University of Iowa

Questions I asked in Australia so that you don’t have to

April 11th, 2019
five students standing together in a forest

Hawkeyes in Hobart at the exchange program. Aussie barbecue before classes started - from left to right: Molly, Justice, me, Jana, and Emmy. 

Hey! I’m Greta Larget and I’m studying abroad in Tasmania for the semester. I’ve learned a thing or two about Australian culture during my time here so far, and thought I’d share some of the more embarrassing questions that I’ve asked while here so that you won’t have to.


“Where’s the North Star?”

I asked this question to a park ranger on a guided tour I was going on at Phillip Island (totally worth the trip) and I got quite a few looks from the locals. Turns out the North Star isn’t visible from the Southern Hemisphere (which makes sense, looking back). However, they do have the Southern Cross, which is on the Australian flag and honestly is a sight in itself. Also, because the Southern Hemisphere has less light pollution due to the higher proportion of ocean, you can see the full Milky Way even in the city, as long as you’re not standing directly under a street light. It’s really quite an impressive sky. Oh, also, the moon is upside down and you’re not going crazy for thinking so.

the ocean with breaking waves and a few clouds in the sky

Phillip Island - the penguins swim up to the shore and then parade across the beach to go to their coves on the mountain beside it

“What are those giant yellow bins at the airport for?”

I’m lucky to have had the chance to go through many airports along my travels here, and each one has giant yellow bins for biohazardous material. I couldn’t figure out why, so I asked about it, and honestly the answer is quite sad. Because Australia is an island, it has remained the only place on Earth that is unaffected by the vermouth (the parasite that’s killing all of the honey bees). Vermouth have infected every other bee population around the world by attaching itself to the honey bee and killing it from within and with no foreseeable cure. In an attempt to remain unaffected by this parasite, Australia has very strict rules about its honey and where it can travel. Australia is also the sole provider of queen bees worldwide, even though each bee they send internationally will eventually be killed by the vermouth. It’s an unsustainable system, but one that needs to be in place if we want any hope of saving the bees. New Zealand was infected with the vermouth a few years back, so it’s only a matter of time until Australia reaches that point too, but they’re trying every precaution to save the bees. No one is allowed to bring honey between Australian states, but you are allowed to bring it overseas (if you don’t have a layover somewhere else in Australia, otherwise you have to buy it in the airport). It’s some of the best honey in the world, despite its precarious situation, and definitely worth the effort and the trip.

 

“What’s the difference between soccer, football, AFL, rugby, and footy?”

Okay, not going to lie, this one’s a lot to take in so buckle up. All of these words are used on a daily basis, and depending on where you’re from within Australia, they can mean different things. Firstly, soccer just means soccer. Way to go, Australia; you got one thing right. Football, or footy for short, refers to either rugby (if you’re from Queensland or New South Wales) or AFL (if you’re from anywhere else). Rugby is the same sport we think of when we think of rugby, but it’s much more common here. AFL is short for the Australian Football League and from what I can tell it’s a mix of American football and rugby. Everyone has their favorite team and the professional teams play on weekends. It’s a similar culture to the NFL, just a slightly different sport. Also, netball is a sport that exists, but it’s played like casual basketball. It’s sort of like the equivalent of soccer in America in the sense that it’s the game that everyone plays in a league as a child before they grow up and realize they hate sports. Cricket is also really big here, but that’s more like a baseball equivalent and, sorry, but I just don’t have the brain capacity to learn all of those sports ,too.

women playing Australian footy

This is my friend Hannah (jumping in the air after kicking the ball) playing footy (AFL) during a game between UTAS and Brighton. Another friend of mine named Lilith came with me to support her and also explained the rules to me as the game went along.


“Do y’all have squirrels here?”

