Australia: the land of kangaroos, counterclockwise toilet water, and Steve Irwin. Or at least that's what the internet says it's made of. But what happens when you actually go down under and see that majestic island for yourself?
Tourists were asked: "When you visited Australia, what was the most unexpected thing you saw there?" These are some of the best answers.
Two homeless old men who saw us taking pictures in downtown Sydney and invited us to come meet their "friend named Wombat who was more reliable than their drug dealer." They took us to a tree in Hyde park with a hole in it where there was a ring-tailed possum sleeping that they had befriended and we could pet. They introduced us to "Wombat", told us to have a nice day, smiled, and walked away without asking for a thing. I've never seen such well-intentioned, healthy, happy homeless men. America needs to get on that.
The gulls are SUPER aggressive. Those guys get a foot away from you, yell at you, and then 3 distract you while one steals food off your plate. (They actually got a piece of tuna off my wife's plate this way.)
No kangaroos. I was led to believe that kangaroos were roaming the streets.
I used to think the best days of my life might involve marriage, children, maybe career success.
Then visiting my brother in Perth I saw a pelican do a massive fly-by poop on a toddler's head. Game over.
I was struck by the level to which Aussies identified with the particular state/city they lived in. It was extremely common to have people introduce themselves by saying "I'm a Sydneysider" or "I'm a Queenslander" in the early parts of a conversation, particularly when meeting new people.
Free BBQ grills everywhere. In city parks, national parks, rest stops both in cities and in the middle of nowhere. There's probably more BBQ grills than public toilets in Australia.
The animals are different colours. I spent a whole Saturday afternoon walking around a park looking at black swans and black and white crows of some sort, admiring their feathers.
Frogs in the toilet was a surprise. Increased numbers of frogs when flushing was a bigger surprise. You couldn't see the water for the frogs.
How quiet and polite everyone was.
Every time I've ever met an Australian on vacation (especially in Bali) they have been drunk and screaming. Its been the case so often in so many places I thought that everyone from Australia was like that.
The lack of crime in Australia. I was watching the news there and their biggest "crime" was a family finding bullet holes on their home after coming back from a trip. In LA, that happens like everyday and it only matters if someone is home and gets hit by a bullet.
Everybody I met was happy. Coming from Glasgow, Scotland, this was a massive culture shock.
40 degrees C, so hot that the AIR is hot, as in it felt like you were walking with a heater in your face and there in the square was the biggest Christmas tree I had seen in my life.
Previous to that I lived in Canada so it was very off putting. It's been three years and Christmas/ New Years still just feels like garbage here.
How close you could get to the wildlife in wildlife parks. I didn't really expect to be feeding kangaroos, wallabies, and emus from my hand.
Moved to Australia from NZ at age 14, and of all things I remember being astonished at how huge the sky seemed, because the land was so flat and vast compared to where I'd come from. The horizon just stretched on forever!
At restaurants, or what I thought seemed like restaurants, I had to go up to the counter or wherever to place my order. I didn't always feel like I knew the proper system for getting served.
The coolest thing I think though was how well British and Australian attitudes mesh. It's like we were designed to take the piss out of each other.
The price of food, especially produce. At first I thought it was because so much would have to be imported, but the vast majority of produce I bought was from Australia. I discussed this a bit with some Australians and Americans and we wondered if this was the real cost of food, if you pay everyone in the chain an actual living wage, instead of depending on underpaid migrant workers.
How much roadkill there is! We had a clause in our insurance that we couldn't drive after dusk because the chance of hitting something is so high.
The moon is backwards!
To explain, in the northern hemisphere when the moon is waxing, it fills up from the right side to the left, then when it wanes it goes from the same direction. In Australia, on the other hand, the waxing crescent starts on the left.
It took me a moment to realize what exactly I was seeing, and I was absolutely tickled pink once I figured out why it was the way it was.
The distances between cities. Holy. You can drive for 7 hours straight and pass through 3 measly cities with ~5000 inhabitants.
Went in to buy more appropriate footwear in my first few days, and I was convinced the shopgirl was flirting with me. Bought something else in another shop, and more flirting. Another shop and the same thing.
Turns out they weren't flirting. They were just naturally being really friendly. Smiling and being interested in me for no other reason than because that's just how you do things.
I ended up taking a job going door to door selling things (backpacking yay!) and I was amazed how few times I was told to go away.
I'm a Black guy from America. The lack of racism was palpable. Even my 60 year old mother was like "I feel so normal here. No one is treating me bad or good. They are treating me like a person."
I love that airports in Australia have a distinctive pre 9/11 feel to them. You don't need a ticket to go to the gate, you can bring water through security, the security guards aren't jerks, etc. It made me realize how much flying has changed in the US (and Europe) in the past 20 years.
I knew you drive on the opposite side of the road there, but I did not expect the escalators to be opposite as well. You go up the left side, that was cool.
How casual Australians act around local wildlife was the most surprising thing for me when I went there.
Lots of little jellyfish in the water close to Sydney harbor? Guy walks into the water, picks one up with both hands, walks up to us like "Guys I haven't seen those before. Anyone know what kind that is?"
Cliff jumping with Aussies. See water below us foam up a bit. "Looks like sharks. Ah it's probably just small ones. They won't do anything."
Big spider inside a construction site I was working on. Like, big enough to drop a magical sword if you kill it. Asked my boss about it. "Nah leave her alone, it's the house spider. She's not dangerous!" When I asked whether "not dangerous" meant those kinds of spiders aren't venomous he answered "Nah we'd still have to drive you to the emergency room. But like, not as fast as we'd have to with other spiders." Ok thanks boss.
Stuff like that really makes me wonder how many of the people I've met there are still alive today.
Visited Australia and New Zealand two years ago. The most unexpected, most jarring thing I've seen is how disciplined the people are compared to my country, sadly. It was really peaceful, clean and quiet. A breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively.
A goth. Seriously that country is about a 1000 degrees centigrade and there's a guy walking down the street in Brisbane in a black leather outfit. That's dedication.
Drive through alcohol shop.
When I visited Australia I was really careful not to destroy anything from the nature or hurt any animal because I thought that was something very special and important to them. After a week I saw some guy shoot a kangaroo in the face. That was pretty surprising. I thought kangaroo was a national pride in Australia but apparently you can pretty much just go out and shoot them if you want.
I remember getting off the plane and just noticing that the colors were all different. Felt like the sun was brighter and the sky bluer. Might have been because we left Germany in winter and arrived in summer, but also, the silvery green of the Eucalyptus trees is a color we don't get here.
Some of this material has been edited for clarity.