Australia's Ideas

When I visit a foreign place, it’s interesting to note what everyday things are done differently there, what’s caught on and what hasn’t. (P.S. I now have my panoramas up.)

In Australia, almost every toilet has two flush buttons, one for a “half flush” (often really a 2/3) for #1 and a full flush for #2. This is presumably mandated by law, and one hopes it saves a lot of water. I’ve often thought that homes should install cheaper urinals to save water as well. In public toilets, all lower-end gent’s rooms have a stainless steel “wall” urinal which feels less private to people used to independent units. More disquieting are the ones with a grate in front of the wall that you stand on, so your “wee” flows under you. I’ve seen these wall urinals in many other places of course, not just Australia.

Almost every Aussie motel room has a toaster in it. No bread, just a toaster. The toast marketing board has done their job well in Australia, though some Aussies insisted it was for British tourists. And of course, always milk, meaning they often provide a fridge even in cheaper rooms. The minibar milk is free, too. Of course at 240v, the kettles are super-fast for that morning cuppa.

Urban hotels have that annoying “insert your room key” slot to turn on power and heating/AC in the room. I’ve seen that around Asia and other places as well. In some hotels one plug is still on with the card out so you can charge your computer. In others no plug is online, however everybody knows you can stick any plastic card in the slot, so you leave a card in to recharge your devices.

In Victoria and South Australia, there was a massive campaign on the highways against sleepy driving, with signs literally every few miles asking sleepy drivers to pull over, and free coffee for drivers at most roadside stops.

In the Northern Territory, you will often see “Road Trains” which are trucks trailing 3 trailers at once. Sounds hard to turn around… With a new railway in place from Darwin to Alice, this has probably cut back on these. Are they not legal in the USA for safety reasons? Seems more efficient. (Pictures to come.)

There seems to be less free wireless in urban Australia, though I didn’t actually wardrive much.

I’ll write more about this later, but I noticed that mobile phone packages there are all sold with a “cap” system. The mobile calling rate is very high — 40 to 80 cents/minute for local calls to landlines — but you typically end up buying $50 of airtime or more and getting $230 more “free”, at least that was the plan on Vodaphone, the SIM I bought. So if you only wanted a little airtime you paid through the nose, but if you used a lot, the price worked out OK. Like Europe, the caller pays for your airtime when they phone you, incoming calls to your cell are free. Some carriers are rebating some of the money paid by the caller back to the recipient. That will have interesting consequences.

Australia uses 240v (highest in the world) and all plugs must have a tiny switch on the socket (called a powerpoint, probably to the dismay of Microsoft) to disable it to avoid sparks when plugging things in and out. Other high-voltage countries also have the mini-switch. Their 2-prong plug, though now rarely used, is inherently polarized and different from everywhere else in the world except NZ. However, their new standards for grounded plugs with shielding against touching the live conductor produce giant bulky plugs and power cords. We could all use a smart power system like the universal DC (&AC) system I have propsed elsewhere in the blog. Australian switches are to us, upside-down, just like Australians.

And of course, Australia has the Timtam. However, the pleasure of that is countered by the their yukky favourite spread, Kraft Vegemite.

Updated Notes: A commenter asked about tipping. Indeed, at first you get “sticker shock” in Aussie restaurants. There you might easily see a main course at $30, but that’s really $22.50 and then the tax and tip are included so you can more properly treat it as $18 in California. Australians differed to me on whether you don’t tip at all, tip only with superb service, tip only in cheaper places or tip 5% on capable service. Cabs you don’t tip but round up to the nearest dollar. Australia wisely got rid of the penny several years ago.

As to which method is better? Well, optional tipping does give you the ability to control how much you pay for service, and do it after you’ve been able to judge it. On the surface that sounds good for the customer, but we also seem to like seeing the real price in advance. For example, I feel that visible taxes are better (as in Canada and USA) but the GST is always included in Australia now, by law, so you pay the price cited. The latter is more convenient, the former makes it more clear what’s going on.

