Differences Between Melbourne and Seattle That Nobody Warned Us About

11 Jun

Maybe these are actually differences between Australia and the US but here is a list of things that threw us a bit when we first moved here.


Everyone knows that you have to tip at restaurants (it’s actually quite easy here in Seattle – you tip pre-tax, so all you have to do is look at the sales tax amount (9.5%), double it and then round up a little. I’m a little more worried about tipping movers, hairdressers, takeaway (they call it takeout), taxi drivers, etc. Tipping is non-existent in Australia, except at restaurants and room service so I basically have a cheat sheet printed up of how much to tip what people.

Actually I just finished tipping the movers who brought our air mail shipment. We’d already researched that $25 was an appropriate amount, so when they were just about to leave I was like “oh wait”, then ran to grab the money that James had left (I totally faked that by the way – I’d been worrying about when to work in the tip the whole time). One guy was like “thank you!” and the other said “God bless you” but they didn’t seem surprised by it – just pleased. So it wasn’t nearly as awkward as I had feared it would be.

Sales Tax

You know how in Australia (and everywhere else as far as I know!) the tax is included in the price? Here they add it at checkout so everything is 10% more expensive than it looks. The worst is liquor, because I think supermarkets don’t add the 20% or so liquor tax, plus various other taxes, the end result being that James’ scotch is the same price here as it is in Australia. Oh well, at least beer is cheaper. Vodka and bourbon seem to be cheaper (and bigger) too.

(There is a handle at the back for easy carrying!)


There are a lot more one way streets here. Even a lot of main roads are one way, which is weird to us because in Melbourne one way streets tend to be very narrow and the roads here are really wide. Oh, and you can turn right (the easy turn – so our left) on red if there is no oncoming traffic.  Also in Australia when we pay for parking we put the receipt on the passenger side dash but here in Seattle the ticket is stuck on the passenger side window.

As a pedestrian cars will almost always give way to you. A couple of times I’ve been just starting to cross (the aforementioned very wide road) and a car turning has still given way to me, even though like … 5 cars could have gone without impacting me. Never happens in Melbourne. It’s kind of nice to have that ambiguity removed, and now when a car gives way I just scurry across and give my little thank you wave. Do they have thank you waves here? Hopefully!

Oh, and the pedestrian crossings make bird noises here!

Inside the House

Two big things here – the first one being that ceiling lights seem far less common here. In our corporate housing they have lights in the bathroom and laundry and a set of track lights in the ceiling above the dining table but that’s it. We asked Bo about it and he agreed that it was weird and said that for his place he and Christine had made a point of installing ceiling lights.

The confusing part is that they do have switches at the door (it’s the opposite of Australia – here the down position means it’s off!!) but the switches are attached to outlets in the room where you’re supposed to attach a lamp so you can turn it on and off at the door. You know, I always did wonder why American design blogs were so obsessed with lighting and it’s because they need lamps to see everything! So yeah, there are a lot more lamps here than in Australia.

Thermostats are a lot more popular here than in Australia. I’m still not entirely sure what they are, but they seem to regulate the temperature of the house? Air conditioning is very uncommon – I guess it doesn’t get hot enough in the summer to need it.

Oh and the big one for James is that a lot of the toilets here (at least the ones at the airport and the ones in our corporate housing) have very high water levels. I don’t know if it’s high water or shallow bowls, but at any rate James is terrified of the toilets because his junk touches the water so he has to hold himself when he poops.

They Don’t Like to Say Toilet (?)

It’s not “toilet paper” here – it’s “bath tissues”. Rooms with just a toilet (which we call “powder rooms” or sometimes “toilet”) they call “half baths”. I was a little confused when they first said it and was like “so just a toilet?” and from the way the agent reacted you would have thought I’d said “so just a hole to poop in?” Maybe she was unusually squeamish so this is just a tentative theory (hence that question mark next to the title).

Dogs Everywhere

I think this might be a Seattle thing rather than a US thing, but there are dogs everywhere here! Their owners are much better at cleaning up after them – and they are all so well-behaved. I haven’t seen a misbehaving dog yet. The other day I saw a dachshund in Safeway wearing a bandana. =)

Apartments vs Condos

In the US they differentiate between “apartments” and “condos”. A condo is what we think of as apartments/units in Australia and an apartment is a building where all the individual dwellings are owned/managed by one company. They have maintenance staff, full time leasing agents, etc. Apartments tend to have poorer quality construction and fixtures, and some of the high end ones will advertise themselves as being of “condo quality”.


Filtered coffee is a lot more popular here. Seattle has a reputation for great coffee but James has been decidedly unimpressed so far. (His assessment to a friend of a friend who is moving to Seattle – “they think they have good coffee but they are mistaken”. Ouch. You’ve only been to like … 5 coffee places so far James! He’s been to some of the highest rated coffee places in Seattle (Cafe Vivace, Stumptown, Seattle Coffee Works) and not liked any of them.

