After 20 Years As An Expat, Here's What's Surprised Me About Coming Home To Work In Australia

Matt Rowley

Having grown up in Australia, I spent the last 20 sunless years in the UK. I worked for blue chips, ran advertising agencies and then founded a consultancy with clients across the US and Europe.

I returned to Australia this year but wasn’t prepared for some of the subtle but important differences that I encountered in our business culture.

Here’s what’s surprised me so far:

Australian business lexicon

There are a number of terms we use with conviction in Australia that simply don’t exist anywhere else. “Rort”, “spill”, “across it” and “flick me” to name a few.

For example: “There’s a spill in the C-suite because of that tax rort. I’m not fully across it but you better flick me your deets so we can see if we can get this over the line.”

You’d think perhaps they were Amercianisms, but then I’ve worked in the US and never heard them there.

It also doesn’t seem like a coincidence the types of usages our terms tend to have: rorts and spills make up 80% of Australian political life and not being “across something” is a great way of saying “I don’t f***ing know”, without saying it.

Business attire

For men, think 1990s office clerk. Despite a climate that often impersonates the inside of an oven, we have an unnatural fondness for the neck tie.

For women, stick on a VHS of Dallas: Australia and the southern states of the US are the last bastion of female power dressing. Shoulder pads, ponytail facelifts and extreme stilettos are rife in the CBD, and scary as hell.

Email filtering

The convenient thing about emails is that you don’t have to answer them.

In another business culture this would be tantamount to spitting in someone’s face, but here it’s just how we cope with there being electronic overload and another pointless meeting to get to before the beach.

It’s not personal – just filing.

If you really want someone, use your phone give them a call – that’s what they “flicked you their deets” for.

The GFC

I love that we came up with an acronym that made this near collapse of capitalism that sounds like a snappy fast food chain, but I’ve seen very little evidence of it in Australia, except for everyone telling me how much impact it’s had.

In Australia, people spend time dreaming up new ways to blow money. In Europe, they can’t remember what it looks like.

Politics

For the first few months of watching the news back in Australia, I had to check I wasn’t actually an episode of Rake, so thick and fast did the political scandals come.

It’s not clear to me whether ICAC is trying to actually convict Eddie Obeid, or have a crack at Australia’s longest running TV soap record.

As for the recent federal election, unfortunately politicians playing “who can have the fewest policies” to win it isn’t unique.

What was amazing though was how willing they are to completely humiliate themselves in return for airtime. There are many, many examples including the now PM dialling in as a fan to Katy Perry on a radio show and being predictably smashed over gay marriage.

The two that take the cake, however, are Craig Emerson singing off-key as a performing monkey on The Hamster Decides, and the overweight, middle-aged Clive Palmer “twerking”. The horror, the horror.

Coffee

Within weeks of moving to Sydney, my job-seeking English wife realised she was doomed as a non-coffee drinker in Australia. Drinking coffee is more critical to networking than LinkedIn.

“Can I have a meeting with you?” sounds a bit serious and a little suspicious. “Wanna have a coffee?” Well, who could say no?

The coffee isn’t too shabby either, as long as you like a ‘flat white’ – because that’s what you’re going to get regardless of your order:

  • Cappuccino – flat white with chocolate sprinkles
  • Latte – flat white in a glass
  • Piccolo – mini flat white in a glass
  • Espresso – the thing that goes into a flat white

Cars

In Germany, Mercedes and BMWs are taxis. In Australia they’re second mortgages, yet corporate-land is waist deep in them.

Twenty-plus years of economic growth means buying a car with your bank-manager’s pre-tax salary is chicken feed.

Beer

I spent 20 years trying to track down Australian beers to buy in the UK, having to soldier on with slabs of VB as my only choice for decades.

What’s everyone having here in the city pubs? Stella, Heineken or Peroni, brewed in Melbourne. Go figure.

You can find Matt Rowley on Twitter: @MattRowley

Now read: The Unauthorised Rules For Doing Business In Australia

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