As expectations regarding good manners differ from person to person and vary according to each situation, no treatise on the rules of etiquette
nor any list of faux pas
can ever be complete. As the perception of behaviors and actions vary, intercultural competence
is essential. However, a lack of knowledge about the customs and expectations
of people in Australia
and New Zealand
can make even the best intentioned person seem rude, foolish, or worse.
Australia and New Zealand are separate countries, each with its own distinct national identity that includes particular customs and rules of etiquette. Confusing their identities in general conversation is usually not tolerated and will be quickly corrected. Points of etiquette that apply to both countries include the following:
- When meeting friends or new people and when leaving the company of friends or people who one has just met it is becoming less common to require the handshake to be firm, though many are still offended by a 'limp' handshake. Giving someone a limp handshake is referred to as giving someone a "dead fish" and is often viewed with derision, especially in country areas. A quick clasping of hands may be ok for younger people.
- Requesting a fanny pack can be considered obscene due to the use of "fanny" as a slang term for female genitalia. "Bumbag" is the acceptable local variation in some areas.
- An enquiry about a person's well being (such as "How's it going?") is a common greeting. Generally the accepted response is "good", and it is considered polite to ask the person the same question back. It is also considered polite to greet anyone, including in shops, in this way.
- A certain degree of modesty is expected. Overt bragging or excessive discussion of personal achievements is often considered in poor taste. (See tall poppy syndrome.)
- It is acceptable to host a BBQ without supplying all the food and drink. The host may ask guests to "BYO meat and grog", in other words "Bring your own meat to the BBQ and any drinks you want". Often, if meat is provided, or the party is large, then guests may be asked to bring a salad to share as well. These requests may be phrased as "bring a plate".
- On busy escalators, particularly those in major train stations, it is expected that standing is done on the left, and overtaking on the right. Similarly in a stairway, it is expected that one should walk on the left hand side.
- When using public transport, it is rude to board before letting other passengers disembark.
Bars and restaurants
- When paying a cashier, always place the money in their hand. Placing the money on a surface is considered rude. When paying at a restaurant, however, it is acceptable to leave the money in the tray on the table, if one is provided.
- Queuing (forming a line) is expected when there is any demand for an item. The only exception to this is a pub. However it is still rude to accept service from a barperson before someone who has been waiting longer. A simple nod or subtle gesture towards the person who has waited longer will be understood by any experienced server.
- When entering the bar of a RSL or Golf club a man who does not remove his hat is expected to shout for all present.
- When out with friends, co-workers or relatives, it is customary for people to take turns buying rounds of drinks. This is referred to as a 'shout' e.g. "It's my shout.
Driving and walking
- Not waving as a gesture of thanks to drivers that stop to allow you into their lane, driving out of the driveway or merging into the lane, is viewed as very bad manners.
- When using a pedestrian crossing (or zebra crossing), it is considered polite to make a slight nod or small wave to vehicles who have stopped for you to cross the road. This is especially so if the vehicles had already stopped for earlier pedestrians, but remained stopped aware of your approach to the crossing .
- A common experience while travelling on state highways is being 'flashed' by oncoming vehicles. This is when an oncoming vehicle flicks its high beam headlights quickly but noticeably, and serves to warn drivers they are approaching - most commonly - a speed camera, a Police vehicle, or a motor vehicle accident. Many drivers acknowledge this with a return wave or a brief reply 'flash' of their high beam headlights.
- When riding alone in a taxi, it is considered more polite to sit in the front passenger seat next to the driver. However, it is not considered impolite for women to choose the back seat if the driver is male, especially at night.
- It may be impolite to remark on Australia's history as a penal colony. The vast majority of immigrants to Australia arrived under different circumstances.
- Compared to many people from the UK and the United States, Australians may be more casual in various social situations. Those who resist this attitude may be viewed as snobbish.
- Fierce rivalry exists between the states in sport and other matters. Making complimentary remarks about the particular state one is in may endear one to locals.
- Australians are rarely amused by attempts to imitate the distinctive sounds of Australian English, especially the somewhat exaggerated versions propagated by celebrities such as Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin.
- "Indigenous Australian" and "Aboriginal/Aborigine" are polite terms. "Abo" is fairly common in households but is rarely used in public as is the use of "Coon", "Gin" and "Boong" or "Boonga". "Aboriginal" is now used only as an adjective, although older documents may still use it as a noun (eg, "Aboriginals").
