Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A to Z of Australia - C is for Culture

Because the Australian society is made up of people from many  countries, with different backgrounds, cultural diversity is part of Australia´s identity. This identity blends established traditions by the country´s original inhabitants - the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders -  and new influences from the immigrants who have arrived from over 200 different countries and who have made Australia their home.
Aboriginal man playing the Didgeridoo at Kings Park botanical gardens
With over 21 million inhabitants, about half of them were either born overseas or have one parent who was born overseas.
Migrants have enriched the Australian society from the business to the arts, sports, sciences and cooking.

A Portuguese friend who has lived in Perth for over 25 years still remembers when people didn´t know what an expresso coffee was. 
Now the Australian society cannot live without the various types of coffee - Latte, Expresso, Cappucino, Mocha...The tradition of coffee drinking  was of course brought in by the Italians, as well as their  beloved Pizzas and Pastas.

I have found  Australians to have a great sense of humour and the ability to laugh at themselves , they are a liberal, tolerant, informal and quite an egalitarian society.
An example would be the fact that most people treat each other by their first names, no titles are used with the exception of the Dr (clinical one). This was certainly confusing for me, as in Portugal I had gotten used to the fact that most people are either called Dr. or kidding!!  Or, at least they all pretend to be, and love to be called by a title.
Here when I started working at the clinic I used to call the Doctors - Dr M, Dr Y, Dr J....After a couple of months I realized I was the only one doing it, as my colleagues called them all by their first names! So first names it was from then on. Even most patients call them by their first names. 
I find that so refreshing, no airs and graces, we are all the same, some more clever than others, some richer than others... This is probably one of the few countries where you will see an engineer or a doctor renovate or paint their house, do their own gardening, build a shed...  
Australia respects and accepts the rights of all Australian immigrants to express and share their cultural heritage, languages, and  practice different religions, as long as we all show a commitment to uphold Australia´s democratic foundation and are prepared to learn and accept English as the national language. There are various schools where Australian born kids can learn the language of their parents.
Food traditions are also celebrated in the schools with annual Traditional food fairs, where kids from the various countries (or at least whose parents come from a foreign country) will bring a traditional dish.
South African school kids at a  food stall at the Multicultural food fair - Nov 2011
In politics, our Prime Minister Julia Gillard was born outside of Australia, so were a few other Members of Parliament, but that was no impediment to their advancement into the country´s most responsible job!

One of the differences I can find between Australians (genuine or not) and the Southern Europeans,  is that they aren´t as affectionate as we are. No hugging or double kisses (triple for the French) when they meet with friends, unless you have known them for a while and they eventually get used to the kissing. 
I´m always a bit puzzled when meeting someone new as I don´t know if I should just say "hello" , shake hands or give them a kiss...Most times the kiss wins!
On the subject of kissing and traditions, I remember a funny story that happened in Portugal - a South African friend married to a Portuguese, got  so used to kissing everyone that the first time the Postman knocked on her door to deliver a parcel, she promptly gave him a kiss on both cheeks!  The postman was certainly puzzled!!!
Another international event

Immigrants have greatly helped build this beautiful nation, and make it what is is today! 

Typical Australian :
TYPICAL AUSTRALIAN  -  Footy or Australian Rules Football, thongs (flip flops), Vegemite (an yeast extract that is a strange taste to most non-Australians (me included), Anzac biscuits (Yummi!) and Tim-Tams chocolate biscuits (a bit too sweet for my taste, but eatable).


  1. Fantastic this post! And the photos are great!
    Somes cultural aspects are very similar to the Netherlands. We call people by their first names and we shake hands when we meet each other. Also we do everything in the house: paintings, new floors, name it!

  2. thanks Sami - what a lovely idea for a post too - I loved the story about the postman!
    we are so used to saying 'boa tarde' to people when we walk past the local people or they smile at us out here - today we went to Albufeira (more touristy than usual for us - lots more holidaymakers)- someone smiled at me so I said 'boa tarde' and got the strangest look from a man who was British - you could see him thinking why is this British woman speaking Portuguese to me.... oh well! I'll stay in the little local villages where my poor Portuguese is appreciated!
    looking forward to your 'D is for ..' at this rate you'll be the first one to post a 'D'!

  3. Sandra - labour is too expensive here, so if we know how,we have to do it all!
    Alyson - the postman story is hilarious, just recently when I was in Portugal, my sister and I talked about it! The British tourist should have been happy someone was greeting him lol.

  4. Love this again, Sami! I also really appreciate the Australian habit of calling everyone by their first names. Being more formal was always difficult for me when I lived in Germany and I didn't like the confusion of not knowing what to call people. (On top of the formal/informal "you" in the language which I assume also exists in Portuguese?). Here in Australia it is much simpler and I agree, it feels more equal, and I like that.

  5. Sami, this is a great post and wonderful introduction to Australia - I loved it! I only hope mine will be as interesting.

  6. Haha great postman story Sami, would have loved to see his expression!

  7. Amanda - yes in Portuguese we have 2 "you" - formal "vocé" and informal "tu".
    Barb - Thanks for visiting.
    Grace - I think he must have asked for a transfer after that!

  8. The kissing- I haven't really experienced much of it here in SA, but people have told me that it is common here when greeting. Certain culture in America do it, but not everywhere.

  9. Great article Sami! So true about the kissing too. Definitely not among MEN either!

    Noticed your comment to Sandra re labour being expensive - it freaks my husband out all the time, as in Nigeria labour was cheap.

    Loved the coffee comment! I still don't drink a short black, but I love, love my real coffee!

  10. I love the bit about kissing. Can't imagine the Aussies doing that! Took me awhile to catch on to this in Portugal and France. I am used to shaking hands. I found it quite disconcerting at first!

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