Last updated on September 7th, 2018
When you move to a new country like Australia, you are bound to have a few culture shocks. Heck, even within a country like India, when you move from one state to the other, you get a culture shock (See: 2 States movie). So when I moved to Australia, I already knew there are bound to be a few culture shocks or cultural differences.
Now, Australia is not the first foreign country I have been to. So what might be a culture shock to others is not a culture shock for me. For example, clean streets or the use of toilet paper or well-maintained public parks do not shock me anymore. But below are top 10 things which can only be termed as culture shocks for any non-Australian person.
1 Silence Please
India is characterised by the assault on your senses. As soon as you get out of Airport, you hear plenty of noises – honking vehicles, yelling street vendors, music coming from shops, the sound of chants, bell tolls from temples, dogs fighting on roads and people talking on mobiles or each other. You get a variety of smells – of samosas and pakoras at tea stalls, of rotting vegetables and garbage, of scented sticks burning in a temple and a combined smell of sweat, perfume and hair oil.
But when I arrived in Australia, one thing that I noticed almost immediately was a profound silence. This is even more noticeable in suburbs. You don’t hear any honks, any domestic quarrels, barks of stray dogs or even sound of a television set from the adjacent house. Initially, I used to feel as if all of my neighbours have packed up their stuff and went on holidays. All I could hear was creaking and popping sounds that my wooden house made. In the initial days, it feels great to be away from all that noise but then after a while you kind of miss it. It’s those sounds which make India such a lively place. So if you are used to living in a noisy place, this will definitely come as a culture shock to you.
2 Bring Your Own Water
Nobody will charge you for water pretty much anywhere in India. It is as essential and free of charge as salt and paper. Unless you want mineral water, you don’t need to pay for water. Not in Australia! Here, if you dine in a restaurant, you will have to order water separately essentially because they don’t serve tap water. You need to buy bottled water and let me tell you, it is quite expensive. Sometimes, even more, expensive than soft drinks and petrol.
3 Sports Freak Nation
I know we Indians are passionate about cricket and cricketers are treated like a celebrity. But Australians’ passion for sports is at another level altogether. Surprisingly, their number 1 game is not cricket, it’s Australian Rules Football or Footy for short. Australians are just crazy about it. They eat footy, they sleep footy and they talk Footy. As you can imagine, it’s a very good conversation-starter. On Saturdays and Sundays, all you see on TV is footy. All you hear on any radio station is the Footy broadcast. Even national newspapers give front-page headlines for this games-related news. Sports in Australia is more of a way of life than a recreational activity really.
4 Drinking Tap water
Okay, this might not be surprising if you have lived in a developed country but coming from India this is definitely one of the biggest culture shocks. In any Hollywood movie, when an actor takes some pill with the tap water in the bathroom, we Indians, definitely cringe. How can’t we?
Since the childhood, it is ingrained in our mind that water in the bathroom is strictly for washing. It makes sense in India because the water in the bathroom is hard water, usually coming from bore whereas the one in the kitchen is the proper drinking water. Even the kitchen tap water in India needs to be purified with all kinds of water purifiers these days to make it drinkable. In India, I used to smile when I saw the sign in the toilets in our office saying that the tap water is not for drinking. But now I know the reason behind this. Incidentally, it might be a culture shock to Australians to see that we don’t drink tap water in India.
5 Do It Yourself
One of the best parts of being in India is that you don’t have to flex your muscles to build something. If you order something, say furniture or electronics, assembly and installation is part of it, that too free, most of the time. In Australia, DIY is a mantra. If you are not used to doing things on your own, you are going to get one of the biggest culture shocks in Australia. If you buy furniture, let’s say a bed frame from a shop like IKEA or Harvey Norman, you will get delivery of bed parts. It is then your responsibility to assemble it as per the instructions that come with the packaging.
You will understand the pain behind this when you spend hours trying to figure out how to put together a drawer set or shelving unit. Since the labour is so expensive in Australia, hiring someone to do it is not an option. Remember that this is not just furniture, it’s true for almost everything, for example, wall-mounting a TV, fixing a pram or setting up a lawn-mover. Fortunately, most of the time assembling is easy but when it’s not, it can be very frustrating.
6 Exact change available
In India, you will almost never get exact change back from shops. In India, shopkeepers resort to a weird kind of barter system. Most of the time they will offer you candies or chocolates, in exchange for your change, sometimes even when they have a change.
In Australia, it was one of the many pleasant culture shocks to see that I always get exact change right down to the cents. Not even when I offered $50 for an item costing $5. Shopkeepers never make you feel as if you did some crime by offering higher denomination note for a low-valued item.
7 Garbage Saga
Indian system of garbage collection works quite differently to Australia. Life was pretty simple. Every morning between 8-9 am, a cleaner hired by our housing society, would ring the doorbell. I would hand the polythene garbage bag to him and forget about it. I trusted the cleaner to do the sorting between wet and dry waste, general and recyclable waste etc.
