It stood out against the McLean sky -- the familiar rooftop bucket of fried chicken, the red shingles, the large white letters that spelled "Gino's."

But there wasn't anything familiar about the sight of Kathleen Hurley.

"We thought it was a nice little neighborhood restaurant in McLean," she said. "It was months before we found out they were everywhere."

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Cassandra Freeman is still trying to get over her first day at Longfellow Intermediate School.

A classmate with a lush southern accent said something to her that she didn't understand. She replied in a lush down-under accent that the southerner didn't understand.

"Why don't we just forget it?" the southerner finally said, walking away.

Anne Stinson would rather forget the first time she tried to get a McLean babysitter for her daughter, Caroline, 3.

"I rang up 12 or 14 babysitters, and not one of them was interested," she remembers. "They either had boyfriends or something else to do, or they didn't need the money. When I was their age, for $2 or $3 for babysitting, we'd be failing all over each other."

In the exclusive, expensive dales of McLean, these Australian diplomats are adjusting to America. Sometimes the adjustment, both for the Australians and their American neighbors, is comical or even difficult, but it is an experience that is increasingly common in McLean.

Of the embassy's 379 employes, 44 of them live with their families in rented, $150,000-and-up homes in the south-central section of McLean -- about a mile east of Tyson's Corner. Five years ago, the figure was 11 families, and just two years ago, 21 families.

In no other neighborhood have Australian diplomats chosen to live so close to each other; (most Australian embassy families are spread around Montgomery County). And no other embassy except the British (119 families) and the West German (approximately 65) is so heavily represented in McLean.

The effect has been to Americanize the Australians, and -- to a lesser degree -- to Australianize McLean.

Consider the Giant grocery at Tyson's Corner.

It not only stocks chutney and mint jelly -- both staples in Australia -- but the management recently agreed to expand the tea selection to include some tasty Australian blends.

Meanwhile, Foster's Beer, Australia's malty favorite, now is widely available in the area. Two years ago, there wasn't a bottle to be found.

Or consider Kate Hurley, the 18-year-old daughter of Kathleen and Brian Hurley; (he is financial administrative officer at the Australian embassy).

During her first few weeks as a senior at Langley High School, "all they ever asked her was whether kangaroos really bounced down the middle of our streets. She felt very lonely," her mother recalled.

But three weeks ago, Kate was the featured speaker in a government class, where her discussion of Australian government was "very well received," Kathleen Hurley said.

Perhaps the purest mixture of Australian person and American custom has occurred at the McLean Volunteer Fire Station No. 1 at 1440 Chain Bridge Road.

One of the station's most energetic volunteers is 21-year-old Paul White, who works by day as a clerk at the embassy's foreign affairs registry and by night and weekend as an unpaid ambulance driver and fireman.

White is so involved in McLean rescue and fire operations that he lives in the station's barracks. That is not just a measure of his dedication, however.

"I don't pay rent, so I've saved enough to afford to go out and buy a $4,500 van," White points out. "Australians ain't fools, mate."

And even though the Australians are supposed to speak the same language as their American cousins, the accent and a few twists of meaning somtimes create small and amusing language barriers.

"There were some problems at first," White recalls. "And the guys I work with always call me a foreigner in jest."

Still, even though White answers the station's phone by saying: "Foire Station One, Woite speaking'," he says he has never been misunderstood.

After four years of service, dating back to his senior year at McLean High School, White has become "one of the best volunteers we have," according to Herb Cunningham, a paid fireman at the station.

White began his volunteer fire career shortly after he came to Washington with his father, who was a military attache at the embassy. When White's father and mother returned to Melbourne two years ago, their son stayed on.

Like all foreigners admitted to the U.S. as diplomats and their dependents, White is ineligible for paid employment outside the embassy or the World Bank. "But that's perfectly okay with me," White said. The firehouse "and this kind of work has got me so much that I don't want to do anything else."

When White returns to Australia, probably in December, he plans to become a paramedic and hopes to work in the kind of ambulance he has driven through McLean streets for two years.

'I know it sounds like an American TV show, but there's something about going out and being in the mind and the suet and the sweat," White says.

There's something about Tyson's Corner, too, at least to hear 14-year-old Melissa Freeman, a Langley freshman, tell it.

