Expat Guides

Expat Australia: A Cultural Profile

n understanding of the country’s customs and culture will help ease your expats’ transition and improve their long-term business success.

All things being equal

One of the main themes of Australian culture is egalitarianism – the idea of equal rights for all. Although this is also true in the US, the value has a notably different slant in Australia. While Americans lean toward equal opportunity, Australians are more interested in equal results. They are also less apt to emphasize an attitude of strong self-reliance.

To better understand this desire for equality, it’s helpful to look at the historic and cultural influences that shaped the country. The Europeans who settled Australia were sent from England to live in a penal colony. This resulted in a society with little class consciousness and a strong dislike for the authoritative control experienced under the British.

Australians have also been influenced by their land. Although there is a frontier consciousness in the country, the outback was not a fertile place. As a result, the Australian “frontier experience” was one of relying on others for assistance and survival.

Australian egalitarianism manifests itself in many ways. People are informal, and have little use for social rituals or formal protocol. They also have little appreciation for anyone who tries to impress others, and often refer to such individuals as “tall poppies.” In the workplace, employees may resent managers who exercise too much authority, or those who separate themselves from the crowd.

G’day mate

Along with egalitarianism, Australians possess a strong sense of collectivity, often called “mateship.” In the country’s history, a sense of camaraderie developed among people who found they were better off working together than competing against one another. This is typified by the word “mate,” which Australians use with friends, relatives and neighbors alike. Well-worn colloquial expressions such as “g’day mate!” or “She’ll be right, mate!” illustrate the Australian sense of kinship.

On a political level, this fraternity is embodied by the government, which provides a high minimum wage, national health program and extensive social safety net for its citizens. In business, it takes the form of an “old-boy” network. And in the neighborhoods, it’s perhaps best symbolized in the pub, where Aussies gather in groups and take turns buying rounds – or “shouts” – of drinks.

Let freedom ring

Freedom is another deeply embedded Australian value – and that means the ability to live and do as they please. In fact, a desire for this type of freedom has become an enduring part of the national mindset; Australians do not at all enjoy having others tell them how to live and act.

Other aspects of the country’s freedom ethic include an appreciation for the land, and for the value of leisure time. The land, in many ways, represents freedom to Australians, and this is reflected in the amount of time they spend outdoors. Australians are also known to guard their free time carefully, and many employees resent even the thought of having to work on the weekend.

Perspectives on time

Because it is a relatively young country, many of Australia’s business practices come from the US or the UK; in the workplace, Australians adhere to schedules and focus on short-term results. But the country has also been influenced by Aboriginals, who have a much longer perspective of time and view themselves as part of the cycle of life. Thus, while Australians may live in much the same way as Americans or West Europeans, they are apt to be more laid-back. They may take longer to make decisions, or feel less of a rush to achieve.

No affection for authority

Australians have little respect for authority. There are, of course, managers and subordinates in the workplace, as well as a government. Australians just don’t want to be reminded of this all the time. They respect individuals for who they are, not for their titles or credentials. And while they may respect someone in authority, that respect is not automatic simply because of the person’s position.

They also do not believe anyone should receive special treatment, and a person who acts superior is sure to be brought down quickly; at the very least by way of a teasing humor, if not by outright indignation.

A direct style of communication

Communication styles in Australia are more direct than in other countries. Australians come to the point quickly and rarely talk around a subject. They also tend to use words sparingly and want just the relevant facts, minus the extraneous details or courteous formalities. Because of the country’s cultural framework, Australians are typically modest, practical and not easily impressed. They don’t, however, shy away from conflict; debate and confrontation are more the norm than in the US.

Getting down to negotiations

Although Australians are similar to Americans in that they share the same concerns for profits and bottom-line results, there are notable differences in style. Australians are more likely to go straight to the point and less likely to tolerate a lot of hype or superlatives. They don’t take well to a hard sell, and make decisions at their own pace. Negotiations are not always lengthy, but due to their collective nature, Australians do consult with each other before making a final decision.

Expats who take the time to learn about the Australian culture – and adapt their own styles accordingly – should have little trouble getting down to business in the land “down under.”


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