Cristin Kelly’s experience of being an American in Australia

Cristin Kelly, as you will see as you read further on in this blog post, is an American in Australia. She’s a wordsmith with a Master’s in Dramaturgy & Theatre Criticism, and, as you’ll see from her About page on her blog, Between Roots and Wings, she’s also got a wonderful sense of humour, quoting that her Mom (I’m obvs using the American spelling) said of her blog, “This is hands down the best blog I’ve ever read about being an American in Sydney, Australia”

This is Cristin, by the way, at an American in Sydney election party, with a cardboard cutout of Obama:

Cristin Kelly from the blog "Between Roots and Wings" with Barack Obama. Kind of.

Cristin Kelly from the blog “Between Roots and Wings” with Barack Obama. Kind of.

I found out about Cristin and her musings on Between Roots and Wings and loved her knack for storytelling, and thought it would be wonderful to share here too.  I love learning about how people come to Australia and make it their home, and, because my husband is American, I’m really interested in how Americans adapt to Australia.  Here’s Cristin’s story:


As an American in Australia, I think I may have gotten one of the easier draws in the lottery of expat experiences

We don’t have to look far to find our movies or television shows, nor do we need to learn a new language (mostly). We may get the “piss taken out of us” by Aussies for refusing to eat Vegemite or forgetting to add a “u” to a word, but once we’ve been here long enough, we realize that’s just the Australian way of saying that they think we’re OK (again, mostly!). We share a lot in terms of values and cultures, so in most of the big ways, the adjustment from living in the United States to Australia is manageable.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a seamless move for most of us. For me, the first year was hard, marked by a constant feeling that I didn’t understand the nuances of cultural differences. I had to repeat myself three times when spelling a name to a colleague, only to remember that “z” is pronounced “zed” not “zee.” I felt overly effusive like a slobbery St. Bernard in my American smileyness, and I more than once felt a little hurt by the rough Australian sense of humor (I mean, humour … See? It’s the little things).

The longer I’ve lived in Australia, the more I’ve adjusted

I shorten words, I remember to order “bah-NON-uh” bread, instead of “buh-NAN-uh” bread, and I make a mean pavlova. Still, as you might expect, there are American things that I miss. Yes, believe it or not, there are a few American things that are hard to come by here! So, for the homesick Americans or the U.S.A.-curious, I’d like to offer ten suggestions of American experiences you can have in Sydney:

1. Costco

I realize that a warehouse grocery store is not the hippest first item to choose, but I like to joke that Costco is “Little America.” Many of us “Yanks” rejoiced when Costco came to Sydney. Not only can you purchase a number of previously hard-to-find American food items like Hershey syrup, Skippy peanut butter (my personal favourite), and orange cheese, but their cafe offers possibly the most authentic – and definitely the biggest – American style pizza and hot dogs in Australia.

For me, the first year was hard, marked by a constant feeling that I didn’t understand the nuances of cultural differences

2. Brooklyn Boy Bagels

I went to grad school in Brooklyn and developed an affinity for real-deal New York bagels. I even tried to make them myself, once. Trust me, Brooklyn Boy Bagels, owned by a real Brooklyn Boy, does them a lot better than me. You can purchase their bagels at a number of markets and cafes around Sydney, have them delivered, or they have a new storefront in Matraville.

3. Mexican Food

If there is one most-asked question in American in Australia forums, it’s where can you get “real” Mexican food. And by “real,” most of us mean the Tex-Mex style that is a staple at home. There are a lot of heartbreaking Mexican restaurants in Australia, and I’ve eaten at my fair share of them. There are a few good ones, too. My personal favorite is Baja Cantina in Glebe. Another popular Yank go-to is Dos Senioritas, which has locations in both Gladesville and Crows Nest.

Cristin's American orange cheese from Costco

Cristin’s American orange cheese from Costco

4. Burgers

Second to Mexican food on the American hard-to-find list is a perfect American hamburger. It must have meat with a pretty high fat content, orange cheese, and toppings may include ketchup (tomato sauce), mustard, sweet relish, and possibly an onion, piece of lettuce, and tomato. Bonus points for crispy bacon. Toppings must NOT include beetroot, arugula, pineapple, or barbecue sauce. Hands down, the best American style burger I’ve had in Sydney was at the decidedly not-American Grounds of Alexandria. The Ribs & Burgers chain also makes a fair stab at a Yank burger. And, though I haven’t tried it, yet, the new Five Point Burgers in North Sydney comes with glowing recommendations from Americans in the know. From the photos on their Instagram account, I suspect they may have perfected the art.

5. American Diners

American diners are all the rage, at the moment – or so I read in Time Out. From my experience, many of these places have a sort of general and over-the-top “Americana” decor – think licence plates and John Wayne posters – and charge about ten times what a real American diner might cost. Like Mexican restaurants, I’ve had a few heartbreaks. Ranked very highly among my expat friends, however, is Jazz City Diner in Surry Hills. It gets the Yank Seal of Approval, particularly for serving a real root beer float.

If there is one most-asked question in American in Australia forums, it’s where can you get “real” Mexican food

6. Pancakes on the Rocks

Pancakes on the Rocks, that venerable institution, is not American per se, but it is the closest thing I’ve found to an American pancake house like IHOP or Perkins. It has an astounding number of options of pancake goodness, plus a menu teeming with other breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner/middle of the night deliciousness. It’s also one of the few restaurants in Sydney open 24 hours. Pancakes at 3a.m.? Nothing could be more American.

7. Real American chain restaurants

Pancakes are good, but if what you’d really like is an actual American chain restaurant, Sydney does have a few. See how many pieces of flare your waiter is wearing at TGI Fridays at Macquarie Centre. Get that most wholesome of American dining experiences at one of three Hooters in Sydney. Or, shock all of your Aussie friends a Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse, which is far more American than Australian.

8. USA Foods

If all of these culinary options don’t satisfy your American food cravings, one final option is to place an order with USA Foods, which specialises in uniting Americans with their long lost loves like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheez-Its, and graham crackers.

If what you’d really like is an actual American chain restaurant, Sydney does have a few

9. See an American movie

There’s no shortage of American cinema on display in Australia at any time. For me, it’s always a little surprise to hear American accents and see familiar places and products on screen, though I must admit that not every movie puts us in the best light. As an expat, I always watch Hollywood movies in the theatre with a new filter of which references and jokes are going to fall on deaf ears here in Australia, and which ones are going to land perfectly. It’s an interesting way of seeing both cultures.

10. Go to a Baseball Game

They say there’s nothing more American than apple pie and baseball. We have the food well covered, and it turns out that Australia has it’s own baseball league, too. Every major city in Australia has a team in the Australian Baseball League, which is partnered with Major League Baseball. The season runs from October through late January. Sydney’s team is the Blue Sox, and they play at Blacktown International Sports Park. Take me out to the ballgame!

Thank you Cristin Kelly for your awesome tips on accessing America in Australia.  Follow Cristin’s work via Between Roots and Wings.


Featured image via Pixabay under Creative Commons CC0.  All other images supplied by Cristin Kelly of Between Roots and Wings.

Leave a Comment: