What's an Aussie?
As you get to know more local people you will begin to notice and understand the differences between Australian culture and your own.
The information in the links below has been put together especially to provide you with some clear and simple examples of Australian values. This will help you to understand them in the context of Australian culture. You can view the information individually by clicking the link or open all.
- Aussie Personality
Australians generally prefer to be treated as individuals. Many people do not represent themselves as a member of a specific class, religion, profession or group.
Australians are encouraged from an early age through schooling and socialisation that all people should have equal social, legal and political rights. You may have heard the phrase ‘a fair go’. These rights are protected through the Australian Constitution and by Commonwealth and State Anti-discrimination laws. These laws prevent individuals in Australia being discriminated against on the grounds of gender, race, and sexuality, political, religious or physical and intellectual disability.
A practical example of this is that most Australians consider themselves to be equal regardless of their education, employment, social and political beliefs or financial position. In your day-to-day life you will see this clearly represented by the participation of both women and men in the workforce. Generally both men and women expect the same rights, opportunities and status. Depending upon your own cultural background you may consider that Australian women are more independent than women of other cultures.
This idea of equality generally results in both men and women working even after they are married to support their families. You will also note that many men and women choose not to formalise their relationship through marriage.
Equality also allows for informal social relationships between men and women, you will find that many of your new classmates live in shared accommodation both on their own and with friends of either sex.
The ideals of individuality and equality allow for open discussion between people about ideas, issues and events. This is considered normal and encouraged within our culture.
Your first exposure to this practice may come from attending a tutorial, or someone may start talking to you on the bus, train or tram about a specific political or social event. If you are approached about an issue that you consider to be sensitive, rude or challenging, try to view the approach within its cultural context.While it is important to think about these issues in context, as in any country it is also important to be mindful that not everyone who approaches you has your best interests at heart. With this in mind it is also acceptable to politely say to somebody who approaches you that you would prefer not to talk or comment about an issue that you are uncomfortable with.
- Aussie Customs
Australia is a young and diverse nation and Australian people come from many different cultural backgrounds. As you settle in and make friends you will find that there is no such thing as a 'typical' Australian. You will encounter a wide range of social customs, habits and perspectives on life that may be new and different from what you have experienced before. This section may help you to prepare for some of these new experiences.
In most urban areas it is an offence to make loud noise after 11.00pm.
Spitting is not acceptable in Australia and is against the law in public places.
Saying 'please' if you are asking for something and 'thank you' if you have received something, is considered customary in Australia and you may be considered rude if you do not use these words.
Unless you are calling family or close friends, try not to telephone Australians before 9.00am or after 9.30pm unless it is unavoidable.
Always be punctual to all types of appointments.
If you have to cancel an appointment or will be late, it is courteous to call and explain to the person waiting for you.
Smoking is not permitted in public transport, government offices, restaurants and many shopping centres. If you want to smoke, you will usually have to go outside. Also do not assume that it is acceptable to smoke in someone else's house or car - always ask first.
Australians tend to dress casually in almost all situations. Students in particular will wear jeans, t-shirts, shorts and other casual clothes. There are very few occasions when you will need to wear formal clothes.
If you receive an invitation to a more formal occasion the mode of dress will often be indicated on the invitation. If you are unsure of how to dress in a particular situation ask either your host or friends what they would consider appropriate.
Guide to Using Names
In Australia first names are most commonly used to address someone. If you know a person’s first name it is usually appropriate to use it when speaking to them.
Similarly, when you meet someone for the first time it is a good idea to tell him/her your preferred name.
Mr, Mrs, Miss: It is polite to address men or women that are older than you as Mr, Mrs or Miss and then their family name (for example, Mr Smith or Mrs Jones). Often they will ask you to call them by their first name once they get to know you better.
Ms: Many women in Australia prefer to be addressed as Ms (pronounced ‘mizz’) followed by their family name. This term is used both for single or married women in place of the term Mrs or Miss. If you are unsure it is acceptable to ask the person what they prefer to be called.
