Believe it or not, Australian culture is nothing like the old beer commercials of the 80s or the stereotypical image of Crocodile Dundee roaming the Outback. Australia is actually one of the most diverse and urban nations on Earth.
It’s a dynamic, egalitarian and laid-back society, but there are some conventions that can be surprising to foreigners when they first arrive in Australia. So what are the cultural do’s and don’ts to be aware of?
Try to be yourself. Australians are a pretty easy-going and tolerant bunch and warm most to those who seem genuine and comfortable with themselves.
Equality underpins all social engagements so treat everyone as an equal, regardless of their social, racial or financial background. Be polite and show respect to everyone, otherwise someone might tell you to ‘pull your head in mate!’.
Reply with good humour if an Australian teases you. Only real mates ridicule so this actually means that you are accepted and liked. However, be careful about trying to do the same yourself – it’s a delicate art!
Drink with them (if you can) or get involved socially at work. Australians love to relax and enjoy themselves in casual settings and will bond quickly with people they ‘click’ with. So go for a drink after work, let them get to know you. Never use the opportunity to pitch for business in the bar.
Decide. Australians respect people who try and solve a problem themselves before asking. Take action rather than do nothing. Having an opinion your peers don’t like is better than having nothing to say at all.
Be punctual (or a couple of minutes early) to a meeting. Australians might be laid-back, but being late is uncool. Keep meetings efficient and never book a meeting on a Friday afternoon. However, if you are invited to someone’s house, it’s OK to be a bit late.
Buy a round or ‘shout’ someone a drink – Generosity is appreciated, bludgers are not. In buying a round, one person will pay for drinks for the group (buy a round) and then everyone else will do the same. Don’t leave a group until you have bought a round. Always remember to buy someone a drink if they bought one for you. Equally, expect to share the bill at dinner with friends.
Respect the natural environment, wildlife and land of Australia. It’s definitely not OK to litter.
Expect a greeting of ‘sir, madam’ etc. You’re most likely to get a simple ‘mate’ whoever you are. This is a sign of acceptance rather than a sign of disrespect.
Tip. Tipping is not expected in restaurants, but could be done for great service. If you do, don’t tip excessively: it could be seen as ‘big noting’ yourself.
Take offence if someone swears in front of you, even in a work environment.
Show off, be too brash or too flashy with money. Such behaviour and attitudes are seen as signs of superiority and are generally frowned upon. Australians take you for what you are and are less concerned about where you went to school, how you speak and what job you do. Australians suffer from ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: their love of the underdog results in scorn for the tall poppy who is invariably cut down to size the moment they get too big for their boots.
Talk loudly on the phone. Or use your phone during meetings.
Mention divisive topics of Australian society (e.g. Indigenous affairs, refugees) unless you are approaching it with sensitivity and are prepared to hear adverse opinions.
Be combative or argumentative. Australians tend to avoid the company of people who are too opinionated.