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How to speak Australian in the workplace (for novices)

Working in an Australian office has been a learning experience, for sure. While there is no true language barrier, as we all speak English here, there are still some words and phrases that I had to learn to say and not to say. Here’s a helpful guide for the likewise uninitiated.


Coffee, I’m fairly certain, is undeniably fundamental to office culture. On my first day, I could tell this was just as true about my new office in Sydney as it was of every other office in which I had worked in the States. I rode the elevator up to the fourteenth floor of my building on my first morning with seven people holding steaming cups of delicious joe. And I wanted some. But I didn’t know how to get it.

The first time I went into a coffee shop in Sydney and ordered a large cup of coffee, my request was met with a blank stare and the question “What kind?”. I thought the person was asking whether I wanted a light roast or a dark roast, so I inquired as to what kinds they had there. She responded with a list of items, most of which might as well have been in Japanese. My options appeared to be short black, long black, flat white, latte, and cappuccino. I asked again for just a plain cup of coffee, and my request was met with another blank stare. I gave up and ordered a latte.

Unfortunately for me, the standard variety brewed coffee is not as common here in Australia as it is back home. Starbucks has it, of course, and you can make it at home with a French press, but the good ol’ coffee pot that is so ubiquitous in American office culture is not a fixture in office kitchens here, nor is brewed coffee available at most of the millions of coffee bars. Espresso drinks are where it’s at, and here’s your Australian-to-American translation guide.

Short black = shot of espresso
Long black = Americano (shot of espresso with half a cup of hot water)
Flat white = shot of espresso with steamed milk (no froth)

Lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos are made the same here as they are Stateside. Some notes: A piccolo latte is a smaller latte, and a mocha is often called a “mocha coffee” instead of a “cafe mocha.”

If you struggle with speaking Australian coffee lingo, the Starbucks baristas here are bilingual.

Greeting people

In the States, I was accustomed to receiving two kinds of greetings: “How are you doing?”, and “How’s it going?”. The response to the first is typically along the lines of “I’m doing well, thanks,” and the response to the second is something like, “I’m good, and you?”.

The common greeting here, however, is “How are you going?”. This was not a question to which I had a ready response for my first few weeks in the office. It’s sort of a bastardization of the two typical American greetings, and my brain had trouble quickly deciding whether to respond with an adjective or an adverb. It also wasn’t a natural question for me to ask others, so I felt awkward trying to return the greeting. I think I’m getting better at it, but it might just be in my head.

Anyway, my point is that, contrary to popular belief, not all Australians greet each other by saying “G’day, mate!”. At least not in Sydney.


I compulsively bless people who sneeze in my presence. It’s just a part of who I am. Ask any of my friends back home who suffer from seasonal allergies, and they’ll tell you that it’s one of my most annoyingly consistent habits. It’s not just me, though–in other cubicle environments in which I’ve worked, when one person sneezes, they are blessed four times at a minimum.

Here, however, at least in my office, people do not appear to bless each other with quite the regularity that I’m used to. I blessed people for the first couple of days, but I stopped after receiving so many strange looks.


I don’t have much to say about this. Australians shorten “afternoon” to “arvo.” Strange.

There are, of course, many more other Australian-isms that I’ve learned in the few short months that I’ve been gainfully employed, but these are the ones that stand out to me. I’ll keep you posted if I think of any more.


About theacademicsabroad

Rusty and Ali are a couple of nerds who moved to Australia to go on adventures. Oh, and work. :)


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December 2012
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