What Australia did to an uptight advertising chick
By: The OZ CoupleA year ago, at the age of 29, I discovered I had a condition I thought only happened to middle-aged men with drinking problems: I had an ulcer.
The cause? Either the stress of the advertising business or my own neurotic personality or, more than likely, the lethal mixing of the two. Not only was I working too many late nights and dealing with endless high-pressure deadlines, I was obsessively worrying about working those late nights and deadlines. Seriously, not a good combo.
So when my husband and I moved to Sydney later that year, it was a good time for a job change. What I didn’t realize is just how big of a change it would be, in more ways than one.
The first inkling I had that this place was going to be on a whole other wavelength was when I went on a job interview. I hadn’t even found a place to live yet and was probably still jetlagged, but a recruiter set me up with an impressive ad agency. I was terribly nervous, figuring that ad execs in the big city of Sydney would be pretty hardcore. So I prepared diligently and had my whole shpiel ready to go.
I shook hands with the two boss men, who led me into a conference room. We sat down. Me, sitting up tall, legs crossed, ready to be grilled. Them, kicked back, flip flops on, totally chill. And what was their first question?
“Can we get you a drink? A beer? Cider?”
What? Was this a trick question? I didn’t know what to say, so I just let my jaw hang open.
“Oh, come on, we’re drinking! It’s Thursday afternoon! I’ll get you a cider,” said the one boss man, heading toward the mini-fridge tucked into the corner.
And that pretty much set the tone for my interview.
We talked for twenty minutes. I’m not even kidding. I’m pretty sure restaurants interview dish washers for longer than that. And the majority of the conversation had nothing to do with my skills or career history, but with kangaroos and how lovely New York City is at Christmastime.
I walked out not knowing if that had just gone really well or terribly wrong.
Within 24 hours, I found out I got the job. That was easy.
The Office Culture
Australia is a country that’s not really into rules. Take the airport, for example. You can fly across the country six times in six days and never once have to show anyone any form of ID. It’s amazing. And I came to find out that the workplace is no exception.
See, the concept of human resources here isn’t quite what it is in America. I’ve worked in several offices in Sydney now, and have calculated somewhere near 800 HR violations.
I’ve walked into an office to see a collage of penis drawings on the wall.
I’ve been introduced to an executive named “Old Balls.”
I’ve heard “That’s what she said” 16 times in one meeting. From the “HR guy,” of all people.
It’s simply a given that if you come from the U.S. to work in an office in Australia, you will feel mildly sexually harassed on your first day. It’s shocking at first, but you get used to it. Don’t get me wrong, Australians aren’t malicious. It’s the opposite. They’re so laid back, they find it offensive that you would take offense to anything they say. If you have a problem with the risqué banter, YOU’RE the weirdo.
And now I can’t imagine work any other way.
The Anti-Office Culture
Finally, you can’t talk about working in Australia without talking about Fridays.
It was my first Friday working in Sydney and my coworkers announced at noon that we’d all be going out to a nearby pub for lunch.
Oh that’s nice, I thought. Must be a special occasion. Somebody’s birthday, maybe?
But then we got to the pub and the place was PACKED. Was this a national holiday? I mean, don’t all these people have work to do?!
Apparently not. I came to find there was no particular occasion at all, and there needn’t be one. It was Friday and that’s just what you do on Fridays in Australia. You ditch your work at 1 pm, maybe going back to it in a hazy buzz around 3 if you have something urgent to do. Otherwise, you might as well stay at the pub ‘til 5 and then oh hell, why not make a night of it?
In the States I rarely took a lunch, let alone a several-hour one, let alone one at a drinking establishment. (And I’m in advertising!) But here, work can wait. It’s Friday and you’ve earned yourself a burger and an ice-cold beer and no boss is going to tell you there are more important things to do. Mainly because he or she is going to be there drinking with you. Probably even more than you. So relax.
And so, after eight months of working in Australia now, I am happy to report the symptoms of the stressful life I once led are all gone. I still work hard, there are still a few late nights and I still have deadlines. But when your officemates are offering you a beer on a Tuesday afternoon, cracking you up with wildly inappropriate comments and making sure you get out for a nice, long lunch—really, what is there to stress about?
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments
I'm sold on moving to Australia! What a great read. Love the feel-good vibe.
Fantastic. I felt similar to how I did when I came to Spain. Being in a school is a little different that an ad agency I'm sure, but a school in Spain is miles from when I taught last year in the States. Excellent post. Looking forward to reading more.
Interesting post! It's like I could feel the tone of the article.. the HR violations mentions got me chuckling! Sounds like Australia's a fun place to work! :)
Wow. I wish it was like that here in the "land of the free, home of the brave". Ugh. I've worked in various office jobs and the culture, overall is way too uptight. No wonder Americans are miserable (stupid commute, dull tasks, stifling pay). You're considered a suspect alchy if you drink a beer during lunch for Christ's sake. From my travels in Europe and Brazil, it seems almost everyone drinks beer or wine during lunch. I don't know what the office culture is like either, but damn, Australia must be awesome. And I think every Aussie I have ever met just wanted to go out and party. Maybe if I get some balls, I'll move there.