On Culture Shock and Other First Impressions

Just after sunset at Brighton beach, Scarborough (I missed the actual sunset)

Just after sunset at Brighton beach, Scarborough (I missed the actual sunset)

I’m writing this as I sit cocooned in about ten layers, cradling a cup of tea in my ice-cold hands. I’m certainly experiencing the “culture shock” everyone talks about- or maybe it’s just the temperature difference.

We landed Perth just in time for a staggering sunset, blaring out Bon Iver’s “Perth” through our tinny headphones and feeling like we were in the movies. All I needed now was an emotional reunion at the airport entrance. Immigration was painfully slow, made worse by me forgetting to take off my glasses at the ePassport control. Machines sadly don’t understand basic facial recognition and aren’t as advanced as we wish they were, so I was punished for my foolishness by a long queue for the “assistance desk”. Thankfully, the passport control guy lived up to Aussie stereotypes and greeted me warmly. He also asked me whether I had a gun…I hope he was being ironic:

“Yes, sir. Here’s my gun. If you ask for my knife too I’d happily hand it over- I only spent several hours concealing it, after all.”

Soon, however, I was through! Disappointment quickly ensued, as I was met by a snaking queue of mainly schoolchildren, wheeling all sorts of impressive instruments along the linoleum floor. I spent the entire queue worrying that my year’s worth of prescriptions would be detected by the intimidating sniffer-dog, and I’d have to watch my precious medication chucked in the bin.

Thankfully, the rosy-cheeked attendant gave us that all-important nod of approval, and we weren’t subjected to any canine inspection. Through the automatic doors we went, and were hit by a biting blast of icy Australian air, and I immediately regretted wearing no tights.

“Yahoo Weather said it would be 16 degrees!” I thought miserably, and lugged my badly weighted suitcase to the airport transfer. Upon arrival, however, all my worries were assuaged, and I briefly forgot the cold. Although our beach house somewhat resembled a drug den at first sight- situated at the far end of a dingy covered walkway in an apartment complex- I immediately warmed to the inside (not literally, sadly). Whitewashed walls and blue paintings reminded me of Greece, and an air of familiarity was added once various clothes had been strewn on the floor. We then hurried to the beach (typical tourists: who else would go to the beach at 10pm in midwinter?!) and were stunned by the night sky. The Milky Way arced across the sky, rising from the dazzling lights of Perth behind us before plummeting below the horizon line of the sea. We sat in awe for several hours, and my friends even saw a shooting asteroid (typically, I missed it- stupid eyesight), before I lost all feeling in my scantily clothed limbs and returned inside.

This is when the real horrors began. In our eagerness, we’d forgotten the call of our stomachs, and the return to the house saw the onset of hunger begin. I manically began searching for takeaways in Perth, and had just settled for a delicious looking (and unusually cheap) pizza. I clicked “order”, but they required a phone number entry and I had no such thing. Panic ensued. I soon solved the problem, and finally received the reassuring “we’ve received your order” email.

Minutes later, when my hopes were raised, I got another email which stated:

“Hey there Ottoline, Your order for Pizza Express – Scarborough has been cancelled. We are very sorry for inconveniencing you”.

My disappointment was indescribable. Of course they’d cancelled- they weren’t even a proper Pizza Express, after all! I spent 30 minutes trawling the Internet for 24-hour takeaway services, but it kept taking me back to the same takeaway place that had just rejected me! The bastards. I was inconsolable. I was facing a cold, hungry, sleepless night.

They always say perseverance pays, and it certainly did: after twenty minutes I found a miniscule tin of something that looked like cat food. I was desperate and I hungrily tore into it. It turned out to be salmon, and although it stunk out the house, it was edible. Having said this, anything would have been palatable in that state of hunger, and I even resorted to eating several cashews my friend had miraculously found- even though nuts are something I’ve detested all my life.

Satisfied from the half-tin of salmon and a dozen cashews, I began to relax. I was really in Australia! I’d made it, and I hadn’t been deported- as of yet. I ventured out onto the balcony and was quickly reminded that I was indeed in Australia when a hissing sound suddenly echoed at me throughout the darkness. I hate to say I screamed.

I spun around, in search of the deadly snake that would paralyse me in minutes (or kill me if I was lucky). Nothing.

I soon sheepishly realised that it was not a pernicious predator, but the spring on the top of the door! My heart didn’t slow down for a good few minutes, however. I swear this must have been an evil trick played deliberately on unsuspecting tourists. Kudos, I guess. I wish I’d thought up that one.

Now, reclining on the sofa after a long day at the beach, I realise that apart from the horrendously cold house, life isn’t too damn bad. Or should I say, life’s a beach! The sea is two inches away and we’ve already been for a swim and returned complete with all four limbs. We’ve survived our first Australian supermarket experience (although I struggled with the self-checkout tills again), and we haven’t spotted a single deadly animal, or nothing I know of…I have to say I’ll drink to that.

Tip: Don’t trust Yahoo weather, pack enough warm clothes and don’t wait till 11pm to order a takeaway.

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