So what is Australian culture? Whilst we should not generalise and stereotype, Australians more than many other nationalities have lives that revolve around the outdoors and in particular the water. It is a relaxed, informal culture. Barbecues, surf lifesaving, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and weird animals are all earmarks of the country/continent known as Australia.
Being Australian means being part of a multicultural society where we accept those of all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and beliefs. We do not all dress like Crocodile Dundee nor Steve Irwin nor do we wear cork hats. Moreover, we do wear bikinis, board shorts and Speedos at the beach. We are the spirit of the Anzacs, the hardy soldiers who fought resiliently in world war II.
You will quickly find that we shorten words and add an “o” to the end. We enjoy barbecues but never with shrimps. We may play backyard cricket using a wheelie bin as the stumps or picnic with a cask of wine. You will find that we sometimes walk barefoot in the supermarket, especially in areas near the beaches away from the city centre. We squeeze Vegemite through Saos. We have a “She’ll be right” attitude. Rather than being earmarks of a lack of education or culture, Australians on average are highly educated, these are marks of our relaxed way of life.
The country fills the space south of Asia, north of Antarctica, west of South America and east of Africa. The climates range from unbearably hot deserts to snow capped mountains (in winter). With a population of about 25 million and is the sixth largest country in the world. This means it is about the same size as mainland USA without Alaska and Hawaii or about 80% of the whole of Europe. These figures also means that it is one of the sparsest countries in the world.
Australia is a rich mix of people from all around the world. Almost 30% of the population were born overseas. The largest numbers of immigrants come from United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, Italy, and Vietnam. Also, the second largest Greek population in the world is in Melbourne (after Athens). The population is made up of 90% Caucasians, 7% Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 3%.
From 1788, the Australian immigrant population was almost entirely from England and Ireland until after world war II. After the second world war, the government boosted the workforce predominantly from Southern Europe, especially Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. In the 1950s, immigrants came from Northern Europe, in the 1960s they came from Southern Europe and in the 1970s from Vietnam (due to the Vietnam war). Since the early 1980s, Australia has opened its borders and we have immigrants in large numbers from all throughout Asia and the world.
English is the official language of Australia. However, at times, especially in smaller rural communities where locals may have both strong accents and use more Aussie slang, it may be difficult for foreigners to understand as the accent is neither American nor English, which is what most foreigners are used to when they study English. There is also a government funded movement to try and preserve the 20 or so surviving aboriginal languages. These are normally only spoken in more remote and isolated areas.
In terms of foreign languages, because of Australia’s high immigrant population, many people, especially in Sydney and Melbourne can speak a foreign language. There are suburbs in these cities where you can speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Arabic and Punjabi. In 2016, the census found that over 20% of the population speak a language other than English at home.
People are free to practice whatever religion they wish. The following are dominant religions: Protestant 23%, Roman Catholic 22%, other Christian 24%, Muslim 3%, Buddhist 2%. Many people are atheist or agnostic or practice other religions. In Australia more than 70,000 people (0.37%) declared themselves members of the Jedi order in the 2001 census. Aussie culture means accepting people of all religions including non religions.
The government and law is based on British law and even though it is democratic and self governing recognises the British monarch as head of state. Government is over three levels: National, state and local. We even drive on the left hand side of the road and walk on the left side of the footpath. In Australia primary and secondary education is provided by the government and is compulsory. Medicare is also provided by the government and provides a safety net for most essential medical expenses. Unfortunately, as a result, Australia also has one of the highest rates of taxation in the world.
Authenticity and Humility are earmarks of Aussie culture. Australians are “down to earth” and neither put people on a pedestal nor step on them. They do not think that they are better than other people nor that other people are better than them. Everyone from the prime minister down is on equal footing. Building trust is important in Australian society. Insincerity will quickly lose you respect and make it very difficult to build relationships in Australia. People who are pretentious will find it difficult to fit in.
Australians have a warm, self deprecating sense of humour and enjoy good banter and sarcasm. It helps to build relationships. If you’re from a culture such as China or Japan, where ‘face’ is strongly valued, then you will need to understand and not take offence.
Australians highly value friendships. They often turn to their ‘mates’ (friends), instead of family in times of need. Relationships tend to emphasise equality regardless of wealth, gender or background. Relationships based on wealth would be seen as superficial, a quality that is against Australian culture. Instead, Australians prefer to seek relationships with authentic, down to earth and easy going people.
Fairness or ‘a fair go’ is an underlying value of Australians and Australian culture. In building relationships with Australians, it is important to ask is that fair? Otherwise, you may trade off a once off gain for a longer term relationship. Australia is too small to go for the once off gain as you will probably need to deal with the same people or business again.
Arrive on time. If you are going to arrive more than 15 minutes late, ensure that you let the host know. Also, don’t put people out by arriving too early.
Australian culture is quite informal. As such when greeting someone, normally a smile, a handshake and a simple ‘hello, how are you’ or ‘G’day’ is normal. If introducing yourself, use your first name.
As Australian culture is fairly tactile, close friends may kiss each other on the cheek, hug or tap the shoulder or back of each other.
If invited to somebody’s house, for a meal, it is polite to bring a box of chocolates, bottle of wine or flowers. It is important that gifts are not too expensive as that would be imposing a burden on your host should you then invite them to your place and may be perceived as flaunting your wealth. Gifts of money are never appropriate. If you receive a gift, it is polite to open on receipt. If you’re invited to dinner, check the dress code beforehand to avoid being over- or under-dressed. Never give a gift that still has a price or a receipt with it as this is considered in bad taste.
If invited to a barbecue guests often expected to bring their own meat and alcohol and possibly a plate (of food) to share. Dress code for BBQs is normally relaxed and casual.
The bills for restaurant meals are often split between the diners. As such, expect to pay for your portion of the bill at the end of the meal.
If you’re invited for a drink at a bar, Australians take turns buying ’rounds’. This means people take turns asking everyone what they want to drink and then go buy them at the bar. It is important that you take your turn otherwise you will lose the respect of the Australians.
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