Australians are a modest people who denigrate anyone who is loudly proud of themselves. This is called the Tall Poppy Syndrome in which ‘flowers that grow taller than the rest are cut down to size by their peers’. This does not make Australians shy or retiring, though, and they tend to be a loud group.
Australians lack the innate hospitality of many Southern and Eastern European countries and Latin American nations. Making friends with an Australian is best done through introductions by mutual friends, however many a friendship has begun with a casual conversation with a stranger in the pub or on the street.
Almost all Australians shake hands when they meet. It is exceedingly rare for them to kiss – when it does happen, it will be between women only, or one man and a woman and only those who are familiar with each other.
It is considered rude to try to mimic the Australian accent, especially in Melbourne, unless prompted to do so by close mates over drinks. The accent in the city is not as strident as the stereotypes would lead you to believe; saying “G´Day Mate” with the accent used by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins will not win you any points. A simple Hi or Hello is much better received.
If you are invited to an Australian home (likely for a “Barbie”, BBQ) it is not necessary to bring anything, but it is common. You can ask beforehand what the host would like or just come armed with the basics, like bread or soft drinks. Alcohol is always viewed as a welcome contribution.
Being out to dinner in Australia means holding your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right (unless you are left-handed). It is considered a little unsophisticated to hold your knife like a pen, although plenty of people do it.
Australians are more laid-back hosts than those in other countries, and you may need to learn to speak up when you want something. Although you will be offered plenty when you arrive, you will be expected to give a definitive “yes” if you want it and honestly say “no” if you don’t, without the polite prevarications of other nations. This includes beverages and although your drink will be refreshed often, Australians consider it polite not to harass you with hospitality. If you feel like something you do not have, ask for it politely.
Australian humour is often the most difficult aspect of the culture for any newcomer to come to grips with. There are heavy doses of sarcasm and dry humour, with denigrating comments being more like terms of endearments than insults. This is especially true with inter-ethnic friendships: Racial slurs are frequently used as pet names between male friends, but will usually not make an appearance in mixed company.
Business etiquette in Australia is fairly direct. After initial greetings, it is customary to get straight to the point. The use of first names is widespread, unless you are much younger and/or are trying to sell something. Although business cards are commonly handed out in a more formal environment, this is not a common practice in more social settings and if someone you meet does not give you a card, there is no unspoken slight – they probably just don’t have one.
Most expats will find it easy to integrate with Australian culture. Melbournians are welcoming, friendly, curious, and generally relish the opportunity to explain any customs, slang, or traditions an outsider may be confused by. If you are curious about something you don’t understand, it’s okay to ask. Just be prepared for a lengthy explanation and some good-natured joking at your own expense.