Etiquette in Australia and New Zealand
Expectations regarding good manners differ from person to person and vary according to each situation. As the perception of behaviors and actions vary, intercultural competence is essential. However, a lack of knowledge about the customs and expectations of people in Australia and New Zealand can make even the best intentioned person seem ignorant, inconsiderate or even rude.
Australia and New Zealand are separate countries, each with its own distinct national identity that includes particular customs and rules of etiquette. Confusing their identities in general conversation is usually not tolerated and will be quickly corrected. Points of etiquette that apply to both countries include the following:
- In general, Australians have a notable preference for rote niceties, the classic "P's & Q's"; especially the word "please," but also the phrases "thank you," and "excuse me." Although there is a growing contingent in Australia who dislike the misuse of the word please especially when a request impinges on the other persons boundaries and the requester sounds like a whiner. Furthermore, one should not expect to hear the word "please" attached to a request for them to disengage from an unwelcome or unlawful behaviour, nor to perform a task routinely expected of them for the position they hold, except in a hospitality setting. While apologizing or expressing appreciation has somewhat displaced the ubiquity of the rote expressions elsewhere in the Anglosphere—in the US and England, especially—Australians will sometimes visibly scowl if a stranger makes a casual request or initiates transaction without specifically saying "please" or "thank you." Likewise, even those suffering some obvious distress are expected to speak the words "excuse me" when asking to move past.
However, in a place of business an apologetic or over-polite request made of a person who is paid to provide the service you may want, is usually seen as unnecessary - and may backfire. For example: "I'm terribly sorry to bother you -- but may I have another napkin?" might elicit an eyeroll that could easily be avoided by simply saying: "may I have another napkin, please?" This may hold true even, perhaps counter-intuitively, if the latter is delivered somewhat more curtly or coolly.
When meeting friends or new people and when leaving the company of friends or people who one has just met it is becoming less common to require the handshake to be firm, though many are still offended by a 'limp' handshake. Giving someone a limp handshake is referred to as giving someone a "dead fish" and is often viewed with derision, especially in country areas. A quick clasping of hands may be OK for younger people. However, it is always respectful to make eye contact when you shake hands.
- Requesting a fanny pack can be considered obscene due to the use of "fanny" as a slang term for female genitalia. "Bum bag" is the acceptable local variation in some areas. Australians and New Zealanders are generally tolerant of foreigners making this mistake and will understand both.
- Enquiring about which sporting team "you root for" will be met with amusement. "Root" is a vulgar term in both Australia and New Zealand for sexual intercourse. Use "go for" or "support" instead. "Barrack for" is also used by some Australians.
- An enquiry about a person's well being (such as "How's it going?" or "How are you going?") is a common greeting. Generally the accepted response is non-negative; "Not too bad" or "Pretty good, mate", and it is considered polite to ask the person the same question back. It is also considered polite to greet anyone, including strangers, in this way.
- Bragging, or initiating discussion of one's own achievements, is usually considered in poor taste. (See tall poppy syndrome.)
- It is acceptable to host a barbecue without supplying all the food and drink. The host may ask guests to bring particular items such as beverages, salad, or meat, often using the initialism "BYO" (Bring your own)
- The term "bring a plate" is synonymous with "potluck"
- When talking to anyone in an informal setting it is common to use "Mate" in place of their name, even if they are strangers.
- Both Australians and New Zealanders can talk very quickly in comparison to many English speaking countries, generally with less stress on vowels. In informal situations it isn't uncommon for parts of words to be left out entirely with little to no pause between words.
- The C word is sometimes used in a positive manner in casual settings, when suffixed to words like 'good-' (also common are 'mad-' or 'sick-'). A shortening of the term to GC is common also. Someone other than a close friend using the term by itself likely means serious offence.
- As cars drive on the left side of the road in both countries, people moving forward will generally go to the left as well. When walking on the pavement (usually called the 'footpath'), one should walk on the left, whenever possible. When travelling on escalators or moving walkways, one should keep to the left when standing, or keep to the right when walking.
- Spitting on the street or footpath (sidewalk) in Australia is illegal.
Bars and restaurants
- When paying a cashier, it is common to place the money in their hand. Change is usually placed in your hand in return. When paying at a restaurant it is acceptable to leave the money in the tray on the table, if one is provided. Otherwise, leave it inside the menu card and hand back to the waiter/waitress with a word of thanks. Paying at the cash register is most often the best way to avoid confusion.
