Australian ‘Cultural Norm’ Sparks Etiquette Debate

"Most of the time it’s a closed mouth smile or even a nod, just as a peaceable acknowledgement of their presence."

Australian ‘Cultural Norm’ Sparks Etiquette Debate

Image: Northern Beaches Council

A Perth woman has sparked debate online over a so called Australian “cultural norm” that some people believe is normal and others think is creepy.

That norm? Greeting people in the street. As the user, who claims to be a 20 year old woman from Perth, wrote in the Reddit r/Perth community, this simple act can be quite divisive. She said she finds it normal, but two of her friends don’t. The thread reads as follows:

“So, I (F, 20s) had a conversation with friends tonight that left me taken aback and kind of irritated? I’ve lived in Perth my entire life and have always gone on relatively lengthy walks through my neighbourhood and surrounding areas. In my experience, it’s normal to smile at strangers as you pass them (if there’s not many people around) or even greet them/make a comment on the weather.”

She continued: “Most of the time it’s a closed mouth smile or even a nod, just as a peaceable acknowledgement of their presence. If you’re in a busy space, this is unnecessary and its not like I would acknowledge random people at the supermarket etc, but I also don’t find the concept of speaking to strangers disturbing (I would easily trade comments with a stranger in the line at a cafe or waiting for a bus etc).”

“Tonight, my friends were saying that people who smile or say hi as they walk past are creepy and weird and make others uncomfortable. They claimed that it’s not ‘the Australian way’ to acknowledge others on the street (my perception) and that non-weird people would just mind their own business and avoid eye contact. I understand not striking up a conversation with strangers or people visibly reading/listening to music but smiling? A small closed mouth nod to acknowledge them as they pass? Really?”

“For context, one friend is an international student and the other has lived in Perth their whole life.”

The post sparked debate, with one highly upvoted response in the comments reading: “Your friends are weird. What you do is perfectly normal and acceptable. It’s pretty much what I do.”

Dog walking in Manly. Image Credit: Getty Images

Another commenter wrote: “[It’s] not unusual to acknowledge people when walking around” and it is “not unusual to ignore them if they don’t initiate contact either.”

The same Reddit user continued: “I find it depends whether the person seems approachable (looking around, not distracted, etc). I tend to nod if a random and i [sic] make eye contact. All bets are off with a dog though, dogs are great conversation starters if the owner is open to it. My grandparents were always keen on a chat when walking but not sure how much of that was living in the country for decades or their age.”

This comment recieved 328 upvotes (and became the top comment). 

The second top comment recieved 123 upvotes, and reads as follows: “I agree with this, when I’m out for a walk or run I tend to wait and see if they will make eye contact. From there it varies from a nod to a polite smile to a g’day.”

“I find the older folks are more likely to greet you. I tend to ignore teen girls since I don’t want to appear like a predator unless I have my kids with me.”

Another wrote: “Agree, it’s not like you need to go out of your way to make eye contact or greet someone if they’re distracted/on the phone/ looking after kids. But if you make eye contact or are passing each other directly on the path I think it would be more bizarre to ignore each other/not indicate general pleasantness.”

Another theory offered, by another Reddit user, is that it’s more socially acceptable to strike up conversation with someone if they have a dog. They wrote: “Agreed on this. My dog tends to turn heads when we go for a walk (mostly because he is a very large boy compared to me) and people usually give us a smile or a bit more when we cross paths and I tend to say hi /smile to these people and ask if they want to pat him if they give off that vibe.”

“Can’t imagine I would acknowledge anyone more than a smile without him though.”

Other Reddit users said they typically greeted peoples’ dogs but not the people themselves, with one writing: “Sometimes I accidentally say hi to people’s dogs and not the actual person. People do that with my dog too tho tbf lol.”

Another topic of discussion was how Australia differed from the “saccharine” standards of friendliness in some places in the US, with one user claiming they were sick of their American neighbours “Ned Flanders-ing” them and “missing the more subdued Australian mannerisms.”

Reddit user AmericanExpat23 wrote: “When I first moved to Perth from a small Midwest town, I was taken aback by how unfriendly everyone was here. I got a lot of weird looks for smiling and saying good morning to strangers. Perth has become more warm over the last 15 years though – I think we’ve found a nice middle ground between American saccharine and the coldness I experienced when I first arrived.”

This isn’t the first spicy topic to spark debate in Australia over the last 12 months. Other examples include this driving ‘dog act’ and this controversial in-flight move.

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