Seven Cultural Mistakes Aussie Travellers Often Make

Australians love their travel and pride ourselves on not being culturally insensitive like (ahem) Americans, but that doesn’t mean we always get it right. Guest blogger Darcie Connell examines some common mistakes Aussies make overseas.

Picture by spaceodissey

How Australians Are Perceived Worldwide

Ask anyone around the world and you’ll most likely hear that Aussies are well-travelled, big spenders, bigger drinkers, and overall a whole lot of fun. Not bad, eh? But let’s take a closer look .


According to the World Data Bank (2009), Australia had 6,285,000 international outbound departures which ranked 24th in the world and equalled 0.67 per cent of the entire world’s international outbound departures.

While Australia didn’t rank number one (thanks Hong Kong), it’s still impressive. After all, Australia’s an island competing with areas like Europe, where sneezing can result in border crossings.

Big Spenders

But how big?

According to the WNWTO’s Top Spenders List, Australians ranked tenth and spent a whopping US$22.5 billion in 2010. That’s nine percent higher than their 17.6 billion spent in 2009.

And where does that money go?

Bigger Drinkers

Surprisingly, this stereotype is unfounded. According to Wikipedia’s List of Countries by Alcohol Consumption (2005), Australians ranked 28th in recorded alcohol consumption with adults drinking 9.98 litres per capita. Yeah, 28th. The Czech Republic was the big winner with 14.96 litres per capita.

Overall Fun

It’s impossible to find data on the Aussie “fun factor”. But just because I can’t back it up with science, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

So Aussies have a pretty good reputation abroad, but there’s always room for improvement.

7 Mistakes You Could Be Making Right Now

Spending Money

Countries are happy to take your money. But how you handle it varies by location.

When in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East pass money with both hands. Same goes for business cards.

Bartering is common practice in these areas. But you wouldn’t be caught dead bartering at a grocery store in the U.S.or Europe.

And when it comes to money, don’t carry a wad of cash like you’re the King of Brunei. It’s dangerous and disrespectful to locals who might make what you’re holding in an entire year.

Drinking Alcohol

Okay Aussies, this is important. Listen up!

  • In Russia, if you’re offered a shot, take it and drink it in one hit. Toast everyone by saying Za zhenzhin (“to the women”); and you’ll score major points with locals (more info on drinking with Russians can be found here).
  • In France, don’t even think about refilling your wine glass before offering some to the rest of the guests.
  • In Korea, pour alcohol with both hands (note: only members of the opposite sex can refill each other’s glass.) And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Huesik, get ready for an afternoon of heavy drinking. Incredibly this is a normal workday in South Korea.
  • In Latin America, pour with your right hand only. The left-hand is considered bad luck.

The nuances of drinking etiquette around the world are endless, so watch how it’s done by locals first before jumping in. Picture by Garry Knight

Revealing Skin

The majority of Australians consider themselves to be in very good or excellent health. But just because you’ve got it doesn’t mean you should flaunt it.

Brazil has beaches that welcome the topless (as do other countries), while Thailand’s Muslim areas prefer you swim with shorts and a t-shirt. Even parts of the Caribbean go swimming fully clothed.

The dress code varies country by country, so observe the locals and follow their habits. Not other tourists. Just because other tourists are blatantly disregarding local cultural and religious beliefs doesn’t mean you should, too.

Getting Too Close

While some countries enjoy a fun-loving slap on the back or firm handshake, others find it… well… weird.

In Korea, Thailand, China, Central Asia and the Middle East standing too close to or touching someone is a big no-no. Especially if two people are the opposite sex.

In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it’s forbidden for men and women to even talk to each other (let alone go to a football match together). However, in India and Indonesia it’s quite common to see people of the same sex holding hands or toughing each other in affection. Picture by Roger Price

Hand Utensils

With the exception of a barbie, you’re used to utensils. But the rules vary.

North America doesn’t eat continental style like the rest of the civilized world – forks are held in the right hand (not that anyone would call you out on this, but it’s good to know).

And if you visit India, Morocco, Africa, or the Middle East and you’ll quickly realize these countries eat only with their right-hand. The left-hand is used for… well… you know.

Before you dig in (literally), be sure to wash your hands – especially if there’s a communal bowl.

To avoid getting sick, bring sanitising lotion and cut your fingernails as short as possible every week.

Dinner Chat

It’s time to put friendly banter aside and start eating.

In Africa, Japan, Thailand, China, and Finland sitting down for eat a meal is just that and nothing more. In some countries – notably those in Asia – slurping and/or burping is a sign of enjoyment.

If only my parents felt the same.

Feet and Shoes

It’s common around the world for people to remove their shoes before entering a house. Take Hawaii, the South Pacific, Korea, China, and Thailand for example.

However, walking barefoot outside is considered just as rude.

If you see a row of shoes at the door, take yours off and be sure to put them on when you leave.

Also, never point your feet at someone. It’s disrespectful. Picture by Trekity

In Conclusion

You’re almost there. Australians are among some of the least-despised travelers in the world, and by following these suggestions you’re bound to make it to the bottom (er, top).

What stereotypes do you hate about Australians? Which are true? Which are outright lies? Tell us in the comments below!

Darcie Connell is co-founder of newly-launched travel site, a new travel site that’s like having a travel agent and fortune-teller right at your finger tips.

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