Comparison of culture shock, U.S. vs. Australia

Experiences moving to either of these countries


interplanetjanet
Culture shock can be hard and some cope with it better than others. Personally, I had it pretty bad when I first moved to the States from Australia in the early 90s, but found it easier when I moved here.
Hey bludger, just out of curiosity, where'd you move to in the States? I'm from the SF bay area, and when I went to Australia I had quite the opposite experience - no culture shock. I actually found it to be quite a similar culture to that in Californa (at least, the part where I'm from). Of course there are differences, but none I could see anyone experiencing any form of culture shock over. In fact, I'd definitely say that Australia is, in general, closer in culture to California than most US states are...
bludger
I would then have to also return the question and ask how long (and where) were you in Australia? Because I think it is impossible to get culture shock when just visiting a place on holiday. Anyway, many Europeans, when they see the suburban lifestyle and the open spaces, also assume that Australia is very American, however when they get to know it better realise that it is actually much more European than American and specifically (although the Australians never want to admit it) very British. The typical Australian is not your outback crocodile dundee type, but actually lives in the suburbs of the big cities and mows his lawn on Sunday (hence the "lawnmower ballet" at the Sydney olympics and also "Kath and Kim"). This is true of America (East and West) as well, but is of course only a superficial similarity. The point is that very few people live in the outback.

Perhaps you were in Australia longer, though. I think Americans are less likely to notice the differences than we are. We are very familiar with the American culture through TV and understand most of your cultural references, whereas the opposite certainly does not apply. The Australian humour (and spelling ) is much closer to the British than it is to the American. People are generally much more cynical than Americans (our first settlers were convicts not religious refugees - something we are proud of). None of that unlimited optimism and idealism for us.

I could go on and on about the differences. Many of these are not apparent to an American, at least not at first. The American friendliness often appears phony to Australians, their patriotism too overt. If an Australian politician talked openly about his personal religiousity it would be met with open cynicism. If he/she said that "our prayers are with you", it would be laughed at. You would never get an American president admitting to being and agnostic as the very popular Bob Hawke did. Australians are also extremely outward looking, whereas Americans are generally very inward looking.

If you ask the Americans which people they like most in the world, they often say the Australians (or so I have heard). If you ask the Australians who they dislike the most and they almost universally say the Americans (ok, some say the Poms, I admit). They mean the people and not the government, too. This is not my view - some of my best friends are Americans - but is an example of just how wide the communication gap really is. I often hear anecdotes in Australia of people constantly taking the piss out of visiting Yanks and the Yanks returning home to tell their friends how friendly the Australians are. I hope this didn't happen to you, or if it did, that you didn't notice it .

Again, this is not meant to be another criticism of America or Americans, but simply to illustrate the huge cultural gulf between the US and Australia. Difference does not mean better or worse, but can make it hard to adjust.

Now for my story. Firstly, I lived my last few years in Australia in Fitzroy in inner city Melbourne, which was an area with 10 pubs within 5 minutes walk, each of them with a live band, with 100s of international restaurants, etc. etc. etc. When I first moved to the states, I was based in the suburban sprawl of southern florida, about 60 miles north of Miami. Now, that explains it, you might say, but during those two years, I spent months at a time in Washington DC, Dallas TX, Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York (NY was great BTW). Noone in Florida was from Florida, they were mainly youngish professional types from all over the US, including quite a few West Coasters. I still can't put my finger on what it was I couldn't handle there. Maybe the fact that noone was "from" there (which doesn't apply in other areas of course) added to the all pervading feeling of emptiness in S. Florida. Probably I just had a bad attitude, I don't know. When I came to Germany, however, I found it much easier to fit in.

Now regarding California, it could be that it is very different to the rest of America, but I remain sceptical (I have only spent a short time in California, but have met a lot of Californians). Perhaps on a superficial level it is very different and perhaps also on the deeper level of people having much more liberal (in the general sense of the word and not the modern US sense of socialistic) attitudes than in other parts of the US, but it is basically America and the people are Americans.

Reading back through this, I realise that it is too long and could be construed as being yet another anti-American rant. Please don't take it this way - I was just trying to describe some of the feelings that I had back then (10 years ago now) and was feeling for a way of describing some of the cultural differences that I felt.
anabi
Actually being from SF myself as well I would say that SF is different than the rest of the US (and considered the "European" city of the US by many Americans - which there for many is not a compliment, though I take it as such).

