I recently read an article written by a Sydney native describing what she missed most from home after having relocated to London. It was truly informative about local Sydney and Australian culture. I really enjoyed her insight and used it as a sort of guide for things to try as expats in Sydney (like sausage sizzles and Round the Twist cheezy tv) to help us feel more local. I also found her critique of London interesting and felt slightly defensive of our last home. It prompted me to think of what my list would look like as a recent arrival to Sydney who is missing London.
I like the idea of drawing comparisons between countries/cultures…it’s part of the thrill of the expat experience. We have chosen to live this expatriate lifestyle because no other experience allows such deep discovery of a place or its people.
I by no means intend this article to explicitly disrespect our current city, but rather to bring attention to the small details that our family has noticed between our homes. I could just as easily create a list of all the things that excite us about Sydney as I could create a comparison between London and the US cities that we have called home. We’ve only been in Australia for six months and are still adjusting, so I expect this to change over time but here’s what we’ve come up with so far:
- Public transportation – Hands down this is one of the most difficult changes to get used to. The infrastructure is not very developed here in Sydney and what they do have doesn’t run with any dependable frequency. I miss the Central Line with a train every minute and the double decker buses that came at least every five minutes. In London the kids travelled for free on all modes of transportation which seems very family friendly to me, whereas here we also have to pay for the kids to travel.
- Bus Stop Announcements – There is something very efficient and sensible about announcing what the next bus stop is. I am amazed that there is no announcement or display of upcoming stops here in Sydney. I wonder how anyone knows when to get off? I sit with my phone and watch our progress on Google Maps for the entire ride in order to alight at the proper location.
- Not being dependent on automobiles – Number one is the major cause for this, the other is the sheer size and the sprawl of Sydney and its many suburbs.
- Amazon – We almost didn’t move when we heard we would be without Amazon. Joking here with a smidgen of truth. The ability to click a button on our iPhones and have anything we wanted delivered within a few hours up to, gasp, 24 hours…and for free!!!! Everything in Oz delivered comes at a steep price and nothing comes conveniently from the same shop. For more expensive things, assuming they don’t weigh too much, it’s common for it to cost less to buy it from Amazon in the U.S. and pay the shipping and customs fees. Amazon has announced that it’s coming to Australia and we’re counting the days.
- Postage fees and delivery times in the UK are basically free and quick (see item number 4) – After you order your items from any online shop, you are constantly updated by email or text as to the whereabouts of your order and a time frame of when to expect it sometimes within the hour. So far in Sydney we’ve missed most deliveries because we never know when they’re coming. We need better communication here people. This seems like an easy fix if we choose more modern methods of communicating. As a bonus the post office is a block away from home if in fact we missed a delivery from Australia Post.
- All of Europe at our fingertips – The culture and history of so many different countries within a drive, short train ride or ferry.
- On that note, Affordable Family Holidays – Wollongong has a lovely beach but it’s not exactly an exotic weekend getaway. Whether we fly to Uluru or Bali we’re looking at at least $2500 in airfare for our family. Days of cheap mini-breaks to exciting destinations are sadly a thing of the past.
- Warm double cheeked greetings – how can you beat cheek kissing as a form of hello vs a sterile handshake? Some people do the kiss in Sydney, but be mindful that it’s one kiss, not two—don’t go getting fresh!
- Beautiful, organic produce even at Tesco – IGA and Woolworth’s need to up their game and sell better looking produce with more options. I spent the first month completely depressed with my fruit and veg options. Harris Farms is a shining light but surely more local shops could offer better options too? I’ve since discovered Harvest Hub, an amazing NSW farm co-operative. They have fabulous pesticide-free fruit and veg delivered to our area once per week. It would be super to have the ability to pop to the local shop for quality produce to supplement with during the week.
- Gorgeous architecture in every direction – We have terraced houses reminiscent of New Orleans. Palm trees, sunshine and the coast are the trade off and they are all fab. However, severely missing is the architectural bliss that is Europe.
