Moving to the US for Aussies: Chapter 12

The Top 5 Differences Australians Notice about New York.

One very famous Australian was quoted as saying “Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth.”

Pre-conceptions notwithstanding, Australians who move to New York are constantly reminded of the multi faceted differences that separates Australia, and the city that never sleeps.   Here are just five of those difference Australians quickly notice.

#5:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Your first Road Trip.

After you have run the Airport Gauntlet and are safely being transported to the City, Australians immediately begin to notice differences, the first being the overwhelming number of people, everywhere.

In the three decades since Mick Dundee uttered those words, the population of NYC has grown to almost 9 million residents, and many of them have cars!

Anyone who has lived in a major Australian city has experienced delays due to traffic.  However, in New York City, traffic is on a completely different scale.  Your first experience will be the Van Wick Expressway.  For any traveler caught in traffic, “Expressway” is an oxymoron.

Traffic on the Van Wick is the single greatest reason for passengers to miss their flights out of JFK, or arriving late back into the City.  Its infamy is such that it was featured in a Seinfeld episode.  Should you find yourself trapped in traffic, think of it as an opportunity to check out the different makes and models of American cars.

Your first venture into New York traffic should give you an inkling of the frustrations of driving around the City.  However, as difficult it is to imagine, it can get much worse.  Throw in roadworks, breakdowns and accidents, and your one hour expected commute can be doubled.  Up the ante with a Presidential visit on a Friday afternoon during summer, and it could take more than an hour just to clear Manhattan.

It may not be for everyone, but taking the AirTrain and E Subway between the City and JFK, can have you at your destination under an hour.

The Cars

The US offers a universe of choices, and motor vehicles are no exception.  Aside from driving on the other side of the road, many brands of vehicles will be foreign to Australians.

Also different is the pronunciation of certain car names such as “Maaaazda” and “Neeeeesan”.  What can be completely gobsmacking are the monthly lease rates.  For example you can lease a Toyota Corolla for around $120 per month, the same cost as your monthly cable TV and internet bill.

It’s no wonder that for many Americans, your car payment is looked upon the same as a monthly utility bill.  However, there are costs such as mileage overage that are that are charged at the end of the lease.  That is, you will be limited to between 10,000 and 12,000 miles per year, and if you go over, the dealership will hit you with a per mile fee for every mile over the annual limit, plus any dents or scratched larger than a 25c coin.

Costs are not limited to gas, maintenance, insurance and monthly lease – there is also parking.  Unless you want to experience the daily stress of looking for a parking space, or mastering the science of Alternate Side Parking in NYC, you are going to have to shell out between $250 (outer Borough) to $600 (Manhattan) for a parking garage.

So before you are seduced by the same love affair Americans have with their cars and trucks, that $121 unlimited monthly MetroCard suddenly seems like a bargain.

 #4:  The Stuff Dreams are Made Of

Movies will never quite be the same again

Your movie going experience will be forever changed once you have lived in New York.  Even your television experience will be affected now that you can directly connect the cityscapes and landmarks of Manhattan with scenes from your favorite TV shows.

Watching When Harry Met Sally is an entirely new experience after you have sat at a table at Katz’s Deli and ordered “I’ll have what she’s having”, or sipped a Cosmo at the Horseshoe Bar on 7th and B waiting for your friends Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte to arrive.

Your movie experience suddenly shifts from passive to active every time a scene from New York appears on the screen.  You find yourself scanning for landmarks, and sometimes punching holes in continuity as you know that subway car is actually a PATH train, and that subway station is inside World Trade Center in spite of the “Canal Street” sign on the wall.

Given the plethora of movies that are made in this town, do not be surprised that your image is inadvertently captured walking down a street, or you are a face in the crowd, whether it be a NYU student film or a Hollywood blockbuster.

Welcome to New York

The energy of New York seems limitless.  Let’s all face it, we are not here for the Bagels.  To move to New York takes a breed of person who feels like they are a big fish in a small pond, and want to jump into the biggest ocean on the planet – and that is not limited to Australians.

However a steady relationship with Lady Liberty can be quite volatile.  When she smiles, you can feel a rush of adrenalin, however, get on her bad side, and you may be on the next flight back to Australia.  One day you may be lighting Cohibas with $100 notes, and the next having to choose between a subway ride home or a slice of pizza as you cannot afford both.

It has been said that New York offers the best and worst of the world.  In the space of one city block you can be walking past a one million dollar supercar and a lost soul searching a trash can for his next meal.

However, the city is not without redemption.  Before you reach the street corner a mensch will offer his or her sandwich and be greeted with a smile and a “God Bless”.

They say that the day you stop saying “There but the grace of God go I”, its time to leave New York.

Australians who have lived in the City for decades, now and then will catch themselves taking a moment to look up and be overwhelmed at the enormous scale of NYC.

It’s not uncommon to literally (correct usage) pinch yourself while window shopping at flagship Fifth Avenue store,  or being stopped in your tracks, amazed at the vanishing point created by skyscrapers into the distance.

#2: Manners do not Maketh Manhattan

The New York Minute

The popular definition of a New York Minute is the time between a traffic light changing to green, and the second (or subsequent) car to sound its horn if the first car has not moved.

Great effort is spent by New Yorkers to save every second between the time they leave, to the time they arrive at their destination.  No greater examples can be seen than taking a rush hour train.

Subway Etiquette

Logic would state that the quickest way to “detrain” (yes that is a word) a subway is to let people off first.  Yet in spite of constant reminders of the latter, most New Yorkers have this sense of urgency to get to their destination which seems to override their logic and manners.

Pushing into a crowded train rather than giving up three minutes waiting for the next train is an all too common occurrence.  Ironically, after the conductor unsuccessfully attempts to close the doors several times, that same individual has cost valuable seconds for thousands of other passengers who are anxious to get to their destinations.