Note that while I found Aussie servers and clerks to be exceptionally friendly, at several meals, including at very expensive places, I got decidedly slow service that would have rated a punative tip. Too anecdotal to come to a conclusion though.

More notes: Fish and chips are the Australian national meal, but they don’t serve them with vinegar as in the UK and Canada. No worries, mate, (The Australian national catchphrase) they’ll bring some.

They usually mistake a Canadian for an American. (Horror of horrors.) Can’t blame them, my own accent sounds like neither, but you can tell I’m from North America so it’s not an inappropriate guess.

Australian airport security was a breath of fresh air after so much travel in North America. “No worries, mate.” Check in with luggage recently increased to 30 minutes before takeoff. Keep your shoes on. One hour in advance for a flight from Cairns to Sydney which used the international terminal. (It’s a plane from Japan that continues on and the pax clear custons in Sydney so the domestic customers join an international flight with a special sticker which lets them bypass customs. Turns out to be a giant security hole — a foreign tourist could carry on or check a bag of contraband and the domestic passenger could take it through customs. I presume they have random checks to deter this.)

On the other hand domestic flights on Qantas allow only one checked bag (32kg) and one 7kg carry-on. A mess for the international traveller who came in possibly with 2 checked bags due to the 22kg limit of most airlines and a heavy carry-on. Fortuantely they only enforced the carry-on rule on me once and just let me split it into two bags.

Oh yeah, they got rid of the penny years ago. Very nice. Took me quite a while to notice I wasn’t getting any pennies in change.

More to come on Australia.

Hotel Amenities

One of the weirdest (and often most frustrating) thing I found about hotel rooms in the US was the lack of basic appliances like toasters and fridges. I guess we're just used to that sort of thing here.

Really looking forward to hearing more about your thoughts on Australia, Brad. One thing in particular - how did you go with the concept of not having to tip? :)

Tipping

See updated notes on tipping in main post.

Re: Tipping

No worries, mate! :)

Yeah - having to add up prices in the States for everything (tax + tip) was a nightmare. You guys are used to it, but for me (and my wife) it just seemed like a crazy, crazy system. You'd walk into a shop, and the price tag on the item was never anything like what they'd ask you for it at the counter.

Shame you didn't like vegemite. I suspect, like tipping, that if you're brought up on it it's much less distasteful. :)

Matt

Tipping

In Australia, before globalisation, it was generally an insult to offer a tip. We had the "basic wage" http://www.awm.gov.au/forging/australians/men.htm
which meant any bloke (yes it was a sexist system) who could hold down a job could afford to raise a family with a decent standard of of living. Any one who asked the customer for extra money was considered a "mongrel", a begger. If you offered a tip to a Sydney taxi driver in the 1960s, he would probably hit you.

British visitors sometimes complained that workers would not be talked down to, mistaking self-repect for insolence.

My first experience with tipping in America, the waiters dashing about with desparate smiles, robotically reciting "have a nice a day", invoked a deep sense of pity. I asked one waitress about her working conditions and it seemed she didn't really have any, to speak of. No wonder they're forced to beg, I thought. "In my country," I replied, "the employer is responsible for paying the wages." The only waiters I could respect where the "surly" ones.

Sadly, as neo-fascist economics, masquerading as "free trade", infests the world, and money and profit becomes more important than life, we too will be reduced to begging, just like our great and powerful friends.

hotel amenities

Did you know that it is illegal to rent a motel or hotel room in Washington State without a coffee maker? (We're not actually sure of this, but the Motel Six and the old Four Seasons have coffee makers in all the rooms). Is there an Australian toast chain like Starbucks or SBC? I don't remember one when I was down under, though I do remember a lot of meat pies and four Xs on a video store means they sell beer, not extra pornographic movies.

Beer

There's a rumor here, that the brand of beer to which Keleberg refers - which originates from Queensland - is called "XXXX" because Queenslanders can't spell "beer".

I don't believe it myself, of course.

Beer

... and I can't even spell "Kaleberg"! Sorry!

