12 Side Effects I Had as an American Living in Melbourne
1. I now expect more from my home country.
Most educated Americans have some inkling of how the US fails when it comes to basic Western World rights like health care and education. But growing up in the States, you don’t realize just how fucked the situation is. That’s just our reality and our way of life, and we just deal with it, shelling out monthly student loan payments that cripple our potential savings accounts.
Living in another country that actually supports its citizens has opened my eyes. Everyone here — including other travelers who have reciprocal health care agreements with Australia — is covered by Medicare. Students see some of the best benefits, including way cheaper education, INTEREST-FREE LOANS from the government, and a serious grace period on paying back those loans. They don’t have to pay until they’ve started earning over $47,000 per year. They also can reap the benefits from Centrelink, Australia’s welfare and human relations system, that offers students allowances to help them pay for books and other living expenses while they are studying.
Meanwhile, I’m hating my own country for charging me 5% interest on government student loans and giving me but a 6-month grace period from graduating university to start paying off just the interest.
2. The word ‘cunt’ has been a creative addition to my vocab.
Many Americans hate this word, but I’m actually into the liberal use of it. They say that in Australia, you call your acquaintances “mate” and your mates “cunt.” Obviously, it can still be a touchy one based on the method of your speaking, but in general, it seems that you can refer to almost anyone as a cunt here. It’s up to the listener to gauge from your context what you mean by it.
Here are a few translations from Aussie slang to American:
“He’s a sick cunt” means “He’s a bad motherfucker.”
“What a dumb cunt” means “What an asshole.”
“You’re a cunt.” means ”You’re a cunt.”
This video could explain it all a little better than I could.
3. I’ve got a strange mix of Aussie slang now too.
The trick to Aussie slang is abbreviation. Almost anything can be converted into a two-syllable word with an ‘o’ on the end. (Everything except ‘hundreds and thousands’ for some reason.) For example:
I went down to the servo in my trackie dacks for ice to put in the Esky so that the tinnies of draft stay cold at the barbie s’arvo, but I’m devo because I forgot to buy durries. Can’t be fucked to go back, though.
If you need a bit more guidance, check out this video.
4. I’ve also picked up other Australianisms.
The slang is the best part, to be sure, but there are other small bits of my language that have evolved as a side effect of living here. One of the most noticeable is the way Aussies speak with an upwards inflection — kind of like they’re always asking a question? They even make statements by asking a question. Like, “How good is pizza?” or “How much is it raining out there?” Call it the Australian philosopher syndrome.
Also, nowadays, I’m asking people what they reckon and saying that we have heaps of time. I’m using the word ‘after’ as a verb, as in, “Are you after a coffee?” I ask people how they’re going or how they’re travelling instead of how they’re doing, and I answer almost every question with a “yeah.”
How was the movie? — Yeah, it sucked.
Want to go to the pub later? — Yeah, nah. Nah, yeah.
5. I became a coffee snob.
My first few months on a working holiday visa in Melbourne found me answering the same question a lot: “How do you like the coffee culture here?” I can’t say that we truly have a “coffee culture” to compare it to in the States. Sure, you’ve got your odd cafe here and there, but we all know we’re run by Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and the daily standard of a to-go cup. Our coffee, generally, is sustenance — nothing more than a burnt taste for a caffeine fix. Give me a venti drip with skim milk and two Equals please so I have the strength to continue with my day.
In Melbourne, however, the coffee begins with the milk. God help the barista who delivers a latte with the excess froth of a cappuccino. A fern or a heart is found in the foam of almost every cup of coffee, lovingly poured into the appropriate mug or glass to be drunk with patience at a hip cafe with an impressive, albeit pretentious, Aussie brekky menu (did someone say poached eggs and smashed avo?). It’s a daily event that’s something in between a treat and a necessity. It’s that moment when time seems to stand still. When all that is required of you is to sip and turn the page of a good book.
6. I picked up a nickname.
Aussies are all about the nicknames. I’ve been friends with some people for a few months, and still don’t know their true names. My own name, Rebecca, has been converted to Bec without question.
The Aussies can be pretty creative about how they go about shortening given names, carefully selecting syllables and strategically adding o’s or ie’s or z’s to the end as is deemed appropriate. Some of my faves are: Tash for Natasha, Donnie for Payden (don’t know quite how they got there), Jez for Jeremy, Sez for Sarah, Lukie for Luke…it goes on and on.
7. I’m really into Vegemite now.
Vegemite, a yeast extract spread, has a rare flavor that falls under umami category, one of the five basic Japanese tastes. Soy sauce is also in this category, but Vegemite is a condiment all its own. There isn’t a day or a time that I wouldn’t eat Vegemite on toast. Just a light smear, the perfect amount, with some butter is enough to satisfy me, but I’ll never turn down a Vegemite and cheese toastie or a Vegemite with smashed avo open sandwich.
8. Footy is life.
Australian Football League, or AFL, is a big fucking deal in Melbourne, and the first team sport I’ve bothered to pay attention to. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before — rough and athletic and non-stop action. It’s hard not to get involved in this city with 12 out of the 18 total professional leagues hailing from suburbs of Melbourne, where you’ve just got to pick a team if you want to live here. I go for the Geelong Cats, and I even got involved in footy tipping and joined a co-ed pub footy league with my housemates called the Bats.
9. I drink a lot more now.
Casual drinking is far more common in Australia than it is in any parts of the States I’ve lived in. In fact, I don’t think I truly understood what it meant to be fucked up until I lived here. Really, I’ve surprised myself in my abilities to consume copious amounts of alcohol and other substances and still remain upright. The nights spent at frat parties in college were mere practice for a weekend out in Melbourne.
10. I walk around barefoot.
People just walk around barefoot here, and it’s not a thing. It’s great, especially in the summer when you just cannot be bothered to put your damn shoes on. I myself love a good barefoot bike ride to the shops where I will see other barefoot people casually buying broccoli and slabs of beer.
11. Red chili and curry are staples in my diet.
In Australia in general and Melbourne in particular, there is a huge Asian influence apparent in the food. Whereas in America, our cheap and easy-to-cook food is either Mexican or Italian, here, it seems that everyone I know can master a curry sauce. Even the English style pubs usually have at least one meal with a Thai or Indian offering next to the classic Chicken Parmas and Pub Steaks.
12. My wardrobe is made up almost entirely of second-hand clothes.
Most of us are walking around wearing clothes we bought from op shops (thrift stores) like Vinnies, Savers, Salvo’s (Salvation Army), or even a local yard sale. Why go all the way into the CBD to spend hard cash when you can go to your neighbourhood op shop and buy a chunky knit or a denim skirt for a quarter of the price? Variety abounds at the Melbourne op shops, so it’s too easy to spend $20 and walk out with a whole new wardrobe.