Back in Australia

20 03 2008

I’ve been back in Australia for over a week now after spending another two-week stint in Raleigh in the US. Raleigh, and The Triangle, is a nice enough place but too rural for me. There was the offer to relocate but Melbourne is too good a city to leave.

It’s great to be back!

This was probably my last trip to the US, and Raleigh, for some time…what am I going to miss?

Online shopping. We are a couple of years behind having such useful – and cheap – online shopping services. Amazon is fantastic. Shipping is fast and usually free. Just about every retailer has an online presence where you can research and buy goods at your convenience. Sounds geeky but it’s not; for many items it’s just a superior way to shop.

Freeway system. Driving around the US is generally a great experience due to the well-established freeway system. The roads aren’t great quality but the coverage is fantastic so driving from place to place is fast. Just as well ’cause there’s often a lot of ground to cover.

No speed cameras. Enjoy driving again. It’s not that I was speeding everywhere, it’s just that you don’t have to constantly stare at your speedo. We’ve taken the policing of speed waaaaay too far.

Cheap stuff. Due to economies of scale and increased competition most products are cheap in the US. Many Americans complain about the increasing cost of gas petrol but it’s still amongst the cheapest in the world. Food is cheap. Consumer electronics is cheap. Books are half price. Travel is cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap! Has to be cheap to support the consumer-driven culture though…

Good, big retail outlets. I’ll definitely miss REI (Anaconda is a pale imitation), Best Buy and the prevalence of Apple, Borders and Barnes and Noble stores. We have some equivalents but they’re typically smaller with less choice.

No allergies. I don’t suffer often or seriously from hayfever but in Melbourne, where allergies and asthma are pretty bad, I occasionally get congested or sneezy. Not so in North Carolina (or the Bay Area). I breathed deeper and don’t think I sneezed once.

Apart from friends & family what did I miss while I was over there? Lots! Here are a few:

Culture, music, events. There’s always something to do or see in Melbourne. And although Raleigh is becoming relatively multicultural, Melbourne has had many years head-start. Many cultures have left their mark on Melbourne for the better.

Food and coffee. Don’t get me wrong; you can find reasonable food in Raleigh. But Melbourne is exceptional in this area. I really missed the diversity and quality of food while in North Carolina. Probably best not to talk much about coffee. In short, it’s generally awful there. Don’t even try to defend Starbucks.

Service. The tipping system in the US means that service staff do everything they can to help you. This is good in the sense that they try to help out but bad in the sense that they rarely leave you alone! You see, they need to ensure that you’re – very – aware that they’re there so you’re more likely to part with your money for tips. I generally found the service annoying and even intrusive. Twice I was asked how my meal was before I’d even tasted it! Melbourne service is somewhat inconsistent but when you get good service you get everything you want and are barely aware that the staff are there. Fantastic.

TV & Radio. Actually, I have a love-hate relationship with US TV. It’s great that there are so many channels (cable or satellite TV is ubiquitous) but it’s incredible that so much crap is broadcast! Usually you can find something interesting to watch but you’ll spend a lot of time flicking to discover it. As for radio, well I thought Melbourne FM stations were bad. Raleigh was worse. The hosts all seem to be inane and the music is even more generic pop than we get here. Except for the country stations which may have been OK…had I been able to tolerate Southern US country music for more than 4 seconds.

News. Fox, CNN and whatever other networks are over there. Terrible. Makes even our mainstream news look respectable and dignified. World news? Yeah right! (Though Rudd’s apology did feature while I was there.)

As I said, there was lots more about Melbourne that I missed but if I keep going I’ll never post this. So while I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit Raleigh I love Melbourne and am in no hurry to leave!

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