That beer, by the way, is called "Fourex"

And Ben, we don't swear too much. The rest of the world doesn't swear enough!

http://www.australianbeers.com/culture/bastard.htm

road trains are heavily subsidised and scary

Where road trains are legal there are geographical limits on where they're allowed. You'll find that outside most cities, just at the point where you start to see buildings, is a truck yard where they swap tractors or just take a trailer off and put it onto another truck. Where the roads are long and straight road trains are fine, but they don't corner very well.

The economics are a bit dodgy - they rely heavily on subsidised roads and cheap fuel, but for many remote communities it comes on a truck or it doesn't come at all. Mind you, the cost for the Alice to Darwin railway line makes the road cost seem like pocket change. And no, actually, road trains are still the dominant way to get stuff from Darwin to Alice.

One odd thing in Oz is that there are private railway lines - some of the iron and coal mines have hundreds of kilometres of railway line between the mine and the sea, all on private land. Their roads can also be exciting - they'll sometimes drive the smaller mining vehicles on them (and yes, a 100 tonne mining truck *does* have the right of way).

No worries

I didnt realise we say "No worries" a lot. It's just a weird automatic thing you grow up with. Hell I say it as a response to people all the time.

G'day

Hope you enjoyed your stay.

Aussies don't like tipping that much, not beacuse we're cheap, but beacause of a streak of bloody-minded egalitarianism. We have traditionally had a much stronger trade union movement than in the US. Most Aussies - myself included - feel strongly that your boss should pay an adequate wage to begin with, and that relying on tips is undignified and would encourage a sycophantic style of service (very much against the national character).

Unfortunately, tipping has become more common (I suspect laregly as a result of American influence). We love Americans - but PLEASE, PLEASE, leave tipping habits at home. This is an example of how people can go to other countries and almost cause offence without realising it - I've heard Aussies can do the same in the US by asking for the "toilet" instead of the bathroom, and by swearing too much (another national trait).

Stuff

I've been living in the US for some years now, and on my trips back to Aus, I too notice the slow service in restraurants - it gets a bit annoying, but on the other hand, the food is always good, and I like paying the price it says on the menu. Still, nothing like giving a big tip to a bar tender in a busy bar at the beginning of the night and having him serve you first later when it's busy, eh?!

As for toasters, I'm fairly sure we just like to make life nice for people, and that no toast board is contributing to hotel campaigns in order to have toasters put in rooms. Things are usually done for quality of life, not shear profit in Aus, although alarmingly, from what I see on the news at least, there's signs of that changing . .

Cheers!

Toasters in Aus

Its very interesting to read comments about "our" stuff from an outsider/tourist. The toaster is actually for a very good reason, that most people dont think of. If you order breakfast to your room that includes toast with Jam/Honey/Vegemite etc.. They just give you bread and you toast it yourself, that way it is warm, and you are not being delivered cold toast.

On tipping

Hey Brad, the thing with tipping here is that it is very insulting to Aussies. Why is that? Because to them tipping is cheating. Why is that? Because the government cannot monitor tipping. Why else do they hate tipping? Because Americans tip. Why is this such a problem? Because these inbred sister screwing retards hate everyone and everything that doesnt drool all over itself. Youve been here. You know. So stop your American bashing already.

To take it further, Australias isolation has resulted in some serious problems for the people here. Totalitarian government, inbreeding, genetic diseases, etc Add to that the fact that the creme of the Aussie crop was wiped out in two world wars. Now one can start to understand why the people here seem to drag their knuckles.

So once again. Hang up the American bashing bs you spew here.

just relax, if you don't

just relax, if you don't like aussies bashing americans, why are you bashing aussies, you're just doing what your complaining about. And we dont like tipping because waiters are paid a good wage that does not require tipping unlike america where a waiter could not survive off their wage.

and that part about isolation, the majority of australians are first generation immigrants children, and as a result have one of the most diverse populations on earth. and america is the isolated one, only a quarter of americans even have a passport. You may have some distorted view of Australians but they don't have some huge vendetta against Americans, and most Americans love Aussies. so if you don't mind stop being bitter about other people cultures. The vast majority of people don't feel that way

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