Australian customs for international students

Australian customs for international students

Australians are usually open and friendly and believe in an equal society without social classes. In this article, we outline important things you may like to know as an international student studying in Australia. 

We cover the etiquette of public transport, addressing people, censorship, jaywalking, queuing, and much more in Australia!

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Customs and Traditions in Australia

Australian's dress

While people in Australia tend to dress casually at university and in public, especially during summer when the weather is very warm, you will need to dress formally for special occasions such as class presentations, dinner functions, and graduations. You will be told in advance about the dress code.

Housework

Australians usually don’t have servants. Most people are independent and cook and clean for themselves. Some people pay someone to clean their home—they are called cleaners, not maids.

Public transport 

When boarding a tram, train, or bus, always wait for people to get off before you get on. When you use stairs or escalators, stand to the left, so that people in a hurry can walk past.

Punctuality in Australia

Being on time is important in Australia, so check meeting times and places. Contact the person you are meeting if you are running late or unable to make the appointment. If you are late for a doctor’s appointment, you may have to pay a fee or
miss your appointment.

Queuing

People usually form queues (line up) when waiting for a bank teller, to get on a train or bus, or to buy something. In Australia, it is impolite to push ahead in a queue. Australians also value their personal space and privacy, so leave more space when queuing, standing or talking to other people than you might be used to.

Smoking

Smoking is illegal on public transport and in restaurants, cinemas, and public buildings, such as schools, hospitals, universities, and libraries. You can be fined if you smoke in these areas. If you are at someone’s home, excuse yourself and smoke outside.

Australian social gatherings

While you are in Australia, you might be invited to social gatherings such as BBQs, dinners, or parties. Sometimes they can be BYO, which means you bring your own drinks or meat for a BBQ. If your host asks you to bring a plate, it means you need to bring a plate of food to share with everyone. If you are invited to eat in a restaurant, it is common to share payment of the bill. 

If you are invited to a wedding, food and drinks are supplied and the dress is usually formal.

Invitations

It is polite to reply to formal (usually in writing) or informal (in person, via email or over the phone) invitations as soon as possible. Formal invitations, such as those for a wedding, usually have an RSVP date and you should reply by that date.

Talking with Australian people 

Addressing people

In formal situations, men and women usually shake hands when greeting each other. It is also common to shake hands when you are introduced to someone.

Australians may have two or three names. The first and second are given names. The last name is the family name (surname). The family name is used formally with titles such as Dr, Miss, Ms, Mr or Mrs. In most cases, Australians prefer to be called by their first names. People will introduce themselves to you by the name they prefer to be called. Your teachers and lecturers will introduce themselves and tell you how they like to be addressed. If you are not sure, ask them.

Saying excuse me, please and thank you is common in Australia.

Conversation

It is a good idea to avoid topics that are personal or could lead to disagreements or arguments, such as personal relationships, salary or income, politics, and religion unless you know the person very well.

Greetings such as Good morning, Good afternoon, Hello, G’day, and How are you? are used commonly, even among strangers.

Saying no

It is OK to say no to something you do not want to do. If you have been invited somewhere and don’t want to go, you can say, Thank you for asking me, but I can’t go this time.

Do not let yourself be pressured into drinking alcohol, taking drugs or having sex when you don’t want to. It is OK to say no to someone who asks you out on a date.

Tipping

You do not have to tip in Australia; however, in restaurants, if the service has been particularly good, some people do leave tips.

Breaking the law

If you are caught breaking the law, not knowing the law is not a legal excuse. Everyone must follow the Australian federal and state laws. There are laws against:

  • swearing, spitting or urinating in public places
  • excessive noise (and loud noise before 7.00 am and after 10.00 pm).

Bribery

Bribery is illegal in Australia and is not accepted by society. Do not try to bribe people in Australia.

Censorship

Australia’s censorship laws are more lenient than in most countries. Some radio and TV stations use explicit language, and TV shows can be graphic.

Discrimination in Australia

In Australia, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their race, sex, sexual preference, disability, or their social, political, or religious beliefs. Racial vilification (slandering or defaming someone on racial grounds) is also illegal.

Jaywalking

If there is a pedestrian crossing or traffic lights, use them to cross the road. You can be fined for not crossing at the lights (jaywalking).

Rubbish (trash)

Always put rubbish in a bin. If there are no bins, carry the rubbish until you can put it in a bin. You can be fined for throwing rubbish on the ground.

12 April 2021

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer