NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches Welcome to the second four-way guest posting of NorthSouthEastWest! We are four expat bloggers who have joined together to rotate our monthly guest posts from the four corners of the world on each other’s blogs: Linda at Adventures In Expatland (North), Russell at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (South), Erica at Expatria, Baby (East) and me at I Was An Expat Wife (West).
This month’s theme is how different cultures physically interact. I hope you enjoy this guest post by Russell Ward, a transplanted Brit whose blog chronicles his search for a life less ordinary in Canada and Australia. Today on Russell’s blog, my post Lost In Nonverbal Translation is all about the trouble my expat hands have caused. You’ll find more on the subject of physical interaction from Erica and Linda as well.
And now, over to Russell, who has a few things to say about the differences between Australians and Canadians….
Separated by more than just water
Australia and Canada have been linked in the world’s minds for the past century. Both countries share similarities in terms of their sprawling geographies and are resource-based, former British colonies with a common history and guilt-laden problems associated with their native people. They have also become two of the richest nations in the world.
Beneath these similarities gained through history, politics and language, there lies subtle differences in the daily interactions between the peoples of these two fine lands over and above the way their common language is spoken and different to those obvious cultural oddities you might encounter when trying to communicate in a non-English speaking country.
The infamous Australian hotel
Upon relocating to Australia five years ago, I immediately took myself down to the local bar to meet people. Used to the polite and amicable behaviour of Canadians watching the hockey game on the big screen, I was at once blown away by the sheer numbers of Australians, young and old, filling the hotels and reminding me of boozy nights spent in England during my youth.
With the late evening sun on my body and that heady feeling of long, drawn-out summers to be spent in the outdoors enjoying a drink with your buddies, it was clear to me that life down under was not just good but positively laidback and care-free.
There must have been several hundred people in this bar, laughing and drinking, set in for the night. Backs were slapped, jokes cracked, and a weekend ritual was underway, a habit not to be kicked, as mates — and mates of mates — appeared and joined in, passing schooners of beer all around with not a care in the world.
This was less reserved than my Canadian nights out, a celebration of good times and a declaration of Australia’s God-given right to work hard and party harder.
The sacred BBQ
Invitations to dinner in Canada are much like in the UK. Fairly formal in nature, the guests bring a bottle of wine and perhaps a house gift — a plant, some flowers, a little something to say ‘thank you’. The night is a welcome chance to catch up with friends and family but, when the bottle or two of wine is gone and the dinner table conversation dries up, it’s time to make your excuses and call it a night.
The sacred Aussie BBQ is much more than that. It is the altar at which all Australians worship and it is a standard to be met by any new Australian. You must bring a good number of alcoholic beverages to this altar — and leave behind those drinks you do not finish (for the host’s consumption at a later date). The men must immediately take up position next to the BBQ to stand tough, arms crossed, and maybe discuss a little sport or the local petrol prices. The females sit together and gossip at the table in a throwback to another time, when men were men, and when women cooked, cleaned and generally delivered.
Australia may have moved on economically and politically but, back at the homestead, the age of ‘caveman-ism’ is ever present. It is both confronting and eyebrow-raising to leave the ‘new man’ at the door and replace it with a more boorish persona, complete with rough handshakes and house reno discussions. Yet, at the same time, there is something easy about this attitude – you know where you stand and you know your place in the grand scheme of things. Life by the BBQ is more certain and less complicated.
The laidback office
Tasteless humour and practical jokes in the workplace are familiar to those of us who have worked in an office environment in both England and Australia.
I think back to a time when, shortly after commencing work with the Canadian Government, my playful side came out. My wife worked for a pharmaceutical company and her product was the rival to Viagra. Marketing material used at that time included a promotional card to be hung on the door of a doctor’s office, announcing that ‘sexual issues can be discussed here’.
Like waving a red flag to a bull, I couldn’t resist ‘borrowing’ one of these door hangers and placing it on the door of a Canadian co-worker. I retreated to my own office fully expecting to hear the roar of laughter and a retaliatory gesture from said co-worker but instead all was quiet on the Preston Front. Not a sound to be heard. An hour later, I crept past my colleague’s office expecting to bear the brunt of his humourous response, but the door to his office was open, the ‘sexual issues’ hanger long gone.
“Everything okay,” I asked him, a grin stretching across my face.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “I have a lot of work to do right now so let’s catch up later”.
And that was the end of that.
Here in Australia, it’s not unusual for well-dressed businessmen to bond by grabbing a couple of very early morning pints at the airport bar before hopping onto a commuter flight to Melbourne, and at an hour when Canadians wouldn’t even be serving hard liquor. It is an environment that is worlds apart from the great white north and the conscientious workplace.
Yet the camaraderie at the bar, the casual BBQ setting, and the light-hearted work environment all combine to create a “no worries, mate” attitude in the locals, inspired by a society that always goes with the flow without giving a damn what you might think of them. In Canada, you might get an “eh?” from a people keen to please and accept you in their home. In Australia, you’ll get a good backslap and most likely a pint from someone who will gladly tolerate you as their friend. The point of difference is that a Canadian will accept you whereas an Australian will tolerate you. If you don’t interact like a local, you won’t fit in — and my sense is they’ll want you out.