What “Hey Mate!” really means – go beyond the obvious.

If you ever lived in Australia, you will have heard it a thousand times: “hey mate!”, or the almost stereotypical “G’day mate!”. A lot of migrants adapt to this quite quickly, and start saying it themselves. It is one of the most obvious cultural behaviours to adopt, simply because we hear it so many times. The same goes for words like “no worries”, or “cheers”.

Few, however, reflect on this more carefully.

Mateship” goes much deeper than one would think. When migrants want to become citizens, and take the citizenship, one aspect they learn from the australian citizenship handbook  is what it means to be a mate. Mates help in each other, they support each other, and they treat each other as equals. And that last part, the idea of treating each other as equals, is one of the most important aspects of the Australian culture. And the one that I personally value to the most. In Germany, and in Indonesia, there are large differences between those in power, and those who aren’t. As a student at a German university, you address your lecturer as “Dr. Jones”, while I personally think a simple “Jim” would be enough. I love Australian informality. And I love how welcoming Australian people can be. I just recently started out doing freelance work in my field, but when I go to networking events for small business owners, from day one they treated me like I am one of them. And that is really amazing, because I feel like I truly belong, although they have years and years of experience, while I am just starting out.

Okay, but what do I want to say here?

Good question. This is not meant to be an article about how awesome mateship is, but I would like to share a message with you. Think very carefully about these small everyday behaviours like greetings –  they can teach you a lot about the culture you are trying to adapt to. Why do Indonesians, for example bow their head and kiss the hand when they greet someone, like in the picture below?


Correct, to show respect! But this tells us much more about the Indonesian culture. Younger people bow to older people. People lower in the hierarchy bow to people higher in the hierarchy. There is a much bigger gap in regards to the differences in power than is the case in Australia with its mateship. In that way, the Indonesian bowing and the Australian handshake both tell us something much deeper about their culture.

Copying the behaviours of the people around you is good, but it is not enough. You also need to start reflecting about what values underlie these behaviours.


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