Let me just say right now, I love living in Newcastle. Love love love it. I love getting anywhere in twenty minutes, love walking from Nobbys to Newcastle beach, love the lack of pretension, love the awesome community I've slipped into. That said, there are some things I've noticed about Novocastrians and there ways that are just a little...different. I didn't really notice when I lived here before - it was just how things were, I knew nothing else - but after five years in inner Sydney, the cultural differences stand out, and they can be a little jarring.
Mind Your Ps and Qs
In Sydney, with thousands of people wanting to be everywhere at once, queuing is grudgingly accepted as a fact of life. Not here. Unused to it, Novocastrians can't, don't, won't queue up for anything. Witness three people approaching an ATM at once. Rather than forming a queue based on rough order of arrival, people will approach, stop at an oblique angle to the machine, and stare at a fixed spot in middle distance until the thing becomes available, then the "alpha" of the waitees will surge forth to use it. At a supermarket with two rows of self-check machines, rather than a single queue, people formed vague huddles, dissolving into some tension and anger whenever a checkout became available. These people would be eaten alive at Wynyard Station.
Sorry, We're Closed
In the inner city, due to high rents restaurants are more or less forced to be open upwards of ten hours a day to try to cover the rent. It's nice, though, to be able to get a bowl of noodles at 3pm. So it was with some shock my first week back to enter a cafe at 2:15pm and be told they couldn't give me any food and they were closing soon anyway. Ah yes. Here in Newcastle we like our beer cold, our team winning, and our retail establishments closed. I know it's unrealistic to expect to be able to get a haircut at 7pm on a Sunday, but it's still a jolt to remember that pretty much any business outside of a major shopping centre is closed all or nearly all weekend, let alone to reacquaint yourself with that delightful custom of restaurants and cafes closing between 2pm and 5:30pm. DH in particular is struggling, weeping bitter tears for all the poor souls unable to obtain coffee and a panini mid-afternoon. But it gets worse. Having completed a hike around the Bathers Way (a little slice of heaven on earth, but tiring), we hankered after some French toast at a recently opened French themed cafe. It was 11:45am, and they told us they were closed at that time, but reopened in fifteen minutes for lunch. Shutting in the afternoon is one thing, but closing between breakfast and lunch? Far canal. The concept of all day breakfast is one that is yet to catch on as much as it should too.
On The Bus
Newcastle has absolutely zero culture of public transport use. Public transport is seen as a last resort for the indigent and hopeless; in my previous time here, I was standing at the bus stop in Charlestown dressed nicely for work (I didn't make a habit of it, but big boss was coming up from Melbourne) and a suited man asked me if I'd lost my licence too. Job ads routinely specify a driver's licence is required whether or not the position actually requires it; it's seen that if you don't have a car, there's something wrong with you. I have acquaintances who boast they haven't set foot on public transport since they got their provisional licence; knew a couple who lived within the fare-free zone but would drive to the beach, then bitch about finding and paying for parking. It's a little depressing. People sometimes defend this by saying "but public transport is much better in Sydney". Is it true, though? When we lived in Marrickville, our transport options were 1. Walk twenty minutes to the station (and it was uphill on the way there and uphill on the way back...there was a crest in the middle) or 2. Risk the notorious 423, which, whilst being due every 15 minutes, would often see you waiting for 50, then three would turn up at once; I used to wonder if it had ever occurred that all the 423s ended up clumped in a single convoy of buses traversing the inner west. It's true I often feel a little unsafe on public transport, largely because the only people believed to use it are in fact the only people to use it; it was nice on a recent trip back to be on a train at 11am with people who didn't look like they'd benefit from swift institutionalisation. But from here, there are buses into town every ten minutes or so on weekdays; and one of the buses is a celebrity. The options are there; people just refuse to use them.
There's more too - Novocastrians' astonishing parochialism, the food (that was a very nice salad roll, but it was not a banh mi), the facts that everyone smokes, and I'm told changing lanes also escapes people - but I'll leave it for today. It's lunch time, and I need to go get something to eat before everything closes.
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