Australian customs and traditions
Our population is made up of a number of vibrant cultures resulting in a mixture of customs and traditions influenced by people from all around the world.
When you arrive in Australia you may notice differences in etiquette, lifestyles and values. Australians are quite informal which can take some getting used to, especially if you come from a culture where ritual is important and where levels of status and authority are clearly distinguished and carefully respected.
With most Australians living within 50 kilometres from the coast, many people enjoy a laid back and social lifestyle. A typical weekend may include a swim or surf in the ocean, participation or attendance at a sporting match, a barbecue with friends and spending time with family.
As your time in Australia continues, you’ll find yourself becoming more familiar and comfortable with aspects of Australian culture that may have initially confused you. Just like at home, there are aspects of the local culture that you will enjoy, and others that you won’t.
- Addressing people – Australians usually have two names – a first or given name and a family name or surname. People of your own age or younger would usually be addressed by their first names. When introduced to people older than you, call them Mr, Mrs or Ms followed by their surnames until you know them well or they ask you to address them by their first names;
- Greetings – good morning, good afternoon, good day or how do you do? are formal greetings. Informal greetings are hello or hi;
- G’day – an informal and traditional Australian greeting (shortened form of “Good day”);
- Saying excuse me, please and thank you – excuse me is used most commonly when speaking to someone who does not expect you to speak to them or when joining in an ongoing conversation. Say please when requesting something and thank you when anything is provided to you;
- Eye contact – no matter what your social status or age, Australians like to make direct eye contact with people they are speaking to;
- Personal space – Australians like to allow a decent amount of personal space between them and others. Standing closer than one metre from another person unnecessarily may make them feel uncomfortable.;
- Dress – Australians tend to dress quite casually. If more formal dress is required, you will usually be told;
- Queuing – people queue when they are waiting in turn for something (such as a taxi, bus, at a ticket counter or for a cashier). Never push ahead of others or ‘jump the queue’ – it won’t be tolerated;
- Punctuality – being late is not acceptable. If you can’t keep an appointment or invitation, or are running late, always phone to explain before the event;
- Smoking – smoking is banned in government buildings and on public transport including domestic and international flights. Smoking is now banned in most restaurants and licensed venues. Patrons are required to go outside if they wish to smoke. If you are visiting the house of a friend or family member, always ask for permission to smoke;
- Spitting – spitting in public is inappropriate and can cause offence;
- Littering – Australia is environmentally conscious and littering is inappropriate. If you litter, you may also be fined; and
- Table manners – you can eat with your fingers at informal meals such as a picnic, barbecue or when eating takeaway food. You must use cutlery for meals at restaurants. If you don’t know which utensil to use for a particular course, ask first or watch and follow what others do.
Australians often abbreviate words and then add an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ on the end. We also like reverse nicknames, calling people with red hair ‘bluey’, or saying ‘snowy’ to someone with dark hair. Australians also tend to flatten our vowels and end sentences with a slightly upward inflection.
Common Australian colloquialisms include:
- Bring a plate – when you are invited to a party and asked to 'bring a plate', this means to bring a dish of food to share with your host and other guests. Take the food to the party in any type of dish, not just a plate, and it is usually ready to serve. This is common for communal gatherings such as for school, work or a club. If you are unsure what to bring, you can ask the host;
- BYO – when an invitation to a party says 'BYO', this means 'bring your own' drink. If you do not drink alcohol, it is acceptable to bring juice, soft drink or soda, or water. Some restaurants are BYO. You can bring your own wine to these, although there is usually a charge for providing and cleaning glasses called 'corkage';
- Arvo – this is short for afternoon. 'Drop by this arvo,' means please come and visit this afternoon;
- Fortnight – this term describes a period of two weeks;
- Barbecue, BBQ or barbie – outdoor cooking, usually of meat or seafood over a grill or hotplate using gas or coals;
- Snag – the raw type sausages usually cooked at a barbecue. They can be made of pork, beef or chicken;
- Chook – means a chicken;
- Cuppa – a cup of tea or coffee 'Drop by this arvo for a cuppa' means please come and visit this afternoon for a cup of tea or coffee;
- Loo or dunny – these are slang terms for toilet. If you are a guest in someone's house for the first time, it is usually polite to ask permission to use his or her toilet;
- Fair dinkum – honest, the truth;
- To be crook – to be sick or ill;
- Flat out – to be very busy;
- Shout – to buy someone a drink. At a bar or a pub when a group of friends meet, it is usual for each person to 'shout a round', meaning buy everybody a drink;
- Bloke – a man. Sometimes if you ask for help, you may get be told to 'see that bloke over there'; and
- How ya goin? 'How are you going?' – means how are you, or how do you do?
For more information on Australian customs and traditions visit www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/slang or www.australia.com