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.