As an American currently residing on Australia’s Gold Coast, I now realize that everything I once believed to be true about the land down under either came from movies, random Aussies I met while living in Bali, both of the above, or from what I now know to be popular traits of those affectionately (or not so much) referred to as ‘bogans,’ the Australian version of America’s own redneck. And I do apologize for being naive, but hey, Aussies have asked me on more than one occasion if I have ever shot someone, if I grew up as a cowboy, why I’m not a giant fat person, and how I could have let the pumpkin-colored horror show that is President #45 run the country. The answers of course are no, I wish, probably because I sweat so much, and I really tried not to (but eww, and I know).

Nine months into my year in Straya, however, there are still several aspects of life I have begrudgingly tossed into the category of Things I’ll Never Understand.

Let’s begin.

Australia: Shit Americans Will Never Understand

Lawn Bowling

On my very first Goldie-bound Uber ride down a sunny stretch of the Gold Coast Highway, I witnessed the Burleigh Bowls Club in all its glory. Now, I’ll start by saying that I’m semi-familiar with organized old man sports – namely golf, tennis, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and a shared hatred of all things self-congratulatory, overcomplicated and containing hipsters – but old dudes decked out in matching shirts, shorts, tall socks and bucket hats throwing a small bowling ball at an even smaller ball on a grassy field in the daytime was not something I expected to encounter.

Months later, as a current Burleigh Bowls Club member (can I get a “what what” for discount beers) and a more-than-once participant of the Sunday Barefoot Bowls phenomenon – which, confusingly, does not allow you to be barefoot at all – I’ve certainly come to enjoy a beer or four whilst watching retired gents bowl their precious, ageing hearts out. I guess I just don’t understand the entertainment value, or why it’s such a big thing. Then again, I’m no old dude, so give me 40 years and a sense of competitive boredom and maybe I’ll get it.

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Clubs on Clubs

Australians love their clubs. And not the let’s-take-ex-and-dance-till-4am kind of clubs, but the weird mix of family-friendly-yet-drunken-public-gambling clubs. Let me break it down further. In any major (and minor, most likely) city in Australia, you can expect to find the following:

  • Bowls Clubs – Mentioned above, this is primarily where old men gather to roll balls on the grass, enter raffles for giant meat trays, listen to bad renditions of 80’s songs from a guy playing keyboard in the corner, and drink schooners of beer while watching sports on TV.
  • Surf Live Saving Clubs  – Non-profit organizations that work to prevent drowning and raise awareness of water safety. Also mostly just a combo bar and restaurant, often with a view of the surf, and sometimes containing slot machines (or as the locals call it, “the pokies”).
  • RSL Clubs  – Short for ‘Returned & Services League,’ these were originally set up as support organizations for current and past members of the Australian Defence Force, and now act as small entertainment venues and boozy after-work hangouts that make contributions to the local community. Bonus: They often have “courtesy busses” that will pick you up and drop you off at home fo’ FREE.

And beyond that, there are the Leagues Clubs, Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Community & Workers Clubs, Yacht Clubs, Golf Clubs, Cultural & Religious Clubs, and so on. Like I said, clubs on clubs.

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Planning Ahead for Booze

If there was one thing I thought I knew to be true about Australians, it was their ability to drink, and drink often. And while I still think this is generally a fair statement, I greatly underestimated the amount of drinking regulations there would be. For example, I had no idea that outside of a bar or restaurant, you can only purchase alcohol from a specified bottle shop. After years of running into every gas station and grocery store between my current location and home to grab a bottle of wine or a six pack to enjoy in my underwear, I was bummed to discover that I actually had to seek out specific shops in order to drink at home. First world problems, right? I also didn’t know that most bottle shops, including on weekend nights, close by around 9pm.

Then there’s the lockout laws, banning shots after midnight, and the fact that cafes seem to think it’s inappropriate of me to ask for a Bloody Mary with my $16 smashed avo(cado) on toast. I mean, c’mon, if I’m spending $25 on a coffee and a fancy piece of toast, why not just lay down a $40 and get drunk in the process. Even Utah isn’t this hardcore, Australia. And let’s face it – Utah is kind of lame.

So while you’re free to hit the bars and enjoy as many $18 cocktails as your bank account can handle (hint: two), they certainly require you to plan ahead in order to enjoy adult beverages in the comfort of your own home, hammock or hole in the wall. Which brings me to my next point…

weird things australians do

Espresso Martinis

Forget the jug of XXXX, the glass of chardy or the Fosters (which no one drinks anyway), the official unofficial drink of Australia is most definitely the espresso martini. It’s like the less douchey version of a vodka and red bull, only not as delicious as a white russian, and with an extra shot of nonsense and unwanted drunken energy.

americans living in australia

The Florida Thing, and also Motels

The Gold Coast shares more than some similarities with America’s state of Florida. Besides obvious nods of inspiration with names like Miami, Palm Beach, Florida Gardens, the Key Largo Apartments and even Queensland being dubbed Australia’s own ‘Sunshine State,’ I am happy to report that it does share less of its weird, worrisome and face-eating-bath-salts-filled news stories that so often define its American counterpart.

Much like towns found throughout Nowheresville, Florida, however, the Gold Coast still has quite the assortment of really old, really dusty, really overpriced motels. Though I do consider some to be charming from the outside, they become infinitely less so when handing over your credit card for $80/night. The good news? That smell of decades worth of old cigarette smoke is totally free. Soak it in.

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Seppo, and 194 Other Words & Phrases

My first month in Australia, I’d say I understood approximately 30% of any given sentence uttered by an Australian. Nowadays, I’m up to a solid 90%. The thing is, Australians basically have their own language, and unless you’re familiar with the appropriate slang and shortening of seemingly every word possible, it’s extremely hard to keep up.

A fine example is ‘seppo’, which, for any fellow ‘Mericans headed this way, is the shortened version of ‘septic tank,’ which rhymes with ‘yank,’ which is somehow still supposed to be a derogatory term for Americans despite it no longer being 1770. Sure, Australia. Just… sure.

shit americans don't understand about australia

All of the BBQ Sauce

Holy mother of sauces, y’all. Australians put BBQ sauce on their breakfast sandwiches, their burgers, sausage sizzles, their pizzas and savory pies, and hell, I’m convinced they might even throw a spoonful in their morning flat white. I guess it’s the Australian version of ranch dressing, but of all of the sauces in all of the world in all of my mouth… why must it be BBQ?

living in australia as an american

Plastic Surgery

The first time I walked around the Gold Coast, I could have sworn I’d been magically transported to the most silicon-ingested corners of Los Angeles, or Dan Bilzerian’s douchefest of a yacht. Was someone giving away 99 cent lip injections? Were butt implants required to consume a martini? Did men with an above-average number of muscles and below-average number of chest hairs win a special prize?

Maybe it’s just a Gold Coast thing, but the average Australian is already way better looking than the average American. I can say that with some confidence. So quit wasting your money on new faces and bases, mates – if you’re from here, you’re likely already a hot person. Calm down.

things americans don't understand about australia

And one final thing we DO understand about Australia? Golden Gaytime + XXXX Gold = Pure Gold.

living in australia as an american