My first interaction with the Australian culture almost made it impossible for me to tell the story about it. After a long and at times very shaky flight, I took the train to Sydney Central Station where I was supposed to check into my Hostel where I would stay before moving into the Student Housing on Campus. Not having slept during the 14-hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney, I was only focused on one thing: getting some sleep as soon as possible. At this point, noticing and dealing with cultural differences or local customs was the least of my worries. After all, so I thought, Australia is surely the most European country in the Asia-Pacific region.
However, this lack of cultural awareness almost got me in big trouble when I tried crossing a small one way street that leads to the Hostel. Being used to traffic in Europe and at a point where even slightly moving my body exhausted me, I turned my head left to check for oncoming traffic – without realizing that I was supposed to be looking on my right side. Luckily, the driver of the car coming down the road was a little bit less tired than I was – he could stop the car before there was a collision.
The next morning, after getting some much-needed sleep, I was heading out for brunch, which is a huge thing in Sydney. Of course, this meant crossing the street on which I almost got run over 12 hours earlier. Although vividly remembering the scare, I, funnily enough, did not manage to turn my head in the right (quite literally) direction again. It was only after crossing the street that I realized my mistake. Luckily, there was no traffic to worry about this time. Some Internet research later on would reveal that left-hand traffic actually has the richer historic background than its right-hand side counterpart. According to Wikipedia, even ancient Greek and Roman soldiers kept left when marching and right-hand traffic was not introduced in Europe until roughly 100 years ago. As Australia has very deep relations with the United Kingdom, it is not surprising that the change here was not adapted.
However, the left-hand preference is much deeper rooted in society than what I initially thought. Inside the large shopping malls in the Central Business District of Sydney for example, it is very easy to differentiate between locals and tourists. Whereas the tourists stand on the right side of the escalator, the locals will roll their eyes be the ones rolling their eyes, knowing that you’re supposed to stand on the left side. The same is true for revolving doors, where you earn a stern look if you rotate the door in the wrong direction.
I was going to conclude my first blog post by mentioning that I felt like a true Sydney-sider the moment I managed to turn my head the right way when crossing a street. This took me about two and a half weeks and I instantly felt this overwhelming sensation of being a part of the society and the city. This feeling, however, didn’t last me very long. Trying to get to know locals and my friends from university, exploring Sydney’s nightlife was a top priority, especially during orientation week. Trying to avoid the very strict lock out laws, taking a cab to get from one bar to the next is inevitable. One can only imagine how terrified I was when we made a turn for the first time and suddenly were not on the right (quite literally) side of the street.