This week has also marked four months of being back in Australia. I’ve been holding off on the culture shock post for a while because I have been waiting for it to kick in, but I realised a while back that there just hasn’t been that much culture shock to deal with. So there’s little to post on this regard, but here’s the latest entry in the long running shock of the shock series.
The Shock of the Shock – Sydney Edition
Not the multicoloured, washing-machine-safe amazingness of Australian banknotes, or the lack of any denomination below five cents. They’re awesome. The shock that I’ve encountered is how many businesses still exclusively operate in cash, especially given how comparatively advanced Australian banking is compared to the USA (e.g. cheques are things shown in museums here). Even more businesses refuse to accept cards below a certain transaction amount, or tack on a fee. It’s meant going from never carrying cash to always having spare money available for coffee.
Sydney trains often get a bad rap, but compared to New York, they’re more efficient, cleaner, and in some cases cheaper (especially compared to Metro North). They’ve even gotten better at being on time. The shock has been having to factor in the strange timing used by stations. If the screen at the front of the station says that a train departs in two minutes, it almost always means that it’s arriving at the platform at that moment. And in larger stations in Sydney, by the time you get to the platform, you’ve probably missed it.
Crossing at Traffic Lights
This is one that changed since I moved overseas. It used to be that when crossing the street in Sydney, you could walk on the green signal, then there’d be a flashing red signal, then a solid red signal, then about two seconds later the traffic lights would go green for the cars. Not anymore. It seems that at some point the city removed that two second buffer, so that once the signal goes solid red for pedestrians, the cars can go. Get caught out and it’s an instant game of “chicken” or at least a few honked horns. The only other city I had ever seen it in was Barcelona, but it seems to have been taken on here.
It’s more expensive. Even the cheapest beer costs about twice that of the cheapest beers in the USA, though once you get into the realm of fancy hipster craft beers it starts to even out. The pubs aren’t much better on this front, but that said, the food is much cheaper at pubs (a rump steak, fries, and salad for US$7).
Note the quotation marks. Sydney is a city that has never in recorded history seen temperatures significantly below freezing, let alone snowstorms. It’s in a subtropical climate, so the temperature rarely drops below 10ºC . When it does, the locals wrap themselves up so much that they look like minor characters from a Dostoyevsky novel. Initially it was a source of mirth, especially having lived up in the Australian mountain country, and then handled the blizzards of the US North East.
However, I’ve gone soft. It’s embarrassing, but even I am wearing my winter coat and gloves on the early morning ferry ride across the harbour. It doesn’t matter that in Connecticut this would be t-shirt weather, it feels cold.
Missing the USA
To be honest, I don’t miss much from the US.
The only thing I really miss is the people. My friends from grad school and from rugby. They were my family there, and even with social media, it's not the same as actually being able to hang with them. And while I have made a few new friends here in Sydney, it's going to take time before I'm fully settled.
In truth though, I’m loving being back in Australia. The coffee is ubiquitous; in the single city block around my office, there are more than 10 coffee shops, and all of them are pretty good. The selection and quality of food is great too, with no extra sales tax or tipping to deal with. And it's nice to be closer to family, even if it's still a 9 hour drive to go see them in the country.
All up, it's good to be back.