- Healthy fast food options – London, thank goodness, spared us “mostly” of McDonalds, Burger King, Sizzler and Kentucky Fried Chicken. These establishments did exist sparingly, however, most people chose the healthier options of Pret and Eat, which offer plenty of beautiful sandwiches, salads, wraps, soups and fresh fruits. The food was always fresh and healthy and a quick meal to feed my kids when in a rush. Missing you.
- A cold Christmas – I felt like I was on holiday in the December sun which was lovely but it definitely did not encourage Christmas spirit in our family. We miss the dark, crisp evenings and twinkling Oxford Street lights.
- Sticky rice – Someone please explain to me how every other shop in this town is a Thai restaurant and not a one has sticky rice on the menu? My kids are distraught. Reminiscing about Fitou in North Ken.
- Free museums – London has a plethora of museums that are incredibly large with an amazing amount of art and exhibits and they are free to enter, for the entire family! Why, oh why Sydney do we pay for most everything? (See this article on Free London with Kids)
- Local department stores instead of American stores – We are now inundated with Target, Kmart, Costco, Pottery Barn and Sephora. I feel like I’ve moved back to the US…super odd feeling when expecting a new and unique cultural experience.
- Indian restaurants that don’t serve beef. I’ve seen this in one other place ever and that was in Germany. I wonder if people here are so enamoured with beef that the restaurants wouldn’t survive otherwise? We assumed that was the case for Germany where sausage is king but here I don’t get it. The cow is sacred in India…have all the Aussie Indians bailed on Hinduism? *We finally asked a waiter about this. He explained that the restaurants are trying to be more modern. He said he was not religious so for him it wasn’t an issue. So I get that but every Indian place?
- Appropriate benefits for tax-paying expats – I understand that Australia takes a harder stance on immigration, I get that. If you do let people in though after all the rigorous visa process why then penalise them? We are paying taxes here too. In the UK as expats we were given access to the NHS and my children were able to attend state (public) school for free. In Australia we still pay a boatload of taxes but also pay for school and healthcare. What gives?
- Consumers choosing to save the environment from plastic shopping bags – Even before it became law last year in the UK to pay for plastic bags as a way to deter people from using them, most people chose canvas and other reusable options. I haven’t seen this much plastic being exchanged since living in parts of the US. It seems we could all try to be more mindful about our waste.
- Sitting on a park bench or at the playground without many–legged critters crawling on me or having to swat flies away. Ah, the days when there were almost no insects around, how I long for you.
- Large modern playgrounds – We were all really pampered with playgrounds and the equipment for the whole family to enjoy in London. We’ve probably hit about 20 different parks in the last month and haven’t found one that can compare to any of the adventure playgrounds and splash parks at home. My kids and I have followed checklists of the best splash parks in Sydney and have been disappointed each time. All of them are more of your toddler variety. Perhaps the primary school kids here just head to the pools and beaches for water fun instead of splash parks whereas Londoners being inland didn’t have that option? We will keep on searching for our new Kensington Memorial, Regents Park, Wormwood Scrubs and Diana playgrounds. Sigh.
- The smell of a large European city. I love fresh, clean air and have always noticed a difference when traveling outside of London. My son’s allergies have been practically non-existent since moving to Sydney. Living in a large country with a relatively small population leaves lots of expanse and what seems like cleaner air. That being said, I love the smell of a city, especially one in Europe. My husband travelled to Italy for work in February and the first thing he said to me on the phone as he walked out of the airport was “ah, it smells like Europe.”
- The diverse population of an international city. London is one of a handful of cities that have managed to draw such an international crowd as to have almost surrendered itself to the world. There must be Londoners who hate this fact, as their current political developments suggest. But to regularly hear people–not just tourists–speaking French, Arabic, Polish, Spanish, Russian, and Italian is such a joy. London gave us friends from Russia, France, Italy, the U.S., Canada, Morocco and even the UK. Sydney has its immigrants, but the immigrant population seems nowhere near as diverse and pervasive as London.