Our Australian friends live about as far away from the United States as you can get, and they have a culture that’s equally different. Sure, they may speak English — whether or not you understand them is another question — but that might be one of the only things the two countries have in common.
If you’ve never heard of thong throwing or “schoolies week,” you’re in for a treat — check out these strange Australian customs.
Canned Spaghetti and Toast
For many Americans, a good breakfast includes coffee and eggs. In Australia, they have their own way of doing breakfast, and it’s not what you’d expect. There’s a tradition of starting with a slice of toast — seems simple enough — but then topping it with canned spaghetti.
Believe it or not, this is a classic breakfast option for Aussies. But don’t knock it before you try it — the meal is not so different from a spaghetti dinner with garlic bread, only they eat it first thing in the morning! You’ll certainly be full until lunch.
While Australians technically speak English, they have so many slang words and abbreviations that it can be impossible for Americans to understand them. For example, “afternoon” becomes “arvo,” “mosquito” becomes “mozzie,” and a “cup of tea” becomes “cuppa.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A “coldie” is a beer, “Chrissie” is Christmas, and “chook” is chicken. Needless to say, Australians love giving things nicknames, and it’s hard for foreigners to keep up. If you’re planning a trip to Sydney, it’s a good idea to pick up a phrasebook.
This is one of Australia’s most fun — and perhaps ridiculous — traditions. Every year on Australia Day, January 26th, people get together in bars and watch cockroaches race to the finish line. People even place bets on which cockroach they think will win.
Proceeds from these races usually get donated to charity, so it’s entertainment and philanthropy all in one! What could be better than that? In the United States, cockroaches aren’t much more than an annoying pest, but in Australia, they’re central players in celebrating one of the biggest holidays.
No, we’re not talking about underwear, we’re talking about flip-flops. They’re called thongs down under, and they’re another important part of Australia Day. All around the country, people join together in a fun thong-throwing contest. Whoever throws them the farthest wins.
These contests are usually casual, but sometimes they can be as competitive as a professional sport — some people take their thong-throwing very seriously. There are also specific rules and regulations to follow should you compete. Unsurprisingly, an Australian town holds the Guinness World Record for most people throwing “thongs” at once.
Sausage sizzles started out as a means for local fundraising, and you can now find them outside of many hardware stores in Australia. What you get is a hot sausage, a slice of bread and sometimes condiments like ketchup or onions. After all, you can really work up an appetite doing all that shopping!
Nowadays, sausage sizzles can be found by polling booths on election day as well. It’s a well-known Australian custom that tourists just have to try — they’re low-cost and casual, but just as satisfying as any restaurant meal.
It seems like there is no end to the amount of strange food combinations that Australians manage to invent. One of these combinations is fairy bread, which consists of white bread, butter and many, many rainbow sprinkles. That’s it! Three simple ingredients and you have a favorite Australian snack.
Unsurprisingly, this is a popular party snack for kids — in fact, it sounds like something an 11-year-old came up with. However, don’t be surprised to see adults enjoying it, too. And hey — you might just get a taste for it yourself!
Drinking Out of Shoes
You probably know that Aussies like to drink. They also know how to party, and it’s not uncommon for someone to shout “do a shoey!” during a celebration. As you may have guessed, doing a “shoey” means drinking alcohol out of your own footwear.
You can find Australian celebrities doing this for their fans, or simply the guy next door doing it during a cookout. It began as an act to bring good fortune to the drinker, but at this point, it’s mostly a bit of entertainment for your audience.
If there’s one thing Australians love to do, it’s giving people nicknames. Visitors to the country might be surprised at just how fast they create these nicknames — after a recent introduction, they may be calling you “Bethie” instead of “Elizabeth.”
This is because Australians view nicknames as an expression of acceptance. It’s a way of making someone feel comfortable and welcome in the group — if they give you a nickname shortly after meeting them, you should feel pretty flattered. Don’t hesitate to invent a nickname for them, too, if you can think of one.
Try a Bite of Their National Animal
Australia is unique in that they offer their national animal on the dinner menu. That’s right — step into many Australian restaurants, and you can find kangaroo steaks available for eating. They’re not so popular that every Australian has tried them, but they certainly aren’t hard to find.
Many people swear by kangaroo meat and claim that it’s even better than beef or lamb. This is a subject of some controversy, however. It only became legal in South Australia in 1980. Either way, it’s a dish that is rising in popularity.
Australians, like Americans, love their sports. This is something to which many foreigners can relate. The way they celebrate their sport of choice, however, might be a little more involved than other countries. If you go to a sports game in Australia, it’s not uncommon to see the whole crowd dressed in the same costume.
