The most surprising things about Australia, according to a French expat

SuppliedChris Debussy with his girlfriend.

Ever wondered what expats think about life in Australia?

Here’s French immigrant Chris Debussy’s take on it:

“Endless summer, green towns with parks everywhere, after work dip in the sea, 100s of surf spots, friendly people, and beautiful birds waking you up in the morning.”

Debussy, a 30-year-old industrial designer, has lived in Australia for seven and a half years and now considers it home.

Having lived in Biarritz, in the south west of France, in his childhood, moving to Australia was a “dream”.

“Since I was young, I’ve always been interested in other cultures and languages,” he says.

“At the end of 2010, after graduation, I decided to go traveling by myself in an English speaking country. While England was an option, and much closer, I always heard good things about Australia — good weather, job opportunities and great surf — so came here for a year with a working holiday visa.

“After a year traveling around, discovering beautiful places, meeting a lot of friendly people and enjoying life near the sea, I saw the potential to work in my industry and decided to give it a go.

“Australia is fast growing young country and has got a lot of job opportunities. After working as volunteer for few months to demonstrate my skills and motivation, I was offered a sponsorship (work visa) which allow me to stay in the country and establish myself.

“I was happy that day, my dream came true.

“I worked for this company for five years and I am now in the process to become an Australian citizen.”

But the transition has come with a number of lifestyle changes and getting used to “the Australian way” hasn’t not been without quirks.

Here’s what has surprised Debussy most about living Australia.

SuppliedChris Debussy with his girlfriend in Sydney.

The language barrier

“While I had good marks at school, english being one of my favorite subjects, I thought I would be alright until I got to Sydney [and was greeted with], ‘G’day mate, how is it going?’” says Debussy.

“’Going where?’ I was lost, the accent was different to what I had learned at school.”

The friendliness

“When I first visited Sydney, I was walking in town, crossing people in the street saying ‘hi’ with a big smile and asking ‘how you going?’ like we already knew each other. The same thing would happened to me in the supermarket at the cashier.

“I remember being a bit intimidated at the beginning but got used to it quick and appreciate this friendly and welcoming behaviour.”

But actually making friends can be hard

While Debussy initially found Australians very friendly, breaking into friendship groups once he settled in Bondi proved a little more difficult.

“It’s hard to make friends with Australians, I think there is a language barrier and a community barrier,” he said. Adding that “people from overseas tend to stay together [when they immigrate here], so I’m trying not to do that.”

What’s with the hugging?

One thing he still can’t get used to, despite the length of time he’s lived in Australia, is greeting people with a hug.

“[It’s strange that Australians] cuddle people when they say hi,” he says.

“But in France we kiss people we don’t even know, so I don’t know.

“I guess it’s nice though. Every country has a different way of saying hi.”


One of the best things about meeting new people in Australia, according to Debussy?

“In Australia, if you forget someone’s name, you can call him ‘mate’ — in France you’re screwed.”

Work is better

“I feel like the French workplace was a bit more stressful, we’re asked to do more things faster,” he says.

“The experience I’ve had here has been a more relaxed approach.”

He says Australian workplaces offer more flexible arrangements where “it doesn’t really matter about the hours” if all the work you need to do has been done.

“It’s more flexible here… you can leave a bit late, or leave a bit earlier, as long as the job is done.”

SuppliedChris Debussy with friends in Bondi.

After work drinks and early nights

After work drinks was a foreign concept to Debussy until he moved to Australia.

“[In France], after work you just go back to your place and then if you’re meeting with friends you go out later,” he says.

“Australians love the after work drinks at the pub or at some cool underground bars, and the night finishes early.

“The French would prefer have an aperitif around 6-7pm followed by a dinner which usually finishes at 10pm and then go out for drinks. Going out means until 5-6am.”

He says the French also drink slower, spreading the night out longer.

“The beer culture is really different in France. We don’t drink beer much. We drink more spirits like whiskey or rum.”

Eating quickly and eating out

As for eating, Debussy says, “French people spend more time at a table for lunch or dinner than in Australia where everything is going faster, and a lot of things gets done.

“Me and Lauren (his Australian girlfriend) eat a lot outside. We don’t cook much… It’s just easier. There are more options to go out for lunch or dinner than in France. When you go to a restaurant in France, it’s for a celebration. You wouldn’t do it as often as here.”

He also misses the prices of French classics like cheese.

“Cheese, wine and… pate, they’re available but they’re really expensive.”

But when it comes to the Australian take on the French cuisine, Debussy thinks it’s of a pretty good standard.

“There’s one French restaurant in Avalon (on the northern beaches of Sydney) which is amazing. Some others are really Parisian and kind of stereotypical which escargot, they’re not so great.”

The lockout laws

As for the Sydney lockout laws, Debussy says it can be a bit embarrassing when friends visit.

“It’s a pain for the nightlife when I have friends visiting. They ask ‘let’s go out, where can we go?’ It’s embarrassing to tell them ‘well, um there’s only a few options’.”

No smoking

“Aussies are early birds, usually practicing sports in the morning, and love going out for breakfast. Frenchies wake up later and prefer a light breakfast, a long black or espresso with a pastry or toast with butter and jam, and a cigarette,” Debussy says.

He adds: “I feel like smoking in Australia is a bad habit. If someone was to smoke next to an Australian they would be annoyed. Smokers here have to behave more and make sure they not near people, whereas in France it’s normal to smoke.

“I remember when I was studying I was smoking cigarettes every morning before school, on my break, I mean it was just normal. Here if you see a kid smoking it’s like ‘oh my god, what the f**k is going on?’”

SuppliedGreen and clean.

Green and clean

Speaking of smoking, he says litter in Australia is much lower and you see less cigarette butts and trash around.

“Australia is really clean and people are really aware of pollution,” he says.

“Australians like to keep everything clean.

“In France, people don’t really care, they just throw [rubbish] on the ground.”

No complaints

“Frenchies like to complain, they are really good at striking. They rarely (never) agree with the government. The Australian government is stricter but people seem not to complain too much about what it decides.

“I’d say that French people are more of a passionate dreamer-type. Australians are more ‘relax dudes’ — ‘no worries mate’, ‘no dramas’.”

The immigration crackdown

Debussy’s work sponsorship made a clear pathway for him to establish a life in Australia.

And by a stroke of luck, he managed to apply for citizenship in the nick of time before the government changed the working visa laws. For his friends, it’s been a different story.

“For me it’s been easy. The steps went quite smoothly, but for some friends it has been really difficult,” he says.

“The day that I applied for my citizenship, the next day they changed the [visa] laws. I was so lucky. [If I hadn’t done that] I would have had to wait another year or two to be eligible to apply for citizenship.

“Some friends have had to leave because they changed the laws.

“It takes a long time for the immigration department to get back to you if you have questions, it’s a really long process.”

Feeling true blue

When asked why he wants to become an Australian citizen, Debussy said it’s because that’s what he’s starting to identify himself as.

“I just feel like I am becoming more Australian,” he said.

“It feels like the right next step. I have been here for seven and a half years and it feels like home.”

But that doesn’t mean he will fully relinquish his heritage.

“I’ll probably retire in France, play petanque (a French ball game), drink Ricard (a French liquor), and complain a lot.”

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