15 Surprising Facts About My Host Country

Let’s face it. Baby new eyes

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust        Click to tweet

You know this feeling.

Without thinking about it, you’re performing thousands of routine actions everyday. You’re not questioning them because you’re not even aware you’re conditioned.

But by living in another culture, you’re suddenly taken aback.

The clash of two different habits, thoughts or customs at that very moment sparks a few seconds of amused surprise, unsettling confusion or pure curiosity.

I have a trivial example in mind. For those who don’t know me yet, I’m French and lived for 15 years in Flemish Belgium before relocating to Australia.

When I first entered a supermarket in my new host country two years ago, I saw this huge display of bananas in front of me with an imposing price tag: $20/kg.

I was so surprised! My mind raced, my heartbeat increased, my eyes scanned around for confirmation. Is food here REALLY so expensive?

In a fraction of a second, thousand and one thoughts arose.

My brain was in alert: I had to make sense of this information.

 

To share with you those aha moments, here is a selection of what I’ve experienced during the last 2 years, living in Australia and more particularly in Tasmania.

Beware: I’m not pretending this is true for every Australian you’ll meet but all those surprising facts (to me) cast a light on how living abroad makes you challenge the status quo.

 

1. In Australia, everybody is friends with everybody. Even when you’ve never met before, right mate?

 

2. A complete stranger from the opposite sex calls you sweetheart or darling. At the mall or at the carpark locket. Don’t panic. It’s not sexual harassment, just a friendly greeting.

 

3. While Australians are usually quite outgoing and informal in daily life, they become incredibly picky with alcohol consumption. You’re not allowed to drink before the age of 18. And they’re not kidding.

At an international congress, the organizers almost refused my son, 16 at the time, because there was a cocktail party on the first evening. I had to confirm I would escort him and make sure he wouldn’t take a sip.

Typically 18 year-old birthday invitations come with a clear warning: alcohol will be served. The organizers pride themselves of making sure parents are well aware of it and agree to let their precious underage teens party all night. Interestingly enough, you can already get your driving licence at 16.

 

4. Cheese is a luxury product. Price vary between 40 and 100 $/kg. You eat it after desert.

 

5. Children from 6 to 18 years old wear a school uniform. In high school, boys have got a tie. As a result, son ends up far better dressed up than father. Who’s the boss here? It’s the world upside down.

There’s another advantage to the school uniform. When you’re a newcomer lost in town in the maze of the bus system, you can find your way to school just by following any similar walking uniform. They’re your best navigation system.

 

6. Dyeing hair is all the rage for teenagers. Pink, purple, blue, there are no limits. Provided the color does match with the school uniform. Of course.

 

7. In Australia, you’re supposed to learn more from your schoolmates than from the teacher, as confirmed by a primary school arts teacher. Sacrilege in France! A sure recipe for a new revolution.

In fact, with the introduction of this new program called BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), this goes even further: children are encouraged to bring to school their ipod, ipad, laptop and tablet. They end up teaching their teachers! Told ya, the world was upside down.

 

8. An excerpt of a casual conversation when I made acquaintance with new friends:

They: “What type of beach do you prefer? A surf beach? a sandy beach? A rocky beach?”

Me: “Well, in all the previous places I lived before, there was no beach.”

 

9. Money: the size of the coins has nothing to do with their value. The 50c Australian coin is hexagonal and huge compared to the $2 coin.

 

10. The typical Australian family is composed of the parents, two children and a dog. Pets are extremely well cared for. One big difference though with French owners: Australians pick up after their dogs. In France, we’re smarter. We believe that walking in @”!# brings you luck.

 

11. Shoe size is a headache. US, UK or European size, you’d better be accurate. Ranging from 2 till 13 for children, and then again from 2 till ?? for adults. Well, I still can’t figure out a proper explanation.

 

12. Australians support charities. A friend of mine teaching money management to her 2 sons (9 and 11) had them have 3 pots: one for long term savings, one for daily expenses and one for charity. Gold coin donations (read $1) are encouraged to support good causes at school. I said encouraged not forced.

