9 weird things about Australians

CAUTION – these are generalisations that are meant to be helpful, but you will find exceptions.

  1. Aussie Modesty

Australians admire humility and authenticity. They loath boasting or pretentiousness. Even if their company is number one in its sector, they will often just say “we’re not too bad”, preferring understatement to boasting.

Informality and humour are always present in Australia – the Prime Minister would be greeted on a first name basis by people he or she had never met.

An unusual part of Australian humour is to make comments about someone that seem to be critical – but this is actually a sign of friendship. If I am given a project to do, an Australian might say “you will find some way to mess this one up” and this is meant as humorous and friendly.

People from countries where “face” is highly valued will find some of this humour difficult. But it is never meant to be offensive.

Because Aussies are laid back and informal, they think you will automatically like them, even though they might be giving offense with their humour.

An Australian with a PhD will not like you using the title – “just call me Steve” is their usual response to being called Dr Jones.

These characteristics can be a challenge for people from cultures which place high value on formality, titles, achievements and so on.

2. “Mates” in Australian Relationships

“Mate” is the Australian word for close friend. Once you become a mate, you will stay that way because Australians put mateship and loyalty together.

“Mates” can cross financial and social barriers – a rich person could be “best mates” with their gardener, and so on.  

This is part of the overall friendliness and openness.

3. Tall Poppy Syndrome

Australians like everyone to be in the middle – so if you are poor, you will get welfare, if you are rich, be wary of flaunting your wealth because they will try to bring you down to earth. Anyone claiming to be the best, or boasting about some valid achievement is fair game for tall poppy syndrome.

“Chopping off tall poppies” is almost a national sport.

4. A Multi-Cultural Society

Australia is a very multicultural society with a strong mix of indigenous groups, individuals with historical European roots, and a diverse mix of immigrant populations – lately this has been dominated by India and China. Approximately 25% of Australian citizens were born overseas and almost half the population had at least one parent who was born overseas.

The indigenous groups, made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, share rich, ancient cultures and histories.

Post-World War II Australian attracted immigrants to boost the population and work force, mainly from Europe, (especially from Greece, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia), Lebanon and Turkey.

Large numbers came from Northern Europe in the 1950s, Southern Europe in the 1960s and Vietnam (as a consequence of war) in the 1970s.

Such diversity has changed how Aussies see themselves – as a multi-cultural and multi-faith society rather than the homogenous, white, Anglo- Saxon, Protestant nation of old.

5. Meeting Etiquette

Australian culture is not very formal, so greetings are typically casual and relaxed. A handshake, smile and a simple ‘hello, how are you’ should suffice.

While an Australian may say, ‘G’day’ or ‘G’day, mate’, this is meant to be a warm and friendly greeting, but this may sound a bit off-handed to foreigners.

Aussies prefer to use first names, even at the initial meeting.  As such, avoid using titles when you first meet someone and, instead, introduce yourself with your first name only.

6. Gift Giving Etiquette

Small gifts are commonly exchanged with family members, close friends, and neighbours to mark special events such as birthdays, births, engagements or Christmas.

Trades people and service people such as cleaners, may be given a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer!

If you are invited to someone’s home for dinner or a lunch time barbeque, it is polite to bring a box of chocolates, bottle of wine or flowers to your hosts.

Australians are relatively big meat eaters and can sometimes be insensitive to vegetarian diets – so it is important to let a future host know that you are a vegetarian.

In a culture that values humility and equality, it’s important that gifts are modest and not too expensive.

Although it’s acceptable to give high value gifts to those you’re close to, giving high value gifts to others may cause embarrassment and you may be perceived as flaunting your wealth.

Gifts are typically opened when received.

7. The Aussie “barbie” (BBQ)

The Aussie ‘barbie’ is an important part of Australian social culture.

Guests typically bring wine or beer as gifts for the host. In some cases, very informal barbecues may suggest that you bring your own meat!

As a vegetarian or someone who does not drink alcohol, let your host know these things before the event – they will adapt, and it saves embarrassment.

People tend to dress very casually at BBQs. For dinner, you can check the dress code beforehand.

In Australian culture, being overdressed can sometimes be more embarrassing than being underdressed!

You can contact the hosts ahead of time to see if they would like you to bring a dish.

Offering to help the hosts with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is well received.

How to indicate you have finished eating – lay your knife and fork parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right.

8. Business Meeting Etiquette

Appointments are necessary and relatively easy to schedule. They should be made with as much lead time as possible. Many CEO’s will have an appointment diary covering two or three years and they like to stick to what is in the diary – meaning if you want to see them, make a request well in advance of the proposed day.

Punctuality is important in business situations. It is better to arrive a few minutes early than to keep someone waiting.

Meetings are generally relaxed; however, they are serious events.

Australians can be very direct in communication – if an Australian takes exception to something that you say, they will tell you so. It might seem offensive, but Aussies are straight shooters and expect that you can “take it” – that is, you will not get upset.

If you make a presentation, avoid hype, making exaggerated claims, or “bells and whistles”.

Australians get down to business quickly with a minimum amount of small talk.

They are quite direct and expect the same in return. They appreciate brevity and are not impressed by too much detail.

Negotiations proceed quickly. Bargaining is not customary.

They will expect your initial proposal to have only a small margin for negotiation.

They do not like high-pressure techniques.

9. Business Dress in Australia

Business dress is conservative in Melbourne and Sydney, but in recent years it is acceptable to be a little more informal – going to work in a suit but not wearing a tie has become fine. Men should wear a dark coloured, conservative business suit. Women should wear a smart dress or a business suit.  

Thanks to Commisceo Global for much of the above content.

Author: Stephen Manallack

Former President, Australia India Business Council, Victoria and Author, You Can Communicate; Riding the Elephant; Soft Skills for a Flat World (published by Tata McGraw-Hill INDIA); Communicating Your Personal Brand. Director, EastWest Academy Pty Ltd and Trainer/Speaker/Mentor in Leadership, Communication and Cross Cultural Communication. Passionate campaigner for closer western relations with India. Stephen Manallack is a specialist on “Doing Business with India” and advisor/trainer on “Cross-Cultural Understanding”. He is a Director of EastWest Academy Pty Ltd which provides strategic advice and counsel regarding business relations with India. A regular speaker in India on leadership and global communication, his most recent speaking tour included a speech to students of the elite Indian university, Amity University, in Noida. He also spoke at a major Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) global summit, the PR Consultants Association of India in Delhi, the Symbiosis University in Pune and Cross-Cultural Training for Sundaram Business Services in Chennai. He has visited India on business missions on 10 occasions and led three major trade missions there. He provides cross-cultural training – Asia and the west.

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