But in Australia, each household receives three types of bins – one for General garbage, one for recyclable materials and a third one for the garden waste. It is thus our responsibility to appropriate sort garbage in different bins, remember the collection days for different bins and then place those bins for collection. There is a separate collection for hard waste such as furniture, electronics, toys etc. In India, you can just put it outside of your flat and done with it.
8 Strict House Inspection Times
If you are buying or renting a house in Australia, learn to be punctual. You can inspect the house before buying or renting but you have to follow strict inspection times. Generally, the inspection times are 15 minutes for renting and half an hour for buying. But if you arrive at the last minute, rest assured that the real estate agent will politely ask you to visit next time. You can’t get away with “just 5 minutes please” excuse.
Plus, the real estate agent is there just to answer any questions that you have. He won’t give you a guided tour of the house like in India nor will he negotiate price with you. Why will he when there are 50 prospective buyers for one property? If you are used to being pampered by the real estate agents in India, this will be just one of the many culture shocks you are about to receive.
9 No Prescribed Medicines
One time in India when I was sick with common cold and fever, the doctor prescribed me 3 different types of tablets, 1 cough syrup and 1 injection. Similarly, when my daughter had a cough, the doctor ordered blood test for her. Indian doctors have a tendency to generously prescribe medicines or order pathology tests even when totally unnecessary. I don’t know if it’s a lack of knowledge on their part or the greed for the commission.
In contrast to that, all the Australian doctors I went to so far, insisted on taking less medication and relied more on the natural immune system to kick in. At first, it irked me to see my daughter in pain and the doctor not doing anything about it. But later I found out that that’s the way it should be. Unless the situation is critical or life-threatening, doctors prefer for your body to do its job and not interfere in any way. Though sometimes it is painful, it’s for good. For us, Indians, who are so used to painkillers and medications, it might come as a real culture shock.
10 No Shopping In The Evening
In cities like Mumbai, life starts after 7 PM. I was used to seeing small shops, stalls, street food vendors doing business till midnight and some even further. It is so convenient when you come home after 7 PM from work and you can still do your shopping. There is always hustle and bustle everywhere.
In Australia though, except for the supermarkets like Coles, Woolworths and big shopping centres a.k.a. malls, everything closes down past 5 or 6 PM. That includes even the pharmacy a.k.a. chemist shops. So forget all-night chemist shops that we are so used to. Of course, eateries and movie theatres are exceptions to this, but basically, most of the activity ceases past 6 PM. Similarly, you won’t find many shops, banks or agencies open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Even professionals such as plumbers, electricians will not be available on Saturdays and Sundays or charge extra. Heck, even the electricity is not connected over the weekend if you are moving to a new house. Stuff like furniture or appliances usually won’t be delivered on Saturdays and Sundays. The reasoning is that everyone deserves a weekly off. I agree. After all, they are human too. As a result, it’s not unusual for people to work from home or take a day off, for a plumber appointment or to take the delivery of goods.
11 Cash culture
In India, I hardly paid for anything in cash. I would almost always use my debit or credit card unless it is a very minor amount. So it came as a big surprise to see people using cash all the time, especially when there is something like PayWave technology where you can do contactless payments.
I can understand the need to pay by cash when there is a surcharge for card payment, but even when there is not, people still rely on cash all the time. This gets especially annoying when you go out for dining with a bunch of people and the restaurant doesn’t do split billing. When that happens, I always struggle to give the exact amount to the person who is paying on everyone’s behalf. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why everyone pays in cash and can’t just transfer the amount to his account later.
12 Split billing
If the above point made you think that split billing is fine, it’s not. Last month, I went to a team lunch. We were around 20 people. Once the lunch was finished, everyone got in line to pay their bill. In India, this will almost never happen. Whenever people go out for dining as a big group, someone will take the responsibility of paying the bill and then people will transfer money to him. First of all, it’s quick and convenient for everyone. Sometimes, the person who paid the bill has to keep track of who paid back. But usually, it works smoothly. So it came as a big shock to see people wasting 15 minutes just to pay the bill. Add to that the cash culture and you can see the time going up as people try to find the change.
13 Dry News
The news is a pure entertainment business in India. You play any Indian news channel and you will see senseless news presented in a dramatic fashion. Reporters screaming at the top of their lungs and people fighting during the debates is a business as usual. Sometimes, silly news like Police commissioner’s puppy missing is presented like a suspense thriller. No topic is untouchable to the Indian news media. They make anything sensational right from mythology, sports, aliens, UFO, politics, Bollywood, crime, international affairs etc.
Contrast that with the Australian media. There is no dramatisation, no added masala, no excitement. Even when the PM was ousted by his own party members, news anchors didn’t add their own hypothesis or hosted hot debates. In India, the same news would have been presented as – “Astrologer loony baba predicted PM’s departure 2 years ago. Can he talk with the God? See tonight at 8:00 in PrimeTime today”.
