I’ve been in Melbourne about five weeks. Here are some random observations on small differences between Miami and Melbourne.
On the Road
It’s hard for a young person to get their driver’s licence in the state of Victoria. After passing a knowledge test and an eyesight test, an applicant can get a learner permit at 16, which allows them to drive with an experienced driver holding a full driver’s license. When driving, they have to display a yellow L plate (L for learner) on the front and back of the car to alert others on the road. Learners must log 120 hours of practice hours.
At the age of 18, after completing the driving practice hours, and passing the required exams, the learner earns a probationary license. They turn in their L plates for P plates. The probationary period lasts three or fours years. The minimum age at which a driver can obtain a full license is 22.
Ironically, I can drive in Melbourne without jumping through any hoops. As long as you have an English-language license, you can drive. It’s a little crazy when you consider that I’m used to driving on the right side of the road from the left side of the car and have little knowledge of local traffic laws. I drove for the first time on Sunday. Melbourne, you’ve been warned.
Gas, which Aussies refer to as petrol, costs about twice as much here as it does in Miami, and doesn’t get you as far considering the massive size of this city. You’ll see familiar companies such as BP and Shell as well as local ones. You can pump first and then pay, but most stations require you to go inside. Pay options at the pump are not common.
I thought I was going to see tiny Euro-style cars everywhere, but no. Cars here are much like cars in Miami – small, mid-size, SUVs. Toyotas, Hondas, and Fords are popular makes. Sometimes the car models have different names. For example, the Honda Fit is known here as the Jazz.
Melbourne has a public transportation system that includes trains, trams, and buses. It covers enough of the city and is efficient enough that many people don’t own cars. Coming from a car-centric city, I am confused and intimidated by the public transportation system. Even more confusing are the streets. They all have names and not necessarily unique ones.
Food in Melbourne is very good. At the markets, you’ll find a lot of fresh, local produce, and organic and free range meats and eggs. Food here does not appear to be highly processed or full of additives, MSG, and high fructose corn syrup. It is all more expensive. In fact, just about everything in Melbourne is more expensive than in Miami.
Melbourne is full of great restaurants and I don’t just mean fine dining. There are really good cafes, pizza shops, and casual Mediterranean and Asian eateries. The downside is that everything feels gourmet. A plain ole pepperoni pizza or a simple salad can be hard to find.
Customer service is bad in Melbourne. Restaurant servers in Australia earn a normal wage, which is good, but because they depend on tips, they don’t need to provide good service. You’re pretty much on your own. Get your own water and flag a server down if you need one.
While I’m on the subject of food, I thought I’d see few or no fat people in Melbourne. The media works very hard to sell the idea of obesity as an American problem. Melburnians seems to take pleasure and pride in their fresh food and generally healthy lifestyle. People walk a lot, they jog, hike, bicycle, and enjoy the outdoors. But I got news: Melbourne has fat people. A lot of them. America has not cornered the market on this.
Expats, what small differences have you observed between your home and adopted countries?