Coping mechanisms almost invariably begin to fail at the end of any travel leg lasting longer than eight hours (for me and for most I’ve observed). I left Hawaii for Australia very early Wednesday morning and arrived at dinner time on Thursday night. Did I spend 36 hours on a plane? No. I’m not so sure an aircraft with that capability is in commercial use. It took only 10 hours of air time and the neat trick of crossing the international dateline – into the future I go!
Time travel was exhausting. As the two-hour-late plane dropped over Sydney, the cricket greens looked like crop-circle mirages to my faltering brain. As I stared forlornly at the rapidly emptying baggage carousel conspicuously lacking my bag, my mind played on repeat the dozens of scenarios in which I might plausibly still make my train connection (find bag, clear customs, find train, ride to Central, switch trains… all in 45 minutes). Luckily, after reminding myself that losing your bag isn’t the end of the world, and that I thought I had too much stuff anyway, and that “everything will be okay in the end: if it’s not okay, it’s not the end,” I discovered my recently-acquired, second-hand, external frame pack in the oversize-baggage area. (Thanks Shaw-Hasketts!). Then a customs fellow, who looked as if he’d much rather be playing rugby, waved me out of line to ask what I was declaring. He pointedly informed me (without actually seeing them) that my almonds, walnuts, etc. were obviously of the roasted variety and sent me rushing on to the train platform where the cars arrived seconds after my feet touched the bottom step. Thanks to chatting up Sydney-based strangers during the delay in Hawaii, I knew to sprint all the way to Platform 7 from Platform 21 at the massive Central station. Making friends pays in spades! I dropped into the 70’s olive-green, faux-leather train seat to the Blue Mountains with a whole minute to spare. Sooriya would say “The creator provides!”
On the train, my hopes at easing seamlessly back into the southern hemisphere were dashed almost straight-away. I thought I had mastered comprehending accented English, from Irish to Indian. The handsome young (British) gentleman seated across from me was happy to answer my query about the time. However, when he tried to make conversation, I was left staring blankly into his gorgeous blue eyes hoping in vain that my brain would pluck out even one recognizable syllable. #fail.
Arriving 90 minutes later at Woodford, I attempted to get in the “wrong” side of the automobile – a reverse repeat of my performance in the U.S. this fall. Delirium had gripped me pretty firmly, so I was practically rolling on the ground laughing at my faux pas. I also found it quite hilarious, upon being introduced to my French HelpX mate – Pierrick – that I inadvertently told him he doesn’t speak French (“Non parlez vous francais”) in attempt to communicate that my language skills lacked in that department!
In the morning, my unfogged brain was able to be amazed and delighted – rather than stunned – by all the cultural and vocab differences. I love jotting all these things down straightaway. I know a month from now I’ll hardly notice them anymore. Things like:
- Understanding the phone system – There are 1-800 numbers here, but 13-XX-XX is also a free number. I’ll be awhile sorting this one out, and I’ve yet to acquire a mobile (cell phone). I’m told an ideal place to obtain a cheap one is the post office!
Understanding the money – funny how a $2 coin here is smaller than a $1 coin. I only have this knowledge because those are the two coins a bright, lovely blonde woman about my age insisted I take at the airport in Honolulu when she learned I don’t have a cell phone. Thanks to being in such a rush upon landing in Sydney and the fact that I’m doing a work exchange, I have yet to possess a single (brightly colored!) Australian note/bill.
- Warming up in the melting pot – It was fascinating on the plane to hear British-descended accents come out of Asian-Middle Eastern-Greek-Italian descended faces. Thanks to the desire to fill up the country with people after Australia narrowly missed being overthrown by the Japanese in WWII, there are dozens of second/third/fourth generation ethnicities represented.
- Left-hand road traffic – much the same thrill as being near the edge of a cliff – at least for the first few weeks. Lots of panicked moments, even as a passenger, when I’m pretty sure I’m just about to die. I also still expect to sit in the front passenger seat (U.S. driver’s seat but without a steering wheel) and observe what’s going on behind the car by glancing up into the rear-view mirror. When instead my angle on the mirror displays only the road-shoulder flashing past, my heart leaps into my throat for a moment. 🙂
- Elevated petrol costs – gasoline seems cheaper at first glance because it’s sold by the liter (or litre, if you will). When you do the math, however, $1.45 really means about $6 a gallon! Not sure if I’ll buy a car or not while I’m here!
Light-switch confusion – down is on and up is off. As a result I appear to have some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder upon leaving rooms, especially with multiple switches. I end up turning everything on and off a half-dozen times before I get it right.
- Wrap around verandahs – I thought it seemed very African, but my host assures me that front porches enveloping houses is a decidedly Australian feature.
- Being tall – maybe thanks to the growth hormones of my youth (hello rBst!), I am much taller than the people I’ve met so far (on the plane, the family around the house, Frenchie, the folks at the community market…).
Culture shock hasn’t completely overwhelmed me, perhaps because I’ve logged so many months in (formerly) unfamiliar places that now feel like second homes? For instance, the supermarket here didn’t phase me a bit, maybe because it was a version of Lidl – a German market found throughout Europe. I have been enjoying the language differences though, especially the bits that cause New Zealand nostaliga. Like:
- “classic” (said KUH-lassic!) – used to describe something uniquely hilarious or overdone.
- “over the road” – meaning across the street
- “batch” – a weekend getaway cabin ranging from the simple bachelor pad to a well-appointed second home.
- “dual carriageway” – a four lane road
- “the children” – used instead of ‘kids’, as in “I’ve got to go pick up the children from school.”
- “hall” – used to refer to a large building, as in, “The market is held in a hall.”
- “one off” – meaning one time, as in, “I’d like to make a one off payment.” Or the store carries one off items each week.
- “car park” – a parking lot.
- “a park” – a parking spot, as in, “I’ve got to get a park.”
- “back of Bourke” (in the state of New South Wales) or “back blocks” – really far away/middle-of-nowhere. Americans say BFE, and I’ll let you use urbandictionary if you’re not already acquainted with that colloquialism.
- “battleaxe block” – this one had me in peals of laughter because my host announced that hers was a battleaxe block. I thought it was a crass way of referring to a mother-in-law unit. No, it describes the shape when a lot is sub-divided such that the back yard becomes a new lot and requires a driveway running down the side of the front property.
- “refuge island” – a hilarious term for a traffic median meant to keep pedestrians safe when crossing a busy road. Comes complete with a sign picturing an adult and child holding hands and apparently running, much like the signs I’ve seen near the U.S./Mexcio border warning drivers to watch for people suddenly rushing out onto the freeway.
More Australian-isms to come! I usually get about three of these “what’s different here” entries in before I start taking my surroundings for granted. Cheers, mate! ♣