Cricket fans, for example, often don a grey wig, tie and suit. Some of them complete the look with a microphone. This get-up pays homage to a famous cricketer from the 60’s named Richie Benaud. Talk about dedication!
The festive spirit doesn’t stop there. Australians are known for decorating their cars depending on which holiday is around the corner. Approaching Christmas? Expect to see antlers. For Australia Day, the Australian flag proudly flies from many vehicles. Cars and holidays are not taken lightly by the Aussies.
These displays of enthusiasm show just how patriotic and fun Australians can be — if they celebrate something, they go the whole nine yards. If you’re lucky enough to be there during one of these holidays, why not join in?
Bring a Plate!
An invitation to an Australian dinner party might include the sentence, “Bring a plate!” For some outsiders, this means literally showing up with a dinner plate in hand. That would be a mistake, however — in Australia, it means you should bring food of some kind.
Australians tend to be quite hospitable, so even if a host doesn’t say they should “bring a plate,” they might bring something, anyway. A nice appetizer, a side dish or salad or even a dessert are all viable options should you be invited into someone’s home.
In the United States, we have boxed wine. In Australia, they have goon. Goon is essentially a boxed wine that people lift above their heads and chug from a foil bag. It’s inexpensive and can get you intoxicated quickly. If you ever backpack through Australia, you’ll probably be drinking this on your nights out.
Some goon isn’t bad and can be consumed as-is. Be aware, however, that some goon tastes pretty disgusting alone, and you’ll probably want to mix it with something else. Try it with fruit slices and ice.
When Australians talk about Acca/Dacca, they’re actually talking about AC/DC. It seems strange to change a name that’s already short and sweet, but as you know, Australians love to nickname things.
In fact, it’s common for Australians to add “azza,” “oz,” or “ez” to people’s nicknames, and it looks like “acca” is another one. If Dan is listening to AC/DC in America, Dazza is listening to Acca/Dacca in Australia.
No White Christmas
This one is a bit of Australian culture that some US citizens can relate to. In Australia, Christmas is never white. Snow doesn’t fall on Christmas Eve and there is no “winter wonderland” to frolic through. Plenty of tourists find this strange — after all, what’s Christmas without fuzzy sweaters and cups of hot cocoa?
Travel to the southern United States, however, and you’ll find that people don’t have a white Christmas there, either. Despite the many differences between cultures, you can always find something people have in common!
Magpie Swooping Season
Anyone who’s ever heard that Australia is home to many dangerous animals is right, and one of those animals is the magpie. These smart birds have gotten used to living around humans in Australia, and this has brought with it some unfortunate consequences.
During the breeding season — late August to mid-October — some magpies become very aggressive. They are known to swoop and attack people passing by, especially those on bikes or scooters. During the “swooping season,” pedestrians have to watch out for these animals — their beaks and talons can do some real damage!
Lemonade = Sprite
Lemonade as Americans are used to drinking is not very prevalent in Australia — that is, lemonade made from lemons. As a result, Australian often call drinks “lemonade” if they contain even a hint of lemon, which includes drinks like Sprite.
This is important to know when you head to restaurants; you may think you’re ordering lemonade, but Sprite will show up at your table! Quite a curious cultural difference for foreigners, and one that can cause contention with some tourists. After all, can Sprite really be called lemonade?
No Shoes, No Worries?
Visitors to Australia might find that some areas are more, shall we say, casual than they’re used to. This means that seeing someone barefoot on the street, or even inside the supermarket, isn’t entirely out of the ordinary. No shoes? No problem!
Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of this cultural trait is that Australians can stand being barefoot on asphalt in the first place — that sun really heats things up. Depending on the foreigner, this could be either endearing or disgusting. But one thing’s for sure: Those Aussies don’t care!
They Love Big Things
Australia has something of an obsession with “big” things, and they dot the country serving as tourist attractions. The Big Banana, for example, marks an amusement park in South Wales, and the Big Prawn can be found at a carpark in New South Wales.
Other big objects include pears, a mushroom, a cow, an axe, a beer can, a ram, and many more. You could plan an entire cross-country trip around Australia just to see the big things, and that’s exactly what some people do. A strange tour for sure!
Not only do Australians abbreviate words and give things nicknames, but they have mountains of slang words, too. This is another reason why it can be so hard to understand an Aussie even when you speak the same language. A “bogan” refers to an uncouth and uneducated person, “chockers” means you’re very full, and “ripper” means something’s really great.
