Cognitive distance

It takes me approximately three hours to get from Zagreb to Zadar, the small town in Dalmatia. A 10 minute ferry ride takes me to the island of Ugljan and a 10 minute ride later I will have arrived at the place where I have been spending summers in the last ten years. This trip for me, and, I think I can safely say, for the majority of Croatians, is an all day activity. One that you prepare for in advance. A day in advance. For Australians, however, this can be the distance one would drive in a day, on a spur of the moment decision to go have a cup of coffee with a friend.I am totally serious. Being Croatian, when I look at a map, I do have some sense of how big Australia is. I do. On the road between Sydney and Canberra today in a bus, I caught a hint of that vastness in the fact that the off white little dots on the fields turned out to actually be sheep.

Both in Melbourne and in Adelaide I got fooled by interesting views, wide streets and unusual building that looked deceptively near. I walked way too much. Feet hurt. I blamed it on my lack of fitness. Being overweight. Having worn the wrong shoes.

People telling me they thought a three hour drive was nothing just did not ring true. A fan offering to drive me from Sydney to Canberra and then returning back the same day seemed out of this world. So much so I actually had to make a correction in this last line, my fingers just wrote out “and returning the next day” by themselves.

I remained, until Sydney, genuinely surprised by the huge difference in how Australians perceive distance. As opposed to Croatians. Even Europeans. This – I googled it – is called cognitive distance. “Cognitive distance is a mental representation of actual distance moulded by an individual’s social, cultural and general life experiences.” (found that here)

I figured it was due to culture. European cognitive distances must be smaller because there are so many of us, with so many different languages and cultures and traditions on so little space. I get into a car and head north from my house, in four hours I will have passed through at least one other country. Where they speak a different language. In six hours, two or three, depending where I choose to turn. If the same is done in an Australian capital city, most likely the car will not even leave the state.

But even if it does,  it is still in Australia. A federation it may be, and it may have six different states and a number of territories, it is still one country. With one language, and one culture.

In Sydney, I learned this is irrelevant. Taking the train down from Gosford every day and back really skewed my touristy schedule. It took me two days to get caught up with the fact that I can only do two tourist things on any given day. It was not because I had to spend a total of 4 hours traveling back and forth. That is easily solvable by taking earlier/later train and simply sleeping on it.

It was because Sydney itself was so large. Getting from one point of interest to the next also took a lot of time. At first I lost a lot of time walking from place to place. This is, after all, what tourist do. Walk around and gawk. When I realized this ate at my schedule, I took to the Circle Loop train. But that also took time. As did hopping over for lunch. I saw less of Sydney than I hoped.

I did however assimilate some of the Australian cognitive distance. A three hour trip sounds like a good midday activity to me today.

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About Mihaela Marija Perkovic

Mihaela Marija Perkovic was GUFF laureate 2013 and is now the European GUFF Adminstrator. She is also a writer. And Mum. PR wizard. Journalist. Translator. Clutz. Copywriter. SF fan. Writing workshops aficionado. SFera member. Conrunner. Lousy photographer.
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