Despite an inauspicious arrival, in the first month that I have been here, I have already started to fall in love with the amorphous, evolving city that is Melbourne. From its striking architecture (my favourite so far is a palatinate purple high rise) and wide, American streets to its graffiti-filled laneways and edgy bars, the city is full to bursting with character, style and taste that is entirely its own. I won’t tell you too much about it just yet – I’ll save the city introduction until a time I can act as a true Melburnian guide – but these are a few impressions that stood out to remind me I was no longer in Britain, or even the northern hemisphere for that matter.
After the almost eternal hours of Scottish summer sunshine, the one aspect of the climate I was not prepared for was how early the sun sets here, around 5:30pm. But of course, it’s winter here in July, a fact that still hasn’t sunk in yet. The ice rink down by Yarra River looks a little strange when so many winter days here are spent in blazing (if chilly) sunshine and huge blue skies.
One of the first thing that struck me about living here is that everything seems expensive! Partly, that’s because prices are in dollars, and even though I know there are more of these to the pound, seeing a higher number still triggers warning bells in my head. It’s also because prices in Melbourne are high due to the big city status, much like London. Melbourne is undergoing huge expansion as Australia’s fastest growing city, with an average of 1,760 people arriving in the city every week!
However, I’ve started discovering the tricks of the trade to living cheap in Melbourne (like when the reduced items go on sale (6pm), and what nights the markets are on: watch out for a blog about the amazing Winter Night Market).
The second thing that reminds me I’m really a foreigner, even when English is the major language, is the little changes in familiar brands.
Here, digestive biscuits come in a box, Rice Crispies are called Rice Bubbles, peppers are ‘capsicum’, and Cadbury just doesn’t taste as good. Even worse, the omnipresent McDonalds is in fact called ‘Maccas’ here – it even says it on the signs and billboards! However, these food anomalies have been more than made up for by my discovery of TimTams, Australia’s favourite chocolate biscuit. They’re basically richer, more chocolatey Penguin biscuits, and they’re delicious.
[Check out this website about the Australian relationship with the McDonalds chain: http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2013/01/28/mcdonalds-australian-rebrand-maccas-a-local-slang-name/id=33908/.]
I’ve found that most of the time, it’s the small things which catch you off guard, but sometimes the Aussie difference literally flies in your face. Walking to a morning lecture, I was astounded as a flock of raucous, multi-coloured parrots flew over my head. The other people on the street barely batted an eyelid, so they’re clearly common in these parts! And again, on a train station fence, I spotted two beautiful birds with scarlet backs and bright blue wings.
My first lecture was on ‘Aussie English’, so I’ve quickly learned that although English is the major language here, the Aussies like to put their own twist on things. There is no official national language of Australia, and the pure scale of the country gives rise to a lot of variation (for instance, there are seven words for swimsuit). There are, however, a few typically Australian expressions to look out for…
- ‘Too easy’: a common way of saying thank you
- ‘Shout’: if it’s your shout, it’s your turn to buy a round of drinks
- ‘Pot’: a measurement of beer smaller than a pint
- ‘Crook’: sick, unwell
- ‘Fair dinkum’: true, really (“It was this big, fair dinkum”)
- ‘Milkbar’: co-op store
- Australians also like to shorten words, because they’re lazy (their claim, not mine): so afternoon becomes ‘arvo’, football is ‘footy’, journalist becomes ‘journo’, and a tutorial is a ‘tute’
- And my personal favourite: if you’re ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’ it means you’re very busy.
With so much to do and learn in this gigantic country, I think I’ll be flat out for the next 12 months!