- Tipping is not usually expected and some employees may not understand the gesture. Some employees are forbidden from accepting gratuities (this is mainly in positions of authority e.g. in a casino one cannot tip the dealer or a security guard however, this would not apply in a formal restaurant situation) and tipping face-to-face can create an awkward situation. However, it is appropriate to add a tip to restaurant bills if the service has been especially good. It is also acceptable to suggest that taxi drivers or waiters "keep the change", especially if the difference is small. Tips may be as large or as small as you feel appropriate. Where tip jars are provided, they are mostly used for loose change or coins.
- Queuing (forming a line) is expected when there is any demand for an item. The only exception to this is a pub where people will normally lean on the bar to wait. However, it is still rude to accept service from a barman before someone who has been waiting longer. A simple nod or subtle gesture towards the person who has waited longer will be understood by any experienced server to mean that the indicated person was before you.
- If you are in a pub and accidentally knock a person's drink over or bump into them and cause a spillage, it is both customary and polite to buy him another one - or at least offer to do so. Failing to do so may aggravate the average Australian bar patron and possibly cause them to respond aggressively toward you.
- When out with friends, co-workers or relatives, it is common but not compulsory for people to take turns buying rounds of drinks. This is referred to as a 'shout', e.g. "It's my shout."
- When entering the bar of a RSL (Returned Services League/Association - R.S.A. in New Zealand) or golf club, a man who does not remove his hat is considered rude and as a result rebuked by being told that he is expected to 'shout' (buy a round of drinks) for all those present.
- It is very rude to try to get someone's attention in a public place by saying "Oi!" or "Hey you!" or whistling/snapping fingers especially in bars/pubs and restaurants.
- A person who takes the last item of food from a common plate, without first offering it to the others at the table may be seen as greedy or inconsiderate. If someone does want more food in this situation and the remaining portion can be split, proposing to halve it is common.
- You should treat people serving you as politely as you expect them to treat you. Use 'please' when placing an order or making a request and 'thank you' when you receive your order or service. They are there to help you, but they are not your 'slaves' or inferiors.
- Complaints in restaurants are rare. Most will merely refuse to revisit an establishment after bad food or service
- Surcharges for use of less commonly used credit cards such as Diners Club and Amex commonly apply in many New Zealand and Australian establishments. To avoid conflict most establishments will advertise this with a sign of some sort near the cashier area
- Arguing or yelling with staff in a food and beverage establishment is considered rude and inappropriate.
- Common restaurant manners include using the knife and fork properly, refraining from burping and placing elbows on a table, placing your napkin on your lap and leaving it folded on the table after use, and eating neatly. Chewing open-mouthed, slurping loudly and talking with a full mouth are considered rude.
- Australians and New Zealanders, in common with most other Commonwealth nations (except Canada), drive on the left side of the road.
- Waving as a gesture of thanks to drivers that stop to allow you into their lane, exit a driveway, merging into the lane, or cross at a crossing, is viewed as polite.
- A common experience while travelling on state highways is being 'flashed' by oncoming vehicles. This is when an oncoming vehicle flicks its high beam headlights quickly but noticeably (day or night), and serves to warn drivers they are approaching a hazard: a speed camera or Police vehicle/Radar/Random Breath Test (most commonly), or a motor vehicle accident, or animals/rocks on the road . Many drivers acknowledge this with a return wave or a brief reply 'flash' of their high beam headlights.. It is also done to alert the other driver if they have neglected to turn their own headlights on when necessary.
- When driving on Australian or New Zealand highways, if you are passed by a vehicle that is towing it is customary to signal to the passing vehicle that they are far enough ahead to move back into the left lane by 'flashing' your headlights. It is then polite for the passing vehicle to quickly flash their left, right and then left indicator as a signal of thanks.[dead link]
- When driving between towns and cities it is considered extremely rude to speed up in a passing lane, especially when going through winding areas of road where you may be taking corners much more slowly than others would.
- Although 70% of the population has some Anglo-Celtic ancestry, there is acknowledgement of the country's growing ethnic/racial diversity.
- Making jokes at another's expense or "taking the piss" is common in Australian society and is often a bonding process. However, it is frowned upon and considered cowardly to make jokes in the absence of the subject. Contrary to many other countries, Australians will generally wait until the subject is present before making derogatory jokes. For example, when an Australian meets a New Zealander on holiday, they may ask if they brought velcro gloves in order to get a better grip on those Australian sheep. (See point below re New Zealanders' thoughts on sheep jokes)
- In informal situations some language that might be considered foul or offensive in other cultures may be used to convey different things. However it is considered rude and offensive to behave in this manner in front of children, especially in rural areas.
