First Impressions of Australia

I arrived in Australia a week ago today! These were my first thoughts:

This is winter?

Everyone speaks with such an adorable accent.

It’s not that expensive.

After two pleasant flights with Etihad Airways that seemed to go by extremely fast (I highly recommend them!), I arrived in Melbourne last Tuesday night. Customs went smoothly, the airport staff was kind, and the sniffer dogs were too cute. I boarded the SkyBus (buy and print your ticket online to avoid waiting in line) to head to Melbourne CBD, i.e. the central business district, or what I would call downtown. I was only wearing a sweater and cardigan, but did not feel cold when I stepped outside at 7pm. Even during the hour-long train & bus rides back to my friend’s place in the suburbs, I never once put on my jacket. I nearly laughed when I looked up the record low temperature for this area: -2.8°C / 27°F way back in 1901. So this is winter, eh?

Even though I arrived in Melbourne, I won’t actually be living here. I am currently visiting a friend from the States, and will head to Adelaide soon where my university is located. I absolutely love Melbourne and imagine that I will feel the same in Adelaide. Melbourne may be the second largest city in Australia, but it doesn’t have that big city feel to it that I don’t like about many of the other large cities in Europe (especially compared to Paris). There aren’t that many skyscrapers blocking out the sun, you can walk everywhere in the CBD – plus there are free trams and buses for tourists to get to all of the major sites – and there are beautiful parks on the edge of the city with plenty of green areas. Even a two minute walk away from the CBD you will find pretty residential areas. This is what (my idea of) a city should be like.

Besides the sightseeing, I’ve mostly been shopping for stuff that I couldn’t bring with me and finishing up the administrative things. Everyone has been so helpful, and it’s certainly a change when the cashier starts up a conversation with you while bagging your groceries and the bank employees fill out all the paperwork and wait in line with you to make sure you’re able to accomplish all of the things you need to. Everyone seems so polite and kind and ready to chat with you even if they don’t know you, which is a major difference from European culture that I had been missing. I’m already learning some Australian words, such as Flybuys (loyalty program owned by Coles), Maccas (McDonald’s), esky (cooler), sultanas (raisins) and tasty (cheddar), and the shortened forms of other words such as brekky (breakfast) and bikkies (biscuits, or cookies/crackers since a biscuit is an entirely different thing to me).

Prices are not as high as some (Americans) have complained about. Coming from France and the euro, it’s pretty much the same. Melbourne’s population is about 4 million people, so it’s a bit difficult to compare to Chambéry or Annecy in France with their populations of 50,000. Thanks to the strong Australian economy and dollar, the capital cities are now among the most expensive in the world with regards to cost of living. Sydney and Melbourne are now ranked between Paris and New York, while Perth and Brisbane also made the top 20. Luckily for me, Adelaide has the cheapest rent out of all of the capital cities (not to mention the driest weather).

From what I’ve seen so far, groceries are nearly the same as in France, gas is definitely cheaper (more like 1€ a liter) but restaurants and books are a bit more expensive. Clothes and electronics seem to be the same – that is to say, higher than American prices because of the exchange rates, but then again, what isn’t cheaper in the US? The only thing that does seem cheaper in Europe is internet. Unfortunately Australia has broadband caps on internet usage (same as Canada, New Zealand and AT&T and Comcast in the US), so paying only 30€ for unlimited internet plus cable TV and free calls to several countries is one thing I do miss about France. Nevertheless, I think I will be better off in Australia because I will have a higher income to compensate for the higher rent.

I am slowly resisting the urge to say bonjour to everyone instead of hello – Chinese and Italian are the major foreign languages here – and discovering the subtle, or not so subtle, differences between Australia, France, and the US. Australia definitely has a lot in common with the US (stores open on Sundays!), but it does share some similarities with Europe that are a welcome change from the American way (you only pay for calls you make, for instance.) I’ll post again soon about all the differences and similarities among the three.

Once I get into my apartment on Friday, I’ll update with part 3 of moving to the other side of the world. I nearly cried at the bank here because of how easy it was. Oh Australia, I hope I never have to leave you.

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  • Lindsay (L. P.) Baker

    Welcome to Australia! I’m already following you on Twitter (lpbaker) as I find your site helpful for my Russian studies :)

    You’ll find Adelaide quite different to Melbourne!  It’s much smaller (population around 1m), far better laid out (it was a planned city), and a LOT hotter in summer (expect 40C+ for days on end).  On the downside, a lot of the good shows, conventions and entertainment won’t go there (too small a market to justify the expense) so expect some disappointment (and/or regular trips to Melbourne or Sydney) if you’re used to that kind of thing. 

    If you’re into wine, be sure to get out to the Barossa Valley – only about 90 minutes outside of Adelaide and the best wine growing region in the country – lots of “open door” wineries.

