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International students’ survival guide to Melbourne Part 4: Social etiquette

Carene Chong

Fri Apr 12 2013


IN THE final part of our survival guide to Melbourne, Carene Chong shares some advice on how to understand the locals and their conversational quirks.


FOR decades, Melbourne has welcomed a large population of migrants, so it’s used to embracing people of all cultures and background. Still, there are some things you should be mindful of when you’re out and about in the city.

A standout feature of Melburnian or Australian culture is the warm greeting people will give you wherever you go. Whether it be shop attendants or random strangers on the streets, a greeting such as “Hi, how are you going?” is a common part of everyday life and it’s only fair to respond likewise.

Usually, “Fine thank you. How are you?” is the perfect response!

While this might seem like common sense, I’ve encountered plenty of tourists or students who fail to respond after being greeted. In Australian culture, this can seem very rude.

Naturally, you might feel taken aback by this cultural norm. Truth to be told, a pleasant greeting from strangers and shopkeepers doesn’t happen very often in most Asian countries (although times are definitely changing), so its natural to shy away from conversing with a total stranger.

But don’t worry if you’re nervous about engaging a stranger. The person greeting you is just being pleasant and a lengthy conversation is unnecessary most of the time. A hi back is all your need.

If you’ve ever wondered what the locals mean when they say, “Ta”, it’s not a lazy attempt at bidding goodbye, it means thank you.

As for other conversation quirks, if you’ve ever wondered what the locals mean when they say, “Ta”, it’s not a lazy attempt at bidding goodbye – it means thank you.

When it comes to blending in socially, the best advice I can give is to watch what others do and follow suit. Adopt the basic social etiquette such as queuing and shaking hands when you’re introduced to someone new.

Another good tip is to be aware of your surroundings and refrain from telling the whole tram what a bad day you had at school when that conversation was really only meant for your mum.

As I said before, the city is filled with friendly people who are more than happy to give you directions or lend a helping hand if you need one. If you’re having difficulties conversing in English, the City of Melbourne has a translation hotline you can call to speak to someone and get guidance in your mother tongue, so there is no need to worry.

Overall, life in Melbourne is a breeze to adapt to. As long as you conquer any fears you might have about speaking up and never be too shy to ask for help, living in this city will be a very enjoyable experience for you.

There’s a reason why I decided to linger here…there really is no other place quite like Melbourne.

Looking for more tips? Read part one of our survival guide on getting to Melbourne, part two on getting around Melbourne, and part three on eating, drinking and shopping on a budget.