As philosopher Janet Jackson says, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” and never has this been truer than when leaving your home country for the promise of greener, more exotic pastures.
There’s an irony to realising the myriad weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies of home because you’ll only have those realisations once you’re no longer in it.’Tis a cruel twist of fate that you only truly appreciate something when you no longer have access to it, but this experience is a rite of passage for expats or those on longer travels.
If you’re not sure what kinds of stuff we’re talking about, then a Reddit thread titled ‘What did you only realize about Australia after you’d left? [sic]’ is a goldmine of inspiration.
Originally posted by user cdocherty, an Aussie expat living in Canada at the time, the thread kicks off with the question: “For anyone who has spent time out of the country, what were you surprised to realize about Australia? Or, what did you not realize was important to you until you were gone?” [sic].
The 576 comments are full of anthropological gems (plus a couple of things we definitely need to improve on). Here are some of the best and biggest realisations.
That Aussies are pretty bloody polite, actually
Turns out that when it comes to the world stage, we’re quite nice, actually. We’re the type happy to give directions to a stranger, smile at people in the street or let someone with two items cut in front of our trolley-load of shopping.
“[I realised] how…polite we are,” says Norway-based Plethora_of_squids. “We say thanks and please and smile and bloody nobody does that, not in Scandinavia at least.”
It’s a sentiment shared by user aintithenniel: “I lived in Denmark for a bit and remember how jarring it was to get stared back at when I smiled at a stranger I passed on the street.”
Redditor DrunkyMcstumble thinks there’s more to it than simple politeness – they believe Aussies have an authenticity lacking from many other typically ‘polite’ cultures.
“I’d say Australians are courteous rather than polite, in that our politeness is generally sincere. I feel like the politeness in a lot of other places, even ones renowned for being polite like the US and Japan, has this kind of hollow ‘going through the motions’ feel about it. When we’re polite, we mean it,” they explain.
“Literally every single person I’ve spoken to from the UK, Europe or North America has bemusedly related the exact same anecdote about the time they asked an Aussie how they were going only for the Aussie to proceed to actually tell them how he was going.”
Except we’re not that polite to people we actually care about
One Redditor found that when talking to people we’re comfortable around, we have a tendency to slip into both slang and bluntness, a mix that can be perceived the wrong way (read: as hostile).
“I went backpacking in Europe with a mate years ago,” says d5pk. “The way we would speak to each other had many Europeans look at us unsure, and a couple even asked if we were going to fight.”
“As they say, in Australia your best mate is ‘a complete bastard’, while your worst enemy is ‘a bit of a bastard’,” another Redditor confirms.
How thick our accents actually are
Do you remember the first time you saw the ‘Bart vs. Australia’ episode of The Simpsons, and thought how ridiculous they made us sound? Well, the longer you’re overseas the more likely you’ll relive that jarring sensation.
“You go to the Australian embassy in whatever city you’ve been living in for so long, and you think they are putting on a fake accent to have you on, ‘cos you haven’t heard it in so long,” recalls Redditor collectiblerat.
“Whenever I go traveling and get back to the airport in Australia, or when I’m on a flight home full of Aussies, one of my first thoughts is ‘oh shit, that’s how we sound.’ I love it,” adds user RastaBrus.
That the bush makes it mark on you, and there’s nowhere else like it
“I am a city dweller by nature, but after six years in the UK, I realised I strongly missed the Australian bush. The smell of Eucalypts, bush walks, swimming holes, the sounds, the whole thing really,” says karma3000.
And so does our sun, for that matter
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“I missed the smell of clothes hung out to dry in the hot Aussie sun. The smell of UV disinfected clothes and bedding linen…Aussie as,” remembers user grecian2009.
That beeping pedestrian crossings aren’t so common elsewhere
You never think you’d miss the suspenseful beeping at a pedestrian crossing, but that’s definitely a thing. Brought up by user planeray, the thread creator cdocherty totally agreed.
“This drove me nuts! Not only do they not beep where I am, the drivers will turn even if it’s the pedestrians turn to walk.”
That we’re decent drivers, thank you very much
User TheSneak333 provided a bunch of points – good and bad – that they realised after heading overseas, but one in particular ruffled a few commenters feathers. The Redditor said, “We are terrible drivers by first world standards. It’s embarrassing.”
This was met with multiple comments of how, by comparison to other nations, Aussies are actually doing a great job of having some semblance of order on the road.
“Have you driven in places like Canada or Italy? Australians are basically saints when compared to drivers there,” says Syncblock.
This is backed up by Geronimous, who says: “Woah ok hold up. I’ve been to Japan, the US (SoCal), Canada and Hong Kong and our drivers are excellent by comparison. Canadians weren’t too bad, and Japan is polite at least, but the drivers in LA were mental. They NEVER use indicators, even on highways – they just swerve into your lane!”
That our coffee-making skills are unrivalled
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“The coffee is the best in the world,” says morry040. This is backed up with similar enthusiastic responses like, “holy shit the coffee,” and “I miss it being a simple task to get a good coffee”.
“I’m not even a big coffee drinker – I probably have a 50:1 tea:coffee intake ratio – and yeah, our coffee is so much better than any coffee I’ve had anywhere else except the weird civet poop coffee in Indonesia, prepared by an Indonesian dude who had lived in Perth and used a V60 to make it…!” says user notfinch.
That our cycle culture is pretty terrible
One big realisation you’ll likely have once overseas – especially in Europe or Scandinavia – is how behind our cycling culture is.
“Europe has good cycling infrastructure as well as good public transport,” one user explains. “And a lack of shock jocks screaming over the radio about the ‘Lycra wankers’”.
In fact, Aussie expats noticed “that mandatory bike helmets is a bizarre concept outside of Australia,” likely because in Europe, “bike infrastructure is way more advanced and so less dangerous for cyclists”.
Missing birds, sunsets, beaches, banter… and Twisties
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There’s so much more gold to discover in the thread, but redditor bPhrea shares a great summary to drive it all home.
“I’ve been really fortunate in my travels so far, but I really missed the following: Seeing birds that weren’t pigeons or seagulls. Sunsets that weren’t full of insane colours. Beaches that weren’t made of rocks. Having arguments with strangers that weren’t really arguments. Driving in the middle of nowhere and feeling like if something happens, you’re likely fucked. Bloody meat pies, silly I know. A pack of Twisties. Either flavour. The shit-talk and sledging that only mates can level at each other. Kicking a footy”.
“God damn I miss Twisties,” the original poster agrees, while many others lamented the lack of singing birds first thing in the morning as distinctly and beautifully Australian.
This post was originally published on August 28th 2020 and has since been updated.