- Direct Communication: In Australia, one’s status or position in a conversation is not easily distinguishable by their appearance. Therefore, communication is more direct and functionally-purposed to convey one’s message with clarity. Criticism can be delivered vaguely in order to remain polite and avoid conflict, but an Australian’s intention and meaning is usually apparent through their precise word choice. They tend to speak very honestly, yet with reasonable sensitivity.
- Accent: Most Australians have the unique ability to swap quite easily from a strong Aussie accent to speech that sounds more refined. For example, foreigners may be surprised to hear Australians talk to them in quite polished, well-pronounced speech, but fall into using a strong ocker accent around other Australians or when drinking.
- Slang: Australians speak with slang spattered throughout their speech. The relevance or understandings of certain slang words varies between age groups and areas, but Australians frequently shorten any words that seem overly complicated by using diminutives. Sometimes these are spontaneous inventions that are not commonly known, but many are commonplace (e.g. “arvo” – afternoon, “uni” – university).
- Self-Deprecation: Australians are quite self-deprecating in conversation in an effort to come across as humble, honest and relaxed about themselves. Feel free to join in with the jokes by criticising yourself in a similar manner. That being said, avoid finding jokes too funny, adamantly agreeing to their self-deprecating comments, as this can become insulting.
- Humour: Humour is used in much Australian communication, so expect some light-hearted joking in most conversations. Jokes about situational circumstances are often used to lighten moods or approach difficult topics in an indirect way. Australian sarcasm can be very dry, witty and direct. It is sometimes difficult for foreigners to detect when people are kidding as Australians do not always break from a joke to clarify.
- Swearing: Swearing is more common in Australia than in many other cultures. Television programmes are less censored and mainstream society is largely desensitised to words that foreigners may find vulgar. It is normal to hear an Australian swear at some point during a conversation. Doing so yourself is unlikely to hurt your chances with them – the informality of it can actually make them feel more comfortable around you.
- Silence: Australians sometimes grow uncomfortable when social chat is punctuated with long periods of pause or silence and will therefore try to fill the gap with conversation.
- Yeah/Nah: When responding to a basic question (such as “How are you?”), Australians sometimes give multiple answers with immediately conflicting meanings. If this happens, take the last word they answered with as what they mean. For example, “Yeah, nah” means “no”, “Nah, yeah” means “yes” and “Yeah, nah, good” means “good”.
- Eye Contact: Eye contact should be maintained directly as it translates sincerity, trustworthiness and approachability. However, it is important to break eye contact intermittently as holding it for prolonged periods can make Australians feel uncomfortable. When talking to a group, be sure to make equal eye contact with all people present. Conversely, Aboriginal Australians are more likely to divert their eyes during communication. Direct eye contact can be interpreted as disrespectful or confrontational in Indigenous cultures, especially when it is made to someone older than one’s self. This may also apply to Australian residents from cultures in which direct eye contact is similarly perceived.
- Personal Space: Australians usually keep about an arm’s length distance between one another when talking, and sometimes a little extra between men and women depending on how well they know each other.
- Physical Contact: People tend not to touch one another much during communication unless they are close friends. Touching someone on the shoulder or arm to emphasise a point is generally acceptable, but can otherwise be seen as a sexual advance. Women tend to be more phsyically affectionate with one another than men.
- Pointing: Australians point with their index finger, however it is considered rude to point directly at someone. Instead, they should be indicated to verbally.
- Obscene Gestures: Raising one’s middle finger or making the ‘V’ sign with one’s palm facing oneself is considered very rude in Australia.
- Beckoning: Australians beckon people by waving them over with their palm facing up.