Australia: A Culture Shock

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Leonardo’s now been in Sydney for a month and has started a new job. He’s finding the situation in the workplace very different from France. The thing that bothers him most is that people don’t take time to socialise. He says he doesn’t understand it because if people don’t know each other, he doesn’t see how they can work together efficiently.

The first thing is saying “hello” in the morning. If you’re ever been in France, I’m sure you’ve seen people arrive in a bar and give everyone they know a kiss on both cheeks (even twice in some cases). When kids get to school in the morning, they do the same. At work, you always do the rounds of colleagues when you arrive, saying “bonjour” and shaking hands or kissing them (depending on which sex you are, how well you know the people and how casual the atmosphere is). And if you run into someone a second time during the same day, you say “re” meaning “rebonjour”» to show you’ve already seen them and said the first “bonjour”.

It took me a while to learn this when I started teaching at uni. I thought I was being perfectly polite when I said, “Excuse me, do you think I could have the key to the class room?” But no. I hadn’t greeted the person. One woman in particular would always reply “Bonjour” in an insistent sort of way. Then I’d say “bonjour” back. After that, I could ask for the key. I felt foolish, I must confess, but she was no doubt doing me a favour. Everyone probably thought I was rude! Now I go and say « bonjour » to everyone when I arrive.

Here, you say “bonjour” or “messieurs dames” to the people waiting in the doctor’s surgery for instance (only using “messieurs dames” if the company’s mixed obviously). You throw out a general “bonjour” when you walk into a bakery or a butcher’s or anywhere else where you intend to buy something. Clothes shops are not the same because you might just be browsing although saying “bonjour” will always be appreciated.

And with all this “bonjouring” you obviously have to say “au revoir” when you leave. Dashing off at the end of the day without saying goodbye to all your colleagues is definitely frowned upon.

Practices seems to be very different in Australia, though, according to Leonardo. Yesterday, one of his co-workers suggested he and another co-worker go grab a coffee. They all walked down to the coffee machine. Leonardo then expected them to take five or ten minutes for a chat around the coffee machine the way they do in France. No such luck. To his amazement, they all went back up and drank their coffee in front of their computers!

Another problem he’s come up against is that all the shops close at 6 pm so he doesn’t know when he can do his shopping.  He said there’s late closing on Thursdays but that’s all. They close even earlier on Saturdays. In Paris, shops tend to open later and close later, often staying open until 7.30 or 8 pm and even later if they sell food. Saturday is a full day and they’re often closed on Monday because the law regulations say all employees must have two days off in a row each week. It’s a bit different outside Paris where opening times tend to be stricter, 9 am to 12.30 and 2 pm to 7 pm.

Anyone got any suggestions to help Leonardo adjust?

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