Photo: Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

A Day in the Life of an Expat in Sydney, Australia

by Kate Macmillan Oct 29, 2009
Live sports over breakfast, coffee shop communities and green spaces – all part of a day in the life in Sydney.

I currently come from the Land Down Under, and sure enough I often feel like my daily schedule is rather upside down. Each morning I go out to our balcony to take in the sun and pinch myself; it really is 70-odd degrees and sunny nearly every day here, even in the winter.

Next I’ll check the live scores of American sports games. I’m a diehard Boston fan, but I’ll happily watch any baseball or football game airing on one of the 10 sports channels in this insanely sporty country. Aussies prefer rugby, soccer, cricket, surfing, swimming, more rugby, lawn bowling, and field hockey over our national pastimes, but there are a guaranteed five baseball games on per week and when I’m lucky at least one will feature the Red Sox.

It’s always strange to watch a live night game while I’m eating my cereal and still rubbing the sand from my eyes.

Around 11am I head to the café across the street to write and catch up on news. I’ve traveled to France, Italy and Austria – places I once considered coffee capitals of the world – but none held a candle to the coffee-crazed culture of Australians. In the U.S. we’re led to believe Aussies mainline Fosters, but cafes are ubiquitous here. This hit home when I attended a rugby match and the line for espresso stretched longer that the beer queue.

There are five cafes within a minute of our doorstep, each teeming with locals eager to cough up four bucks for a cup of rich caffeination. Aussies have their own terms for coffee; a “flat white” is espresso layered with steamed milk and topped with froth. It’s far richer and more velvety than the best latte you ever had at Starbucks. A “long black” is espresso with water added, but it, too, is richer (and much stronger!) than American drip coffee, and topped with a delicate layer of foamy crema.

The only thing Australian cafes lack is real iced coffee (like any Bostonian, I’m a Dunkin Donuts junkie); here it’s a pre-fabricated, creamy confection that’s topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Besides the caffeine fix and free Wi-Fi (a luxury in this country, where the Internet companies cap our monthly downloads), I love my local café for its sense of community. Every cheerful staff member greets me by name – it took two months to get used to the typical Aussie query, “How you going, Kate?” (never “How’s IT going” or “How are you DOING?) – and I genuinely look forward to our daily exchanges.

I’m happy to be here yet still feel pangs of loneliness; this one daily constant definitely ameliorates my homesickness. Especially the bubbly manager/surrogate mom who plies me with (free!) fresh brownies and famous Australian meat pies.

In the afternoon I try to combine errands with walks through one of Sydney’s many green spaces. Rushcutters Bay Park, Centennial Park, Hyde Park, and the amazing Royal Botanic Gardens are all within strolling distance, but even the narrow streets are lined with sweet-smelling eucalyptus trees and other flowers. I’ve received strange looks more than once for pausing at a bus stop or a nondescript corner to inhale a particularly fragrant pocket of air; I wish I could explain to people the novelty of this after living in New York.

I run errands to the butcher, the baker, and independent greengrocers because supermarkets here carry limited, subpar product compared to the fresh meat and produce that Australia is known for (and quite proud of). I’m mostly vegetarian, and sometimes wonder if I favor “avos” (avocadoes), “rocket” (Mesclun greens), “ba-NAH-nuhs” and “capsicums” (green peppers) simply because their Aussie names are so fun to say.

My husband marvels at the fresh pork and beef here that he’d need to procure from a pricey boutique butcher in New York. And of course he enjoys the novelty of grilling kangaroo meat (don’t worry, kangaroos are like deer in the U.S., they’re common to the point of being a road nuisance).

I run errands in the afternoon because almost every shop closes by 6pm, and many aren’t open on weekends. At least our local supermarket stays open till midnight, which is fortunate since I’ve made many a late-night run to pick up cereal (an exorbitant $7/box) or addictive chocolate treats like Tim Tams and Lamingtons. I maintain that Tim Tams – two layers of malted chocolate cookie wrapped around a light cream filling, then coated in more chocolate – are Australia’s greatest export.

At dusk I like to enjoy a glass of wine on our balcony. Again, coming from New York, the space and fresh air are a daily joy for me. I particularly love watching and listening to the shocking variety of birds that streak across the pink sky, even here in the inner-city.

Cockatoos’ shrieks are like nails on a chalkboard, but they get a pass because they’re just so damn cool-looking! Magpies chirp, mynas coo uncannily like babies, and lorikeets look like flying rainbows. I never thought I’d become such a bird enthusiast.

We’ll often have dinner on Victoria Street, from which we’re lucky to live around the corner. Sydneysiders say it has more Thai restaurants per square meter than anywhere else in the world…even Bangkok. And in fact I usually get Thai food about three times a week. When we first got here I tried a new curry every day: chuu chee, massaman, jungle…the kaffir lime and coconut flavors dance on my tongue here like they never did in New York.

When the weather’s nice we like to barbecue on the balcony. That stereotype is not untrue, Australians LOVE their barbies. There are BBQ superstores, BBQ tv shows, BBQ accessory sections at the supermarket…and with great weather and an abundance of locally-produced meat and veggies, why not? We arrived here jaded New Yorkers, but it didn’t take long to understand Aussies’ easy affability and exuberance. Life here is inescapably good.

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