I’ve been living in Auckland for a while now and one of the most bewildering things I have observed so far is their inner city walk. It certainly explains Blair’s inability to ever be on the correct side of the escalator the entire time we lived overseas. Actually, there was one time I accused him of actively trolling me because he was constantly on the wrong side in Germany. Then we visited London, and he was STILL on the wrong side. Therefore, for our weekend trip he had managed to remember that he needed to swap sides, but seeing as he was on the wrong side to begin with, he was now on the wrong side… again.
Truly I did not understand his confusion until I started my morning city commute here.
As I walked out of the main station, Britomart, I went to cross the road at a large intersection. Low and behold, everyone walked diagonally across the road. I stood still for a moment, and you’d think that would have irritated the people behind me – much the opposite. They just walked around me without even a grumble. Well, I thought to myself, we certainly aren’t in Germany anymore. I remember in my early days of cycling to work, being yelled in German by numerous angry cyclists for not going fast enough or not getting out of the way of their silent bike creeping up behind me. For some reason, using their bell was not an option and when I used mine, man did I get some dirty looks!
So after I was over my initial shock, I hurriedly made my way across this diagonal intersection only to almost be taken out by a Lime scooter – the city’s latest innovation which also, is silent and doesn’t even have a bell! Who signed that off? I’d like to know! I thought I had made it to the safety of the footpath but no, I had several very awkward altercations with fellow pedestrians who were heading towards me in the opposite direction, in the middle of the footpath.
Out of nowhere they would either choose to walk to the left or the right!
My natural instinct from growing up in Sydney, to stand to the left (as it says on ALL the escalators) bamboozled some people who tried to go left (for no apparent reason) and resulted in an awkward box step and an embarrassed look on their part, on my part – a Londoner style scowl and a muttering of “idiot” under my breath. They probably thought well, she’s not from around here!
On my commute home, I saw my train about to leave the station and attempted to run down the escalator, only to be caught behind several people who had decided to stand on whatever side felt most convenient to them. Confused, I looked around for some sort of signage – surely at the most modern and central train station in Auckland, they would need signage on the escalators? Nope. Nothing. Once I got home I inquired with Blair as to which side I am supposed to stand on.
He confirmed what I feared – there’s no rules.
I’ve raised this concern with several kiwis now, and I have only really received one satisfactory answer, explaining to me that Aucklanders, and Kiwis, have never needed to stand to one side because there has never been enough people to warrant doing so. I’m also told that the diagonal crossing is quite common in parts of Asia… well at least I’m prepared for that now.
Several months into living in Auckland, I’ve learned a few tricks to get around town. When I do my ‘London Walk’, long strides, fast pace, head down but unwavering stare in the direction of where I want to go, people almost jump out of my way. People also seem visibly uncomfortable if you are ‘too close’ to them, and by too close, I mean a metre away. They will step back for you even though there was absolutely no reason to.
I actually had someone stop and let me pass once.
In my opinion, there was plenty of room on the footpath for 4 people to walk past if it was a tube tunnel. My London Walk approach has served me well so far, but unfortunately nothing can save you from being blocked by groups of spatially unaware Chinese tourists, taking photos of seemingly insignificant objects, but take absolutely no notice of you.
Outside of my morning commute, I must say I am enjoying the extra space and less people more than I thought I would. I have always lived in bigger cities and was pretty shocked to find out that Berlin has a smaller population than Sydney. Sometimes I even feel guilty about all the space we get to ourselves here, but it’s just one of the great things about living in New Zealand. Here’s to walking wherever the hell you want because you can!
Have you noticed any differences in the way people walk in the cities you’ve visited or lived in? Tell us about your funny observations in the comments below!