Monday, September 07, 2015

10 Differences Between Living in Canada and Australia

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living in Sydney for a month now.

It’s flown by in a whirlwind of moving house, jetting off to Tasmania for a magazine assignment, and spending far too much time spouting off terms of endearment in Jules' direction.

But it also hasn’t been an easy month. There have been a lot of tears, which was only to be expected. Without the excitement of a new locale to explore—this is my seventh time in Sydney, after all—I skipped the “honeymoon” phase of acculturation altogether and was instead slapped hard by culture shock.

Despite the amount of time that I’ve spent in Australia over the last two years, I’m still learning. (“I’m new here,” has become my favourite catchphrase, usually prefaced by “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t know.”) Some differences are new to me, some I’ve long known, but all have taken me aback over the last month.

Here are 10 of the most surprising differences that I've found between Australia and Canada:

1. You can’t buy shortening in Australia.

I already knew that a pepper is called a capsicum and that eggs are found on the shelves, not in the coolers. That’s beginner-level stuff. But trying to recreate recipes from home? It’s a challenge that I wasn't ready for.

Grocery shopping has become an exhausting process. Gone are the familiar brands. Not only do I have no idea how to navigate the aisles at Woolworths (or get over the shock that about 10 locally grown blueberries cost upwards of $8), I also can’t find products that I assumed were fair play in “Western” developed countries.

Please include corn syrup and shortening in my care packages.

2. Winter is Sydney is downright chilly. 

It’s my fourth wintertime visit to the continent, and yet I still can’t get over this one.

I know it’s not very Canadian to whine about being cold. But the difference between Canadian homes and Australian homes during the colder months? Canadian homes are insulated and heated. Sydney homes are not. That means that when it drops down to +10 outdoors, it’s also about +10 indoors.

Jules has lent me his hot water bottle, which has become my constant companion.

3. Rent is paid weekly. 

We pay rent at our new house weekly (not monthly) to a rental agent (not a landlord).

4. The documentary selection on Australian Netflix is brutal.

The service just launched here. It might get better. I’m still considering cancelling my membership.

5. Freelancers don’t work in coffee shops. 

As a freelancer, coffee shops are my office. They’re my source of workplace banter, they provide me with a sense of community, and most importantly, they give me a reason to get dressed every morning.

Everywhere that I’ve travelled—from Thailand, to Honduras, to Scotland, to New York City—it’s been easy to find amazing coffee shops. You know the ones; they usually come with free WiFi, communal tables, and an understanding that you will sit and work for hours.

That’s not the case in Sydney. I have yet to find a single café with a communal work table or free WiFi. Sitting for hours (and not ordering food) seems generally frowned upon. Apparently, that’s what the library is for. I could be wrong (and I hope I am), but the whole “working in coffee shops” culture doesn’t seem to exist here.

However, the coffee is amazing. All of it. Everywhere. (Which explains, more or less, why Starbucks was a failure in the country.)

6. I don't live in Sydney.

I technically live in Marrickville, which is in Sydney, but not Sydney. To complicate matters further, Marrickville is in the Inner West suburbs, which isn’t actually the suburbs. (It’s only about five kilometres away from downtown, or what the Sydneysiders call the “CBD.” This would be like calling Parkdale in Toronto the “suburbs.”)

It took me a while to figure this one out. Basically, Australian municipal and state governments are structured dramatically differently than Canadian municipal and provincial governments. The city of Sydney, for example, is made up of 42 separate city councils. (All of which control less than our municipal governments. So, Rob Ford would have had much less power here.)

To clarify further, the difference between "Marrickville" and "Sydney" is not like the difference between Etobicoke and Toronto, or Sherwood Park and Edmonton, or Richmond and Vancouver. It’s more like if amalgamation never happened and if Toronto's neighbourhoods of Parkdale, West Queen West, the Beaches, etc. each had their own city council. It's what it would be like if the Annex had never got annexed.

There’s currently a move to push the number of city councils down to about 15, which is still just a bit absurd.

7. Seasons start on the 1st of the month.

The lunar forces that dictate the rest of the earth? Australia has no time for that shit. Spring allegedly started on September 1. Apparently this is so that scientists and meteorologists could have an easier time with record keeping. Makes sense. We wouldn’t want a bunch of mathematicians to get confused by numbers.

8. A4-sized paper.

It's the little things, really.

9. Flowers grow everywhere, all the time.

Winter might be chilly, but it's also damn beautiful. 

Also, there's a grapefruit tree in my backyard. What is this magical place?! CITRUS FRUIT GROWS IN MY YARD.

10. People wear their shoes inside the house. 

I thought it was only Americans who did this. Apparently not.

Upon arrival in Sydney, I proposed to Jules that once we moved into our own house, we should remove our shoes at the door. He was immediately taken by the idea.

“I like the idea of having a ‘shoes-off’ house—it’s very Chinese,” said Jules, who used to live in Beijing.

I frowned at him. “It’s very Canadian is what it is,” I replied.

So now that we have our own “shoes-off” house, I’m just left with one problem—how do I get friends to remove their shoes without offending them? (And then there's the other problem—how do I make friends in the first place?)

Update: I found out that I can buy Crisco in Australian sex shops. Maybe that also solves my problem of how to make friends?


  1. 1. Get the Hola extension for Chrome to scramble your IP address and choose the location you want to stream from. I use it to watch American Netflix all the time.
    2. Is it true that Australians find it weird that North Americans wear Uggs outside because they're supposed to be their indoor shoes?
    3. I miss you.

    1. 1. Done...and now uninstalled. People could use your connection and system to download unsavoury and illegal materials. More here: I think we just might shell out and pay a monthly fee for a VPN provider.
      2. I have yet to spot a single pair of Uggs not worn by a tourist.
      3. I miss you too!

  2. Even though I spent three months in Australia, I only knew a few of these! I bever noticed the shie thing, but that might explain why i have to ask most of our guesthouse guests to do that (a lot of Europeans, so it must not just be Austalians). Hope things settle out for you soon. Perhaps make a list of the good things that Australia has and Canada doesn't?

    1. It's surprising how long it takes to notice the differences! I think I had spent about six months here cumulatively before I made the move. And yes, there will definitely be a list of all the great things (other than magical citrus fruit) to come.

  3. You're more likely to find your coffee shop needs (wi-fi and working) in Melbourne. I've lived in both Sydney and Melbourne and the difference between coffee venues is chalk and cheese.

    1. I haven't been to Melbourne yet, but I get the impression that it's the Montréal of Australia. I can't wait to visit!

  4. If it helps at all with the seasons change thing, the Korean government controlled them. One day it's winter and everyone still had to wear winter garb. The next day is spring and so all the clothes had to change right along with it...though I never knew how the government got the word out to everyone so quickly because the seasons didn't change on the same day each year. Hmmm...I should ask about that ^_^

  5. Both country have it plus & minus side..
    so enjoy it :D

  6. The Australian wearing of shoes indoors thing, is not unheard of in Canada. Although various areas are different and no-shoes homes are found all over Canada. In general, it seems to me that Central Ontario may push the no-shoes thing more than many parts of Canada.
    Don't know all areas, but Regina in the 60s and 70s seemed to be a wear your shoes inside place, and Ontario was strikingly different.


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