What does culture shock in Australia look like? Well, there’s no one answer to how the Australian culture will affect you.
From animals to booze, Australia has unique points of culture shock. While some parts of the Australian culture shock are expected, others slip under the radar – but this comprehensive list of 17 ways you’ll experience culture shock in Australia will dive deep into the reasons why travelers come up against a common part of travel.
If you’re new to the whole term of “culture shock” you can learn more about the process in another post.
Check out the 5 stages of culture shock – plus how to love a new culture, even if it can be a little scary.
CULTURE SHOCK IN AUSTRALIA?
Yes, Australia is full of culture shocks. Depending on where you’re from and what culture you’re accustomed to will depend on what points below you feel and how severe they are.
The 17 sections below will affect everyone differently and with huge variants of how intense the new aspect of the culture will be.
If you’re aware of them, these shocks might shock you a little less, which helps the adjustment phase of the process.
Well, enough of that, let’s get into the 17 ways you’ll experience culture shock in Australia.
1. AUSTRALIA IS SO DEADLY
Living in Canada for the last 7 years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “everything in Australia is out to kill you”.
But is Australia really that deadly?
No, it’s not. One of Australia’s biggest culture shocks isn’t totally true. That’s not to say deadly snakes and spiders don’t live in the land down under, because they definitely do.
It’s just that a lot of the spiders, snakes and intimidating animals around aren’t actually all that dangerous to humans.
If you’re terrified of snakes coiling up in your boots or spiders the size of your hand living in your bedroom, well, you may still feel a bit of a shock from visiting Australia, but chances are, you’re not in any danger.
2. WE LOVE SPORT
Not sure the difference between National Rugby League, Rugby, and Australian Football League? They are 3 distinctive styles of footy(not to be confused with soccer). Just goes to show how much of Australia love their sport.
Sure, when you boil it all down, the ball, sooner or later, goes through some sort of post. But, if you get caught out talking how good the Newcastle Knights did against the Sydney Swans, you might get some strange looks your way.
Our different codes of running around with a ball in hand might confuse you, and that’s okay, we ‘re pretty relaxed usually, and will likely explain the basics after we have a short laugh at your expense. In a nice way, I swear.
But, once again, you’d be wrong if you thought one of those styles of footy was our national game. Nope, that would be cricket.
One of those games that are usually easier to play than to explain. The best way to do that? A friendly (sometimes not so friendly) game of backyard cricket.
Australia’s sporting culture isn’t as intimidating as it may seem, once you get into it.
3. FRIENDLY PEOPLE ON THE STREET
I’m not saying it’s going to happen every day, but getting a “g’day” from a random on the street is pretty common.
G’day, part of the slang that creates one of Australia’s biggest culture shock, is a common greeting. It means hello pretty much and usually, the person will be saying it in a friendly tone and context.
Not used to interacting with locals just walking down the shop? You’ll probably be weirded out the first few times, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be throwing out g’day all over the place.
It’s a pretty fun word to say really.
4. CHRISTMAS IN SUMMER
This might not be true for everyone, but I’ve lived in Edmonton, Canada for the last 7 years.
Christmas is usually a blanket of white snow and temperatures that can go below -40C.
So every time I head back to Australia to enjoy a family Christmas, I get smacked by a +40C day. That’s an 80 Celcius swing in usually less than a day.
Reverse culture shock in Australia is a thing. If you’re not used to a hot and sunny Christmas, Australia will see to that.
There probably won’t be any shrimp on the barbie though (we’re getting to that).
5. THINGS CLOSE EARLY – RARELY 24 HOURS
Depending on where you’re from, this might not really be an Australian culture shock. But compared to a lot of the world, shops in the land of Oz close early.
Where I’m from, Newcastle, Australia, Thursday is what’s known as “late night shopping”. And those late-night hours extend all the way to 9pm.
That’s an extra 4.5 to 5 hours later than shops will regularly stay open.
Apart from groceries, which stay open a little later into the evening, you’ll want to get your shopping done before the afternoon is over, or you’ll be waiting until tomorrow.
