Australians v Americans: Cultural Differences

Marion Finlay Associate Director


March 30, 2015

The Differences between Australian and American Culture

For those of you who have just arrived in Australia, you would have already begun to notice some of the differences between Australian and American culture. For those of you aspiring to join us in Australia, find out how to apply here

No matter what you think of these differences now, you will need to learn to embrace it, as these are the things that make Australia what it is. They contribute to the “no worries” laid back attitude and they form an important part of the Australian psyche.

Here is a list of just some of the differences that you might notice. Feel free to include any we might have missed.

  1. Australians drive on the other (‘wrong’) side of the road. Every semester the Arcadia staff watches with bated breath as students tackle the roads in Melbourne. It seems like an obvious difference but it’s one of the easiest to forget.
  2. Aussies very rarely dry their clothes in a dryer. Everything is air-dried. It’s a pain when it’s raining but it makes so much sense. Not only are they saving electricity but also money, as it costs $3 just to use the dryer!
  3. Aussies are a lot more water conscious than Americans are. Imagine the horror our students feel at orientation after a 24 flight being told to have only a 3 minute shower. After being in a draught for years Australians aim for just three minutes. Toilets also have two flush buttons – one is for half flush the other for full and Australians would never brush their teeth while leaving the tap running.
  4. Finding free Wifi in Australia is like going on a treasure hunt. Sure the lack of Wifi can be annoying but it can also be viewed as a reminder to live in the moment. Do you really need to be connected ALL of the time?
  5. Australians love to abbreviate everything. At first you might think we are simply lazy and you won’t be able to understand a lot but after four weeks trust us you will be sounding more Australian than you ever imagined. A few words to add to your vocabulary are: Uni (university), tute (tutorial), Maccas (McDonalds), sunnies (sunglasses), brekkie (breakfast), arvo (afternoon), sanga (sandwich).
  6. Australians use their cutlery differently from Americans. To fit in with Australians at a dinner table you will need to hold your fork and your knife in your hands all the time. There is no cutting, putting it down and putting the fork back in the right hand. Australians often also combine their foods on their folk rather than eating the foods separately. Next time you’re dining with Australians try and follow their lead.
  7. The menus in Australia are different. A burger with the lot in Australia is like a crazy leaning tower of Pisa. They put so much on it you can’t even fit it in your mouth. For a decadent surprise try an Australian version of an iced coffee, or for a lazy picnic idea try a hot chip sandwich. You want a side with that? Think again Australians do large meals but they come as is and trying to change things on your order will get you a whole lot of dirty looks and terrible service.
  8. Generally, service is slow. You might need to get your own menus and water, and more often than not you will need to ask for your bill at the end of the meal. This can be frustrating at first but look around you and you will see everyone is relaxed. You are not being rushed out of your seats so the waiter can turn over your table, you can stay and keep chatting all day if you like. It’s just another reminder of the slow paced lifestyle of the Aussies.
  9. Sport is loved just as much as in America but in a whole new way. College sport in Australia is about participating; your University may play and no one would ever know. However Australian states and cities are still sports mad, only they follow games like AFL, Rugby and cricket. The iconic American sports like basketball, baseball and ice hockey are rare to be seen.
  10. The first thing most students notice is that Australia is expensive. A candy bar costs $2.00 and a can of coke can cost $2.50. The good thing is some things are still cheap like sushi trains and movie tickets. Australia is also the place to be if you are bad at maths - the price you see is what you pay. There is no need to tip or add tax.
  11. Australian insects and animals are insane. You would have all heard of the sharks and spiders but what about the huge bugs, the ants that bite and the birds that dive bomb you walking in the street? No one warns you that your flat mates will be 4cm long cockroaches that can fly. And the worst part is that Australians think this is normal.
  12. You don’t need an alarm clock in Australia as the birds will wake you up at 4am. Australian’s don’t seem to mind as they are used to it. The cute looking bird you tried to take a photo of on your first day will become your worst enemy in only a couple of days.
  13. Australian University students have their big nights out during the week and leave their weekends to recover. They even have afternoon drinks called Sunday sessions.
  14. You will learn that BBQ’s are often just a reference for a sausage in bread. Thoughts of amazing Aussie burgers or shrimps on the Barbie are only reserved for family BBQ’s.
  15. Two words: Tim Tams. These rectangular chocolate cookies will result in you having a whole new food group. They are a staple for all our students and always end up going home in suitcases.
  16. You can’t visit Australia without trying vegemite. Australians have this dark, salty spread on toast or sandwiches. It is a far cry from peanut butter and jelly but is a necessity to try during your semester. You don’t get more Aussie than having a vegemite sanga.
  17. Australians are very relaxed. They don’t expect for things to happen immediately. They will wait without complaining for buses, for food, and for communication from lecturers. They have a mentality that everything will be fine and will work out in the end.
  18. Sure Aussies don’t have a GPA to worry about, but there comments that anything more than a pass at University is a waste of effort, seems a little crazy. For a lot of Australians simply passing a class is all that they are after.
  19. Australians take casual wear to a whole new level. You may notice students barefoot in class, and in hospitals your Doctor might attend to you wearing board shorts. They do dress up in the cities but in smaller towns it’s an anything goes attitude.
  20. Having a coffee with an Australian means finding a cute little independent coffee shop and buying a $4 latte, flat white or piccolo. The coffees in Australia are expensive but strong. Trust us you do not want to be drinking a one litre cup of Australian coffee it will keep you buzzing for days.

These are just a few differences to get you started. We are sure you will find many more quirks in Australian culture. Remember to embrace the differences. These are the things you will miss when you get back home.


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