I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, when I’ve been in Sydney for approximately 8 hours. It won’t get posted until later, so read this with the mindset of Christmas Eve – in the heart of summer because you’re in the southern hemisphere.
One of the common side-effects of being a PCV is experiencing reverse culture shock when you re-enter some first world nation. The first thing I noticed that seemed out of place was the vending machine in the airport. What? Snack size portions from a machine? Then, I saw a woman walking across the airport eating a peach, and I thought “How wrong!” In Samoa, ¬ua sa le ai ma savali – you can’t eat and walk; it’s rude. I still break this rule within the privacy of my room because I like to multi-task as much as possible (I don’t get many opportunities to do that in Samoa), but I never realized how accustomed I had become to that rule until I saw someone breaking it. Then I remembered – I’m not in Samoa. The other thing that helped me remember I wasn’t in Samoa was the sight of multiple copies of the same, brand new book for sale in a store. Multiple copies of multiple books, actually. You can find used books at the secondhand stores (I actually just bought some really good ones for my students the other day), but I can’t find a store dedicated solely to books. However, nothing in Samoa has only a single purpose, so I’ll never find a bookstore in Samoa just like I’ll never find a toy store in Samoa – they’re always combined with something else.
I caught a shuttle bus to my hostel, so driving through the city was another shocking experience. Sometimes I would think “Sydney looks just like any other big city I’ve ever been in,” but then I would see a sign saying something about Sydney or Australia, and I would think “I’m in Australia!” I was fully expecting to be shocked by how fast the car was driving (I’ve had that experience riding with palagi drivers in Samoa – they usually drive faster than Samoan drivers, and it always feels way too fast because I’m used to the speed of the bus), but it didn’t seem at all out of place or reckless. However, I was shocked by the stores along the road. That entire building is dedicated to office supplies? There is a store where they sell only tile? How many different things can you find in the Homemaker’s Center, which is made up of at least 6 different stores?
My hostel wasn’t super shocking, but the first thing I did when I got to my room was take a shower. After spending summers at camp where I sometimes only got one shower a week, I was amazed to find that I felt a shower was so necessary after 36 hours (or whatever it had been since my last one. I don’t do time math). Samoa has changed me, for sure. I felt mildly scandalized by girls in dresses that only came to mid-thigh instead of to the knee. I think I was rightly scandalized when I saw a girl whose shorts could have easily been mistaken for underwear though. The only reason I know they were shorts were because they had pockets – although that might not be a qualifying factor anymore. I’ve never been able to keep up with pop culture. Which also came up on the bus, funny story. I was talking to some people from Canada and New Zealand and I told them I was in Peace Corps, and they asked me what I knew about the outside world. I said I knew Leonardo DiCaprio is still making movies, but other than that, I couldn’t tell you anything about what movies are out and who’s all over the news and who’s been left behind.
I went walking around with the sole purpose of finding a little shop to get some groceries, but I ended up walking around for 3 or 4 hours. There was always another interesting store next to the one I had just gone into, and there were so many things to look at! Forgetting that it’s Christmas tomorrow, I was always confused when people asked if I was looking for Christmas presents. I did finish 75% of my souvenir shopping today – I didn’t realize that every single store in Australia would have a souvenir section.
Australia has confirmed what I’ve already learned in Samoa – air conditioning is my new worst enemy. Even though I still spend the better part of my days sweating to death while I’m sitting still, I’m fairly accustomed to the heat of Samoa. The weather is pretty similar right now in Australia, so anything colder than that demands layers, blankets, and a heater. Not air conditioning.
Another reverse culture shock moment – there’s a TV here (yes, there’s TV in Samoa, but I don’t have one, despite everybody telling me I need one, so I never watch it) and as it came back from a commercial and it said something like “And now back to (insert movie here) on TV 7,” and I couldn’t make sense of that one because Samoa only has 3 stations – TV1, TV2, and TV3 – there’s no TV7.
Needless to say, I’m super excited to spend the next two weeks here discovering all other kinds of nifty things about a first world country – I’ve already done so much with half a day! Before I left, my country director asked me what three things I’m most looking forward to, and I said “Seeing a show at the Sydney Opera House, spending an entire day in a huge grocery store, and another day in a huge bookstore.” The libraries were on my list, but after checking their hours today, they won’t be open while I’m around because of Christmas, so a bookstore will have to substitute. Can’t wait!