On Sydney

So, I’m back from a week in Sydney. The suggestions from the Ask Metafilter community were fantastic, and we kept ourselves very busy. In brief:

Five Neat Things About Sydney

  1. Tim-Tams – addictive chocolate-covered cookies.
  2. The Currency – bills are colorful and nicely-designed, and made of an un-rippable polymer; plus, no pennies or one-dollar bills!
  3. Mandatory voting – vote or be fined. This makes so much sense.
  4. The butterscotch souffle at Wildfire – the best dessert I’ve ever had, period.
  5. Optional Tipping – like the encore, some gestures are meaningless when they’re mandatory

Five Not-So-Neat About Sydney:

  1. Vegemite – I tried it and it’s about exactly what I expected. Blecch.
  2. Stupid copyright laws – plus, the Kazaa offices were raided while we were there
  3. Australian Cockroach & Huntsmen Spiders (tie) – giant roaches in the streets and giant spiders inside. Eek.
  4. Television – lots of American TV, six months (or more) behind the States
  5. Kylie Minogue – she’s some sort of a national treasure and completely unavoidable


    When we went to redo the american twenties recently, how did the US Treasury dept ignore the innovation happening in other countries? Why can’t they borrow the good ideas that are working in other places instead of just carrying on making easily counterfeitable money?

    I loved the Aussie money; every bill is a different length so that the blind can be assured of a bill’s value. The bills are all different colors and feature a see-thru window that would be hard, if not impossible, to fake. The plastic bills mean they don’t break down in normal use or carry lots of dirt and oils like paper does.

    Any one of those things is clearly better than what we’ve come up with for american money, but yet when redesign time rolls around none of these innovations are taken up. I understand that moving to all of these at once would harm the vending machine and banking industries that create auto counters and machinery that can recognize a bill, but I think the benefits are worth the year or two of pain.

    The abolishment of the penny is just absolutely genius, but I wouldn’t expect the US to ever get to that point.

    Matt, it’s probably the cotton industry’s fault. I could only imagine how many bales of cotton it takes to produce a couple thousand dollars worth of $1 bills. Plus the stockpile of materials they must have on had, it would probably take a decade to use up the paper. It’s far easier to print some new design on old-stock paper than it is to invent a new bill complete with new paper. The Gov isn’t big on innovation.

    Ahhh Tim Tam’s. When I lived in Hong Kong, that was one of the many imported Australian items I often indulged in.

    Did you know we now sell Tia Maria Tim Tam’s? Have you tried Tim Tam straws before? Here’s how, if you bite a corner of each end of the tim-tam, and then suck some hot drink ie coffee and then quickly put the whole tim tam in your mouth. It will melt like nothing before. You will go through a pack in no time.

    Are you suggesting that we should change the color and imagery on our currency? That’s treason, pure and simple. If you don’t like the design of our currency you can GET OUT!

    I think mandatory voting is brilliant in it’s simplicity. A more important step, perhaps, would be to declare Election Day a national holiday, as Nader and others have suggested. Why don’t we celebrate democracy? It should be illegal to make an employee work more than four hours on Election Day, and mandatory to vote.

    That would be democracy.

    if memory serves me correctly, they can’t own guns in aussietown, i dont like that too much…and vegemite? maybe andy could describe what it tastes like, as it looks too disgusting for words.

    You’ve got me looking forward to getting back to Sydney…we’re moving back to Melbourne soon, but boy do I miss Sydney. It is true that Bondi is not what it used to be, but you still can’t beat an outside table at Aqua Bar after a morning plunge in the Pacific…pancakes with honeycomb butter, mmmmm.

    Durr… screwed up that quote. Lets try this again.

    So, you like optional tipping because “some gestures are meaningless when they’re mandatory,” but then you like mandatory voting?

    Now I’ve confused my point. Anyway, we have a right not to vote, to take that right away would be to chip away at democracy. I do like the idea of voting day being a national holiday, though. I think it’s good to encourage people to participate in democracy, but not to force them.

    I’d like to see some hard numbers, but I would guess that the vast majority of Americans who don’t vote aren’t making a political statement, but simply aren’t willing to make the effort. Making the process effortless, by allowing same-day voter registration or voting by phone, would help. What would happen if voting for the president was as easy as voting for American Idol? If you want to make a statement by registering a blank vote, go for it… But the act of voting seems more like a civic duty to me, like jury duty or paying your taxes.

    The worst part about compulsary voting is that an uninformed and/or indifferent vote is not useful.

    A large number of people here in Australia don’t care or don’t understand politics. I’m sure this is there same elsewhere, but here they are required to choose. This means that silly things like ballot order and meaningless advertising play a much larger role. When these voter begin to outnumber those who actually understand the people and policies they are voting for, the system simply breaks down. The meaningful votes are overwhelmed.

