Social Etiquette—Greeting in Australia
Australian rules of social etiquette are a little different from most countries around the world. The rules do not relate to how a fork should be held, or who should be served first at a dinner table. Instead, most of Australia’s rules relate to expressing equality. Basically, as long as you appreciate that Australians want to be treated as equal irrespective of their social, racial or financial background, anything is acceptable.
The relaxed attitude of Australians has been known to cause problems. Because Australians are difficult to offend, they are not sensitive to causing offence in others. To outsiders, Australians often appear very blunt and rude. They tend to call a spade a spade when perhaps more tact is required.
Furthermore, because Australians see people as equal, they frequently offend international visitors who feel a more respectful attitude is warranted. Australians may refer to some foreigners as “mate” instead of using more respectful titles such as your honour, sir, madam, mrs, mr, ms, lord, and your highness. Likewise, cricketer Dennis Lillee expressed his egalitarian sentiments when he greeted Queen Elizabeth using the words: “G’day, how ya goin’?”
In Dennis’ mind, he was just treating the Queen as an equal. Afterall, it wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t play cricket. Nor was she responsible for her subjects being terrible cricket players. But to many English people, Lillee’s expression of equality was the act of an upstart buffoon.
It is not only the Poms who have found Australian egalitarianism a little confronting. In 1980 a Japanese prefecture sponsored a weekend seminar to discuss problems that Japanese people might experience in Australia. One speaker, Hiro Mukai, stated: “Australians appear very naive to the newly-arrived Japanese. They speak the same way with everyone.”
Meeting and Greeting
The Australian way of communicating is quite forthcoming and direct, and perhaps even a little brusque in contrast to their South Asian neighbours. Don’t ever mistake this sort of approach for rudeness, as Australians are renowned straight talkers, yet relaxed and informal with it. They don’t generally partake in idle chitchat, especially in business dealings, and usually there is no double or hidden meaning in what they say, as trust is considered a virtue.
When greeting an Australian, generally a good, firm handshake is the best option, usually followed by an informal question about their well being, such as “how’s it going?”. You shouldn’t expect a lengthy reply, nor should you give one! A simple “OK” or “Good thanks” will suffice.
When meeting someone for the first time, it is usual to shake the person’s right hand with your right hand. People who do not know each other generally do not kiss or hug when meeting. When you first meet someone, it is polite not to talk about personal matters.
Many Australians look at the eyes of the people they are talking with. They consider this a sign of respect, and an indication that they are listening. Do not stare at the person for a long time.
You can address a new acquaintance using their title and family name. You may use their first name when they ask you to or use it in the introduction. In the workplace and among friends, most Australians tend to be informal and call each other by their first names.
What is considered polite behaviour?
‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are words that are very helpful when dealing with other people, and buying goods or services. When asked if you would like something, like a cup of tea, it is polite to say, ‘Yes please’, or just ‘please’ if you would like it, or ‘no, thank you’ if you do not. When you receive something, it is polite to thank the person by saying ‘thank you’. Australians tend to think that people who do not say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ are being rude. Using these words will help in building a good relationship.
Sometimes a sensitive issue may come up in conversation. Not to talk may seem rude. It is more polite to say ‘sorry, it is too hard to explain’ than to ignore a question.
Australians often say, ‘Excuse me’ to get a person’s attention and ‘sorry’ if we bump into them. We also say, ‘Excuse me’ or ‘pardon me’ if we burp or belch in public or a person’s home.
You should always try to be on time for meetings and other visits. If you realise you are going to be late, try to contact the person to let them know. This is very important for visits to professionals as you may be charged money for being late or if you miss the appointment without letting them know before.
Most Australians blow their noses into a handkerchiefs or tissues, not onto the footpath. This is also true for spitting. Many people will also say, ‘Bless you’ when you sneeze. This phrase has no religious intent.