even though it annoys me to do so. But I almost NEVER see any other driver extend that courtesy to a jaywalking pedestrian. While I’ll give Australia props for having sidewalks and marked crosswalks, unlike America, I’ve never gotten the sense that Australians are particularly concerned with the safety of pedestrians. So….no.

VERDICT: Australia is not the best at pedestrian safety.

Customer service

Laugh all you want, but when you sit down at a restaurant in Australia, a waiter turns up. And explains things. When you walk into a store the person who works there will smile at you, maybe even say hello. You might take that sort of thing for granted, but it doesn’t happen all over the world.

*Snort!* Are you kidding me? Ever tried getting your drink refilled at a restaurant and your server is nowhere in sight? Yeah, that happens all the time. And no, store clerks usually won’t even acknowledge that you’ve entered the store. Getting a “hello” out of them is uncommon. It’s better here than pretty much anywhere in Europe, but only marginally.

VERDICT: Australia fails at customer service.

Sausage rolls

There are variations of the humble sauso around the world, from the weird things they sell at Gregg’s in the UK to the multiple versions of sausage in pastry around the globe. But Australian bakeries do them best. Heck, I’d even take a dodgy service station job right now.

I personally think these are really gross no matter where you are in the world. If being the best at sausage rolls is your thing… okay, whatever. To each their own.

VERDICT: Australia can have this one because proving otherwise would require me putting a disgusting sausage roll in my mouth.

Avoidance of bureaucracy

Ever tried getting a work permit in France? Or buying a train ticket in India? Or posting a letter in Italy? Or getting a visa for Russia? I don’t know, maybe in Australia I just know how the system works. But it seems like everything is that bit easier to achieve in the homeland.

For someone in the process of getting a spousal visa, it would be easy for me to vehemently object to this. And I would if I didn’t have any other basis for comparison. But I happen to know that it is even harder to migrate to the US (legally) and there are loads of countries where it is hard to get even a visitor’s visa. But I still don’t understand this Myki system for public transit and I know I’m not the only one. And the fact that you need a tax ID number just to sell stuff secondhand on Ebay is crap.

VERDICT: Australia is middle of the road on this one. Not the best, not the worst.

Friendly rivalries

There’s no one we really hate, collectively, as a nation. There’s not enough history โ€“ no bad blood. We profess to dislike the English, yet still want to be part of the monarchy (and visit the country in droves). We pretend to hate the Kiwis whenever there’s sport on, but tell foreign friends what a great country New Zealand is after the game. You go some places around the world and they seem to truly hate their neighbouring town, and their neighbouring province, and their neighbouring state. It must be tiring keeping up with it all. Fortunately, there’s none of that in Australia.

This is true. The Australians claim to dislike a lot of people, but when it comes to walking the walk, they don’t follow through. They’re pretty friendly on the whole.

VERDICT: Yes, Australians are some of the friendliest people out there.

Varied cuisine

We don’t really have a cuisine we can call our own, save for one of the entries above, but one of the great things about dining in Australia is that you can eat just about whatever the hell you want. Your day can consist of three great meals from three different continents and then something else for dessert. Try doing that in Paris.

Australians are delusional if they think they are tops for a varied menu. Just ask any expat who can’t find anything that even remotely tastes like home. Yes, Australians do have a wide variety, but that doesn’t mean it’s especially high quality. I’ve yet to have a good pizza here.

VERDICT: Sorry, Australia, but you’ve got a long way to go in this department. Even Canada has you beat.

Avoidance of chaos

I love India, I really do, but it’s mental. There might be four lanes marked on the highway, but about seven lanes of traffic driving on it. There are temples stuck in the middle of roads; cows wandering through markets; litter that just gets chucked out of windows. Australia, admittedly, is boring in comparison. But when you actually want to get something done, boring’s not such a bad thing.

Any country looks good when you compare it to India, so this is sort of cheating. Instead of cramming two lanes of traffic into one, Australians do the opposite: they take up two lanes when they really only need one. Navigating through traffic at any time of day, but especially peak hour, can only be described as chaotic. But let’s be serious here: comparing Australia to a third world country in any regard and then declaring Australia the winner is a bit disingenuous. If you compare Australia to countries with a similar culture and standard of living, you’ll find it doesn’t come out on top.

VERDICT: Again, not the best, not the worst.

Sporting events

What Australia doesn’t do particularly well is chanting and/or singing, because about all we’ve got is “Aussie Aussie Aussie”, and it’s a national embarrassment. What we do do well, however, is put on sporting events that are friendly, safe and well run. At an Argentinean football match you’re locked in for half an hour after the final whistle to allow the away fans a chance to get away without being lynched. In Australia we sit next to each other.

I haven’t been to any sporting events, so I can’t really pass too harsh a judgment on this. I’ll take the guy at his word, considering people in America are rioting over the World Series. That said, I always find hockey games more interesting when there is a good fight.

