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.


    "Before you dig in (literally), be sure to wash your hands – especially if there’s a communal bowl."
    eeeewwwww! I would do this out of courtesy, then I'm not sure I could resist the urge to get out the hand sanitiser.

    When travelling, I like to do what Homer Simpson did. I carry an Australian flag and wave it around, loudly proclaiming how great our country is while insulting the host country and threatening war. I believe that everyone there hates me and I treat them as such. And why should I change my attitude? I'm a guest in their country, and they should be honoured to have an Australian in their midst

    ("We'll be closing in 5 minutes, people" "Would a dollar change your mind?" "American currency?! What time would you like your breakfast, sir?". Also note, don't take me seriously)

    Nothing says "class" like an Aussie flag beach towel and budgie smugglers, the locals will love you ;)

      budgie smugglers are sexy

    "In Africa, Japan, Thailand, China, and Finland sitting down for eat a meal is just that and nothing more".

    In Japan, sure, you get people eating alone and not talking, but my Japanese hosts always took me to places to eat, and there was a lot of talking, and everyone around us was talking over their meals too. I just don't believe this sentence of your article at all.

    @Gib - Yep when I was in Japan everyone was talking extensively during their meal. Looks like the author just read it somewhere and didn't research. I'm also dubious on the pay with money/cards using both hands in latin america.

    Bartering means you pay for goods WITHOUT money, ie with other goods or services.
    The term you are looking for is haggling, where you insist that the trader is insane and his goods are of the most inferior sort so they should be happy to take 30% of the asking price. They then smile, take your money and offer you another one for half what you just paid.

      He must have meant to say Bargaining - the same as haggling

        Sorry about that... it should be bargaining. Great catch!

    Those women don't seem to be toughing each other at all, let alone in affection :-)

    How are "international outbound departures" a good metric of whether a nation is well travelled? Surely it just points to how much traffic an airport deals with? (i.e. transit hubs like Bangkok would have high international outbound departures - does that means Thai people are well travelled? Not necessarily...)

    In all countries, express sincere gratitude and remain quietly humble.


      And remember the sage advice of Russell Guy: "master the art of being powerless and completely stupid: the only way to travel."

    seriously, does no one know what bartering actually is? everyone i meet talks about bartering in asian countries... bartering is NOT haggling/bargaining. i stopped correcting people years ago but im going to pipe up again when the writer of a travel article doesn't know the difference.

    bartering is when you exchange a good/service for another good/service, bypassing money. ie you're a baker and you barter some of your bread with a butcher for meat.

    ironically, as a colloquialism bartering also means to metaphorically bargain something away shamelessly or stupidly - ie the club closes in 5 mins and you barter away your dignity to take home the only girl left.

    aside from the many things we do overseas to barter away our dignity metaphorically, at the market is there NO bartering going on unless you're trading your socks for polex watches or armandi sunnies.

    The one I found when traveling through Europe about 5 years ago; Wear plain clothes, nothing brand name and plain t-shirts (no logos,etc.) I found Aussies that wore Levi jeans, JAG t-shirts and Nike shoes were constantly being mistaken for Americans.

    We "pride ourselves on not being culturally insensitive like (ahem) Americans" - are you kidding!? I've come across quite a few Australian travelers in my journeys and find them to have an over-inflated sense of self-entitlement and generally ignorant and rude (like many American, South African and Israeli travelers I've encountered). Suffice it to say, Australian travelers are not as popular with the locals as you may think. Oh, and Australians generally think bargaining is complaining loudly until they get the ridiculously low price they think they deserve. Australia has become the United States of the South - loud, aggressive, spoiled and surprisingly ignorant.


      You'll find them on many tropical destinations all acting like heroes. Even more so when they're in a big group. "Oh look! Someone's taking a picture of their family with the background of the beach. Let's go and include ourselves in the photo!" Poor family just smile nervously and take a picture, only to delete it after the bros have all left. Pea-brained idiots.

      Another +1

      I cringe when hearing obnoxious Aussies yell "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oy Oy Oy" abroad. In fact, I cringe when I hear it here, too...

        Oh God. Travelling around Europe watching sports made me hate this chant. It's terrible on its own merits, but on top of that, it isn't even original! It's blatantly stolen from the Welsh I think, "Oggie oggie oggie" being some guy's name repeated thrice.

      Agreed. And recently I was shamed asan Australian when a group of girls of mixed nationalities were harassed by a bunch of drunk Aussie males. "are Australians always drunk?" they asked me. And why do we have to be loud and think we're right all the time.
      I still need to practice, but humility and a smile gets me a lot further than insisting I'm right and that locals are ripping me off.

        In the US the locals ARE ripping you off, but that doesn't change the price of anything.

        Last time I was in Asia, I was speaking with some lovely English people. When I told them I was Australian, they were very surprised. I asked "were you expecting a bogan?" - to which they replied "you're the first well spoken Australians we've come cross". I wasn't surprised based on my own experiences.
        In general, I find that Australian women dress tastelessly in Asia. I can't comment on the men because I don't really spend my time looking at Australian men (if you know what I mean).

