One of our favorite parts of traveling is experiencing different cultures. Getting an insight on how other people live; their traditions, values, habits and behaviors is such an enriching experience. It's nice to get a reminder that there is a lot going on in the world and that life exists outside of your comfort zone.
Having a taste of how life can be so different is a really important way for us to grow as individuals. Travel forces us to ask, "Why is it like this at home?", "Am I doing something one way because it's better, because I like it more or because it's the only way we know how?" We think a huge part of life is to constantly ask questions and challenge the status quo, and traveling is one of the best (and most fun) ways of doing so!
Plain and simple, travel takes so much harsh and critical judgement out of our perspective and replaces it with understanding - even if we don't adopt it.
Prior to my trip to Australia, I didn't expect too much of a culture shock. There isn't the typical language barrier that comes with visiting countries like Guatemala and Croatia, and from what I've seen and heard, it didn't seem like there would be an overwhelming cultural difference. I was expecting lots of sunshine, beaches, good food and shopping - just like Southern California that I've always called home.
However after my trip, I came away with a few surprising experiences while in Australia that I wasn't expecting, and a few ideals I wish the Americans would adopt.
1. The Honor System
I think the biggest shock to me was how much Australians value the honor system. We first experienced this in the hotels we stayed at; you were charged for items in the mini bar based solely on your honesty. We were allowed two free items a day from the hotel mini bar and if you took more than that in one day, we were told to just tell the front desk at check out. It was nice to see people trusting each other and people living with the idea that humans and inherently good. In contrast, mini bars in the U.S. are weighted so your charged even if you accidentally move an item just slightly out of place.
The next and most shocking example of the honor system being used in business in Australia was while pumping gas. When we went to fill up the gas tank on our rental car, we didn't see any place to swipe a credit card to pay. We assumed it must be cash only, so we went inside to pay.
We were baffled to learn that gas is also on the honor system. Gas is free flowing. Pump your gas, then head inside to tell the attendant how much you spent. I stood there dumbfounded at the idea of filling up the gas tank on the honor system. As I looked around at fellow patrons, it seemed every other American at the gas station (and there were quite a few since we were by the airport) struggled to understand the concept.
2. Fair Wages and Work/ Life Balance
When in Byron Bay, I was surprised to see that stores closed early, around 5pm. I figured it made sense because Byron Bay is a small seaside town built around community activities, like listening to music in the park above Main Beach.
But I was even more surprised to see this at the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane. Brisbane is a major, metropolitan city and Queen Street is the main shopping area and a large tourist attraction.
The reasoning behind closing early? Australians pay their citizens living wages. No low paying minimum wage jobs and excessive hours. Australians believe that family and personal time is important and that workers should get to spend time with their families and friends regardless of their job title. It's a refreshing approach to work life balance that I wish that Americans could adopt.
3. US Citizens Can Work and Live in Australia for a Year
American citizens between the age of 18 and 30 can apply for a work and holiday visa to live and work in Australia for up to 12 months. The program seeks to give young Americans a chance to immerse themselves in Australian culture and strengthen US and Australian relations.
In the United States it's almost impossible to get a work visa even if for only one year; you must prove that no American citizen can do your job. But in a country founded on diversity and immigrants, it's always surprising to us that the U.S. limits cultural exchanges like this.
4. Driving on the Left Side of the Road Isn't so Bad
One of my biggest worries was driving on the left side of the road. After driving for well over a decade, driving has become second nature. After the first year of driving, you never really think too hard about making a turn, changing lanes, checking your mirrors. Switching it up took some getting used to.
Sitting in the car for the first time was a weird feeling and felt a little uncomfortable. But after the first stretch of driving it was easy to adjust as long as you remember to stay left. In fact, there are signs everywhere with this sort of reminder. And on major highways with dividers, you almost forget what side of the road you are on.
Just realize that it's inevitable that you will turn on the windshield wipers instead of your blinker every time you want to change lanes. The hardest part of the left side of the road driving; crossing the street. That is something I could not figure out and I looked the wrong way every time! It's best to go back to basics and remember to look both ways when coring the street.
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