Welcome to Oz

It’s fun to arrive in a new country and get a sense of the culture. This is my first time in Austrailia.

”What do you want, mate?”, said the guy in a kebab bar in Sydney. And he looked me directly in my eyes. That blew a fuse in my brain!

If someone in Denmark looks me in my eyes and say: ”What do you want?”, I know I’m in trouble and should get away quick. But I was in Sydney and the kebab guy was just a helpful Australian. He made me a great kebab with fries, which was just what I needed for my jetlagged body.

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Australians are wonderfully helpful… and very direct. A woman asked me if I needed help with my bag when I was walking down stairs. A guy approached me to offer directions for me. ”Thank you”, ”No worries, mate!”

I’m down under, what on earth should I worry about?

I’m here to attend and speak at Let’s Test Oz 2014 taking place in Blue Mountains outside Sydney. What a setting! What a conference! I’ll have to come back to that in a blog post after the conference. For now, I’ll just share my immediate impression of Australian culture.

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Words make a difference. Americans love words of latin origin, I think it makes them feel important. They have ”view points” in the landscape. Aussies call things what they are: Lookouts.

Europeans have ”colleagues”. It makes us feel smart. Aussies are ”workmates”.

“Mate” is a funny word. In the animal world, mates are sexual partners. Dictionary.com lists ”partner in marriage” as the first of seven definitions of “mate”. The word is of German origin, coming from ”gemate” which just means someone eating on the same table.

A porter in Australia will say ”After you, mate” and look you in the eyes, whereas a porter in the UK will say ”after you, sir” and look down.

Walking down to the Opera House on Sunday morning, I saw the sign in the photo below. Note that the someone changed the text, but even if it hadn’t, I’ve never before seen a public sign telling people what kind of language to use:

”The following is prohibited… Use of obscene or indecent language… Penalties apply”

What if someone takes a megafone and starts shouting obscene and indecent language (it’s ok to use your imagination here) from the coast? Would that be ok? I should try, shouldn’t I? After all, I am a tester.

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In Denmark, we would never put up such a sign. We’d just silently push people off the wharf and leave them to drown in the water if they don’t talk nicely and behave according to our unwritten rules. Yes, we might be the happiest people in the world, but that’s only because we’re ready to exclude anyone who isn’t.

Is there a flipside? I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve seen and heard enough to notice that testers have the same problems in Australia as in the rest of the world. Also, I’ve been told that organisations are strictly hierachical, according to colonial tradition. Coming from a culture in which organisations are flat and everyone usually has very direct access to managers on all levels, and where colleagues appraise each other for speaking against the manager, that always surprise me.

There may be more to it, however. I’m not sure.

Enough for now. Enjoy Let’s Test Oz if you’re here! I know I do.

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4 thoughts on “Welcome to Oz

  1. All things being equal, or maybe not. Yes, Australians tend to be more direct. And social status is flatter. So there is less use of ‘polite form’ where the serving person has to talk up to the customer.

    Mate is like friend. A marker that you are considered the same status.

    And, rules are explicitly stated so it is easier to charge people with breaking them later on.

    Also, it may be that, the strict hierarchy in organisations is to balance the flat social status. Making it more obvious who you aren’t supposed to be rude to.

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