Add that good old Australian accent on top of these slang words and you’ve got a distinct local tongue. But don’t worry, “she’ll be right,” as an Australian would say. Everything will be okay.
While Australia has some pretty cool cities, much of the country is made up of desert and other wilderness areas. In conversation, Australians refer to this land as simply “the bush.” After all, it is covered in bushes and vegetation. Venturing too far into the bush can be dangerous; high temperatures and lethal animals abound.
This is why so many people live in Australia’s cities — life in the bush isn’t easy, though people certainly do it. If you want to sound like an Aussie, don’t ask them about the countryside, ask them about the bush.
No matter what country, graduating high schoolers usually have some form of celebrating. In Australia, seniors experience “schoolies week” after graduating, which is essentially a week-long holiday to party and have fun with friends. This is a time to have one last hurrah before parting ways.
There’s also a name for older people who party with “schoolies”: “toolies.” Younger students who join in on the fun are considered “foolies.” Again, they can’t get enough nicknames! This tradition began on the Gold Coast in the 70’s and is now here to stay.
Triple J Australia Day
Australians have many ways they celebrate Australia Day — including thong throwing and cockroach racing — but they also listen to one specific radio station. Many Aussies tune into Triple J on this holiday in order to hear which song was voted number one of the year.
Throughout the day, Triple J plays the top 100 songs of the year, until finally revealing which song came in first place. These rankings are all based on listener vote, and listeners are certainly active! Approximately 2.7 million people voted in 2018.
Seafood for the Holidays
When Americans think of Christmas food, they often think of hearty dishes like potato casseroles, turkey, and gravy. But of course, every culture has its own holiday foods, and in Australia, a Christmas dinner usually consists of lobster, salmon, shrimp and any other food that comes from the sea.
This is partly because Christmas falls during the summer months in Australia, and also because it’s a country surrounded by ocean. Who wouldn’t want to eat platters of fresh seafood on Christmas? This is one Australia custom that could make many Americans jealous.
If you know anything about Australian culture, you probably know that they eat Vegemite — a lot. They often spread this dark paste on bread, biscuits and sandwiches. It has a very distinct taste that most foreigners don’t like, but as a tourist, it’s a must-try.
You can expect a salty, slightly bitter taste when eating Vegemite. Try it on toast with butter or in a sandwich with cheese and tomato. Just make sure you only add the tiniest amount. Vegemite has a very strong flavor, so a little goes a long way.
Emu for Dinner
Not only do people eat kangaroo in Australia, but they also eat emu. It’s not as common as kangaroo, but indigenous Australians have been eating it for thousands of years. It makes sense, too, considering emu are abundant in Australia. You can definitely find emu dishes in some restaurants.
When you think about it, Australia offers its entire national emblem as a dinner option — both the kangaroo and the emu appear on the coat of arms. If you’re curious about trying exotic meats, Australia is a good place to visit.
No Hot Pink Pants?
There are several wacky laws that exist in Australia (as in any country) that outsiders may find funny. For example, it’s technically against the law to have more than 50 kilograms — or 110 pounds — of potatoes. Why you may ask? This law dates back to the Great Depression when the government had to regulate certain foods.
Another popular rumor is that it’s illegal to wear hot pink pants after noon on Sunday. Unfortunately, this appears to be a myth. There’s no official legislation on the issue of hot pink pants.
Laws About Vacuuming?
One of the weirdest laws, and perhaps one of the best, is one that the city of Melbourne enforces. This law states that it is illegal to use your vacuum cleaner between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays, and 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. on weekends.
Honestly, this rule seems like a good one. If you’ve ever been woken up by a neighbor cleaning their apartment at two in the morning, then you understand why! And really, who needs to vacuum during the night, anyway?
Savory Meat Pies
Even though Americans tend to prefer sweet pastries, the meat pies of Australia might still be pleasant to their taste buds. These treats are loved all over the continent and usually include fillings of sausage or beef. Top it off with tomato sauce and you have a finger-licking lunch.
Sometimes, these meat pies even include the infamous vegemite, but the taste is not as easy to detect as in other foods. These savory pastries are especially convenient if you’re in a rush — they’re small enough to fit in your hand and carry on-the-go!
This Australian gambling game isn’t legal to play on most days; in Victoria, it’s only allowed on Anzac Day. It’s history, however, is a long one, and so it’s a beloved tradition in Australia. It consists of flipping two pennies and betting on the results — will they land both heads, both tails, or one heads and one tails?
It was played a lot by soldiers during World War I, and underground groups emerged in the years that followed to play despite its illegal status. A simple premise, but a lot of significance for Australians.