    As you might guess I lived in Adelaide for many years (I’m in Sydney now).

  • Oneika the Traveller

    Yay!! I’ve actually been to Adelaide, I went for a conference early last year!

  • Jennie Wagner

    Thanks for the info Lindsay! I prefer smaller populations and hotter weather, so Adelaide sounds lovely. :) I don’t go to shows either, so the lack of entertainment doesn’t bother me. Can’t wait to get there!

  • Cynthia caughey

    I’m already so envious. Australia sounds like it is the best of the US and France, and leaves the bad stuff behind. Of course, there’s no perfect anywhere but we have to find the place that is perfect for US, not someone else. Living in France, I so miss the friendliness and openness of the U.S. people and it sounds like you have that there. And thank god you don’t have the same nasty bureaucracy there as here. I’m so happy for you and glad you’ve found a good fit for who you are. I’ll look forward to future reports. Your ex-Chambery neighbor.

  • Alex Yeo

    You miss the friendliness in France? I don’t understand that! When I live in Cannes one month per year, the French people are all very nice and helpful. Maybe it’s because of the good weather… In the US, people’s friendliness is always kind of artificial…

  • Cynthia in the French Alps

    Alex, it totally depends on where you live in France. I find the people along the southern coast very friendly as well. I think the Languedoc people are the friendliest in France. I’m fine with big city people in France too since they’re used to international folks and tourists. However, Jennie and I live(d) in a small city with almost no international community and no Americans in the French Alps – that it a different story. Very provincial, closed (as most mountain people are), reserved, suspicious of foreigners, and fairly intolerant of those who are ‘different.’ You can find that mentality in many U.S. small towns too. Cynthia in the French Alps

  • Gwan

    Hmm, I was in Nice for 7 months, and I wasn’t bowled over by friendliness, mostly had the impression that everyone just thought you were an annoying tourist passing through, and treated you accordingly. Maybe it’s to do with only being there one month a year – you might be more relaxed and doing different activities…

  • Gwan

    Glad you’re liking it there! I’ve only been to Sydney as a kid and Melbourne a few times, but it’s true Melbourne’s a great place!

    I have to ask though, at least in NZ English sultanas and raisins are different things (sultanas are kind of plumper and juicier), so you just call them all raisins? :)

  • Gwan

    Glad you’re liking it there! I’ve only been to Sydney as a kid and Melbourne a few times, but it’s true Melbourne’s a great place!

    I have to ask though, at least in NZ English sultanas and raisins are different things (sultanas are kind of plumper and juicier), so you just call them all raisins? :)

  • Alex Yeo

    Maybe the people in French Alps are a bit like Swiss people. Those are also as you described. In big cities, like Paris or Nice, people are also not very friendly to foreigners…

  • Cynthia

    I am really happy for you, it makes me want to move there too!

  • Zhu

    I’m glad you don’t find it so expensive. I think we were shocked last winter because in 2003, cost of living was the same as in Canada but it’s much higher now. But again, compared to France, it’s probably not as bad. NSW was the most expensive, especially Sydney and south of Sydney. I didn’t go back to Melbourne and Adelaide last winter so I wouldn’t know there. Queensland was already cheaper than NSW!

    Did you notice a lot of British expressions? Like people saying “have you got…?” instead of “do you have…?”? ;-)

  • Luda

    I’ve been reading your blog for a year and am excited to hear that you’re moving to Adelaide – my home city. If you’re at the University of Adelaide I may stop to say bonjour if I see you in the corridors!

  • Andrew

    How does it feel being upside down all the time???  Does the added blood pressure on your brain make you dizzy at all?  How do you keep things from falling out of your pockets?  I’d imagine none of the women there can wear skirts because they’d always come up over their heads unless they were tied to your shoes or something–is that right? 


    I really look forward to visiting Australia eventually, what you said jives with everything I’ve heard before about how friendly the people are, sort of a cross between American and British, haha.


  • Esstwobee

    I’ve been wondering what your first impressions would be…Melbourne is one of my favorite cities (lived there for 6 years) and I have family in Adelaide where I visit often…the Adelaide shops have recently added limited Sunday shopping, though watch out for long weekends, everything is closed…

    I’ll second the comment about the wine country near Adelaide, and don’t forget the McLaren Vale area for weekenders where I have made many special discoveries (the latest was Samuel’s Gorge) and found the best meat pies hands-down in the Vale too ! yum ! 

    Are you a beach person ? There is plenty of coastline to explore, especially between Melbourne and Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road…

    you’ll enjoy your time in Australia ! I’ll be interested in reading more of your impressions…

  • Bill

    You are a very special young lady, Jennie. Good luck over there. 

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.


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