These are what first come to mind when Americans think about Australia – after all, we are on total opposite sides of the earth. Let’s just blame our misconceptions on Finding Nemo and Kangaroo Jack. These beloved movies give us a false sense of Australian expertise, and they just don’t serve justice to the the true Aussie way of life.
Luckily, two Australian exchange students at the University of Mississippi served as guides for the Land Down Under. Their home country may be a 15-hour flight from the United States, but Jordan Steer and Riëtte de Jager brought Australia right here to Oxford, Mississippi.
Let’s face it: we Americans think we are one of the only countries with big cities, nice shopping centers, and fun things to do, other than Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. Jordan had to learn this the awkward way.
“A girl asked me if Australia had Apple Stores,” Steer laughed, “I looked my iPhone in my hand. I thought it was a joke, but she was serious.”
Jordan is from Sydney, the largest city in Australia with a population of over four million. Yes, there are actually big cities in Australia, not just wilderness with kangaroos happily hopping around. Australians enjoy the same first world luxuries that we have here in the United States.
But, there is one thing that Australia does not have: Wal-Mart.
“Costco is pretty big. The biggest stores are Woolworths and Coles. They’re like your Wal-Marts,” Steer said.
It is said that Wal-Mart does not operate in Australia because their corporate culture is very different than our own. According to fairwork.gov.au, the minimum wage in Australia is $17.70, and all full- and part-time are guaranteed four weeks of paid annual leave. This leaves Woolworths and Coles to serve Australians well. In addition to having physical stores, Woolworths sells groceries online and delivers them right to the front door. Can life get any better?
Yes, it can. Australia is in the southern hemisphere. This means Christmas is in the summer. Christmastime culture is entirely different that what we know here. Imagine celebrating the birth of Baby Jesus in sweltering, humid heat. No “Frosty the Snowman” or “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” No chestnuts roasting on an open fire because, well, it would be too hot.
“We normally have lunches outside with the family and have ham and pavlova,” de Jager said. “Pavlova is the best thing ever. It’s meringue with kiwi and strawberries. You’ve got to have some.”
We struggle with trying to fit all Christmas festivities into just one day. Australians win, once again, with the celebration of Boxing Day. The day right after Christmas, this holiday celebrates the art of gift-wrapping and gift-giving.
“It’s more for families to celebrate if you miss Christmas,” Steer said.
Of course, food is different in Australia. Instead of pork, beef, and chicken, Australians eat lots of lamb. Here in America, we do the pick five at local grocery stores, but meat can be bought at actual butcher shops in Australia. Australians also eat kangaroo and emu, their national animals.
“Kangaroo tastes a bit weird. It’s red meat, but it tastes chickeny. I only have kangaroo occasionally, but it’s normally just cooked on the barbecue” Steer admits.
Grilled ‘roo does sound irresistible. It shouldn’t be too hard to find because Woolworths even sells kangaroo meat online. But beware: stay away from bald eagle cuisines. If we eat our national animal, prepare to serve serious jail time and pay an even more serious fine.
College life in Australia is the complete opposite of what we are accustomed to here in the United States. According to Jordan and Riëtte, it’s rare for students to go out of state for college. It’s actually more common for students to take gap years to work or go abroad.
“University is very different. You go to class, and you have friends outside of school,” de Jager said. “It’s not like a family. That’s what I love about Ole Miss.”
Excitement flashed across Riëtte’s face as she revealed news of her extended stay at Ole Miss until May of 2017. When she heads back home to Australia, she’ll be happy to tell them about the America they never knew.