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.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.