Five Things I Love About Sydney: #1

My Bondi Backyard
My Bondi Backyard

We’ve been in Sydney 9 months now.  Nine.Whole.Months.  Holy smokes, where did the time go?

As we approach our 1 year anniversary in this wonderful, crazy town, I thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the Australian things I’d now be hard pressed to live without.  Stay tuned for a series of blog posts with my top 5.  Here’s the first.

No Dramas

Australians have a remarkable tendency to downplay everything. This comes, no doubt, from their British roots. When they say they’re a bit sniffly, they have the flu; when they’re peckish, chances are they havent eaten in 24 hours and if you hear an Aussie say they’re in need of a lie down, it’s probably because they’ve pulled an all nighter at work, gotten caught in a rip while ocean swimming, torn their ACL, narrowly escaped the jaws of a shark or all of the above.

Y U SO COOL

I think this is partly an Australian aversion to complaining (and attention-seeking) and partly that Australians are just plain tougher than most people.  Sydneysiders will traipse through their winters in shorts and a T shirt.  Now, granted it’s doesn’t get as cold as Boston down here, but with these poorly insulated houses it can get pretty darn brisk in that 5-15C band. They’ll also jump off cliffs, brush off stings from blueys (as long as it’s not a box jellyfish), start running ultra marathons when they’re 45 and wake up at 6am on a Saturday so that they can get in a soft sand run or a bike ride before an 830 brekky.

Work Hard, Play Hard
Work Hard, Play Hard: Kiteboarding in Melbourne

While it’s fairly standard in New York to answer the “how’s work?” question with an honest assessment (aka whine) about your hours and stress levels, you’ll be hard pressed in Australia to hear anyone say they worked on the weekend (even if they did). Working on the weekend is an admission of failure in Australia.  It means you failed to finish your work during the week and you suck at time management or simply that you’re so dull that you couldn’t come up with anything else to occupy yourself (or to talk about) on what should have been a two day holiday.

Let’s translate these real quotes:

1. When asked what he thought of the movie:

Aussie: “Yeah, I didn’t mind it”

Translation: “I thought it was pretty good”

2. When asked if there are crocodiles in the water:

Aussie: “Nah, might see a few freshies though

Translation: “You won’t see a saltwater croc but there are heaps of freshwater crocs.  They’ll only attack if you swim directly over one or disturb it.  The chances of that happening are medium to high, but I’m going to go in anyway. ”

3. When asked how the morning was:

Aussie: “Yeah good. Am wide awake after bootcamp.

Translation: “I woke up at 530am and drove to the beach to spend an hour throwing sandbags, squatting with impossible weights and soft sand running with 25 other people before heading home in time to make breakfast for my partner and three children and getting ready for a 45min commute to work.”

Uge
Bondi bootcamp 6.40am

The “no dramas” attitude is one of my favourite things about Aussie culture because it’s a constant reminder that a) life in a developed country really isn’t that hard, and b) the world does not, in fact, revolve around you.  Your woes are but a tiny drop in the vast ocean of humanity and conversations shouldn’t be about getting attention anyway: so brush it off, suck it up and move on to the next adventure.

Unfortunately, this aspect of Australianism rarely makes it across the Pacific intact.  Like a game of telephone, by the time the message reaches the States, the understatedness has usually been reframed as “Australians are laid back”, “they go to work in flip flops” or the all-time favourite “they’re just plain lazy”.

I’ll admit, we’d heard our fair share of Aussie stereotypes when we left New York but it took less than a week in Sydney to have them blown away.  Truth be told, Sydneysiders are hardcore. They’re hard core about getting things done, about dressing up, about drinking, about getting up early and staying out late and, above all, they’re hardcore about the outdoors.

Because there isn’t much of a face time culture in Sydney offices and because there’s so little talking about work outside of work, it isn’t much of a leap for an American to conclude that his Australian cousin is a lazy nine-to-fiver just waiting to pull his next sickie and skive off at the beach.

How Americans imagine Australians to dress

One of my favourite quotes from a colleague in New York: “Well at least you’ll get to kick back.  An Aussie girl’s idea of dressing up is throwing on a pair of Uggs”.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.  Sydney is one of THE most dressed up cities I’ve been in.  Any and every excuse to dress up is seized by the horns, whether work, travel or the Australian favourite: a day at the races.