    Perhaps if there was a “tick this box if you don’t care or have no idea” box, it would minimise the damage, but the best way to reduce this effect is to make voting non-compulsary and non-easy. The effort to do what isn’t required filters out the great majority of those who don’t want to invest time and thought into the democratic process.

    </rant> 🙂

    Thank you for that small nod to the absurdity of encores. I’ve ranted about this multiple times in my blog and that article does a good job of covering the bases. I’m mostly complaining in the posts, but I do offer up the perfect three song encore, which I think should be adopted by those who insist on building an encore into their set.

    Since the current Speaker of the House is from Illinois (land of Lincoln) don’t expect the penny to go away anytime soon.

    I throw pennies at my friend’s car all the time… and at my friend. Where would we be without the worthless penny?

    Compulsory voting – should be law EVERYWHERE!

    It’s simple enough, you just need to include a “No Vote” box for those who don’t know.

    As an oz native, i question your belief that mandatory sentencing “makes so much sense”.

    It’s forced democracy, which is not democracy at all (until they put a box on the voting forms that says “none of the above”! )

    Glad you enjoyed Oz though 🙂

    When we (Australia) abolished the one and two cent coin, if an item cost $1.98 for instance it had to be rounded down to the nearest 5c – ie $1.95. There was a story about an old age pensioner who was causing havoc at the local supermarket because he insisted on paying for every item by itself – instead of ringing up every item then rounding that amount ($150.98 for instance) down, he realised he could save a few cents by having each item individually rounded down. He obviously had nothing better to do than stand at the register for an hour or so and pay for each item individually!

    Speaking as an Aussie:

    You are required to show up at the voting booth, take a ballot paper and put it in the box. They can’t see what you write on the ballot. So it’s your democratic right to scribble obscenities all over the paper: the euphemism for this is that it is an “informal vote”.

    There’s also the phenomenon called the “Donkey vote”, which is when the voter simply numbers the boxes in order from top to bottom. There’s a certain small (some fraction of a percent) advantage to being at the top of the ballot paper.

    To the commenter above who questioned whether an informed voting populace was better than a legally obliged one, I agree 100%. But you don’t get any more of an informed voting populace with optional voting than you do with compulsary voting. Instead, you get special-interest groups hiring buses to make sure all their similarly-prejudiced fellow citizens vote, while possibly better informed but less fanatical voters are too busy that day to make it to the polling booth.

    I read about this blog in some readings I am undertaking as part of my journalism degree. I am an Australian citizen and I took particular interest on your comments on Australia, specifically Sydney and the comments posted in relation to your best and worst of Oz. Interestingly, I think Tim Tams are overrated – ever since Campbells bought out Australian company Arnotts, the quality of their products had deteriorated. As for vegemite, well only an Australian understands this truly unique phenomenon. Yes, I am proud to say I love the stuff and brought three jars with me to the US. Mandatory voting is a vital element of democracy. While it forces every citizen to vote, seemingly contradicting the basic notion of democracy (freedom), it prevents lobbyists and interest groups from stacking elections with like-minded, easily persuaded followers. On the currency issue, I agree that we have the most secure money in the world (that I have encountered). I heard recently that the United States government has signed a contract with the Australian Mint to produce money in coming years on a trial basis. We do have some of the most technologically advanced minting equipment in the world and produce money for several other countries. Lastly, without pennies, prices are rounded down when the price is for example, $1.01, $1.02 and rounded up when it is $1.03, $1.04. Just to clarify what someone wrote earlier.

    I spent a year in Australia as an exchange student (last year). Tim tams, they’re wonderful! Completely addictive. However, “they” took them from me at Canadian Customs. And when I got home, I showed my friends at $20 bill, and the little plastic window in the corner, then I showed them how it couldn’t be ripped… and tore it in half. Whoops.

    I always thought it was weird that you guys had optional voting and mandatory tipping. You’d think your much-vaunted Constitution wouldn’t have such an obvious typo!

    Speaking as an ex-Australian now living in the US (I plan on becoming a citizen asap), I think the difference in tipping between the two countries comes down to minimum wage. If you can live on your wage, tipping is optional for your customers, but here in the US it seems that people would near to starve if it weren’t for tips. That said, minimum wage in Aus is none too cushy either, and I’d rather see tips optional and living wage mandatory.

    Also, the Singing Budgie a national treasure? No, no, no, no. I can’t get away from Britney bloody Spears over here — should I assume she is some kind of national treasure?

    This discussion over at Alas might be useful to those interested in mandatory voting.

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