"Tyson's Corner is the place to hang out. We just go into Farrell's or Roy Rogers and we eat. The lucky ones have guys with them," explained Melissa, in an accent her father, Colin, the Australian National Library's U.S. representative, claims has become American almost overnight.

Equally American has been the clothing Melissa and her sister, Cassandra, have adopted.

During a recent evening interview in the Freeman living room, Marion Freeman wore a freshly pressed dress, Colin Freeman wore a white shirt and crisply pleated slacks -- and both their daughters wore battered jogging shoes, tee-shirts and jeans.

Cassandra said such an outfit was virtually dictated by social pressure from her schoolmates.

"They said, "You look like a nurd. You'll have to change.' And they were wearing makeup in the fifth grade!" she said, with astonishment.

Rich and Anne Stinson have become involved in another American phenomenon -- divorce. Not theirs, but some neighbors down the block on Lewinsville Road.

"We hear about it regularly -- a bit from each side," said Rick Stinson, 32, a consular officer at the embassy.

"Americans are much more open when it comes to talking about that sort of thing. In McLean, as far as divorce goes, you apparently never have to ask a question."

Why have so many Australians chosen McLean? Part of the answer is word of mouth on the embassy circuit. Another part is that Australians seem to like spacious homes in a country setting, and McLean, unlike some other Washington suburbs, provides both.

But the biggest reason is that Australian diplomats can afford it.

The embassy provides a housing allowance for all its staff. The stipends range from $450 to $850 a month, depending on "rank, pomp and circumstances," as Rick Stinson wryly explained. Most senior embassy staff, with housing allowances in the upper range, are choosing McLean.

"What happens is that people know they have $600, $700, $800 to spend, and they say, 'Why not spend all of it and get the full value for it? So they come here to spend it," says Betty Madden, a McLean real estate agent who specializes in renting to embassy personnel.

The housing allowance is supplemented by a furniture rental allowance, which can be as high as another $450 a month. Brian and Kathleen Hurley, for example, spend $850 a month to rent their five-bedroom home on Foxhound Drive and another $450 to rent furniture, for a total monthly outlay of $1,300.

The Hurleys admit to being staggered by those figures, "especially since we rent our home in Canberra for $360 a month, and that includes seven bedroom, furniture, a double garage and a half-acre of land," Hurley said.

A major edge McLean has over other suburbs, its Australian residents say, is its proximity to Washington.

Colin Freeman estimates it takes him "only 20 minutes" to drive one of his two Oldsmobiles (he calls them "Yank tanks") from his home on Loch Raven Drive to the embassy at Scott Circle.

"I wouldn't even mind if it were a little longer," Freeman said. "Let's be practical: They're bloody beautiful things to drive."

Freeman will be unable to take either car home with him this fall, "and that's a source of real pain."

Painful, too, are some aspects of life in McLean and America that natives silently accept.

Brian Hurley's pet peeve is newspaper stories that start on the front of a section and continue inside it. "Never happens at home," he said.

His wife minds "ordering a dish in a restaurant and getting a salad, and a this, and another this, when all you wanted was the dish."

But there are compensations.

Rick Stinson loves what he calls "talkback radio. I love it so much I even called in once." Melissa Freeman says the rock music on WAVA-FM is unlike anything she hears at home. And Paul White, who is young and single, says his accent brings special kinds of compensation. "The sheilas (young women) love it," White says.

The diplomatic tour is three years maximum, so the cost of Australian characters in McLean keeps changing. But it is not long before certain Americanisms take hold.

Brian Hurley had lived in McLean only a few weeks when a car bearing Pennsylvania license plates cut him off without signaling on the Beltway.

"I did what anyone else in McLean would have done," Hurley said. "I tooted. That's when I knew I was officially here." The Same Language? (TABLE) IN AMERICA(COLUMN)IN AUSTRALIA Hello(COLUMN)Gidday Friends(COLUMN)Mates Hood of a car(COLUMN)Bonnet Bad luck(COLUMN)Hard lines Is that true?(COLUMN)Is that fair dinkum? Sweater(COLUMN)Jumper Garbage disposal(COLUMN)Garbage gobbler Pretty girls(COLUMN)Sheilas Grocery cart(COLUMN)Trolley On the good side of(COLUMN)In the good books of(END TABLE)