Australia – a left-sided world

I barely did any research about what will expect me culturally in Australia before leaving Switzerland. I decided to just go there without any expectations, with an open mind and the willingness to just fully immerse myself in what I will experience there. One of the few things I knew about Australia before I arrived was that they drive on the left side of the road. This is something that stood out immediately upon arrival. However, I thought this would be the only “left-sided” thing, but I quickly realized that there are things and practices that are only visible after interacting and living with Australians.

Soon after arriving at my accommodation in Wollongong, I noticed that on a sidewalk you pass each other on the left, and not on the right as I was used to. Before I realized this, there were several awkward instances where I went to the “wrong” side. And when passing another exchange student, you never knew if you should pass in the Australian or European way. But I think after a while everyone just decided to go with the Australian way when passing someone to minimize confusion. 

Another thing that is different is the position of the escalators. When I went to the big shopping mall in Wollongong, I automatically went to the right escalator to go upwards. However, to do so you have to take the left escalator. The first time I went to Sydney, I went with a small group of exchange students. While taking the escalator down to the train station, I realized that only we, the exchange students, were standing on the right side of the escalator and all the locals were standing on the left side to let people pass on the right. Also, in Sydney some crosswalks have signs written on the road indicating which way you have to look for cars before crossing. It happens very easily that you automatically look to the side from where you are used to seeing cars coming from and completely forgetting that they are actually coming from the other side.   

Another thing that surprised me right at the beginning of my stay was that I had troubles opening the door to my room, because to open a door you have to turn the key the opposite direction as we are used to from Switzerland. 

It never even crossed my mind that Australians have a different way of doing these things, before coming to Australia. But now after being here for three months, the things that irritated me at the beginning, are now part of my everyday life and I feel totally normal to be “left-sided”. I think I will need a while to readjust when I’m in Switzerland again.

Laura Burkhalter

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