Here are seven things I need to learn to get by in Australia.
1. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car
About 66% of the world’s people live in right-hand traffic countries. Australia is not one of those countries. If that weren’t bad enough, cars are allowed to park on the left driving lane during certain hours. That means drivers are constantly zipping around them. Plus you’ve got pedestrians and bicyclists as well as buses and trams. While Melbourne appears to have better drivers than Miami (everywhere has better drivers than Miami), the street feels like an obstacle course. Then there’s the infamous hook turn.
2. The metric system
The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t use the metric system as its official system of measurement. I am prepared for mental discomfort, but I think the best way to learn the metric system is to avoid trying to perform conversions in my head. Simply accept that 23 degrees Celsius is pleasant and don’t worry about how much that is in Fahrenheit.
3. The government of Australia
The Commonwealth of Australia is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. I have no idea what that means and I don’t understand the difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition because, in the U.S., labor and liberal is wrapped up in a single party (Democratic).
Though it feels overly complicated, communications in the U.S. is fairly simple. The telephone system is monopolized by AT&T. We have four companies that offer nationwide mobile phone service – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint Nextel – and several smaller regional and local providers. And while there are about 18 broadband providers, they’re not all available everywhere, and only four companies lead the way: AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon. We tend to bemoan the lack of options. In Australia, the opposite seems to the problem. Australia has 188 licensed mobile providers. That alone boggles my mind.
It’s not customary in Australia to tip except when it is. Servers are paid a normal wage and tipping is not expected, but if your food and service are exceptional, it’s acceptable to leave the change and up to about 10% at fine restaurants. I’m always tempted to tip and I have to reprogram myself away from thinking that leaving just 20 cents behind is not being cheap or insulting.
6. Public transportation
I live in a city with a terrible public transportation system and I rarely use it. That will change when I get to Australia. Melbourne has the world’s largest tram network, almost 300 bus routes, and a train network with 16 railway lines. There is plenty of driving too, but I don’t expect to have a car for quite some time.
7. The art of living dangerously
Spiders, snakes, jellyfish, drop bears, and even those cute kangaroos and koalas can be deadly. But that’s just life down under. If you’re going to have a good time, just get over the fact that some creature could sting, bite, or disembowel, and kill you at any moment.