Why do strangers in Australia want to know how’s my day? I just met them!
While paying for groceries at a supermarket in Australia, a cashier asked: “How’s your day?”
I froze for a good five seconds before replying: “Uh, good I guess. How about you?”
She responded nonchalantly with, “it’s been alright” before handing me my groceries. I hightailed out of there, wanting to avoid any further social interaction.
“Why did she want to know?”, I panicked for a bit.
I lived in Australia for two years, and that wasn’t the last instance of a stranger asking what seemed to be too personal a question.
Photo credit: @cobblepot via Unsplash
You see, in Singapore, we barely talk to strangers — save for that “excuse me”, while squeezing onto buses and trains. Even when queuing up, we’d be engaged on our phones without sparing others a glance.
Ask any Singaporean stranger on the street “How’s your day?”, and you’ll see what I mean.
Here comes the question then: why are Australians so friendly, even to strangers?
Let’s dive deeper into their history to find out how this became a cultural norm.
History of Convicts
Photo credit: Historic UK
Did you know Australia was formerly a British colony, just like Singapore? But unlike Singapore, which was used as a trading port, Australia was where many convicts from Britain were sent to.
During the 18th century, Britain had a rise in petty crime due to the industrial revolution. Technological advancements led to unemployment and economic hardship, with people resorting to stealing for survival.
Prisons were overflowing and to solve this problem, the British decided to transport criminals to their colonies. 165,000 convicts were brought to Australia between 1788 and 1868, most of them poor and illiterate.
They were outcasts who shared the same hardship and thus formed close bonds, having to rely on one another for companionship and survival. This created a sense of mateship — a term used to describe shared experiences and mutual respect.
Australian values of egalitarianism and equality for all
As convicts, the people were discriminated against by governors and authority figures and unable to get decent jobs. Despite not having power, education, or wealth, they shared the belief of equality.
This led to an egalitarian society, where Australians believe that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities, regardless of social background.
It created a set of values that defined and shaped the Australia we see today, based on a concept of “fair go” — embracing mutual respect, tolerance, compassion, and equality of opportunity for all.
Unfortunately, this also gave rise to the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, a condemnation of those who have a prominent social standing and a need to cut them down to size so that everyone will have equal standing.
Perhaps this is why Australians display a laidback attitude to try not to stand out to be better than one another.
Salad-bowl concept of multicultural society
While the early immigrants came from Europe, Australia’s demand for new skills and economic opportunities later attracted settlers from Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
This multicultural background could also be why Australians are more accepting and friendly towards outsiders.
However, what makes it different from other multicultural societies where the locals aren’t as friendly?
There are generally two ways to describe multicultural societies — the melting pot and a salad bowl. The former refers to people assimilating into local culture and their values. The latter integrates people from different backgrounds while sustaining their individual identities.
Photo credit: @ninjason via Unsplash
In places like the USA, the melting pot method believes that everyone should conform to the same American values and blend together as one united America.
However, in the process, people from different backgrounds may lose their initial cultural identity to assimilate into a new one. This might explain why Americans aren’t known to be super friendly to strangers who are not part of that same identity.
Photo credit: @socialcut via Unsplash
On the other hand, Australians purposefully embrace cultural diversity and use it to build their own developing national identity.
There are aspects of diverse cultural identities across Australia through different suburbs like the Chinatown in Melbourne, various food cuisines, and even relationships, where interracial marriages are common.
In fact, my Australian friend learnt how to make dumplings from her Chinese aunt who married her uncle. Showing that the Chinese culture wasn’t lost even though her aunt had migrated to Australia.
Hence, Australians tend to be more open towards strangers who are different from them as they have been living in a society where various cultures often interact with one another.
Language plays a part
“G’day mate” or “I’ll see you in the arvo! (afternoon)” are some of the common Aussie slang you might hear when travelling in Australia.
Although we might not fully understand it, we get the hint that Australians love to shorten and abbreviate words.
In Singapore, we use Singlish to get our point across quickly, whereas, in Australia, they use slang to appear informal to others.
This links back to their egalitarianism values and concept of mateship, where everyone is on equal footing and should be friendly to each other. It’s also another indicator of their casualness and laidback attitude towards others.
So, “How’s your day?”
To avoid having a panic attack like me when I first encountered this question, here are two ways to respond — depending on who’s asking.
Firstly, if asked by a random stranger like a supermarket cashier, this question comes across as a polite greeting. Meaning that they don’t really want to know your entire life story. So a good reply would be: “Good, thanks. How’s your day?” or “It’s alright. How about you?”.
However, if it’s a friend that’s asking you, they’re probably genuinely concerned. Instead of brushing them off with a simple “good, thanks”, you could share more about how your day is actually going — be it good or bad. They are your friends after all, so it wouldn’t hurt to share more if you’re comfortable with it.
Regardless of which scenario you’re in though, it’s always courteous to ask the other party how their day is going because you don’t want to seem rude.
Are Australians that friendly?
I’ll admit, it was pretty weird at first when strangers striked up conversations in Australia. After all, it’s not a common greeting back home in Singapore where mom always says “don’t talk to strangers”.
But drawing from a different history and culture, the people in Australia are perhaps just that friendly and open towards others.
From how we act to how we speak, we can see how our attitudes can be shaped by various factors. And that’s why travelling is great because we can have a first-hand experience and expand our knowledge of different cultures in other countries.
This article is part of a new series where we uncover and honour the cultural differences of communities all over the world. What other cultures would you like to know more about? Let us know in the comments below.