VERDICT: It’s probably true.

Coffee

As mentioned a few weeks ago, our coffee is good. Great, even. There’s better around the world, but if all you’re after is a decent flat white you’ve got a very good chance of finding one anywhere you go.

I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’ve heard it’s decent here. Though as the author says, there is better in other countries.

VERDICT: Obviously not, and the author agrees.

Camaraderie

The chest-beating Australians sometimes do over “mateship” makes me cringe โ€“ there’s no way we can claim to be owners of the concept of making friends. What I’m talking about, however, is the mutual support Australians seem to give each other, particularly when travelling. Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, from the biggest city to the most remote outpost, if you bump into another Australian you can usually guarantee that you’ve just made a friend.

Any Australians care to weigh in on this? I’m a bit skeptical, since people tend to gravitate towards others like them, and that’s true for everyone, not just Australians. That’s why there are expat groups!

VERDICT: I’m skeptical.

The weather

It’s a boring clichรฉ, and I hate talking about the weather, but how is it outside right now? Thought so.

Well, let’s see… it was supposed to be sunny, but instead it is overcast. And it rained pretty much non-stop for four months over winter. Melbourne is especially bad with it’s pop-up thundershowers.

VERDICT: Not as bad as Seattle, but I would never call it fantastic.

Here’s what I’d put on a list of things Australia does very well, in no particular order:

  • Health care– a great blend of public and private that is affordable, sustainable, of good quality, and accessible to all.
  • Natural beauty and wide open spaces– you’d be hard pressed to find a country with more breathtaking views and amazing sights than Australia and unlike in Europe or Asia, it’s hard to feel claustrophobic here.
  • Unique wildlife– every place has their own signature animals, but I think Australia has some of the coolest ones, many of which exist nowhere else on the planet.
  • Drinkable tap water– you don’t need to boil it before drinking, it tastes all right, and there are no white flakes or bits of dirt floating in it.
  • Healthy living– Australia does a pretty good job at building walkable, bikeable cities and providing sporting facilities; plus, it’s easy to get fresh, healthy food here.

What do you think Australia does best? Do you agree with the Backpacker’s list?

17 Responses to “Things Australia Does Best?”

  1. Katie October 31, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I’m not a fan of the “backpacker” at all- he often writes very cliche articles that read as if he hasn’t travelled at all- I agree with you, esp. on customer service and bureacracy!

    • housewifedownunder October 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      My husband read the article, too, and he said, ‘I can’t believe the Age pays this guy to sit around and write crap articles while the rest of us have to go to work at a real job!”

      I’ve yet to see a single good travel article he has written. As you say, they are very cliche and as if he hasn’t actually traveled. The last one he wrote about resorts was atrocious.

  2. withitalianlove October 31, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    As an Australian girl, I find it really interesting to hear about other peoples perceptions of us. My boyfriend from Italy is currently living with me in Adelaide, and has really opened my mind as to some of the absurdities about Australia.

    I’d agree with most of you thoughts on the article. Even though I am from Australia, I openly admit most Australians (including myself) are more concerned with enjoyment than quality. We are an easy bunch to get along with, but when it comes to good food or service, there is definitely room for improvement. In terms of camaraderie, I would agree that we are very friendly (although maybe a little too exclusively to other Australians, we aren’t overly accepting of other cultures)

    I will be heading to Europe to live shortly, so will have the opportunity to see things from an outsiders perspective, which should be very interesting!

    • housewifedownunder October 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

      It is very interesting to hear what foreigners think of your own country and culture. I’m always fascinated by my husband’s observations on America and Americans because they are so different from the way Americans think of themselves.

      Australians are quite friendly, yes. More so than most other people in the world that I’ve encountered. Although their vehement hatred for Halloween because it’s an “American” holiday seems to take on a rather vitriolic tone that is not remotely flattering!

      I hope you enjoy Italy! No doubt you will find many comparisons to draw between Italy and Australia.

  3. tennizzlle October 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I agree! The backpacker drives me mad, he always comes across as an out of touch traveller who generalises about everything.
    I think your list is much more accurate and as for the Camaraderie he mentions, I used to avoid groups of Australians like the plague while I was travelling. My friend and I would actually not speak if we knew there were Aussies around as they’d assume you were suddenly best friends and wanted to wear matching aussie flag bucket hats, get blind drunk and start singing ‘I come from the land down under’ in the middle of a foreign country. I’m shuddering just thinking about it…
    I might add that I’ve heard the backpacker is actually really lovely and this is not a personal attack ๐Ÿ™‚

    • housewifedownunder October 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

      LOL! I’d avoid them, too! I also would avoid groups of Americans overseas because inevitably they would feel compelled to argue about divisive politics, like guns or health care, in a country where the majority of the population strongly disagrees with them. It’s always like, “Thanks, guys, for giving the world the impression that we really are all gun-crazed rednecks…”

      And I’m sure the Backpacker is a decent fellow… it’s just that travel writing doesn’t seem to be his strong suit!

