Australia culture: What to know before you go
No matter how much you prepare, you will be surprised by certain customs and habits in Australia as it is very different to Nepal. However, you can minimise the culture shock by understanding some basic things about Australia, and what makes Australians tick, before you arrive.
Australia is not the same as the USA or UK
Because Australia is a smaller country than the USA or the UK, it doesn’t have the same kind of international cultural presence. Before you go to Australia, you probably won’t have experienced much Australian TV, movies or music. This can cause first-time visitors to assume that there are more similarities between the USA, the UK and Australia than there really are. Just because English is the primary language in all countries doesn’t mean that the cultures have that much in common.
Australia has a very different history from other Anglophone nations. It was colonised by Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and gained independence in the twentieth century. Most early settlers came from England, Scotland and Ireland, with later waves of Europeans, Middle Easterners and Asians. Contemporary Australia is a mix of all of these cultures, but with a dominant Anglo-Irish culture.
The idea of a “fair go” is very important in Australia. This is the belief that everyone deserves a fair opportunity to achieve through talent, hard work and effort, not favouritism or social hierarchy. Of course, this doesn’t always work out in reality, but this is an important principle to Australian society.
Australia is an informal society
Australian society is generally very informal, compared to many Asian cultures as well as other Western ones. It’s common to call everyone by their first names, including people who you may consider your ‘superiors’ (such as your boss or your professors). Not doing so may be mistaken for awkwardness or discomfort with Australian habits. Take your cues from what Australian students do.
Similarly, dress codes tend to be quite casual, unless you are told otherwise. You’d only be expected to dress up smart for events like job interviews, graduation ceremonies or weddings. The rest of the time, clean smart casual clothing is generally acceptable in all social and work situations.
Women and men do the same jobs
While women’s equality in Australia isn’t perfect, in most instances you won’t see any separation of the sexes. There are as many women as men in higher education (if not more), women hold all kinds of top jobs, and most women continue to work after they have had children, in contrast to many Asian cultures.
Women (as well as men) tend to marry later than in Nepal—the average age of marriage in Australia is 29. While one partner in the relationship (often the woman) usually earns less than the other, it’s unusual to find women who are completely economically dependent on their husbands.
None of these facts are likely to have much effect on your experience in Australia, but it is good to be aware that women and men theoretically play equal roles in Australian society. Sexist language or behaviour will not be tolerated in a professional setting—and you shouldn’t quietly accept it if it happens to you. Sexual harassment or assault at school or work is considered a serious crime.
In the classroom
Australian students are generally not shy in the classroom. They are quick to share their opinions on a topic, even if they aren’t confident that they are ‘correct’. Being outspoken and assertive is considered a positive quality in Australia, as is politely questioning authority. Contributing to discussions in class will probably be rewarded by your teacher.
While Australia is a very informal society, everyone must still behave themselves properly in public. Being on time is very important, and being late for class or work is considered not just rude, but reason for dismissal or poor grades. If you’re waiting in line at a shop, bank, doctor’s surgery etc., you must wait your turn. People who jump the queue will be told off. Also, spitting in public is not acceptable and Australians don’t do it—it could even get you in trouble with the police. The same goes for public urination and littering. Australian public spaces tend to be very tidy, and everyone plays their part in keeping them this way.
Unfortunately, the area in which public etiquette tends to break down is when it comes to drinking alcohol! Australians are quite heavy drinkers, and drinking with friends after work and at the weekend is a common pastime. While most people do so sensibly, some are unable to control themselves and cause trouble when drunk. Australia has quite strict laws about where and when you can drink or buy alcohol, in an effort to control bad behaviour. In some states, you cannot purchase alcohol in supermarkets. In many public places, such as parks and in the streets, there are alcohol bans.
Love of the outdoors
Australia generally has a warm and sunny climate, and is blessed with beautiful nature—beaches, bush, and city parks. Australian cities are designed to make the most of this. In the summer, you may find outdoor concerts, markets and festivals in the cities. Australians like to cycle, swim and jog in public, so why not join in?
There is no single Australian cuisine, but rather a delicious mixture of the best of international cultures. Although in rural areas you may find that people prefer a ‘traditional’ Anglo-Irish diet of meat and vegetables, in the cities you will be spoilt for choice. The large numbers of Greek, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Lebanese migrants over the years means that these cuisines are well represented. As well as international restaurants, in most cities you will also find international grocery stores, meaning that you can find special ingredients from back home to cook for yourself.
Urban and rural Australia are very different places. The cities tend to be very diverse, but the rural areas (especially inland) are less so. While the cities are wealthy and have attracted migrants who work in many sectors, in the rural areas, farming and mining tend to be the main activities. People in rural areas also tend to be lesser educated, less well travelled and may not have met a Nepali before.
The Aboriginal and Indigenous people of Australia
Australia was colonised by Britain in the eighteenth century, and nowadays, most Australians are of European descent. But before Europeans arrived, indigenous Australians lived here—Aborigines in mainland Australia, and Torres Strait Islanders in the north. They still do, but they have historically been very badly treated by European settlers, and this is still evident today. Indigenous Australians are the poorest and the least educated in the country, with the worst health. They still face a lot of racism—personally and institutionally.
As a new resident of Australia, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about Indigenous Australians’ situation, and to be mindful of the difficulties they face in modern Australia. You will be living in a land that belonged to them for many thousands of years.
Australians are generally friendly and easy-going people, so as long as you keep a few of these tips in mind, you shouldn’t have too much trouble adapting. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience!