Canadian's guide to working in Oz

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Jim Plouffe arrived in Australia all set to play one season of rugby union. Twenty seasons later, he's hung up his boots but not the Aussie life. He met his wife while playing inDarwin, has lived inPerth,Sydney,Wollongong andAdelaide, and cannot imagine surviving even one Canadian winter. Here are his words of wisdom for other Canadians considering the big move south...


There's a quaint Australianism that every Canadian will discover soon after disembarking into the burning sunshine. It's called rhyming slang, and it wouldn’t be too bad if it stopped at "dead horse" instead of "tomato sauce" (ketchup). Confusing yes, since sauce in a Canadian accent sounds nothing like horse, but it usually has no effect on you.

However, there is one specific rhyme that will define you: "Septic Tank," which does actually rhyme with Yank – the dreaded American you'll be constantly mistaken for. To confuse the issue, Septic Tank has been abbreviated to "Seppo" which will be spat at you as sure as you'll be peed on by a koala during one of those photo ops at the zoo.

Yes, ever since the American forces took liberty during their brief stay near the end of WWII, the average Australian has had a deep seated problem with the average Seppo. Nothing on TV? Blame the Seppos. Kids are fat? Blame Seppo food. Lose your job? Well, you get the idea.

So, my fellow Canucks, I am sure you have already gleaned the problem. With our accents being undisguisable from our cousins to the south, we get the full brunt of Seppo bashing. Wearing a maple leaf may help you while backpacking around Europe, but it's not likely you'll be flying the flag when doing the weekly shop and encounter a butcher with a bone to pick.

Canadians living in Australia become adept at quickly working their nationality into the conversation to solve this problem. The weather is of course an easy way in. Try this on for size when watching the kids play soccer: "Ah, geez, I just love it here, eh. At least I can watch my kids play games without freezing. Can’t do that in Canada, eh."

This will be greeted by a sigh of relief as the parent standing next to you exclaims "Oh, you're from Canada. I couldn’t tell if you were a Seppo or not. Canadians, you lot are alright, you’re like us."

You’re "in like Flynn" from that moment, but the last bit of this conversation can be troublesome. Because, yes Canucks and Aussies share many things: we have the same queen, the same sense of humour, the same love of a drink, the same need to harness a wild country. But we do differ on one important factor. As a very young country, Australia is still trying to find its place in the world - and its politicians, miners, bankers, and even bakers aspire to be "world-class". Canadians, on the other hand, have reached that comfortable age where we know ourselves and have come to terms with the fact that in the global scheme of things we really don’t matter.

Knowing this one philosophical truth will help you to understand how in a lucky country so laid back that customer service is never much more than a salesperson glancing up and asking "You right?" ... there is still a deep undercurrent of desperately wanting to be more than a sunburnt country.

Now that you've mastered the philosophy, here are some more mundane things to watch out for as well:

  • Fanny: Asking if your fanny looks big in these jeans will be met with stunned silence or hours of laughter. The fanny, like Australia, is located on the opposite side of the female anatomy.
  • Petrol: the gasoline you put in a car. Gas is reserved for LPG
  • Hockey: It’s played on grass. Ice hockey is the brutal sport which is gaining more of a following in Australia
  • Gridiron: is American football. It was once roundly dismissed as being for wussies because of the pads, until Fox Sports beamed the thrills and spills into living rooms
  • Barbie: The famed Australian BBQ often disappoints visitors. It usually consists of sausages chucked on a hot plate. No mesquite here.
  • Muesli: It’s all granola
  • Sultanas: calling them raisins risks a lengthy debate on the difference between the two types of shrivelled grapes. There is none.
  • Gherkins: again, calling them pickles or dills get you in, well, a pickle.
  • Capsicum: it’s a red pepper
  • Pumpkin: not something to carve on 31 October, applied to everything from squash to gourds.
  • Roots: something every true blue Aussie male wants, and it ain't an overpriced t-shirt.
  • Political correctness: we've been clobbered with it in Canada, it's refreshingly absent in Oz.