Culture Shock: Language, Traffic and Tipping

Cars driving on the left side of the road at an intersection.
Australian banknotes.

Americans traveling to Australia will experience many things that are different from what they are used to in North America. To begin with, even though English is spoken in both countries, Americans often encounter tiny language barriers Down Under that make communication confusing. A gas station, for example, is often called a “servo” in Australian English, and the informal name for McDonalds is “Maccas”, adding the need for clarification to what Yankees expect to be easy conversation.

Left-hand traffic

Another noticeable difference is that Australia has left-hand traffic, while people in the United States always drive on the right side of the road. This reverse way of driving and turning may take some time to get used to, and as a consequence, it is not certain that Americans looking to get around want to rent a car early in their oversees stay. In the same way, it is not certain either that Americans easily adjust to Australians keeping to the left on bike lanes and sidewalks, which is why it is important for newcomers to be mindful of which way people are going.

Paying without thinking

The extra attention Americans need to pay to traffic, in a way, is offset by the little brainpower needed to pay for things like valet services and restaurant meals. This is because in Australia it is routine to pay the dollar amount stated on the bill, and not add an additional fifteen percent tip for certain services as is customary in the United States. The Aussie custom of not paying gratuity is not to suggest that Australians are unappreciative of a tip, though, and one may well let staffers Down Under keep the change. However, given Australia’s relatively high minimum wages, unlike in certain professions in the United States, tipping is not necessary for employees to make a decent salary.