The story behind this question is that I was working on a project for class with my friend Nicki and as a part of the project we had to look up some specific species of Australian wildlife and come up with some information about it. While looking up some animals, Nicki showed me the quokka. It’s a native Australian animal that is adorable and you should definitely look it up because it’s worth the pictures. Anyway, I thought it kind of looked like a squirrel and so I asked if they had squirrels in Australia, which I thought was a totally normal question to ask because this country seems to have every other animal under the sun, but she thought that it was the most hilarious question and I sounded like the most ignorant American ever. Turns out instead of squirrels, there are just wallabies everywhere at my residential college. So anyway, I learned the hard way that Australia does not in fact have squirrels here AND that Australians love to mock American accents (side note: never say the words basil, mocha, produce, or missile in front of an Australian unless you want them to laugh at you).

a wallaby

While this wallaby probably isn’t the same one I usually see outside my residence most nights, I found this buddy on top of Mt. Wellington (kunanyi) in Hobart

 

“Why is there coconut in everything?”

Like I briefly mentioned before, I live in a residential college, which is essentially the equivalent of a dorm. My particular residence provides meals. This has helped me to see what local Australians eat on a daily basis. Something that I noticed about the meals provided was that almost every dessert had coconut in it somehow. I didn’t really mind because I think coconut is fine, but because it was so prominent, I asked my friends about it. Turns out coconut is seen as a pantry staple, just like eggs or flour. Because Tasmania is an island, I guess it makes sense that what I see as a tropical food is just a normal food for the locals, but it’s truly everywhere.

 

“What does it mean to be a liberal?”

Coming to Australia, I knew I wanted to try and steer clear of politics as much as possible because there’s so much international tension right now (especially, it seems, when it comes to America), but some things are just better to know than not. In Australia, the Liberal Party is our equivalent of the Republican Party, while the Labor Party is our equivalent of the Democratic Party. Additionally, they have a pretty popular political party called the Green Party, although most people vote under either Liberal or Labor. Alternatively, you can say you’re left-wing/right-wing or progressive/conservative and people will understand what you mean. Just don’t come in saying you’re a liberal in the American sense of the word because people will assume you believe just the opposite of what you say you do. On the subject of politics, voting is required in Australia and, if you don’t vote, you get a fine (anywhere between 20 and 90 Australian dollars, or 15-65 USD).

 

“Why don’t you have buns?”

Aussie barbecues are a big thing here, although no one’s going to tell you to go “put a shrimp on the barbie” (because they call them prawns and they don’t barbecue them), but sausages and potatoes on the grill are very popular. I’ve been to my fair share of Aussie barbecues (because that’s kind of the welcoming thing to do) and the weirdest thing about them is that they don’t have buns for their meat, but it’s not like they just eat them plain instead. No. They use white bread. They just fold some white bread on a diagonal and put a sausage in the middle of it and pretend that that’s the same thing. Listen up Australia-I’m from Wisconsin and we have amazing brats and using white bread does not make it the same thing. Buns taste way lighter and fluffier than normal bread and are far superior when paired with sausages. Just keep making fairy bread with that stuff instead.

 

“What’s MAFS?”

This may just be because I’m at a university and we all kind of have the same opinion about reality tv (that it’s trash but we can’t stop watching), but MAFS is a huge deal. MAFS is short for Married at First Sight and is just like every dramatic romance reality tv show where the premise is that the people are going to fall in love right and we get to watch. It’s set up to be a “social experiment” with psychologists supposedly matching soul mates together, but we all know it’s just about the drama. Australia has its own versions of the Bachelor and Love Island etc, but MAFS is truly the gold star when it comes to trash Australian reality tv. People care so much. I even found myself getting invested after only a few episodes and I was so disappointed because that’s not usually me, but I just couldn’t help it. It’s so dramatic and so Australian and I guess that’s why it’s so appealing. Just maybe don’t be stupid like me and ask what MAFS is unless you want to be dragged along an incredibly dramatic journey just to realize why Ines is actually the worst.

students relaxing on a couch and laughing

Friends from my residence (Jane Franklin Hall) from left to right: Lilith, Laura, Hannah, me, and Felicity

Hopefully these questions can help you understand a little bit more about Australian culture and will save you from asking all of the embarrassing things I had to figure out when I first got here so that you can go back to Tim Tam slamming with your mates embarrassment free.

Greta Larget is a music composition major at the University of Iowa.  A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Greta is spending the semester at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, on the Iowa Regents Semester in Australia program. 

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