- "Indigenous Australian" and "Aboriginal person/Torres Strait Islander" are polite terms, also regional/state preferences such as "Koori" are also acceptable as long the person in question and you both consider each other friends. Aboriginal refers to Indigenous people from the mainland, the Torres Strait Islanders are a separate group with their own cultural traditions. "Abo", "Coon", "Gin" and "Boong" or "Boonga" are all considered offensive and unacceptable in formal conversation when describing Aborigines but are sometimes in casual conversations even when one of the participants is of Indigenous descent, though this is controversial and often frowned upon. "Aboriginal" is now used only as an adjective, although older documents may still use it as a noun (e.g. "Aboriginals"). Note that the words "Coon" and "Gin" are not always considered offensive in other contexts - the former being a popular brand of cheese and the latter a common drink. The politest option is to simply avoid the issue of race.
- State/ regional preferences for specific names for groups of Indigenous Australians have also arisen in recent years: The term Koori (or Koorie) in New South Wales or Victoria. Those from Queensland use the term Murri (pronounced the same as "Murray"). Nunga is used in most of South Australia. Noongar is used in southern Western Australia. Anangu is used in northern South Australia, and neighbouring parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Palawah is used in Tasmania. However, there were over 200 different languages at the time of European settlement, which means these terms are very specific.
- Although those of Middle Eastern, Italian, Slavic or Greek descent may make flippant use of terms such as 'Leb' or wog (as in film "The Wog Boy"), as well on television comedies Acropolis Now and Kingswood Country) others should be wary of using what might still be received as a serious ethnic slur. The alternative term "New Australian" is becoming ridiculed, and never was the preferred term among ethnic groups. It may be used with permission between very good friends of differing ethnic backgrounds but is considered to be offensive term to use towards any other person or in a formal setting.
- In the UK, the term "paki" is considered racially offensive; however, the word also evolved in parallel in Australia as a shortened form of "Pakistani". Usually used in a cricketing context, in Australian usage the word refers specifically and solely to people who are Pakistani and carries no derogatory intent.
- Amongst Indigenous Australians, it can be taboo to refer to deceased Indigenous Australians by name, or through use of images.
- Be polite. Use 'please' and 'thank you' frequently.
- You may hear people swearing in public but most New Zealanders think this is offensive and think less of the people doing it. Swear privately or with friends but not in public places.
- Keep your voice down. Talking loudly so everyone can hear your conversation is bad manners.
- Sheep-related humour is likely to bring derision from the majority of New Zealanders, who see this stereotype as at once clichéd and offensive, and it should thus be avoided. Although in relaxed social situations a certain amount of banter will be engaged in, it is advisable to wait until you know people well, as in any culture, before engaging in such humour.
- The term "dairy" refers to a convenience store, not a cow farm.
- It is extremely rude to talk about a stranger in public when they are in hearing distance from you
- It is rude to try to get someone's attention by saying "Oi!" or whistling, especially in bars/pubs and restaurants.
- Correct pronunciation of Māori words and placenames, and the word "Māori" itself, is often important to Māori, although usually less so to non-Māori.
- It is incorrect to pluralise "Māori" and loan words from Māori by adding an "s". There is no letter "s" in the Māori language, and plurality is indicated by the particles (te/nga/ngati) appearing before the word rather word ending.
- Sitting on or resting one's backside against a table or desk can offend Māori. A table is where food is served and should not be touched by the "unclean" regions. Similarly, you should not sit on a pillow, the head is tapu (sacred), and pillows are for resting heads only.
- Shoes should always be removed before entering the wharenui (meeting house) on a marae. Never eat inside a meeting house — the building is regarded as tapu (sacred).
- Modern Etiquette
- Etiquette in Africa
- Etiquette in Asia
- Etiquette in Canada and the United States
- Etiquette in Europe
- Etiquette in Latin America
- Etiquette in the Middle East
- Worldwide etiquette
- Rebecca Falkoff Unintentional Transgressions of the Work Abroad Community Monster.com
- Schembri, Jim (29 July 2005). "Keep it to the left". Melbourne: http://www.theage.com.au. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- Mackinolty, Chips and Jamie Gallacher. "A note on referring to deceased Aboriginal people—and the use of the term "kumanjayi" and its spelling and linguistic variants". Media Watch. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved December 13, 2012.