Expat Life

More small differences

Almost immediately after I hit the Publish button on Small differences between Miami and Melbourne, I thought of more things I should have written about. I realised there would be more of these kinds of entries because there is so much to learn and so much that is different. So, here are more small differences.

On the road

In my last entry, I mentioned that although there’s an extensive process for a young person getting driver’s license, a tourist like me with almost zero knowledge of local driving laws and habits can freely get behind the wheel. Petrol costs twice as much here as in Miami and you can pump before paying, but you have to pay inside. There’s more to Melbourne than little Euro-style cars and there’s a complicated public transport system.

Another noticeable difference is that drivers here don’t honk their horns much. Now I know that this is true in some parts of the United States where drivers are more polite, but this isn’t the case in Miami. I don’t know what Miami drivers would do without their horns. They honk at other cars, pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, marathon runners. They honk to flirt, to wake you up, to warn you you’re about to crash, to let you know they were there first or should have been, to get you to move when the traffic light is still red, to get you to sprout your car’s wings and fly out of the traffic build-up. Honking the horn is a way of life in Miami. It’s part of the audio landscape. It’s no surprise then that Miami drivers consistently rank among the worst in the US.


Like Americans, Aussies love their animals. Unlike Miami, however, dogs and cats over the age of three months must be registered and micro-chipped, and a multiple animal permit is required if you have more than two dogs and/or two cats. Miami has a feral cat problem. In three months here, I’ve only seen a stray cat twice.


Here, the recycling bin is larger than the rubbish bin and there are two of them – one for plastics, cartons, glass, cans, paper, and so forth, and the other for green waste like grass, leaves, etc. In Miami, particularly in my neighbourhood of Little Havana, the small, blue recycling bins are used for extra storage. People in my neighbourhood don’t recycle. When we tried to at my place, the City refused to collect it anyway. I like that they recycle so much here and, if that weren’t enough, Theo has a compost bin too. He also has a garden where he grows tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, and herbs such as parsley, rosemary, mint, chives, and oregano. I’ve noticed other Aussies also have gardens.

Australia, in general, seems to be more environmentally aware. There’s even a Green Party. The US has a Green Party too, but the Australian Greens are a real political force to reckon with. Perhaps it’s because of the high cost of living, but people here are conscious of their energy and water usage. On the other hand, I’ve never seen so much junk mail in my life. Homes commonly have two mailboxes. There’s the traditional mailbox – a box with a slit to slip letters in. There’s also the newspaper tube, but these are largely now filled with junk mail. Junk mail is delivered by private messengers, not the post office, and you can come at any time of the day, more than once. Some people put up “No Junk Mail” signs.


Back home, we use words like “restroom” and “bathroom”. Here, “toilet” seems to be the preferred term.  I hate saying “toilet”. Pardon, where is the toilet? Do you have a toilet for customers? Excuse me while I go to the toilet. It just sounds vulgar and it will take getting used to. On the bright side, the standard Australian toilet is dual flush. This is really brilliant.

The dual flush toilet, invented by Australian inventor Bruce Thompson in 1980, has two buttons to flush different levels of water. The dual flush toilet saves up to 67% of water usage in most homes. But here’s another weird thing. The toilet is not always in the same room as the basin, which may be in another room with the shower or tub. It makes me wonder how many Aussies wash their hands after going.

More at home

Electrical outlets are more commonly referred to here as powerpoints. They have switches for added safety. Good idea!


I’ve no idea what’s going on with the coffee in this country. When you go to one of the many, many cafes, you see options such as “long black” and “flat white” and I haven’t a clue as to what this means. They serve lattes in a glass. I don’t know what’s up with that either. I’ve never received a chai or a latte without a pretty frothy design on top and all this suggest a sophisticated coffee culture. Yet, according to one report, 80% of coffee consumed in the home is instant. Instant! Coffee makers are rare in Aussie homes. Instead they put on the electric kettle and heat water to add to Nescafe. Yes, electric kettles. Americans are old school with our stovetop kettles.

Smoking, drinking, and gambling

Smoking and the sale of tobacco are strictly controlled here in the state of Victoria. Most places are smoke-free and I had to ask Theo where cigarettes are sold because I’ve not seen any. They’re sold in supermarkets, some bottle shops (liquor stores), gas stations, and newsstands, but you won’t see them. They’re not on display and you have to ask for them at the counter. They come plainly packaged and with various disgusting images of black lungs, rotting teeth, and other effects of cigarette smoking. They’re also two to three times more expensive than cigarettes in the States. About 20% of Australians smoke. Most of them are aged 25-29.

The legal drinking age in Australia is 18; it’s 21 in the US. In both countries, however, people can legally drink below these ages under different circumstances. A person with a full license (that is, not a learner or probationary driver) cannot drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level higher than 0.05 in Australia; it’s 0.08 in Florida.

To help you drink responsibly, bottles of booze here are marked with the number of “standard drinks” each bottle contains. Instead of counting glasses or containers, Aussie count standard drinks as a more reliable method of keeping track of how much alcohol they consume. From here, there’s a calculation to help you determine your BAC, but my mathematically-challenged brain can’t quite figure it out.

In Miami, if you want to gamble, you have a few options. There are a couple of major casinos, the dog and horse tracks, and cruise ships. In Melbourne, gambling is everywhere. Aside from the massive Crown Casino and the tracks, there are over 25,000 “pokies” (poker machines) across hundreds of venues in the state of Victoria. Plus you can wager on nearly anything. Tabcorp, the Australian wagering company, one of the world’s largest gambling companies, even has a smartphone app. During last night’s footy game (go Pies!), I saw one of its commercials encouraging viewers to bet on an upcoming game.