Coming back to Australia, I thought that everything I would say and do would immediately (and easily) be picked up by the locals. A lot of the time in United States, I would often have to rephrase my wording in order to have a decent conversation with another American (not everyone understood what “quarter to three in the arvo” meant). But upon arriving in Sydney again, I’ve caught myself exhibiting one too many American habits, some of which I didn’t even realize came naturally to me.
Tip, tip and away
The biggest one by far is tipping. Americans have an innate sense to tip after every meal. Even if it’s only a small amount, or whatever they can afford at the moment, they know that placing some change on the table before leaving is better than not leaving anything at all. Australians don’t understand this at all. In fact, I was just talking to my sister about tipping and she was telling me how it is actually considered rude to tip. Leaving money can be interpreted as the customer thinking staff aren’t being paid enough and, thus, they feel the need to tip. Unlike in America, Australians working in the food service sector easily earn upwards of $20 an hour, so they definitely don’t need tipping to survive.
Waiters waiting on you
Because of the tipping point made earlier, waiters and staff in the United States follow up on a customer’s every need. They fill your glass with water at least three times during a meal and ask you how you’re doing every other bite. While this hovering can sometimes feel frustrating, you have the added benefit of calling on your waiter whenever you want to request something. In Australia, however, customers don’t really like the constant prodding while they dine and find waiters who come by every 10 minutes to be quite annoying. Similarly, the staff themselves are not expected to do this since they work on a high hourly wage and not for tips.
Walking on the right is not right
This has gotten me more times than I can count. Every time I’m on the sidewalk, I unconsciously move to the right-hand side whenever I see someone ahead of me walking in the opposite direction. I keep forgetting, though, that because walking courtesies follow road rules (and you drive on the left here), I end up walking into people coming toward me. Either that, or they vehemently move out of the way because I failed to adhere to the sidewalk protocol. I remember doing the exact same thing when I moved to the United States, where I was constantly moving to the left-hand side. I’m not sure if it’ll be funny or frustrating if I end up re-acquainting myself with moving to the left and then making this error all over again when I go back to the United States!
Is that the total with tax?
If there’s one thing I like to be, it’s prepared. So one thing I don’t really enjoy about the U.S. economy is that the tax still needs to be added to the total price before you’re able to pay. Not only does this slow down the cashier line immensely, but there’s always apprehension about finding the correct change as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the cashier is glaring at you and everyone else in line is waiting impatiently. In Australia however, tax is already included in the price tag. This means that what you see is literally what you have to pay. Because of this, purchasing items is very efficient, as everyone already has the amount they need out.
With that being said, Australia also phased out its one cent coins a very long time ago (thank goodness for that) and, therefore, the smallest coin value they have is five cents. Because of this, prices where the cent amounts fall between a multiple of five are either rounded down (if the number ends in seven or below) or rounded up (if the number ends with eight or above.) For example, if something comes to a total of $3.47, you’d only pay $3.45.
It’s easy to carry these very American habits with me during my travels overseas and, while it may be frustrating or embarrassing at times (especially if I unknowingly offend a local), it’s all about being immersed in a distinctive culture. It can be a challenge to try and figure out what I should or shouldn’t do, but all the while it’s fun and I’m grateful to be learning something new every day.
Contact Jenisha Sabaratnam at [email protected].