When preparing to come to the United States for a university exchange, I never once considered the fact that I could suffer from culture shock. Australia and America are both English speaking, multi-cultural, western countries, with similar cultures and foods. So they are basically the same, aren’t they? Yes, English is the native language for both, the population of both is culturally diverse, they are western countries and they do have similar foods and cultural practices; however, they are not as alike as I had first assumed.
I have traveled to America a few times with my family and have visited all of the typical tourist hot spots: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and New York City, to name a few. With all of this traveling under my belt, I had thought that living here for four months would be a piece of cake for me. “I have spent enough time traveling around America to be able to easily adjust to actually living there,” I thought.
It wasn’t until I had arrived and started university that the culture shock really started to hit me. Everyone always talks about how ‘Americanized’ Australia is. Our media is full of American politics and celebrities, our televisions are constantly playing American television shows, our cinemas are full of American films and our grocery store shelves and shopping center food courts are filled with American foods. We are constantly bombarded with products and information that originate in the United States. But once I had settled into college life, I realized that no matter how ‘Americanized’ people say that Australia is, it really isn’t—not in the scheme of things. Obviously, both countries are still quite similar; however there have been many small differences that I have noticed, which have become more noticeable the longer that I am here.
One of the major differences that I have noticed, between Australia and the United States, is the language. So, the majority of both countries speak a fair bit of English but since being here, I have had to translate many of my English words to other more comprehensible English words so that Americans can understand what I am saying. An example of this would be when I am speaking about my favorite fast food restaurant, “Maccas”. Of course no one really knows what that is here. I then spend the next five minutes explaining that in Australia, we shorten a lot of words and that I am referring to McDonald’s.
Some other translations that I have had to regularly make include:
Sunglasses = sunnies
Breakfast = breaky
Afternoon = arvo
Biscuits = bikkies
Mosquito = mozzie
In Australia, we sit on the ‘normal’ side of the car and drive on the ‘normal’ side of the road. Well, normal for us. So, in Australia, we sit on the right side of the car but drive on the left side of the road. It is completely back to front here, which makes driving, walking up and down the stairs and along footpaths, as well as crossing the street, quite hard to get used to.
Personally, I haven’t driven since I’ve been here, which I am incredibly thankful for because crossing the street has been difficult enough. Walking along footpaths has proven frustrating, as I am diligent about walking on the correct side. While being here, there have been many occasions where I have made the mistake of walking on the left, when I should be walking on the right. I now feel sorry for the people who walk on the wrong side, back at home, and have had to suffer my wrath and obvious frustration.
Speaking of frustration. My most used application on my iPhone has gone from being Facebook to my conversion application because I am still trying to work out how to convert farenheit to celsius and pounds to kilograms. With the quick change in the temperature, I have had to refer to my conversion application in order to dress appropriately for the weather. Also, with the large amounts of food that I have been consuming, I have also been required to regularly open the application to make sure that I am not going crazy and overindulging myself with delicious American food.
In the process of typing this article, I had to go back and correct my spelling of words, which I had spelled the Australian (or British) way. The swapping of an ‘s’ to a ‘z’ in words such as analyze and prioritize is something that I am slowly getting used to. Even my computer is telling me that I am spelling those words wrong when I spell them the American way! This wouldn’t normally be a problem for me, but seeing as I am not only living but also studying in America for four months, it means that I constantly have to change my words to the United States’ spelling so that I don’t get penalized for misspelling things.
Let this pose as a warning to many of you. If you see someone walking on the wrong side of the footpath, wearing sunnies, eating breaky and giving the Aussie salute to mozzies, don’t get frustrated with them or make them feel silly, as it is most likely it will be a new Australian exchange student who is about to experience the same unexpected culture shock that I did. They will quickly adapt to doing things the American way.