What can be quite disturbing for an Australian having been raised in a society where people stand up for others on public transport, is to see a pregnant woman or mother with a baby standing, while able bodied people  are seated pretending not to notice, heads buried in their iPhones.

That is not to say that the same thing does not happen in Australia, but New York is many times the size of Australia’s largest city so expect to see these happening much more frequently.

Meal Time

It is fair to say that most Australians before arriving in the US have mastered basic etiquette, including table manners.

This is not limited to correct use of a knife and fork, but certain behavior which is written, or unwritten, in the handbook of social graces.  Here are a few pointers that will help you successfully navigate meal time with American friends or work colleagues, who may have skipped a chapter or two.

  • Alcohol is rarely consumed at a business lunch.  If you are offered a beer or a glass of wine by your Boss, it may be a deliberate trap to see if you have a drinking problem.  A glass of water, slice of lemon optional, or iced tea is the default setting.
  • Americans speak with food in their mouth.  Do not be shocked if your CEO is simultaneously speaking and chewing at the same time.  Be prepared to be the last person to finish his or her meal unless someone else is doing the talking.
  • Finger Food applies to almost every food groupIn Australia the rule is that if it is on a plate, you use a knife and fork.  However, certain food served on plates in a restaurant fall into a grey areas.  Apparently it is open season on anything that can be easily transported to ones mouth in lieu of cutlery.
  • A knife is only used for the first half of the meal.  Every culture deserves respect, and Americans use of cutlery can be quite fascinating.  Be prepared if dining at a steakhouse to watch everyone use their knife and fork to cut their steak into small squares, and then switch the fork to the right hand to skewer the meat for the remainder of the meal.  The knife meanwhile is discarded at a random angle on the plate for the remainder of the meal.
  • Be prepared to be Amazing.   Given you will not immediately abandon your Australian table manners, eating spaghetti using a fork and a spoon, is going to attract a crowd.  Similarly, it takes dexterity to consume a burger and fries sans doigts, so be prepared for colleagues to look in your direction now and then.
  • Waiters do not get the signals.  You may feel that you are clearly communicating your culinary intentions with the orientation and angle of your knife and fork, but most servers did not go to waiter school.  Do not be surprised that you are constantly being asked if you are finished eating, whilst stopping to savor your meal, your knife and fork at a perfect 45 degree angle.

#2:  The Food

The Restaurants

New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and with these nations peoples, came their food.  There are so many choices when it comes to experiencing food in New York, not only in the diversity of cuisine, but the number of restaurants serving that nationality’s cuisine.

There are entire streets dedicated to a Nationality’s cuisine.  Not only Chinatown and Little Italy, but little Korea in Midtown or the Indian restaurants on 6th Street.  Ditmars Boulevard in Queens gives Melbourne’s Lygon Street a run for its money.

Australian cuisine has had a positive impact on food in New York, not just through great restaurants and the Café scene, but the appearance of Avocado on nearly every breakfast menu.

New York has some of the best cheap eats on the planet, especially at your neighborhood Diner.   The first thing you will notice is the size of the portions.  Two people can eat for under $25 including tip and a doggy bag for leftovers.  The décor may have a lot to be desired, but as long as there is an “A Grade” hanging in the window, you are good to go.

It is said that you can eat in a different New York restaurant every day of your life, so be sure to get out there and experience as many different cuisines while you have the opportunity.

The Quest for Nutrition 

Unfortunately, not everything we eat is healthy or nutritious.  We all understand the trade off between healthy and convenient when it comes to fast food, but what is surprising is the lack of nutrition in food at the supermarket.

Case in point, walk up to the fruit section of your local organic market and find a Mango.   Instantly you will be surprised that a fruit that can double as a household air freshener, only has a mild fragrance.

Food in the US  travels over great distances, and it can take weeks from when it leaves the growers and arriving at your local supermarket.  All along the way nutrition is lost, organic food included.

Moreover, you will notice that sugar and corn syrup is added to food to give it a more appealing flavor, but bumps up your daily calorific intake.  Bread, Bagels and other grain products all contain much higher levels of added sugar than your Australian diet.

This may explain the five kilos you unexpectedly stacked on in the first month after arriving.  Armies march on their stomach, so if your first step towards world domination!in is New York, in addition to keeping fit, be sure that you read the nutritional fine print when you go shopping.

#1:  The Challenge of Balancing Work and Lifestyle

At the risk of a generalization, it can be said the the difference between an Australian and a New Yorker is that New Yorkers live to work, and Australians work to live.

Breaking that down, it does not negatively reflect on either party, but it simply highlights the different attitudes towards life and work balance.  Australians have a much higher quality of life.  Just read the plethora of surveys on the “livability” of Australian cities vs US cities.

Both Australians and Americans all want the same things.  To earn enough money to pay the bills, have a nice home, give your children an education and have quality time with their family.

However, most Australians look at their jobs as just, a job.  It is something they do to achieve their financial goals, but it does not define who they are as a person.  If an Australian’s work begins to encroach on their happiness, they might decide it’s time to find a new job.

But if Australians who move to the US are motivated enough to leave their existing jobs with four to six  weeks of annual leave, free healthcare and great weather to see how well they can compete against the world’s best in their field, they are also prepared to make short term sacrifices in quality of life in exchange for international experience, and parlay that into a better job when they return to Australia.

The danger for any Australian expat is to carry expectations of what their lifestyle will look like when they arrive in New York.  Plans change due to unexpected circumstances, and changing jobs is not always an option.

Expectations often lead to disappointment, so leave that excess baggage in Australia, along with your 240 volt appliances.

Click here to read from Chapter 1