Nicknames: many Australians also use what is known as a ‘nickname’. This is often not their real name, but a name given to them by friends because of a physical or social characteristic that is individual to them.
It may also be a shortened version of their real name. For instance someone called “Matthew” may be called “Matt” or “Christine” (female) or “Christopher” (male) may also both be called “Chris”. It is not considered offensive when friends use nicknames to address each other; in fact it is often a sign of acceptance or belonging to a social group or network.
If you receive a formal written invitation or an informal invite from a new friend by phone or text, they will expect you to reply quickly.
Many written invitations have the letters ‘RSVP’ and a date on them. In this case it is expected that you will need to advise them if you are able to attend or not by the date; ‘RSVP’ simply means ‘Please reply’.
If you have a formal appointment with a Doctor, Tutor, Lecturer or Student Advisor you are expected to be present at the arranged time. If you arrive late it is unlikely that you will be able to attend the appointment because you have missed the agreed time and other people may be booked in after you.
Appointments for social activities are more flexible, but it is important to arrive as close to the appointed time as you possibly can, especially for dinner invitations.
If you are delayed it is considered good manners to phone the person before the agreed time and inform them when you expect to arrive. It is also often customary to pay for your share of the cost when you are invited to a restaurant, movie or theatre.
If a person offers to 'take' or 'shout' you to a drink or meal, they will pay for it.
If you are asked to 'join' or 'go with' someone or a group of people for a meal or to attend an entertainment venue, this suggests that you will be expected to pay for your own expenses.
If you are invited to a home for a meal you should ask if you can bring something with you. This will usually be something simple like a bottle of soft drink or a plate of food. Most young people's parties will be BYO (bring your own) which means everyone brings what they would like to drink or eat.
Occasionally you may be asked to a social gathering where you are asked to 'bring a plate'. This means a plate of food for others to share, not an empty plate!
If you have special reasons for not eating particular types of food, let your hosts know, so that they can make special arrangements for you.It is not necessary to take a gift if you only go for dinner or a short stay - but do so if you wish to. If you are invited to join a celebration such as a birthday or for Christmas, take a small gift or a bunch of flowers.
An extra tip about food in Australia:
Don't confuse Vegemite (a yeast-based spread) with chocolate - the tastes are VERY different. Be sure to sample an Australian favourite chocolate biscuit, Tim Tams. If you are really daring find out about Adelaide's famous "pie floater!"
BYO (Bring Your Own)
Unlike many cultures, if you are invited to a party it is often BYO—Bring Your Own. This means that you are expected to bring your own drinks such as soft drinks or alcohol. If you are invited to a party and you are unsure if it is BYO, ask the person who invited you to clarify this.
Many restaurants are also BYO and it is acceptable to bring your own alcohol, such as wine or beer. If you BYO to a restaurant you will have to pay a service fee called ‘corkage’.
Non-alcoholic drinks, such as juice or soft drink, are usually available. If you have young children it is often acceptable to bring drinks for them in a small container.
Tipping is not a general practice in Australia. Australians receive award wages that are not reduced to take into account any tips that may be received. Australians will generally only leave a tip in a good restaurant when they have received very good service.
Taxis in Australia will not expect a tip, though it is common to leave small change, or to 'round up' the fare for the Taxi driver. It is important NOT to offer to tip a public official in Australia, including police officers or any Government employees. It is against the law and may be considered as an attempt to bribe a person.
Bargaining is not practised in Australian shops and shopping centres. The prices marked are generally the prices at which products are sold.
Bargaining is often acceptable when purchasing second hand goods, particularly at 'garage sales' or through classified advertisements in the daily newspaper.
Bargaining is generally only practiced on expensive items such as motor vehicles, white goods (such as a fridge or washing machine) or large electrical appliances such as televisions. In these cases bargaining usually occurs when you shop around and compare prices at different shops, and are paying cash.
For everyday items, such as fresh food or clothing, bargaining is not practised. There are a few examples in Adelaide where bargaining is practiced on these items, including street and weekend markets, and the Central Market in the city on a Saturday afternoon.