Melbourne cup
How Australians really dress

Sydneysiders are working harder than ever (and relying on some deliciously healthy food) to stay fit, healthy and beautiful. A short stroll through the CBD, Bondi, Surry Hills or really any central Sydney neighbourhood is all the motivation you’ll need to get back on that treadmill (or soft sand).  Need some inspiration from afar? Check out Uge’s gallery at www.aquabumps.com.  Either way, no dramas bro.

Bondi Farmers’ Market

After recommendations from several friends, last weekend we finally checked out Bondi Farmers Market… and immediately regretted not having come sooner!  Down on the south end of Campbell Parade, next to the public school, the market has food and organic produce every Saturday morning till 1pm.  We were more in search of groceries than snacks when we arrived, but ended up partaking in many of the below.  This is as good as (possibly even better?) than the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market, which is saying a lot 😉

Sydneysiding

G’Day from Sydney!  It’s been nearly a week since we hopped aboard a one-way flight to Australia and after 5 fantastic days exploring our new city, it feels about time to start documenting our adventures.  Niraj and I are currently staying downtown, in what the locals call the ” CBD” or Central Business District, but we’ve managed to get out and about and have seen a fair bit of Paddington and Woollahra (the “Eastern Suburbs”) as well as Bondi Beach and Bondi Junction.  To kick off the Australia section of this blog, here’s what I’ve found interesting so far:

1. The people of Sydney refer to themselves as “Sydneysiders”.  I’ve never heard of any other “-sider” but I suppose Sydney-er, Sydney-an or Sydney-ite just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

2. Sydneysiders love their coffee. Independent coffee shops and pop-up stands litter the bustling sidewalks of the CBD, boutique cafés adorn the cobbled streets of Paddington and artisanal roasters peek out from among the sunscreen- and flipflop-touting bodegas at the beach. Australian coffee is delicious and warrants a language of its own.  Asking for a “coffee” won’t get you very far in Sydney.  Drip coffee is something of a rarity here with locals preferring instead to sip espresso machine concoctions with mysterious names like flat white, short black and piccolo. You’ll also be hard pressed to spot a Starbucks in Sydney — no complaints here but I did come across this interesting case study by the University of NSW on the topic.

Flat Whites
Flat whites at Sean’s Panaroma in Sydney

3. Another trend I can get on board with is Sydney’s love affair with muesli.  The supermarkets are laden with muesli of all kinds and in a variety of preparations – boxes of organic muesli fill the cereal aisles, stacks of chocolate muesli bars form pyramid displays and rows of muesli yoghurt pots and smoothies occupy the refrigerated shelves.  Another ubiquitous preparation is Bircher muesli, which, as anyone who knows me well can attest, has been a long-time favorite breakfast and snack food.  Who’d have thought that soaking muesli overnight in apple juice and yoghurt would taste so good?  Seeing it at every coffee shop and on every restaurant menu warms my Bircher muesli loving heart but it doesn’t come cheap – prices seem to range from $6 for a grab and go snack to $15 for a brunch-sized portion.

Bircher Muesli at Icebergs; Bondi Beach
Bircher Muesli we had at Icebergs; Bondi Beach

4. Sydneysiders love their acronyms.  The first time I heard the term “GFC” was when the Commonwealth Bank of Australia employee opening our new accounts began explaining how it had made Australian workers reluctant to invest their supers in American equities. The GF what? Seeing my blank expression, he stopped what he was doing, looked up and said, rather matter-of-factly, “the global financial crisis, you know, in 2008?” Ohh.  Besides “NSW” (New South Wales) and of course “CBD”, I’ve since encountered “EFTPOS” (Electronic Funds Transfer Point Of Service) meaning something that will let you pay by credit card.  Oh and did you know that QANTAS stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services?  Quite a mouthful. The Aussies also seem to enjoy abbreviating words and phrases they consider unnecessarily long to make cuter, undoubtedly more efficient words —  “Paddo” is Paddington, “Goodo” is good on you and “How ya goin’?” is the Aussie way of asking “How are you doing” AND “How is it going?” Clever, eh?

5. Sydneysiders’ reaction to their city’s weather is also something to be marveled at.  The Sydney winter is mild by most standards, probably most comparable to the New York fall.  So far (in early July), we’ve seen temperatures vary quite a bit, peaking at around 20C (68F) during the day and dropping to 5C (41F) in the nights and mornings.  For a city that is used to much warmer climes (summer average daily high of 25C or 77F), I was expecting Sydneysiders to approach their winter wardrobes with the gusto that Miami and California folk do – seizing any opportunity to don their boots, jackets and scarves.  Instead, we’ve seen people surfing in the 14C degree water sans wet suits, walking the boardwalks in shorts and heading to corporate offices in shirts and dresses (no jackets, no tights and definitely no coats).  We’ve even seen women brave the evening chill in mere cocktail dresses.  I suppose when it comes to facing the elements, the Aussies are more akin to the Brits than the Californians and Miamians and, for anyone who’s had a night out in Northern England or really at any British college, you’ll remember the superhuman strength that’s on display when venturing into the freezing cold in skimpy outfits.

