Small things

One of the perils of traveling alone is that there’s no one to lean over and say, “hey, look at that.” So, on my last night in Australia (for now), I thought I would share some of the small things that I noticed while I’ve been here.

1. The soap dish 

I hate to admit but I did not find this on my own. I had returned to my suite after a long day and realized the cleaning people had simply moved the bar of soap from the bathroom counter where I’d left it to this tidy, clever little soap dish. Luckily there was no “you are an idiot” note with it. (Do we have these at home? I’ve never seen it before.)


2. Electric outlets, on demand

Sometimes at home electric outlets only work when a switch is on.  Good luck finding the right one. Here, outlets only work if you turn them on and it’s obvious how to do it. I know nothing about electricity; I assume it’s more safer and maybe more efficient? Anyway, I think that’s kind of elegant.


3. Target. 

So we’ve exported an American staple. But why does it need punctuation here? (My friend and collaborator here told me it’s a totally different company, but it looks awfully similar. Except for the period.)


4. Phantom drivers

It took me about a week to get used to seeing no one where a driver ought to be.

5. Look right

It’s also quite a miracle that I didn’t get hit by a car because it wasn’t until a few days ago that I started to intuitively look in the right direction (most of the time). (Yes, I know you’re supposed to look both ways, but I do think it’s best to look in the direction that cars might get you first).


In Melbourne, I would reliably wait for the tram on the wrong side of the street. I really struggled with this one, but would eventually ask someone for help and be pointed to the opposite side from wherever I was.

I also didn’t really ever think about the fact we walk on the side of the street we drive. So, I would also invariably get in people’s way while walking on the right side of the sidewalk. I only had one or two true stand-offs though.

6. Food courts

In Sydney anyway, I felt like everywhere I looked there was a food court. Some were like what I think of as a food court at home – open spaces with lots of fast food stations. Others, were more high-end, like this one in the No. 1 Martin Place building that I stumbled upon my second night in Sydney. At one of my meetings later in the week, my host was appalled that I called it a food court, as it had high-end food options like oysters, a wine and cheese bar, and a sushi restaurant. But in the end, he agreed that’s what it was. A very fancy one.


7. Expressions

I would often stop people in meetings and ask them to repeat and sometimes define their Australianisms. Here are some of the ones I heard the most.

  • Chockers (Chock full)
  • Nutter (Crazy)
  • Selfie (Self portrait. My husband informs me that if I read the New York Times with any regularity I would have heard this phrase already)
  • Bub (Baby, which was on the news constantly as Kate Middleton gave birth while I was in Perth)
  • Oldies (Seniors, older people (apparently this is not offensive)
  • Like chalk and cheese (different)
  • Uni (university)
  • Sorted (sorted out or settled in)
  • Carers (we would say ‘caregivers’)
  • Footy (football)
  • Squillions (I heard that today – like ‘gazillions’)
  • Good on you (good for you)
  • How are you going? (how are you doing? OR how is it going?)


8. Things they really say here: 

They really say “mate”, and “g’day”, and sometimes in the same phrase.

I also noticed a common speech pattern was to say, “Yeah yeah” in the way Americans would mean, “Yes I know.” So I’d ask, “Do you know this?” and they’d say, “No no.”

9. Cab rides (approximately) 

About 1 in 2 cabs dropped me off at approximately my destination. This happened to me in every city. Sometimes it was due to traffic. Other times the drive would wave his hand towards a pedestrian walkway and explain he couldn’t get there (of course, the actual destination was well on the other side of that walkway and he could have driven me). Even at the airport leaving the country, the cab driver dropped me off at Qantas, not Virgin. Grrr.

I had heard that it’s culturally appropriate to ride in the front seat of taxis. So I found it interesting when hotel valets would open the back door for me. But when I hailed cabs, I would hop in the front. Here I am getting used to that practice:

me in front seat of taxi

10. Street sculptures

Not sure what these are doing here. They were all over and totally random.


statue of kid on street in Sydney

museum statue close up (this guy is standing at the counter of one of the museums in Melbourne. It’s kind of creepy, and hilarious at the same time)

11. Australian winter

It has been unseasonably warm here, but still, I can’t believe what folks here call ‘winter’. Even in Melbourne, which is supposed to be consistently colder in winter, they sit outside (these stools are empty but I saw lots of people outside).

red stools

12. Burger King?

hungry jack

13. They really eat vegemite. On toast. With cheese, or avocado. I kind of like it. Kind of.

vegemite            vegemite tubes

About gordondeb

@gordondeb 2013 USA Eisenhower Fellow ( traveling to Singapore and Australia to find ways to empower consumers in health care decision-making. Day job is chief marketing and external affairs officer at a nonprofit Massachusetts health plan at the center of health care reform, leading marketing, business development strategy, public policy, and government relations.
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4 Responses to Small things

  1. I think this is my favorite blog entry so far. You made me feel like I was sitting with you, having a cup of coffee and perhaps a vegemite sandwich, and listening to a summary of the really interesting, everyday things that happened on your trip!

  2. Anne says:

    When I was there, I was impressed by the signs that said “Look Right, Look Left, Look Right Again.” I thought it was so very tourist-friendly. Finally, I commented and was educated: it was a campaign for kids to learn how to cross the street, complete with TV jingle and all.

    Your posts are very fun – sounds like you’re really getting out and about, and I’m intrigued by the international differences in health care too. Don’t forget to check out the flush (water circles the drain in the opposite direction), and look at the night sky, for the “stars in the Southern Hemisphere” – or maybe you’ve taken note already!

  3. Adrienne says:

    I work at Tufts Health Plan and just discovered your blog. What a fabulous experience! I love learning about the health systems in other countries. I went to New Zealand this year and am also enjoying re-living the culture, language, and daily discoveries through your blog. I had the same conversations about guns with many Kiwis and Aussies. Can’t wait to read more!

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