Customs & Traditions in Australia

Updated: May 5

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General Etiquette

  • It is considered impolite to ask a direct question about someone’s salary, wealth, weight, or age.

  • Cursing is common among friends and is not always considered rude.

  • Being overdressed for a gathering is sometimes considered more embarrassing than being underdressed.

  • Spitting in public is rude.

  • If there is a line for something, always queue and wait for your turn.

  • Always say please when asking someone for help or favor or you will come across as rude.

  • Punctuality is important in Australia, and people stick to the appointments, engagements, and meetings they schedule.

  • If someone expects to arrive late he should text or call the host.

  • Women are seen as capable individuals who can help themselves. Therefore, it is not considered wholly necessary for men to open car doors (etc.) for women. Doing so is recognized as very polite and courteous, but can also sometimes be seen as patronizing depending on the circumstance.

  • To call over a waiter or person of service, do not wave or yell. Instead, keep an eye out for them until they make eye contact, and then nod or raise your hand. You can also gently say “excuse me” as they pass by.

Family

  • The traditional family structure is no longer a realistic social standard, the family remains fundamentally important to people throughout their life.

  • Individualism is highly valued and Australians usually encourage their family members to be independent and follow their personal aspirations.

  • Children are often taught that "you are what you make of yourself and who you choose to be".

  • The extended family still plays a large role in most Australians’ lives. They add to an individual’s support network, commonly providing financial support, housing, or job opportunities.

  • The family structure is to have small families with one to three children.

  • Using violence towards one’s family members is widely considered unacceptable in Australia.

  • Women are considered equal to men in Australian society and enjoy the opportunity to choose their form of contribution to the household dynamic.

  • Now women tend to be much older when they have their first child than previous generations. They typically do so between 25 and 34 years of age (the median age is 29).


Naming

  • Australian arranges names with the given name before the family name.

  • Most Australian given names are chosen based on beautiful meaning, but many popular ones still have biblical roots.

  • Recently, the trend for Aussies is to choose names that they find uncommon. These are usually names that are unusual to Western society and are thus seen as ‘exotic’, or sometimes they are variations of a western name with a different spelling.

  • Australians form nicknames for each other by abbreviating the name to a minimal amount of syllables (e.g. Barry becomes Baz, Michael becomes Mike). However, Australians also create ‘Australianised’ nicknames that are not purposed for abbreviations (e.g. Andy becomes Ando). These are often used within close friendships to emphasize mateship.

  • Older Australians may refer to others as “mate” or “love” without knowing them very closely.



Meeting & Greeting:

  • Greetings are usually informal in social settings.

  • As greetings are casual and relaxed, so a simple handshake, smile, and simple 'hello, how are you" is great for greeting others.

  • A handshake is a common greeting between strangers. Shaking with a firm hand and eye contact reflects confidence.

  • First names are always used during initial introductions.

  • Avoid saying “G’ day” or “G’day mate” when first meeting someone as this can sound strange or patronizing coming from a foreigner.

  • If you are a newcomer or visitor, take the initiative to introduce yourself. Depending on the situation, your Australian counterpart may expect you to do it yourself as opposed to introducing you to others.

  • Close friends may kiss each other on the cheek, hug, or back-slap. However, you should avoid doing this with people you don' know you can simply nod.

  • Women generally tend to be more physically affectionate during greetings.


Visiting a home

  • People usually visit each other in a simple way, they meet for company and conversation, not for feasting. Thus, Australians sometimes find it awkward and overly formal when people prepare a large amount of food during the visit.

  • It is better to arrange a visit before going to an Australian’s house.

  • Do not arrive unannounced or bring friends and family along unless you’ve asked the host before.

  • It is common to bring a carton of beer or some alcohol when visiting a friend.

  • While visiting an Australian, you may not always receive a tour of the house, and many of the doors may be closed out of privacy.

  • Avoid overstaying your welcome by remaining at an Australian’s home longer than they expected, unless they urge you to stay.

  • Avoid arriving early to one’s house, it is usually okay to be 10 to 15 minutes late to a small gathering of people. However, if you are meeting at a restaurant, it is important to be punctual as people will wait for you to order their food.