Bondi Surfing
Winter surfing at Bondi; photo by Acquabumps

6. Spice.  Whether it’s Malaysian sambal, Singaporean laksa or simply a spicy sushi roll, Sydneysiders don’t hold back when it comes to their spice!  We haven’t yet ventured into Chinatown, we’re eating at mainstream, if anything nicer, restaurants, frequented by mainstream guests, and everyone seems to be savoring the spice.  The Indian in me is rejoicing.  Respect.

7. Sydneysiders are an international bunch.  In our short time here we’ve encountered Brits, Kiwis, Americans, Indians, South Africans and Sri Lankans as well as people from Hong Kong, China and France.  Of the local Aussies we’ve met, many have lived abroad, whether they’re a customer service guy at Vodaphone or a lawyer at an elite firm.  Manhattanites like to think of themselves as a “diverse” group…whether they’ve lived outside the New York area (let alone the US!) or not.  Sydney’s international diversity is refreshing by comparison.

I could write more about Sydney and Sydneysiders but I’m not sure I know either well enough yet. What I do know is that the people here seem a helpful and welcoming bunch. Many of the people we’ve interacted with over the last week have offered up tips on navigating the city, shared favorite restaurant and bar lists and invited us over for dinner. We’ve received a boatload of useful opinions on Sydney neighbourhoods along with ample thoughts on where to live. I’ve lived in four countries and 12 cities now, but the level of warmth we’re encountering in Sydney is truly unique.

In search of new stomping grounds

Greetings from Sydney!  Two whirlwind days have gone by and we’re settling in and enjoying our time in Australia. Our Qantas flight deposited us at Kingsford Smith International early Friday AM and, after shepherding our many bags through customs, we arrived at our corporate apartment to learn that check in starts only at 2pm. Hmm. We spent the morning opening bank accounts and investigating phone plans and after some half-hearted unpacking, we let the jetlag get the better of us, passing out early in the evening.

Saturday was much more eventful. After a morning run around the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens and an Australian breakfast, we made our way to Paddington to kick off a jam-packed schedule of open houses. Sydney’s “Paddo” appears most similar to New York’s West Village and London’s Notting Hill: cobblestone streets, open air cafés, boutiques and art galleries and plenty of gastropubs. Paddo is known for its leafy, narrow streets and terraced 2 and 3 storey houses with wrought iron lace balconies. Its central location, midway between downtown Sydney and the Eastern Beaches, and its proximity to Centennial Park makes it a popular neighbourhood for young professionals.

Paddo
A typical 19th century terrace house in Sydney’s trendy Paddo

We saw a total of eight houses in Paddington and, as much as people complain about rents here, we were frankly amazed at the space available to us for the price of a New York shoebox. We were also impressed by how high tech most of these 19th century homes appeared to be. Our excitement peaked with our seventh viewing and we spent part of the remaining afternoon considering our bid strategy over a delicious lunch at Chiswick.

Chiswick Woollahra
Lunch at Chiswick in Woollahra
Beetroot, Quinoa, Fennel Salad
Beetroot, Quinoa, Fennel Salad

Getting back to the CBD turned out to be a bit of a pain but we managed some downtime in our apartment before heading out for the Lions vs. Wallabies game. Some of Niraj’s colleagues picked us up and, as it turned out, spent most of the 1 hour commute giving us the hard sell on living in Bondi!

The sales pitch continued at dinner and persisted even through the car ride home. We had originally thought of living by the beach but after experiencing the painful bus commute when we last visited Sydney, we’d thrown that idea out the window. Besides, wasn’t the beach a little too touristy and chaotic to make a permanent home out of? Apparently not. As we listened to these guys expound the merits of a beach side property, the answer seemed incredibly clear: Paddington was going out the window and we were going to start our search from scratch…in Bondi!

Oh and side note but the Wallabies vs. Lions game was absolutely incredible!  It’s been an amazing first few days in Sydney!

30k British and Irish fans travelled to Australia for these games
30k British and Irish fans travelled to Australia for these series of games