I guess Australian media has a lot to learn from Indian media houses 😀
14 Short and Sweet Postal Addresses
One thing I love about Australia is how succinct and accurate the postal addresses are. If you know house number, street name, suburb name and postcode, you can find any address in Australia. On the contrary, address in India is like house number, bungalow or building name, opposite xyz school, near Bholanath pan shop, behind Ganesh temple, street/avenue name, suburb name (east or west in case the address is in Mumbai) and pin code. The irony is that despite so many details, you can’t be sure that you will find the desired place.
15 Greetings All The Way
One day I was taking a walk near my workplace and a person coming from the other side, a total stranger, smiled at me and said “Good morning!”. I returned the greetings and continued my way pondering over how strange this will be in India. In India, forget strangers even known people don’t offer a smile. I was a regular at a cafe near my house in India but I don’t remember the manager there was ever interested in how my day was going. But in Australia, the communication with anyone starts with – “how are you?” or “How you are doing?” and if you don’t answer with “good, yourself?” or “I am fine, thanks for asking”, it’s considered rude.
16 Open Plan Toilets
So far, all the houses I saw or lived in Australia had no locks in the toilet. This reminded me of this scene from the Hindi movie Hera Pheri. I am not sure what’s the logic behind it but it sure is weird. Maybe the trust levels in Australia are really high or Australians are claustrophobic.
There is an even weirder concept called open plan bathroom/bedrooms in which the bedroom contains a shower area and toilet without any walls. I couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind this. I mean who would want to sleep next to the toilet? The bedroom is supposed to be cosy but in this case, it will be noisy and smelly. Any takers? :p
17 Dignity of Labour
In India, parents stress a lot about kids to study well, get engineering, medical or management degree so that he can get some respectful job. The term respectful in India is quite limited. Anything which is not a “white-collar” job is considered bad. People will rather stay unemployed than doing plumber or electrician work. Handyman jobs like these are also very low paying as they are not regulated.
Australia came as a wonderful surprise. During the initial days, when one of my roommates told me that his friend who owns a McDonald franchise married to a painter, it sure gave me a 550-volt shock. A businesswoman married a painter? That’s unheard of in India, except for maybe Bollywood movies. But here in Australia, it’s quite normal and why wouldn’t it be? Here, the tradies as they are normally called, such as a plumber or a construction worker can make enough money to own a beach house. Plus, they are not looked down upon. These jobs are considered as respectful as any other white-collar job. As such, people can choose whatever career they want and not just stick to a few mainstream career options. So don’t be surprised if you see a tradie who owns a Mercedes or a BMW.
18 Pedestrian First
In Australia, pedestrians are given the highest priority on roads. This was quite alien to me at first. I used to stop at crosswalks only to see that approaching vehicle would stop and the driver would indicate me to go ahead. In Australia, if a person is jaywalking i.e. crossing the road where you are not supposed to, vehicles will stop (they will honk to show their displeasure nonetheless) and give way to the pedestrians.
In India, despite the traffic rules, pedestrians have the lowest priority. As a result, when crossing the road, you have to look left, right, front, back and almost every other direction to make sure that no vehicle will hit you. Plus, the signal system and its implementation is so bad that you can’t ever trust it.
19 High Call Wait Times
Whenever I need to call Centrelink or any government service in Australia, I dial the number, go on to make my cup of coffee, heat it up, read an article or two from the newspaper while sipping coffee, have a chitchat with colleagues and do other minor stuff. After all, I know I have plenty of time before the call gets through. In the past three years, except for one or two instances, I never talked to the real person before waiting for at least 30 minutes. Having a Bluetooth headset really helps.
In India, the response on the government helpline numbers is pretty quick for 3 reasons – 1) line is always busy because the phone is always kept off the hook, 2) phone rings but nobody picks up and 3) the number is invalid or changed. If you actually got through to a real person, you must have some superpowers.
20 Summer Christmas
My idea of Christmas like any ordinary man is cold weather possibly combined with snowfall, ice sculptures, the making of a snowman, ice skating rink, fireworks and decorations. It was mostly enforced by Hollywood movies like You’ve got mail, the Polar Express, Home Alone and so on.
|Christmas in the US||Christmas in Australia|
|Photo courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou|
Sadly, Christmas in Australia is totally different because in Australia December is a peak summer. So instead of ice skating, people go to the nearest beach to enjoy Christmas parties. Though there are still magnificent fireworks and Christmas decorations all around the country, somehow the idea of enjoying Christmas and new year’s eve in a hot summer weather seems alien to me.
Whoops! That came out to be a quite long list of culture shocks in Australia. I am sure I have touched just the tip of an iceberg. What were your culture shocks when you first came to Australia? Please let me know in the comments below.