Apparently Americanos are the equivalent of long blacks in Australia (he was getting some weird looks when he ordered a long black) but James said that they water it down more here than they do in Melbourne. He had an Americano from Cafe Vivace that he said was super weak so he switched to double espressos. But that didn’t help, and the first double espresso he had at Seattle Coffee Works he actually made a face. He said Stumptown was a bit better but still not great, and now his theory is that there is just a different style of coffee here (or maybe different beans). The closest coffee he’s had to Melbourne style here has been at Uptown Espresso in Belltown.


There are a lot more supermarket choices here. In Australia it’s pretty much either Coles or Woolworths but here we’ve already been to Whole Foods (expensive and organic), Trader Joe’s (sells their own store brand), Safeway and QFC (regular supermarkets, though you need the club card so you can take advantage of the sales). Fruit and veg range from cheaper to waaaay more expensive for out of season organic produce, meat is cheaper, and regular groceries are a fair bit cheaper. There are also heaps more ice cream flavours here. James is delighted by the non-dairy ice cream options available at Whole Foods.

But yeah, that’s what I’ve got so far. Overall Seattle seems like a stretched out version of Melbourne. Everything is slightly less dense so it takes longer to walk, but they even have a tram here, which they call a street car. Seattle is much greener and hillier, and has way nicer views. There’s also more visible poverty and begging than there is in Melbourne, though maybe I was just accustomed to it back home.

Capitol Hill seems very much like Fitzroy, Queen Anne is kind of East Melbourneish, Belltown is maybe like the bar/club end of Chapel St (but closer in), the CBDs are quite similar, and South Lake Union is like a less windy, less built-up (though give it time) Docklands.


18 Responses to “Differences Between Melbourne and Seattle That Nobody Warned Us About”

  1. Wen June 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    thanks for keeping us updated!It’s alway very interesting to hear the differences between cities! hope you both love living there! 🙂

    • pamperedhousewife June 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      We’re enjoying it so far. =) I’m afraid I disappointed Kalo by not being able to find cheap American fast food. I’ll try and super size some McDonalds next week. =D

  2. claudiagrant June 13, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    When I was living in the states tipping was thing that tripped me up the most. I understood about restaurants, but it took me awhile to work out that extended to hairdressers and cab drivers and everyone in between. Awkward. Americans may not do coffee but they make up that in the free soft drink refills. Here in Aus we get ripped off about $3.50 per small soft drink in a restaurant. I also found it weird how everything is a chain, even upscale things. Fun times though!

    • pamperedhousewife June 13, 2012 at 8:42 am #

      Oh yes the ambiguous tipping is killing me. Everyone has tip jars out and I have no idea who is legit and who is being a bit cheeky, not to mention the stress of whether we were supposed to tip the supermarket baggers (research said no, but it felt a bit like a tipping event, if you get what I mean). Plus we keep getting conflicting advice – sometimes from the same person. For some tipping situations there isn’t a consensus among the Americans, so how on earth are we supposed to figure it out!

  3. Ormi June 14, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    I remember reading somewhere that it is considered racially insensitive in parts of America to refer to your coffee or tea as black/white, which would explain the different name they have for a long black, and also the strange looks James received when he asked for one!

    • pamperedhousewife June 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      Nah I don’t think he got a “you racist” look, he said it was more along the lines of if an American went to a coffee place in Australia and asked for an Americano – you’d just be like “buh?”

  4. Rebecca July 12, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    Hi, I stumbled on your blog when searching for Seattle. I’m from Adelaide and am moving to Seattle in a little over a month for a job my husband has just secured – ironically with Amazon also! It will be me and my husband and our two children (6 and 3 years old). The tipping is freaking me out a bit too as I’m terrible with numbers in my head and with two demanding children am sure I’m going to stuff it all up and offend all and sundry! I’d love to see your cheat sheet if you’re happy to share it. I love seeing what you’re doing as I’m sure I will be going through all these learning experiences shortly as well!

    • pamperedhousewife July 12, 2012 at 9:00 am #

      Hey there! Congrats on the job and the impending move. =)


      That’s the guide I used (which is especially useful because it’s from a Seattle source as apparently these things can be regional). I originally thought tipping would remove ambiguity but it only increased it!

      I (rather naively in retrospect) hadn’t realised exactly how much work would be involved in moving internationally. Amazon do a lot of the heavy lifting with the visa but it’s a huge hassle having to get your SSN, credit cards, bank accounts, rental property, driving license, etc. once you’re over here. Apparently schools are very important here, and parents will only live in areas with good school districts (I’m not sure how dramatic the difference between a good school and a bad school is). Even though the commute is much longer, a few of James’ colleagues live on the East side because the schools are better.