6. SPECIFIC NAMES FOR THINGS
We use very specific names for very specific things. And somehow, everyone knows what everyone is talking about. Unless you’re from a different state, then things get a little messy.
If you’re not from NSW, and have different names for things, chuck them down in the comments below.
I’ll admit that slang plays a pretty huge part in this, but I think they are still different points.
If you asked for your thongs in Australia, well, you’d get a pair of flip flops. I’m not sure why they are called thongs, but they are certainly not underwear back home.
The first time I said the word ‘jumper’ in Canada, I got confused stares. Someone thought I meant I was going to put on a pair of jumper cables. All I meant was I was cold and needed a hoodie, or an extra layer of clothes.
We’ll get into why slang is a different language in Australia below, but just know that some words are shortened or totally made up back home.
7. SLANG AND SHORTENING WORDS
Possibly the biggest culture shock of Australia? Our language.
We abbreviate as often as we can. We will throw an ‘o’ or ‘y’ on the end of a name or place, probably just for fun. We over pronounce the letter ‘r’ (at least I’ve been told I do countless times).
I once told a co-worker this sentence, “I was back home down the road at the bottle-o, got a slab of “stubbies and a pack of durries and on the way out, I blew a plugga”.
What my story meant was this “I was back home down the road at the liquor store/bottle shop, got a carton of beer and a pack of cigarettes, and on the way out, my pair of thongs busted”.
This story never actually happened to me, as I used to walk around barefoot quite often (that point is coming soon).
I wanted to demonstrate how confusing Australian slang could be. Judging by the look on my workmates face, he had little clue what I was on about.
So yeah, we can be friendly. But if you don’t know what we are saying, you might be in for an Australian shock of culture just by engaging us in conversation.
8. BAREFOOT IN PUBLIC
As with many Australians, going to the shops without shoes one wasn’t uncommon for me.
I guess it might be the cold tiles in a shopping center during a summer heatwave that’s just so refreshing? Walking on the hot concrete is another challenge though.
It’s definitely not the most hygienic way to walk around in public, but it’s not uncommon to see a barefooted person going about their day.
I know first hand from many people I’ve talked to that it weirded them out when visiting Australia.
“Who doesn’t wear shoes?!” I’ve often heard. We do wear shoes, just not all the time.
Why put shoes on if you’re just going down the road to the bottle-o? There could be a deadly funnel web curled up in your boot.
Sometimes, it’s just not worth the risk for us, I guess.
9. UNIQUE WILDLIFE
Alright, we’ve talked about the deadly wildlife that exists in Australia, but what about the iconic animals that might cause someone a small culture shock?
I’m not saying that you’re going to encounter kangaroos that have a height advantage on you sparring in a suburban street (though, there are videos that show that does happen).
Much like deer in North America, kangaroos coming into contact with moving cars is a common sight as you drive through the open highways.
They are fast and honestly kind of dopey at times.
Ever heard of a magpie before? These are the real terrors of Australia. If you’ve never met an aggressive bird, be ready for the magpie.
Too close to their territory? Prepared to be swooped. And swooped again.
I’ll take a spider in my bedroom over an angry magpie. Any day of the week.
10. FOOD IN AUSTRALIA
Since we talked about the iconic kangaroo, I should mention you can easily try kangaroo in Australia.
Go to any major shopping center (mall for North Americans), you’ll find kangaroo steaks and snags (sausages) in the meat section.
I’ve talked to many people outside of Australia that were shocked we eat kangaroo. In fact, kangaroos are often regarded as a pest in the nation. There are that many of them.
Make sure to try the typical Australian pies as well. Some might sound a little strange, but there are plenty of options out there, you’ll find something you love.
Veggie pies also exist and can be as good as the meat versions, so try them all!
11. DRINKING CULTURE
If you’ve visited Australia, you’ll probably be aware of our drinking culture.
It’s ingrained in our society. I’ve been known to have a schooner or 12 before. It’s a common thing to head to the local pub and drink for drinking’s sake.
You might have to adjust to some more terms, like schooner (425ml of beer), slab (case/carton of beer) and the infamous goon sack (a 5L bag of usually the cheapest wine you’ll find).