In situations such as paying for groceries at the supermarket, waiting for the bus, or visiting your School, Faculty Office or the ISC you are expected to wait in line (queue) so that the people in front of you can be served first. It is considered extremely rude and impolite to walk or push past other people who are waiting; this is referred to as ‘jumping the queue’.
You will find formal waiting lines in banks or government offices and again, you are expected to join the back of the line and wait to be served. In places like coffee shops or food outlets queues are less formal. In situations like this the person working behind the counter may ask: “Who is next please?” You are expected to have noticed who was waiting before you, and wait for your turn.
The minimum legal drinking age is 18. Therefore, you are required to carry identification at venues that serve alcohol. You may be refused entry if you do not have ID. It is also illegal to purchase alcoholic drinks for people under the age of 18.
Though it is not illegal to drink alcohol and then drive a car, the limits for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) while operating a vehicle vary across Australian states and territories and for different licence and vehicle types. BAC limits range between zero to a maximum of 0.05g/100mL. It is not worth taking risks with drinking alcohol and driving, because aside from the legal penalties for doing so over the prescribed limits, you are also putting yourself and others in potentially lifethreatening danger.
When drinking in a hotel or bar, it is expected that you will pay for each drink as you receive it. The custom of ‘shouting’ or ‘rounds’ in Australia means that if a friend or a stranger buys you a drink they will expect you to shout them in return and buy the next ‘round’ of drinks.
Australia has very strict anti-smoking laws. However, they vary across the States and Territories.
It is illegal to smoke on public transport, in public transport waiting areas - if they are covered, in shopping centres, hotels, government or private office buildings and aeroplanes. Some pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés may have a designated smoking section (usually outdoors) as smoking is prohibited in ALL enlcosed public places. Enlcosed refers to when 70% or more of the wall and ceiling space is enlcosed. It is also important to remember that it is against the law in South Australia and many other states to smoke in a private motor vehicle if there are children under the age of 16 in the vehicle.
For those people who live in residential facilities e.g. units or hostels where there are areas used by all tenants then these areas are considerd 'shared areas' and smoking is not permitted in them, e.g. stairwells, carparks, foyers, laundries and kitchens.
In July 2010, the University of Adelaide became the first university in South Australia to establish an entirely smoke-free campus. Smoking is not permitted in university buildings or facilities, or outdoor areas, including gardens, sporting grounds and carparks.Click here for further information on the South Australian Smoking rules and regulations.
Australia has been known to have a reputation as a ‘nation of gamblers’. Legal forms of gambling include bingo, lotteries, poker machines and sports betting. In South Australia we even have a public holiday to celebrate a horse race—the Adelaide Cup.
However, as is true in all countries where gambling is acceptable, it is much easier to lose money than it is to win. Gambling more money than you can afford can negatively affect your health, finances, relationships and study.
Rubbish and litter—keep Australia beautiful!
Littering or dropping rubbish in the street, a car park, shopping centre or the beach is an offence and you can be fined. Bins are provided at most council areas, shopping centres, in the street or at the entrance to buildings.
Local councils are responsible for keeping the streets clean and collecting domestic or household rubbish. For example household rubbish is removed from bins that people place on the footpath or kerb in front of their home each week. Some council areas even provide separate bins for different types of rubbish. You may find that you have many different bins:
- one bin for recyclable material, such as paper, glass and metals
- one for green or garden waste, such as tree clippings
- one for non-recyclable domestic waste.
If you are unsure about these systems of collection please check with your local Council office for details about collection times for each type.
Mothers, fathers and babies
It is generally encouraged and acceptable for babies to be breast-fed in public. You will also notice parent’s rooms (or baby change rooms) in major shopping centres, and also in or next to the toilets of government and public buildings. These areas provide facilities for changing nappies and they also provide a space for feeding babies; it is commonly accepted that both mothers and fathers will use these facilities.
