By Andrea Lee Negroni – I’ve traveled all over the world, but one country encompasses everything I love about travel and that’s Australia. It is astonishingly beautiful, with great food and wine. It’s got weird wildlife; deadly stingrays and jellyfish in Queensland, crocs in Darwin and the Outback’s kookaburra, need I go on? But more than all of this, it is the Aussie attitude that keeps me coming back. Below are nine uniquely Australian notions that captivate me, but I bet you can add some of your own.
Gentle mothering – Even before I arrived down under, the welcoming flight attendants on Virgin Australia were urging those of us in economy class to get up and walk, drink plenty of water and avoid the booze. No “stay in your seat” for 16 hours here. In Glenelg, a pretty seaside suburb of Adelaide, bright messages painted on the sidewalk encourage everyone to get 30 minutes of physical activity every day. And since it’s safer to ride a bicycle with a helmet, the Melbourne public bike share includes them with the rental.
Loving greetings – Did I really hear the driver of the airport shuttle greet the dispatcher with “Hi sweetheart, how you going?” Did she really reply, “Fine, darling-heart, you?” I think so because the driver of a public bus called me “love” as he told me we were approaching my stop.
The lingo – And while we’re talking about things Aussies say, even if you think you speak English, the Australian vocabulary tells you right away,“You’re not in Kansas anymore.” Bloke, frock, snag, chook, arvo, fossicking, removals, foils, conveyancing, sticky-beaking, op shop and ta, translate to: man, dress, sausage, chicken, afternoon, digging around for bargains, household moving services, salon highlights, real estate settlements, being a busybody, thrift store and thank you. Who can’t love slang like that?
Public facilities – The bane of tourists everywhere — where’s the restroom? Australian cities and towns, even the flyspeck ones, have convenient, accessible, free public toilets and prominent signage so you know where to find them. What a relief! Some even have family restrooms and private areas for nursing mothers. I’ve seen train stations with public shower stalls and airports with honor system baby strollers — take one if you need it and return it when you’re done. Acknowledging the obvious: priceless.
The half-flush – Australia has dangerous dry spells so the half-flush toilet is big here. That’s the one that lets you select if a little water is sufficient to do the job. You’ll find these water-saving johns everywhere from hotels and malls to private homes. And while we’re on the subject of water, at concerts and festivals, nobody buys bottled water because public water trucks provide a place for people to fill up their reusable water bottles. Are Australians green? I’d say so.
Going the extra mile – Shops still give service. I went into a pharmacy for unwaxed dental floss. The clerk showed me where to find it but I wasn’t sure which brands were unwaxed, so he went online and checked the manufacturer’s websites. In a hotel bar, when I asked the waiter the origin of an unfamiliar vodka (42 Below), he didn’t know right away but returned to my table a few minutes later with the answer. It’s from NZ and is divine.
They do what needs doing – (even when it’s someone else’s job). – In Melbourne, a tram driver stepped out of the cab to remove plastic sheeting from the tram tracks presumably, to avoid running over it and jamming the rails or stalling the tram. I just can’t imagine this happening in any American city.
The coffee culture – everyone’s into coffee here, even kids. I’ve seen babies in boosters drinking frothed milk and marshmallows that’s called a bubbacino. It’s no wonder they start so young, learning all the varies on offer takes time.
Small gestures are welcoming – Those coffee shops, cafes even small restaurants will also have reading material on hand. When I don’t have a companion to talk to, dining out is more pleasant when I have something to read. As an added benefit, local magazines and newspapers let me check out what’s going on in the community I’m visiting. To me, this gesture says, “Take your time. Stick around.”
That’s a message I interpret it broadly, which is why I keep going back to Oz, again and again. So let me be your gentle mother and go the extra mile; take a trip down under; you can “ta” me later, darling-heart.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.