Interestingly enough I find it easier is many ways for the SF->Munich transition than the last one I did which was SF->Scottsdale, AZ. City life has much in common.

Now if you're from some "nice US suburb" (I personally dislike suburbs) then Munich can be like landing on Mars (it be the similar if you moved to NYC, but without the language issue).

I've been here 'bout 1.5 months and for the first month did nothing (and almost never even spoke). TT got my life in Munich to go from 0 to 60 in just 2 events. I highly recommend it... better than therapy (and more fun). Yes, there is the trap of "hanging out with TT'ers all the time", but if spending time with a bunch of great, nice people is a "trap" well...
gideon
mows his lawn on Sunday
you can't do that here, so if your a gardener then that is one hell of a hum-dinger culture shock (annoys me to hell)
interplanetjanet
Wow bludger, you just covered most of the American stereotype. I'd have to say that it probably had to do with a bad attitude, though I can't speak for Floridians. I personally have only spent two weeks in Florida, and I hated every minute of it. Definitely NOT what I think of as American culture. My conservative, Billy Graham-supporting aunt and uncle do the typical yearly trip down their to get out of upstate New York, so I suppose that's an example of the types of folks that congregate there. No offense intended to any Floridians...that's just my limited experience with the place. I met a lot of horrible people there. Of course, for all I know, it's paradise there. I only have a couple weeks to go on.

I was working in Australia for about four months, mainly in Canberra, but I've also spent some time in Melbourne (where my husband is from and where his family lives - actually in Frankston) and Sydney, as well as several small towns near the Grampians (Nattimuck, in particular). Most everyone I met along the way was wonderfully friendly, but of course there's always a few assholes in the bunch.

Yep, I know lots of Australians have an intrinsic hatred toward Americans. It's a bit of a tall poppy syndrome. I heard several oddball claims about what Americans are "like" by many people who hadn't even met any. Ignorance abounds in droves all over the world.

Anyway, as much as you'd like to compare the cultural diversity across Australia to that across the US, don't even try. It doesn't compare. We've got an order of magnitude more people spread across the entire land mass.
bludger
I didn't try to pretend in any way that Australia is more culturally diverse than America. We don't even have major regional accent differences. The biggest difference would have to be between the country and the city, which is as big as anywhere in the world.

I don't think I was expressing a stereotype, this was what I observed and felt at the time.

The Florida that you describe is not the one that I observed. Actually this is rather a stereotype. I rarely met any of these retirees. The people I worked with were generally in their 20s and 30s, educated and from all over the US. As a trivial example of how un-bible-belt they were, many of them (including a couple of marketing managers I must add) were daily dope smokers.

I don't know exactly what the problem was, but I actually moved over there with a rather open attitude and I certainly haven't had any problems over here. Maybe, as anabi said, it was more to do with moving to a suburban environment from a city environment.

Anyway, you are obviously more experienced with Australia and Australians than I guessed. Personally I wouldn't say the two cultures are at all similar, but then again it is all a matter of perspective. I hope I didn't offend you with my comments, but then again, you did ask.
interplanetjanet
No, no, no...I'm not offended at all. I just wanted to make it clear that it's not accurate to make generalizations about American culture, since it varies so widely. Spend a month in Michigan and then move to California (particularly northern). It'd practically feel like being back home. Seriously. Now I'm not saying that there aren't big cultural differences between California and Australia - of course there are, they're different countries. The differences can just be much less noticable when you compare them to, say, the differences between Missouri and California. I said this to a Polish colleague of mine, and she laughed in disgust. She's never been to the States and never wants to go, based on some stupid preconceived notion of what it's like. In particular, she's convinced that Americans are the same coast to coast, which is blatantly false.

Anyway, I should end this right here, before keydeck shows up and accuses me of flag-waving...

At any rate, I took no offense at anything you said, and I hope I didn't come across as argumentative. That's not what I intended.
interplanetjanet
BTW, I'm not surprised at our different experiences in Florida. I didn't make it to the south at all. The Florida that I visited was basically the big northern chunk between Panama City Beach, Sarasota (basically one big retirement community), Daytona Beach (at the time boasted the largest homeless population in the country) and St. Augustine. I did not go to Disneyworld, but I did eat at a couple homeless shelters in Daytona (was served Dunkin' Donuts and KFC at one of them!). That, however, is a different thread altogether...
TT Logo
You are viewing a low fidelity version of this page. Click to view the full page.