- State/ regional preferences for specific names for groups of Indigenous Australians have also arisen in recent years: The term Koori (or Koorie) in New South Wales or Victoria. Those from Queensland use the term Murri (pronounced the same as "Murray"). Nunga is used in most of South Australia. Noongar is used in southern Western Australia. Anangu is used in northern South Australia, and neighbouring parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Palawah is used in Tasmania. However, there were over 200 different languages at the time of European settlement, which means these terms are very specific.
- Tipping is not expected but is appreciated. Some employees are forbidden from accepting gratuities (this would not apply in a restaurant situation) and tipping face-to-face can create an awkward situation. However, it is appropriate to reward good service with coins in a "tip jar" when one is visible, or to add a tip to restaurant bills of up to 15% if the service has been good. It is also acceptable to suggest that taxi drivers or waiters "keep the change", especially if the difference is small. Tips may be as large or as small as you feel appropriate. Implications that tipping is expected are considered rude.
- People of European descent (pakeha) have their own culture.
- Always remove your shoes before entering a house, unless it is a) yours, b) a close relative's/close friend's house and you know they do not remove their own shoes and/or tell you to keep your shoes on. If they tell you to keep them on it is assumed you will tell them if your shoes are dirtier than would be normal, and then take them off.
- Table manners are similar to the United Kingdom.
- Avoid using the term "mainland" for either the North or South Islands of New Zealand as this is a sensitive issue. Referring to Australia with this term is even worse. However, when visiting the Chatham Islands, the 'mainland' or 'New Zealand' are used synonymously in reference to the North and South Islands, even though the Chathams are part of New Zealand.
- Sheep related humour is likely to bring derision from the majority of New Zealanders, who see this stereotype at once clichéd and offensive, and it should thus be avoided. Although in relaxed social situations a certain amount of banter will be engaged in, it is advisable to wait until you know people well, as in any culture, before engaging in such humour.
- The term "dairy" refers to a convenience store, not a cow farm. As well as independent private operators, dairy (or dairy-like) chains present in New Zealand include IGA (supermarkets), Four Square supermarkets, City Stop, Starmart, and more recently, 7-Eleven. In addition to small grocery items (i.e. milk, bread, sweets/lollies, and fresh ice cream scoops), many 'dairies' often provide newsagent-type services, like lottery tickets, cigarettes, magazines, and sometimes dry-cleaning. It is impolite to not greet the salesperson and, depending on how busy the store is, exchange in simple conversation while paying for your items.
- It is very rude to try to get someone's attention by saying "Oi!" especially in bars/pubs and restaurants.
- Correct pronunciation of Māori words and place-names, and the word "Māori" itself, is often important to Māori, although usually less so to non-Māori. It is incorrect to pluralise "Māori" by adding an "s", as the word is used in both the singular and plural.
- Further, while it is technically incorrect to use the word "māori" in referring to the Māori language —it is more properly called te reo, "the language" —it is socially acceptable to use it for both the people and the spoken language.
- Sitting on or resting one's backside against a table or desk can offend Māori. A table is where food is served and should not be touched by the “unclean” regions. Outside of the marae or other majority-Māori setting this is not considered important; although it may be wise to err on the side of caution anywhere at all if Māori people are present. Similarly, you should not sit on a pillow - the head is tapu (sacred) and pillows are for resting heads only.
- Shoes should be removed before entering a Māori sacred building, such as a marae.
Driving and public transport
- As many of New Zealand's roads, including state highways outside of metropolitan areas, can be winding and narrow (often both), it is polite when a vehicle (i.e. a truck and trailer, a caravan, or a generally slower vehicle) pulls left to allow you to pass to offer two brief toots of your vehicle's horn. Be cautious of using your horn within metropolitan areas for reasons other than as a "warning device" (as this is technically against the law, but rarely enforced), and do not sound just a single toot or any that are long-in-duration as this may send a message of unappreciation. Also, use discretion in taking up a passing opportunity offered in this way as road width and traffic volumes can be unpredictable.
- When getting off a bus; particularly a suburban bus service, it is polite to thank the driver. People usually leave the bus from the rear doors.
- Tipping is often seen as a foreign custom and sometimes as patronising; service is included in what you pay for. It remains fairly rare outside the main centres and should never be considered compulsory. Still, some cafés have "tip jars" for loose change at the counter; and it has long been customary to tell taxi drivers to "keep the change". If staff request a tip it is considered grounds for complaint by the customer.