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Cultural Gap Between US & Australia

It is not always apparent to the casual observer how significant the cultural differences between Australia and the United States really are. One particular difference that really strikes me is the respect for authority. Americans seem to have a high level of respect for authority & for the apparatus of the state. In Australia respect for authority is not so high. Instead there is an irreverence towards authority, as evidenced by the *tall poppy syndrome which is prevalent.

One good example is the reverence in which Americans seem hold their president, or rather the role of president. Even former presidents seem to be treated very respectfully. But in Australia this is not the case.

In general, Australians constantly question authority and are suspicious of those in authority, while asking why the government isn’t doing something.  I think this results from the founding of the country as a convict settlement.  Also the large number of Irish immigrants to Australia who suffered from religious persecution likely influenced this way of thinking.  In Australia Catholics were treated as second class citizens until quite late in the 19th century and even into the early 20th century.  The church and state were one as in England, and those who did not follow the state religion were excluded for participation in education and the economy in various ways.

Whereas in the US separation of church and state, together with a history focused on independence from English rule saw a very different sensibility arise.  This seems to have led Americans to respect their leaders and those in authority precisely because of the historical fact of independence.

The other key area of difference between these two nations is religion.  The influence of the Christian religion in the US is vast, whereas in Australia it is effectively a secular nation & religion plays little part in public life.  In Australia religion is a private practice and it seems to many people to be ill-mannered to bring it up in public debate.

Culturally Australia seems much closer to Britain than to America, although this is gradually changing now in the 21st century.

Given these types of fundamental differences together with so many similarities I think it entirely possible for Australians and Americans to completely misunderstand each other.  After all as Sir Winston Churchill noted in relation to the British and Americans there is ‘common language which separates us.’   The thing is because the two nations are similar and have much in common it is easy to miss the diversity that exists between us.

* Tall poppy syndrome = “The tall poppy syndrome refers to the behavioural trait of Australians to cut down those who are ‘superior’ to them. It is used to explain why most politicians, some academics, and the occasional millionaire, commands a level of community admiration inferior to that of a toilet cleaner.”