      Let me know if you have any questions! We’re still learning ourselves, but I’ll try to be useful. I remember when we were making the move I wished that I had someone who could answer random stupid questions that I had! =)

      • Jim Dasher May 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm #


        I live in the Seattle area (20 minutes North of downtown).

        The website you referenced: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2016900346_tipping04.html does not seem to be working.

        I have lived in North America, both the U.S.A. and Canada, for all my life. When I was younger, I found “tipping” percentages, to be somewhat problematic, but I think I finally figured it out, at least for myself.

        With regards to “tipping”, I now will typically leave a 25% to 30% tip, for “good” service in a restaurant. For “bad” service caused by the waitress, I still tip, but the tip may 10%, or less, depending on how bad the service actually was.

        That said, when I see the waitress is doing the very best she (or he) can, with a bad situation, I will never penalize the server, due to a poor performance by their restaurant. Whether or not we come back again, will be in jeopardy.

  5. Britt Welsh February 18, 2013 at 12:30 am #

    hi just wondering if you could send me an email as to how you figured everything out to be able to move there did you get help off any companies that help Australians move over seas? thankyou.

  6. hanita October 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Wow my husband works for MS and we are contemplating the move with a 5 and 8 year old!!

    • pamperedhousewife October 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

      I know a couple that did it with 4 kids – eep! The kids were originally homesick but now they’ve made friends and are really enjoying themselves. Good luck with your decision.

  7. Vinny July 13, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    I found your blog quite interesting an useful. Would you have any reference / cheat sheet as to how to make the move from Aus to Seattle? Should we ship our existing furniture or buy new stuff ? What’s the best way to go about all this?

    • pamperedhousewife July 13, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

      Even though Amazon paid to move our furniture we didn’t bring a lot with us. Unless you’re attached to your existing furniture or don’t have to pay for shipping I would just re-buy in the US – everything is cheaper and there is a lot more variety! We also took the opportunity to get rid of all our physical CDs and books and just have everything digital. Obviously we also ditched all our electronics that didn’t work with US voltage. It was a great opportunity to do a deep clean and get rid of everything we didn’t absolutely love. =)

      If you have any specific questions I’d be happy to try my best to answer them!

  8. Nan January 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    Seattleite (and US-native) here. We do call it toilet paper. I’ve never heard anyone, ever, call it bath tissue–though the packaging does say it.

    Yes, people do the thank-you wave, both as pedestrians and as drivers. It’s not universal, but it will not be regarded as strange in the slightest.

    The dog thing is a Seattle thing more than a US thing.

  9. Soozcat January 20, 2017 at 3:24 am #

    The pedestrian crossing bird noises are for blind and low-sighted pedestrians. You might notice they make a chirping noise for one direction, a cuckoo noise for another direction — it’s to let people know not only that it’s safe to cross the street, but also in which direction.

    Agreeing with Nan — they may call it “bath tissue” or some similar euphemism in stores, but everyone else I know calls it “toilet paper.” We are oddly squeamish about using “toilet” as the name of a room, though, and prefer to use “bathroom” or “restroom” instead (Canadians are more fond of “washroom”).

    Seattle is unusually dog-friendly. I remember reading recently that the average Seattle couple is more likely to have dogs than to have children.

    Oh yeah, and for cheap American fast food you should go to Dick’s. If you haven’t been numerous times already. 🙂

  10. Kat June 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm #

    Nan and Soozcat are right…. It’s toilet paper (TP for short ;))
    I just stumbled across your blog randomly and happen to be your opposite, been living in Melbourne for 5 years – Australia for almost 10 – and grew up on the West Coast of the states – including 5 years in West Seattle. My family still live in Seattle and I just love going home for visits. It is so gorgeously green and lush! In my opinion, shopping for just about anything is a delight over there in the states from groceries at farmers markets and my old favourite Trader Joes to cheap antiques that would cost a fortune to get in Aus. Clothing, makeup, alcohol is always fun too. Everything seems a fair amount cheaper and there is definitely a great variety (have you noticed that no one wears the same brands or clothing wherever you go?).
    As far as coffee goes, you may never get a cup as good as here in Melbourne, sorry! It truly is the best here, even compared to the rest of Aus. Maybe because I grew up in the states I can handle the major difference and may even enjoy a bit of watered down coffee with a giant plate of breakfast from a Seattle cafe from time to time but my Melbourne born husband also has to order multiple espressos in place of his long black, even then it sometimes doesn’t cut it. Hope you guys are enjoying everything else Seattle has to offer. I really love all the local produce and beers on offer up there… Miss it all the time xx

    • pamperedhousewife June 13, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

      Yessss I’d forgotten how gorgeously green Seattle is – everyone who visited from Australia commented on it. We are in California now but I still miss gorgeous Seattle!

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