I spent the last couple weeks in Australia. I taught cultural intelligence in a variety of business, university, and non-profit contexts. I often find it a bit ironic and intimidating to travel overseas to talk about cultural effectiveness as a cultural outsider myself. What if I’m coming off as a total contradiction to the things I’m teaching? But then as my Aussie friend said to me the day I was voicing this to him, “No worries mate!”
Within minutes of landing in the land down under, you hear this endearing, generous statement everywhere you go. “No worries mate!” A few examples:
- I dropped my passport at customs control and apologized to the foreboding immigration officer. She immediately said, “No worries. Cheers!”
- One day I bought a round trip ticket for the Sydney metro and I wanted to know if I could get on and off multiple times. I saw two workers from the transit authority at the Circular Quay station and asked them about it. One said, “Give me your ticket.” He looked at it and started crumpling it up. He said, “Ah—you’re only supposed to get on and off at the start and the finish but I messed up your ticket for you. Just go to station control and tell them you need a new one because this one got messed up.” I laughed nervously and said, “O—kay”. He looked at his co-worker, laughed heartily and said, “No worries mate. You’ll be right!”
- One night, my wife and kids joined me downtown Sydney and we were looking for a place to eat. Everywhere we passed (other than fast food) had a sign saying no one under 18 allowed. We stood outside one café for awhile trying to figure out if we should just order take-away. A server came out and asked, “Is there a problem?” We were starving and I said, “We wanted to eat here but it looks like our kids can’t join us.” He scoffed and said, “Ah…it’s all good. We won’t even put your kids in cages while you eat. Have a seat!”
There’s something so liberating about this mentality in our fast-paced, stressed out world. But the longer I interacted with leaders in various settings, the more I wondered how deeply the “No worries” mindset really goes, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. The enormous expectations that fill the job descriptions of many of the executives and managers I encountered struck me. The people in my sessions described the long, long hours they work in never-sleeping Sydney. The Aussies rightfully pride themselves on having largely been spared the recent recession. But there’s an anxiety that runs beneath the no worries, laid back spirit.
I’m by no means trying to make a broad general statement one way or another about Aussie culture. It was just a reminder to me that surface-level observations are just that—a glimpse of what’s on the surface. And frankly, reflecting on this caused me to see myself in what appeared to be an Aussie paradox. I’m told I often convey a laid-back, “no worries”, easy-going air to people in general. But those who know me best know that I’m so dang angst-ridden and I’m wired pretty tight. It’s already 6 a.m. so I better get to the more pressing things of my day…Cheers!