But in some other instances, some institutions are much more aggressive: they add the “donation” to your invoice and there is no choice.

 

13. All formal meetings in public institutions start by “We’d like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of this land” mentioning then the Aboriginal tribe who lived in the area. I can’t imagine the list we would have to make in Europe.

 

14. The seasons start on the first of the month. We’ll officially be in summer on Dec 1st. While listening to “Jingle Bells” and drinking glühwein, we’ll celebrate Christmas at the beach under the palm trees with 30°C. It still feels awkward.

 

15. But the most disconcerting when I came here was this:

Australians LOVE French people, Paris and the Tour de France. I’d never thought of that. Talk about seeing with new eyes!

 

Now over to you, what surprised you most in your host country?

 

PS: Oh, and if you’re still wondering about the banana price, it’s now back to normal $3.50/kg. It was exceptionally high mid 2011 because of the floods in Queensland that destroyed most of the plantations.

 

Credit music Piano Society Credit picture © Milan Nykodym, Czech Republic @Wikimedia Commons

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Comments

  1. Hi Anne,

    yes, living abroad makes you look at the world with new eyes again. For me, having moved from Germany to Australia, the friendlyness of people was the biggest eye opener and how much it influences your own mood when you are greeted by a friendly person in a supermarket who even packs your shopping for you, rather than being told of by a super grumpy check-out person in Germany because you forgot to weigh your bananas…… Now, it really makes me cringe whenever I am back in Europe, how unfriendly people there treat each other.. And whatever you do, you can’t even keep up the hello to people on the road as no-one will greet back in Germany. So sad.
    Monika

    • Dear Monika, thanks so much for your input. I can soooo relate to your experience 🙂 Having complete strangers smiling and greeting you in the streets really makes your day!

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  2. Hi. I enjoyed reading your article and your perception of Australia especially as I have lived overseas for several years, twice!

    We are a friendly country but Tasmania is more friendly than the mainland cities. Country people are more friendly than city people. I just have to say that while #3 is accurate with alcohol, you can only get your learners Permit at 16, but you cannot drive alone with a license until you are 18 (unless it is different in Tasmania). It’s 18 everywhere else. #6 No school students are allowed to dye there hair in some schools, but they can in others. It depends on the school. At my boys’ school it is banned.

    And #7 REALLY? I’m a teacher and so is my husband. We have never experienced this. In most schools in Victoria students are banned from bringing anything electronic to school except an ipad, which they have for lessons and they are monitored.

    Everything made me smile! 🙂 It is very good. The price of bananas in 2011 was as a big a shock to us as it was to you! A very hard time for us all! They are only $2 kg where I live now! 🙂

    • Hi Gennie, thank you so much for your great comment bringing in some precious insight from the Australian point of view. Much appreciated. I’ve looked up more closely the rules for driving licence and found on Wikipedia (I’m struggling to put the link as I’m writing from a mobile device!) says it varies from state to state (Victoria being 18 and other states being 17). I’m glad to see that you’re not happy with the BYOD policy. I hate it. Not only because of peer pressure (I have the latest iPhone so I’m more popular than you), but because it encourages the children to not think, write and make calculations by themselves. Thanks again for your intervention. So grateful you took time out of your day to share your thoughts 😉

    • Hi Gennie, thank you so much for your great comment bringing in some precious insight from the Australian point of view. Much appreciated. I’ve looked up more closely the rules for driving licence and found on Wikipedia (I’m struggling to put the link as I’m writing from a mobile device!) says it varies from state to state (Victoria being 18 and other states being 17). I’m glad to see that you’re not happy with the BYOD policy. I hate it. Not only because of peer pressure (kids bragging “I have the latest iPhone so I’m more popular than you”), but because it encourages the children to not think, write and make calculations by themselves. Thanks again for your intervention. So grateful you took time out of your day to share your thoughts 😉

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