Another point I’ve been told is weird in a foreigners eyes is our celebration of your 21st birthday. Since the legal drinking age in Australia is 18, there isn’t anything restricted to you at the age of 20.9 years.
So why does a 21st party usually end very messy? I’m assuming it’s just another excuse to get wasted.
Not that Australians really need an excuse to drink, but these get togethers are common.
12. WORK CULTURE – WORK TO LIVE
This isn’t to say Australians don’t work hard, not at all.
But the balance between working and having a life outside of the job is much different when comparing to other countries.
A lot of regular Australians work hard and when you’re shift is done, that’s it. You clock out and leave the rest of the job unfinished until tomorrow.
This might not be a huge culture shock from Australia to a lot of people, but I know it is to some.
f you’ve talked to an Australian for a bit, you might have noticed swearing is pretty common in many people’s vocabulary.
If it’s the first time you’ve heard someone use the same word towards a friend or family member as they would to someone they didn’t like much at all, it’s going to be a shock.
So how do you tell if your new mate is actually angry at you when they call you a four letter word insult?
The meaning behind the words all depends on tone and context.
What was happening around you when the sentence was spoken and how did they say it.
Don’t automatically assume anyone that swears at you is mad or dislikes you. “G’day C***” is a pretty common greeting and its usually intended as a friendly hello, rather than insulting you.
14. COFFEE CULTURE
Ah yes, Australia’s coffee culture. It can be a little bit snobby at times (looking at you, Melbourne).
In all honesty, Australia’s coffee culture had me hating on ordering a coffee from other parts of the world. It just didn’t taste anywhere nearly as good.
Even to this day, I look forward to ordering my first latte when I reach Sydney airport.
You’ll also have to learn some new terms for coffee in Australia.
CULTURE SHOCK IN AUSTRALIA FOR NON-WESTERN STYLE COUNTRIES
So I’ve mentioned that some points above might be totally normal to you and your cultural boundaries.
If you’re from a non-western style country, then there are some points of culture shock inside Australia that many of us wouldn’t consider.
Having traveled to many non-western cultures myself, I know the reverse of the parts below definitely gave me a shock from a new culture.
These might not affect you at all and might be totally normal, but maybe not.
15. DRINKING TAP WATER
I can’t remember the last time I brought bottled water in Australia.
Honestly, the tap water is fine. You may get a little sick from the different bacteria used in our water treatment systems (it’s not an uncommon thing when drinking different tap water around the globe), but you’ll be totally fine.
Plus, it’s cheaper, better for the environment and it tastes great.
I know it might seem a little weird when you’re told to keep away from the tap water all your life, but trust me, it’s what most Australians drink (other than beer).
This is a short point, but it’s a culture shock in Australia for some none the less.
Australia employs the ‘western style’ toilet, compare to the ‘Asian squat toilet’.
It might be a little weird if you’ve never used or seen a sitting toilet, but fromhow many times I’ve seen instructional posters on how to use these dunnys (toilets), I think it’s a warranted culture shock.
17. SILENCE IN MAJOR CITIES
If you’re coming from a busy city, such as Kathmandu in Nepal, the streets of Sydney and Melbourne will be all but muted to your ears.
While people will greet you and say “g’day, how are ya?”, it’s silence in comparison to many hectic cities around the globe.
Horns are often a way to communicate constantly throughout Asia. I mean constantly. It can be overwhelming for me to hear all that, so I’m thinking the opposite is very true as well.
You can learn more about travel in Australia here, from tips to destinations to visit.
17 WAYS CULTURE SHOCK IS REAL IN AUSTRALIA
So there you have 17 ways that you’ll experience culture shock in Australia.
Chances are, you’re not going to experience all of them. The land down under is a unique country with a culture like no other.
From deadly animals to common swearing slang, something is bound to catch you off guard and make you question if you’re in a safe place.
Most likely you are, and understanding common shocks of culture in Australia will help you prepare for this beautiful sunburnt country.
What did I miss? I’m sure there’s something! Let me know what I should add into this post below in the comments!