I must confess that before my recent trip to Australia, my basic knowledge of the country-continent consisted of a mashed-up collage of Crocodile Hunter, The Rescuers: Down Under, Finding Nemo and that first 30 minutes of Crocodile Dundee.  I knew we wouldn’t be frequenting P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

I was surprised to discover many similarities between New Orleans and this place on the literal other end of the world. I wasn’t, however, surprised to find all the many differences; not only is New Orleans notoriously unique, but by its nature, a foreign country should also be a bit of a, well, foreign experience.

So, for the similarities:

Australians love food. The nation is second only to the U.S. in obesity, possibly due to (here’s another similarity) the dominance of fried food on most menus. Some places called it “crumbed” instead of “fried,” which sounds a bit more pleasant. You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that didn’t feature fish and chips, squid and chips or fish burgers. (This is not as gross as it sounds; it’s merely a fried fish fillet on a bun.) They also love coffee, but it took me a while to get used to the terminology. I tried to order a black coffee, but instead got a “long black,” which is a double shot of espresso and hot water (basically an “Americano” in the States). It was a pleasant surprise, but I could have used some chicory.

Australians love to drink. Like our own fair city and its particular predilection for imbibing, many areas of Australia (especially along the eastern and western coasts, where I spent most of the two-week trip) are overrun with wineries, breweries, pubs, bars and other glorious oases from crowded tourist destinations. I sampled more pale ales than I can name (the best being from Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle; let’s form a petition to get this imported to the U.S.) and drove by so many wineries –– especially in western Australia, in the Margaret River region –– that stopping at even a fraction of them would have encompassed the entire trip (not that I’d complain).

Australians are friendly. This particular aspect of Oz, as the locals call it, was what made me feel most comfortable, most at home, most oddly familiar. I’ve definitely fallen victim to idealizing New Orleans for its many virtues, extolling them to the point of setting an unreachable standard. No one is as nice, no food is as good, no place has more character –– all things I still believe, ultimately, but that doesn’t mean that other places can’t come in a close second. Most of the people I met or encountered in Australia were happy, gregarious and eager to help a lost, embarrassed and confused tourist who couldn’t figure out Aussie money or the metric system. The universal response over there to “I’m sorry,” “Thank you” –– or most things, really –– is a refreshingly positive “No worries!” Unfortunately, I only heard one person say “G’day.”

As for the differences, they were all pretty positive and interesting. Instead of seeing a deer or a herd of cows in a roadside field, I saw countless sheep, emu and kangaroos. Also, everything is abbreviated: “brekkie” for “breakfast,” “Macka’s” for “McDonald’s,” “Brissie” for “Brisbane.” People drive on the left side of the road; steering wheels are on the right side of the car. There were some unfamiliar culinary choices, such as sausage made from kangaroo meat (“kanga bangas”), which I tried, and spearmint milk, which I didn’t. I had to learn a completely new language when it came to sports –– there was soccer, of course (watching the World Cup there was amazing), and rugby, which is immensely popular, but there was also footy, which is an odd but riveting mix of rugby, soccer and American football. There’s also netball, which is some combination of basketball and volleyball –– all too confusing.

Overall, it was easily one of the greatest experiences of my life –– truly magical. “Oz” is a beautiful country with rich culture and interesting people. But, even so, as I was on the last leg of nearly 24 hours of flying, I suddenly realized how desperately homesick I’d become. I missed my family, my friends, my job, my city –– that odd combination of comforting familiarity and constant surprise that comes with getting to know New Orleans. I actually shed a few tears when I felt the wave of humidity wash over me when I finally landed. My very first thought was “I know what it means to miss New Orleans, mate.”