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First Impressions Of Australia

I arrived in Sydney. This is what I found.

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SYDNEY, Australia- I noticed that people are saying thank you to the driver as they exit the bus. They’re all doing it — they’re all thanking this guy who’s providing an essential, though menial, public service. What the fuck? Nobody thanks bus drivers. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this in 18 years of travel through 81 or so countries.

When I got off the bus the driver actually beat me to it. He looked at me, smiled, and said thank you for riding. In a world where bus drivers in places like Santiago, Chile are permitted to run over two pedestrians per year and still keep their jobs, I was startled that the guy even looked at me.

A friendly city bus driver … where the fuck am I?

A couple days ago was my daughter Petra’s eight birthday. We stopped at a 7/11 and I told her that she could pick out a snack. She had difficulty deciding, so I went outside for a moment. When I returned to the store she had befriended the lady working there. I told her that it was Petra’s birthday, and she went right over and poured her a birthday smoothy.

People just do things like this here.

I’ve only been in the country for a few days, but I’m taken aback by the fact that these Australians just seem … well, nice. They act as you imagine people should act. It’s like they received that lesson on the golden rule — about how you should treat others how you want to be treated and all that bullshit that children are taught everywhere in the world — but they actually seem to live by it.

People say please and thank you here, they are polite and eager conversationalist, I haven’t met anyone yet who seemed to busy to chat, and they’re all into saving the environment, exercise, nutrition, tree hugging, and that kind of stuff that most societies quickly tire of on a mass level … Walking through the east of Sydney was like viewing a promotional video of how the human species idealistically envisions itself being.

I’m sure there are Australian assholes out there somewhere, but they seem to be diluted in a happy sea of not-assholes.

Like the Dutch, I have no idea why Australians would travel outside their own country. Their country is a continent — literally. It has just about everything — except winter, excessive poverty … real problems. On the radio in Sydney I heard a nationally broadcasted report about how one guy shot another guy in the leg in Melbourne, over a thousand kilometers away. Meanwhile, someone getting their brains blown out in Chicago isn’t news outside the city limits. From my two-day-old perspective, the place that Australians come from seems ideal, and it seems dumb for them to leave it.

Do they travel just to reassure themselves that the rest of the world is far shittier than their home?

Yup, checked it, mate, the rest of the world still sucks more than we do. Let’s go home. 

I have an excuse for my excessive travels. I grew up in the countryside near a somewhat remote, rather poor village — a place that sucks. I wrote about my hometown one time and one time only on this blog, and a commenter slapped on the climatic one liner: “Now I see why you travel.”

But for the Australians, I have no idea (yet) why they would want to go abroad. The only glimmers of sucky-ness I can see so far is the fact that they the place seems to be overtly lawed-to-death. They seem to have an excessive amount of petty laws that govern the minute aspects of life.

From meeting Australians on the road you would think that they came from a legally laid back, freedom loving, personal liberty bolstering kind of country. They don’t. This place is packed with laws.

I had the most difficult time finding a beer here in Australia since I was in Morocco in 2007. While you see all of these bald, tattooed Australians drinking beer by the gallon throughout Southeast Asia, in their own country alcohol is relatively highly regulated. As far as booze is concerned, the place may as well be Muslim. Countless times I went into a restaurant, a cafe, or a convenient store and asked for beer only to be given some drawn out excuse about how they can’t get a license to sell it, and how I would have to go to some obscure location entire blocks or even miles away just to get a drink.

(There are bars here, but I’m not willing to drop an entire paycheck on a few cans of beer.)

Probably the most glaring example of this petty governmental nannying I’ve found yet was in Kioloa. The place is basically a sprawling trailer park for people on holiday. There is one little convenient store that everybody goes to. But if you go in there and ask for beer the owner will tell you that he can’t get a license to sell it because there is a liquor store the next town over — six kilometers away.

“We are too close to them,” he says.

No joke.

“People want to get beer here and they don’t want to drive, but we can’t sell it to them. I really wish I could, but I can’t.”

These are the kinds of laws that don’t really inhibit or shape behavior, they merely piss everybody off. They are laws that say, “We’re going to try to make you act how the government wants you to act by intentionally making it more of a hassle for you to live how you want to live. We’re not going to restrict you; we’re simply going to inconvenience you into submission.”

It’s like those urban designers who think it’s a high and moral thing to try to force people into taking public transportation by intentionally making it expensive and inconvenient to drive in cities. People still drive and Australians still drink — albeit with a slightly more pissed off disposition.

In Asia, I can go into a quicky mart, grab a can of beer for a buck, step out into the street, crack it open, and drink it as though I have my freewill intact. These Asian countries are often referred to as authoritarian states.

Filed under: Australia, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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