  • Being late is more acceptable at parties and large social gatherings.

  • Australians often host barbeques in which they cook meat on their BBQ in their outdoor areas (e.g. verandas, patios, gardens). When multiple people are invited it is sometimes expected that guests will contribute a dish to compliment the meat (e.g. a fresh salad). This is sometimes referred to as ‘bringing a plate’.

  • For parties or large gatherings, the host will tell guests whether they will supply the alcohol or if guests should bring their own drinks.



Giving gifts

  • Gifts are usually only given on special occasions (e.g. birthdays, Christmas).

  • If invited to someone's home for dinner, it is polite to bring a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine, or flowers to your hosts. A good quality bottle of wine is always appreciated.

  • Gifts must be 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 displaying your wealth. 

  • Gifts are typically opened when received.


Dining & Food

  • The Aussie 'barbie' (BBQ) is an important part of Australian social culture. The most common social invitations are for BBQs.

  • Guests to a barbeque typically bring wine or beer for their personal consumption. In some cases, very informal barbecues may suggest that you bring your own meat.

  • Contact the hosts before the invitation to see if they would like you to bring a dish or beer with you. 

  • To indicate that you have finished eating your meal, lay your knife and fork down on the plate together. You may leave a small amount of food on your plate or clear it as neither should offend your host.

  • If someone asks if you would like more food, it is okay to decline or accept depending on how hungry you are.

  • Offer to help the hosts with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served.

  • If you are invited to eat in a restaurant, then it's common practice to split the bill between diners. As such, expect to pay for your portion of the bill at the end of the meal.

  • It is a common practice to buy ‘rounds’ of drinks while out with a group. If it is your round, you are expected to buy drinks for everyone you are with.

  • Each individual who receives a drink will be expected to pay for at least one round.




Communication style

  • Australians tend to speak very honestly, yet with reasonable sensitivity.

  • Australians frequently shorten any words that seem overly complicated, Sometimes these are natural inventions that are not commonly known, but many are commonplace (e.g. “arvo” – afternoon, “uni” – university).

  • Australians sometimes grow uncomfortable when social chat is punctuated with long periods of pause or silence and will therefore try to fill the gap with conversation.

  • Australians are quite self-deprecating in conversation to come across as humble, honest, and relaxed about themselves. Feel free to join in with the jokes by similarly criticizing yourself. That being said, avoid finding jokes too funny, adamantly agreeing to their self-deprecating comments, as this can become insulting.

  • Humour is used in much Australian communication, so expect some light-hearted joking in most conversations.

  • Jokes about situational circumstances are often used to lighten moods or indirectly approach difficult topics. Australian sarcasm can be very dry, witty, and direct. It is sometimes difficult for foreigners to detect when people are kidding as Australians do not always break from a joke to clarify.

  • Australians usually keep about an arm’s length distance between one another when talking, and sometimes a little extra between men and women depending on how well they know each other.

  • Australians sometimes give multiple answers with conflicting meanings. If this happens, take the last word they answered with what they mean. For example, “Yeah, Nah” means “no”, “Nah, yeah” means “yes”, and “Yeah, Nah, good” means “good”.

  • Eye contact should be maintained directly as it translates to sincerity, trustworthiness, and approachability.

  • When talking to a group, be sure to make equal eye contact with all people present.

  • People tend not to touch one another much during communication unless they are close friends.

  • Australians point with their index finger, however, it is considered rude to point directly at someone.

  • Raising one’s middle finger or making the ‘V’ sign with one’s palm facing oneself is considered very rude in Australia.

  • Australians beckon people by waving them over with their palms facing up.



Tipping Etiquette

  • Tipping is not necessary for restaurants or places of service in Australia.

  • People rarely leave tips or only do so if they received exceedingly excellent service.


Other consideration

  • Most Australians are typically quite physically active and show enthusiasm for outdoor activities.

  • It is illegal to smoke in many public places in Australia, including restaurants and bars.

  • Drinking alcohol is very popular in Australia. People often tend to begin drinking at young ages (under the legal age of 18).

  • ‘Mate’ can refer to both men and women. The term carries a sense of loyalty and obligation to do the right thing by one’s friend.