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Many expats imagine that culture shock in Australia is limited to marsupials, massive spiders and mangled accents. While these points may certainly be among the causes of confusion and disorientation upon arrival, it’s important to realise that a move to Australia can be more difficult than initially anticipated. Symptoms of culture shock, like the loss of identity and loneliness, often befall new expats.
Foreigners often have the misconception that Australia is just a cultural midpoint between the US and Britain. The thinking is that, with its sophisticated infrastructure, strong economy and English language, little preparation is needed before relocation, and even less effort is required to acclimatise once on Aussie soil.
Ultimately, even though many expats may find aspects of life in Australia familiar, there are several nuances that those from abroad might find complex and that will take getting used to.
Cultural values in Australia
Some expats may be surprised at the extent of the pointed Australian emphasis on equality and the egalitarian spirit. For example, anything that can be construed as bragging or boasting tends to provoke a negative reaction from Australians. This can be attributed to what is known as ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – the tendency to value unity and uniformity over individual achievements. Anyone perceived as considering themselves better than others is often thought of as a ‘tall poppy’ that needs to be cut down to size.
Another related and closely held cultural value is the idea of a ‘fair go'. This is the belief that everyone deserves a fair opportunity to achieve success through talent, hard work and effort, not favouritism or social hierarchy.
Socialising in Australia
Australia is generally an open and friendly destination. People value their relationships immensely, and loyalty to friends and family is paramount.
As a result, Australians generally come across as easy going, which may be misconstrued by some expats as being overly friendly or too informal.
Australians are fond of socialising around the barbecue or over a pint at the pub. People will introduce themselves and greet on a first name basis. Even walking down the street, it's not unusual to be greeted with a ‘g'day’ from a total stranger or to engage in small talk with a fellow shopper in a grocery store.
Language barrier in Australia
English is the official language of Australia, but some famed colloquialisms have made their way into standard speech patterns, and expats will more than likely have to add quite a few terms to their vocabulary.
A good rule of thumb is to realise that Australians have a tendency to shorten everything, meaning confusion is not unusual at first. Luckily, Australians are friendly and obliging people and are generally willing to ‘translate’ a few phrases for their foreign friends.
►For information on managing your finances, see Cost of Living in Australia
Are you an expat living in Australia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Australia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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