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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 prey to the idea that Australia is just a cultural midpoint 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.
Symptoms of culture shock, like the loss of identity and loneliness, often occur with new expats – and what’s more, though many expats may find aspects of life in Australia familiar, there are still several nuances that those from abroad will find complex.
Cultural values in Australia
Some expats may be surprised at the extent of the pointed Australian emphasis on equality and the egalitarian spirit. For example, anything that can be construed as bragging or boasting will tend to provoke a negative reaction from Australians. This can be attributed to what is known as "tall poppy syndrome" – the tendency to value unity and uniformity over individual achievements. Anyone perceived as considering themselves better than others is often thought of as a "tall poppy" that needs to be cut down to size.
Another related and closely held cultural value is the idea of a “fair go”. This is the belief that everyone deserves a fair opportunity to achieve success through talent, hard work and effort, not favouritism or social hierarchy.
Socialising in Australia
Australia is generally an open and friendly destination. People immensely value their relationships, and loyalty to friends and family is highly thought of and commonly practised.
As a result, Australians generally come across as easy going, which may be misconstrued by some expats as being overly friendly or too informal.
Australians are fond of socialising around the barbeque or over a pint at the pub. People will introduce themselves and greet on a first name basis. Even walking down the street, it's not unusual to be greeted with a "g'day" from a total stranger or to find oneself making small talk with a fellow shopper in a grocery store.
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 Australians 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. Still, confusion is not unusual at first. Luckily, Australians are friendly and obliging people and are sure to be up for helping "translate" a few phrases for their foreign friends.
►For information on managing your finances, see Cost of Living in Australia
Are you an expat living in Australia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Australia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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