  4. Cosette October 31, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    Pedestrian safety? Fail. We almost got hit by a driver in the car park of a shopping center who totally ignored the pedestrian crossing. On the bright side, many bad drivers come with warning labels in the form of P-plates.

    Customer service? Massive fail. Recently I had an issue with my Virgin Mobile phone and they just didn’t want to deal with it. Two agents simply hung up on Theo. We had to go down to the store to work it out. Restaurant service is the pits. Servers don’t even bring you water and good luck getting them to return to your table after the food has been served.

    Bureaucracy is pretty heavy in Australia. If this guy thinks Australia isn’t chaotic, he obviously hasn’t visited Preston Market an hour before it closes on Saturday. The weather is hardly perfect. Melbournians love to say Melbourne experiences four seasons in a day. Mother Nature is schizophrenic here.

    When I find good Cuban food – heck, even bad Cuban food – then we can talk about the variety of cuisine. The coffee is decent, but there’s not much variety. Your typical cafe has like five options: short, long, black, white, and chai, which isn’t even coffee. Sometimes latte, cappuccino, and hot chocolate are on the menu too.

    I’ll agree with the sporting events, at least, AFL. I have found it to be friendly, safe, and family oriented. I also agree that Australians are friendly. The rest of what should be on the list is what you noted – health care, natural beauty, unique wildlife, etc.

    • housewifedownunder November 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

      Spot on, all of it. I haven’t been to the Preston market, but I’ve been to other markets and they are all very chaotic. In fact, any place that large numbers of Australians gather tend to be chaotic!

      As for customer service, I’ve had problems with my phone from day one, both with hardware issues and network issues. Customer service is just as bad as in the US. You call someone and they direct you to a call center in India where you can’t understand what the other person is saying and it’s clear they don’t understand you and/or are not qualified to help you. When i complained that I was always losing my data connection, the Indian told me it was because they’ve been doing network upgrades in my area. Well, I guess they’ve been doing network upgrades for the last 10 months all around Victoria because my phone never works no matter where I am, not just when I’m sitting at home. And trying to get out of the contract is a nightmare.

      I do love that young drivers are marked with L and P plates. Of course, i think they should have special marks for just generally bad drivers (putting them in bright yellow taxi cabs is a good start). In America, I always used to avoid Saturn drivers. They are just horrible drivers all around and I appreciated that they all chose to drive the same make of car so I could stay clear of them. And in Indiana, I always avoided the people with the “In God We Trust” plates. The way they drive, they must be trusting in God a whole heck of a lot!!!

  5. josephinedayco November 1, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    All I have to say is, “AMEN!” ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. julesdownunder November 1, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    You nailed this post! I started laughing and nodding from the beginning as I read about the pedestrians and it just got better from there.

  7. Hailey November 3, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    I’ve never been to Australia, but it sounds like it has Hong Kong beat. We have no such thing as pedestrian safety. All vehicles always have the right of way. Customer service is something very different here. Hong Kong revels in bureaucracy and chaos.

    • housewifedownunder November 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      Hong Kong sounds like a very frenetic city. And being made up of Chinese, I can imagine they do love their bureaucracy. I read some other guy’s blog once- I can’t remember who- and he’s an expat living in China who wrote about how difficult it is just to buy something at a store because of all the rules and such. Crazy!

  8. brittney November 8, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    I’m just floating around your blog now, I love reading what you think of Australia ๐Ÿ™‚

    I get SO angry at the drivers here. I walk “my kids” to and from school everyday and about once a week I have a little freakout at someone who nearly runs them over. I am now so paranoid that I look behind me when I’m crossing a small side road because I’m never sure if the person that may be turning is going to give me a chance at life or not.

    And I must say that the people here aren’t quite as friendly as those on the East Coast of Canada – but we have NO variation in our cuisine. Burgers and pizza for everyone!

    • housewifedownunder November 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      I live near a primary schools and I often worry about the little kids I see walking home because they often don’t look before they cross the street and drivers don’t even seem to care if a pedestrian has the right of way, especially where the crosswalk is at a roundabout. Like you, I also look behind me when crossing side roads in case of someone turning onto the road. It can be really scary! I was hit by a car once (in America, not here) and I have no desire to repeat the experience!

      Oh, I love Canadians. They take Minnesota Nice and double it. Even in Toronto, they are mostly nice!

  9. SimonJ December 4, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Here’s a list from Buzzfeed about what Australia does well. http://www.buzzfeed.com/criminalmastermind/good-things-australia-gave-us-2053

    • housewifedownunder December 6, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Ha, thanks for that! The AC/DC one made me laugh because my husband is always mentioning that AC/DC is a great Australian band and I like to tease him about it.

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