      While i have also seen some of these done by Aussies you must remember, its not just the Aussies doing this, I've seen these behaviors many times (from what i can gather by their accents) by American, Brazilian, English and (surprisingly often) French tourists, this however is usually caused by the people of any nationality who like to go out and be obnoxious, and everyone has these people in their country and everyone hates them...

        Great point. Every country has a few bad apples. But it's never too late to change stereotypes. If everyone is respectful of the country they visit and the people around them, they could give travelers a good name, despite the country they are from.

    I think this moron needs to travel more.

    "while Thailand’s Muslim areas prefer you swim with shorts and a t-shirt."

    Could you point me in the direction of these supposed "Muslim locations". You mean the silly Malay insurgents who set off bombs at the boarder? I've meet plenty of Thai Muslims and these guys happily walk around like Aussies with no shirts on. I mean its 37c here in summer ffs.

    "Thailand sitting down for eat a meal is just that and nothing more."

    All Thais do are eat and sleep.

    Thanks for making the world a dumber place Darcie.

      i think that what he's trying to say with “in Thailand sitting down for eat a meal is just that and nothing more.” is that while eating (in general) there is little to no conversations, and that the main focus is on eating while the meal takes place, probably not an attempt to imply that "All Thais do are eat and sleep."

        Ha. Thais can turn a meal into an all day affair. Put a massive pile of food in front of a group of Thais and they will slowly pick away at it, eating, talking, laughing, drinking until it is all gone. By then it will be time for another meal....

      I'm simply trying to make the point to be aware and respectful of your surroundings.

        Maybe you should practice what you preach, Darcie, especially if you want to plug your travel business with this article (which leaves much to desire for those that have actually travelled).

        If you were aware of your surroundings, you'd notice that most of the cultures you've described as silent eaters, on the contrary, enjoy a good friendly conversation with their meal.

        You are being quite the hypocrite calling Americans culturally insensitive whilst putting your cultural ignorance on display here.

    "In Korea, only members of the opposite sex can refill each other’s glass."
    This is incorrect. The younger people (mainly males) are expected to refill the older peoples glasses.
    It is considered rude to refill your own glass.

      That's not even cultural, its politeness and respect for your elders!

    I'm not sure all the advice here is accurate. In Beijing and Shanghai in 2010 I regularly found myself in close physical proximity with the locals, particularly on public transport. Some in our group were sometimes physically "directed" for a photo opportunity, particularly any blondes or tall girls.

    A social worker called Ruth Dean said of working with clients from different cultures from your own - “the client is the ‘expert’ and the clinician is in a position of seeking knowledge and trying to understand what life is like for the client. There is no thought of competence—instead one thinks of gaining understanding (always partial) of a phenomenon that is evolving and changing.”

    Travelling is the same. Cultures and cultural practices are nuanced and varied throughout countries. I eat differently in a restaurant in South Yarra than I do at a McDonalds. There are very few blanket rules.

    The quicker we stop getting our behavioural travel tips from websites and Lonely Planet guides (besides in regards to things that will wind you up in legal trouble or worse), and start engaging with locals with genuine openness, the better. A good dose of respect goes a long way too.

    Don't forget that if your experience of Australians abroad is limited to Bali and Phuket, then you are seeing some of the most ignorant and boorish Aussies we have to offer. As for being loud, drunk and having an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, I see that with Aussies in Australia too. Mind you, I do work at a liquor store in the CBD (Won't say where).

    I'm an Aussie and have been living in Britain for few years now
    From what I can see the old "Fair dinkum" "Strewth" etc stereotypes remain but also Australia is more and more being seen as Little America, Loud, obnoxious, redneck, racist, boorish with an over inflated sense of world importance.
    I laugh now thinking back to John Howard cuddling up to George Bush in photos trying to make out he was important too.
    The rest of the world puts Australia, politically, in the childs playpen "Oh isn't that cute Aus is pretending to be like the grown ups"
    I avoid Aussies over here because otherewise its a sure way to embarrass myself infront of the people I have to work with day to day

    The worst part about a recent trip to Thailand were all the other Australians. Complained about everything, loud, obnoxious, rude... you'd think we were Americans...

    there are Aussies, and then there are bogans. I think you are referring to the latter in regards to boorish behaviour ;)

    wow, going by the comments here, you'd think 'darcie' was a guy's name

      Yes, I'm a woman.

    Yet its fine to travel to Australia and do whatever you want. Cheers!

    "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)."
    A long time ago in a small hotel in Torquay, Terry Gilliam (From the USA) WAS called for this by the owner, Donald Sinclair. John Cleese, who was watching thought "this guy is so rude. I can make a show about this". And after a few more incidents, the legend of Fawlty Towers was born.

    Dear Friends,
    I hate to burst your tales of self admiration but I have a different perspective. For almost ten years, I drove a Yellow taxi at the busiest “tourist” airport in the U.S.A. My experience as a driver found the typical Australian very well dressed and quite often the women were absolutely beautiful. However, their demeanor was overly proud, snobbish and generally poor at compensating the driver with the appropriate fare. Proof of this is apparent within this article. See how you praise yourselves so wonderfully.

    So Impressed, Habib

      As far as I know, tipping isn't expected in Australia.

    I just with a Korean lady that I work with and the "only members of the opposite sex can refill each other’s glass" thing is complete BS.

    Makes me wonder about the rest of the article....

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now