Cultural Exchange: Lessons to Learn from Australian Homes

I have just returned from three weeks in Australia visiting my parents. I once lived there (in Melbourne) and have visited the country dozens of times. But this time, with Apartment Therapy in my blood, I began looking at the homes I visited and noticed some key differences between Australian and homes back here in the States. I am not talking about the style or size of the homes (though I could write for days on the stunning Australian design scene and culinary mastery!). Rather, I mean the little details embedded in daily home life--the cultural idiosyncrasies and homemaking customs that make Aussie homes different from ours here in the US. And...Australians have a lot to teach us, it seems:

Many of these differences reflect Australia's Commonwealth connection to England, a link we Americans have worked aggressively to cast off. Other differences are climate related. Finally, some of these differences reflect a more eco-conscious approach to daily living (even if in some cases these conservationist practices could be a function of cost, government regulations or climate-related limitations!).

Line Drying
Because of the more moderate climate, many Aussies tend to air-dry clothes on a clothesline. When we lived there we hung our clothes up on an indoor drying rack during rainy or cold days. In fact, the Australian-invented adjustable rotary clothes line known as the "Hill Hoist" has been ubiquitous throughout the country for a century and is considered a national icon! For those of us living in parts of the world with rain and snow, we could still learn from the Aussies and at least try to use some outdoor drying in the warmer months.

Water Conserving Toilets and Sinks. In a country plagued by droughts, Australians are especially careful about water usage. The toilets are generally dual-flush (one for low-flush and one for high) with lower water levels. And many kitchens have two sinks, one for washing and one for rinsing

Smaller Refrigerators: This is probably changing with suburban sprawl and mega-supermarket shopping, but my impression is that the average Aussie has a smaller fridge than the average American. This is probably because most neighborhoods have a Main Street with a butcher, greengrocer and market, which means you can shop a little bit at a time and don't need Costco-levels of storage space.

Outlet Switches
Each wall electric outlet has a little on/off switch. I suppose this is a safety mechanism because the voltage is so much higher. I like that I don't have to unplug things all the time. I can just turn off the outlet switch.

Electric Kettles and Teapots:
Everyone has one. Perhaps it's the Commonwealth connection, but Aussies love to drink tea. I have never understood why the average American doesn't have an electric kettle! Apart from anything else, they are great for quickly boiling water for cooking! Also, Aussies are more likely to use tea pots and French presses instead of bulky coffee machines.

Innovative Sun Screens and Blinds:
Given the (alarming) extent of ozone depletion in Australia, Aussies put a lot of thought into sun protection. They are also less likely to have A/C, so spend a lot of time in shaded verandas and fan-blown rooms. As a result, lot of homes have clever retractable or rolling blinds and awnings over their back porches or over glass doors and windows. I want to get one of these installed in our own back yard, which becomes an urban inferno In Washington DC summers.

Food Protection
Aussies all seem to use various screens to cover food, such as the mesh dome covers featured here. A lot of people eat outside in Australia and need to protect food from armies of flies and ants. At any BBQ or potluck --or any meal, really--you will see platters of food sitting under a variety of mesh covers. In fact, there are so many bloody flies in some parts of the country that these fly covers are a staple even for indoor eating. In many cases, a piece of netting (even scraps of old curtain) are just flung over platters of food to keep pests at bay.

Less Stuff; Less Storage.
Australian homes seem to have fewer closets. This is certainly the case in the older homes, which were built with the assumption that the owner would store clothing in wardrobes or other storage pieces. But even in renovated homes or newer homes, there seems to be less of an emphasis on massive storage space. My hypothesis is that the Australians are more like Europeans in their shopping habits (huge generalization here, of course). In Australia and parts of Europe, people tend to buy better quality items but fewer of them. Consumer goods and home wares are generally so inexpensive in the US (relative to Australia/Europe) that we feel compelled to accumulate vast quantities of bargain-bin products, all of which need storage space!

Hankies and Tea Towels
In general, Australians use more washable handkerchiefs & hand towels & kitchen washcloths instead of paper goods. This may be due to the higher cost of paper goods. It may be because of the British cultural connection. Or it may be because of a greater awareness of the wasteful nature of excess paper towel consumption! As a side note, the paper towel rolls are also much smaller in Oz.

Of course, these are only my observations. I may have friends and relatives in Australia who are far from representative of the country as a whole. Even so, these little differences are food for thought for us Americans!

Image: Clockwise from top left: Houzz; International Centre for Bathroom Etiquitte; Breville Kettle.; Grass Roots Modern; Aesthetic Blinds; MacTalk.

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