Culture Shock in Australia
Many expats imagine that culture shock in Australia is mainly related to money, marsupials and mangled accents. While these points may certainly be the most obvious causes of confusion and disorientation upon arrival, it’s important to realise that a move to Australia can be more difficult than initially anticipated.
Foreigners often fall victim to the idea that Australia is just an affected cultural mid-point between the US and Britain. The thinking is that with its sophisticated infrastructure, strong economy and English language there’s little preparation that needs to be done prior to relocation, and even less effort that needs to be put in to acclimatise once on Aussie soil.
In some ways, this notion does hold true. Australia is free of the challenges faced by expats in countries with complex language barriers, restrictive religious systems and stifling bureaucracy, but in other ways, it’s entirely misleading.
Symptoms of culture shock, like the loss of identity and loneliness, are evident in every transition; and what’s more, though many expats may find aspects of Australia eerily familiar, there are still several nuances that those from abroad will find foreign and complex.
Cultural values in Australia
Though the pointed Australian emphasis on freedom, equality and the egalitarian spirit won’t be a source of culture shock for some expats, it may be a bit surprising to others.
As a nation that prides itself on its high levels of cultural diversity, Australia is also conscious that there needs to be a cohesive force uniting its populace, and a devotion to shared values has filled that role.
As a result, the idea of a “fair go” (the belief that everyone deserves a fair opportunity to achieve through talent, hard work and effort, not favouritism or social hierarchy) has become, arguably, the most pervasive underlying cultural current in the country.
In line with this idea, women and men are not only equal, but often hold balanced roles in the household; both individuals work and assume certain domestic responsibilities. Australia was, in fact, one of the first places to give suffrage rights to women.
Similarly, as a physical manifestation of the idea, expats moving to Australia on a temporary visa are expected to sign a “Values Statement” declaring they will abide by the local value system, and they will uphold the laws of the land.
Cultural etiquette in Australia
Australia is, generally, an open and friendly destination. People immensely value their relationships, and loyalty to “mates” (friends) and family is highly thought of and commonly practiced.
That said, locals don’t feel the need to display this in a formal manner, but rather do so in an informal and easy-going way. People will introduce themselves and greet on a first name basis, and handshakes are always appropriate; a kiss on the cheek and a hug less so.
Politeness also holds high importance, and expats will find the concept of fairness makes its way into basic etiquette in many ways. For example, Australians will always queue for entrance or for the right to utilise a service, and punctuality is crucial.
Some expats may struggle with the Australian tendency to communicate in a direct and open manner, but in Oz, this isn’t taken as rude, and is actually seen as more deserving of respect than diplomatic actions that may belie a person’s true opinion.
Language barrier in Australia
English is the official language of Australia, but nonetheless, some famed colloquialisms have made their way into standard speech patterns, and expats will more than likely have to add quite a few terms to their vocabulary.
A good rule of thumb is to realise that Aussies have a tendency to shorten everything, so if stuck for a definition, just consider what the word could be with a couple more letters and an extra syllable or two.
Language guide to Australia:
- Arvo: afternoon – ‘come round this arvo’ (come visit this afternoon)
- Barbie: barbecue – outdoor cooking on a gas grill or over coals. These are great social occasions in Australia, and it’s standard to ask what one can bring. Sometimes, the host will even tell a guest to ‘bring a plate’ (not a piece of crockery, but a food dish that can be shared), or that the event is ‘BYO’ (bring your own meat and drinks).
- Snag: pork, beef or chicken sausage typically cooked at an Australian Barbie.
- Barrack for: cheer for or support
- Bird: a woman
- Bloke: a man
- Cuppa: a cup of tea or coffee
- Digger: an Australian soldier
- Go for your life: to proceed, get on with things – to go ahead
- G’day: Hello. How are you?
- Fortnight: two week period
- No worries: don’t worry about it, or, it’s no trouble at all
- Ocker: a stereotype of sort. Ocker can describe either a macho, boorish, uncouth, chauvinistic Australian or, alternatively, one who displays traits thought highly of, and claimed as typically Australian (like helpfulness, resourcefulness and good humour).
- Shout: To buy someone a drink. It’s customary when out with friends to ‘shout a round’, that is, buy a drink for everyone in your party. Everyone typically takes turn buying rounds.
- To be crook: to be sick or ill