In Australia people do not usually have domestic servants or live-in help. Often you will see companies that advertise domestic services such as cleaning, gardening, child minding, or trade work such as plumbing and electrical. The people working in these businesses are generally self-employed and carry out these jobs as a part of their business. If you use these services remember that they do not consider that they are your employees
Adjusting to life in Australia
Students experience many different feelings when embarking on an overseas adventure. Leaving your home country and coming to Australia to start University is both exciting and challenging. The International Student Centre has prepared important information about "Culture Fatigue" that may help you to understand these feelings, and to realise that they are common emotions for international students.
- Aussie Conversation
Australia is considered to be a relaxed, informal society. When greeting others in most situations, students and young people say 'Hello' or 'Hi'. Sometimes they will say 'How's it going?' or 'G'day'. In more formal situations they usually shake hands the first time they meet. 'Good morning', 'Good afternoon' or 'Pleased to meet you' are formal greetings.
When you say goodbye to someone informally, 'See you later' or 'See you around' are common. In a more formal situation you could say: 'It was a pleasure to meet you' or 'It was nice to meet you'.
First names are used more frequently in Australia than in some other countries. Australians will often greet their friends and even people they don't know (both male and female) with 'Hey mate' or 'How's it going guys'. An Australian may encourage you to use their given name (eg: "Call me Susan"), in which case you will not need to continue to use their formal title. Often, Australian academics will encourage you to use their given name. The use of 'nicknames' (or pet names) is very common. A nickname is usually used among friends, and is a sign of acceptance and friendship.
The formal title or family name is usually only used in formal situations, when meeting someone for the first time, or when speaking to someone like a professor, medical doctor, politician or VIP. Titles such as Mr, Mrs, Ms or Dr are used with the surname or family name (eg, Graham Williams is Mr Williams).
In Australia it is customary to look someone in the eye when you are talking to him/her. It is not insulting to do this, but instead reflects that you are sincere and interested in what is being said. Australians will make direct eye contact with everyone, whether the person is an equal or of different status or social position. Children are taught to look directly at adults. In Australia, it is not considered insulting if someone gives you something with his or her left hand.
English is Australia's national language.
One problem commonly faced by students new to Australia is the use of slang. Slang is used unconsciously by many Australians and can sometimes sound like a completely new language. Here are some common examples and their translations:
Aussie slang G'day Good day / Hello See ya later See you later / Goodbye You right? Do you need assistance? D'you reckon? Do you think so? Good on ya! Well done! Ocker Australian
If someone says to you: "G'day mate, how you going?" they are actually using a common greeting and asking after your welfare - although they may not expect an answer. It's more like a friendly remark.
Australians also have a tendency to run words together. You may also find that Australians speak quickly and abbreviate or shorten words. For example, 'University' becomes 'uni,' 'breakfast' becomes 'brekkie,' 'tutorial' becomes 'tute.'
You may find the Australian pronunciation of many familiar English words is quite different from what you are used to or expect - don't worry, with time the language will become more familiar, and listening and speaking will become easier. If you don't understand what people are saying, please ask them to explain - they won't mind.
If you think you might be missing significant information in lectures, make sure you seek help. If you require assistance speak with your lecturers, tutors or an International Student Advisor.
Unlike some cultures, Australians are often very direct and open in their speech and mannerisms. While some students may feel at first uncomfortable, it is important to understand that Australians are not deliberately trying to be offensive.
Australians are renowned for having a 'dry' or 'laconic' sense of humour. The distinctive Australian sense of humour often involves light-hearted teasing, sometimes called 'rubbishing' or 'stirring'.
Humour is also centred around people who give the impression that they consider themselves superior, or who are different. You may find people will joke about your accent, clothes or habits. In the majority of cases you should not take offence at this teasing, but see it as a form of acceptance.
Don't necessarily expect to understand Australian humour immediately. As your knowledge of the language and culture improves, you will find you are increasingly able to join in the laughter!
While you will have studied English for some time at home, and you may have even lived in Australia or another English speaking environment before, you may find it difficult to understand others and communicate at first. Please remember that while this can be upsetting and create difficulties, it is normal. In this section some of the reasons for these difficulties are identified.
People speak too quickly
If you find that someone you are talking to talks too fast, simply ask them to slow down or repeat what they have said.
A lot of words used commonly in Australia and at the University will be new to you. The Australian Macquarie Dictionary is an excellent source of information to assist you to understand words used in your new environment.
Australians may pronounce words that you are familiar with from your past studies very differently from the way you have been taught or from what you are used to. Again, take some time to listen to what people are saying and try to understand the context in which words are being used. Ask questions and seek clarification if you are unsure.
Almost every Australian you encounter will use ‘slang’; a popular and easy example of slang is the shortening of words. As you will have seen in the previous ‘Greetings’ section, the word ‘arvo’, for example, is used by many people to signify the afternoon.
As above, it is very common for words to be shortened or abbreviated. For example, information technology is referred to as ‘IT’. At university tutorials and practicals are referred to as ‘tutes’ and ‘pracs’. Many places or things are also shortened; an example of this that you will have seen in this book already and you will become familiar with very quickly is the ‘ISC’—short for International Student Centre.
Different cultures use movement and gestures to communicate in different ways. The way people stand, nod their head or use their hands may be very different to what you are used to at home.
When talking to new people it is important to listen to what is being said and watch their movements closely. While the movements may be unfamiliar, you can get a clearer picture of what is being said if you think about the context that it is being said or done in.
Someone in a shop may offer you goods and services or change with their right and left hand. While this may be considered rude at home it is not considered rude here to offer things with a specific hand.
Another example is eye contact. In Australia it is considered rude if you do not maintain eye contact with people when you are talking to them. They may think that you are not listening to them or you do not want to talk to them.
When watching other people talk you will also notice that people don’t stand too close to each other when they are talking and physical contact is kept to a minimum. If you are used to embracing your friends when you meet them at home and you do this to a new friend you have made at university they may find this uncomfortable or embarrassing.As with the use of language, the more time you spend getting to know people and experiencing the differences, the more comfortable you will become.
- Friendship & Relationships
Relationships between males and females can be very different from one culture to the next. These differences can often create misunderstanding and lead to different expectations because of the different individual expectations and values of the people in each culture.
In Australia men and women socialise and develop friendships with members of the opposite gender without any expectation of romantic involvement. For this reason it is important to remember that if someone of the opposite gender invites you to a social event or for a coffee, they may not have any intention of developing a romantic attachment.
Often young women and men who know each other well rely on informal activities for their companionship; this can include socialising in groups or in pairs.
Relationships may form between men and women or between people of the same sex. In Australia the law respects the right of people to form same sex relationships.
It is common in Australia for both men and women to initiate social invitations to go on a date. When this happens it is not usually customary to be chaperoned or accompanied by an older person when a couple go somewhere together.
While not customary, it is often common for couples that are dating for the first time to be accompanied by friends or to meet at a location where their friends will be, such as a coffee shop, hotel or club. If someone asks you to go out it is common to ask them if any of their friends will be there or if your friends are welcome.
Other common practices are for couples to share the cost of a meal or activity when dating. It is also common for your date to invite you into their home at the end of the evening for a drink. Although this is common, you are not obliged to accept this invitation if you are not comfortable or you consider it inappropriate. If you do not wish to accept this invitation and you do wish to continue dating the person, this is an excellent opportunity to politely decline the offer and arrange a time in the future to meet with them again.
Relationships vary from a casual friendship to a romantic attachment that may include deep emotional and/or sexual involvement. In each of these relationships in Australia it is expected and assumed that an individual has the right to decide if they wish to have sexual involvement or not.
Finally, it is important to understand that there are no set customs or rules in Australia about intimate relationships. Because Australia is a diverse country with people from very different backgrounds the majority of people draw upon their own social, religious, cultural and individual beliefs and values. As a result of this diversity it is commonly accepted that couples living together may be married or unmarried. Because of this diversity it is advisable to be clear about your own expectations when dating and to be open and honest about them with yourself and the other person.
For more information about relationships, please see the University's Health & Relationships website.