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House-Sitting in Australia: A Cross-Cultural Guide to Specific Considerations for Australia

Welcome to Nomador's Cultural Differences & House-sitting series, where we explore how cultural uniqueness across countries can impact our members’ experiences. In each Country Guide, we also offer practical and applicable tips to more effectively bridge cultural differences as a house-sitter. If you missed the first three articles in the series, be sure to read the series introduction and the first two country guides, which focus on France and Canada.

This is the fourth post in the series, a country guide for Australia. Wherever you’re from, we’ll outline the cultural and situational considerations that might impact your house-sitting experience in Australia. Further, we’ll provide tips for house-sitters interested in applying to assignments for Australian homeowners and their pets.

House-sitting is Thriving in Australia

Over the past several years, people-to-people (P2P) sharing and services have grown into a thriving subset of Australia’s economy. P2P and shared use services like Uber, Airbnb and Car2Go are widespread, and newer P2P start-ups -- like this (paid) “Uber of pet sitting” service -- are piggybacking off Australians’ trust and acceptance of the P2P business model and willingness to use technology to connect.

Add to that Australians’ strong bonds with their pets, willingness to invest in premium pet products and care, and tendency to consider themselves as pet parents, and it’s not hard to see why house-sitting is booming in Australia.

While Australians’ warm embrace of house-sitting is great news for homeowners and house-sitters alike, it’s also worth considering the situational factors and cultural norms that make house-sitting in Australia a unique experience.

Geography & Length of Trip

Let’s start with one of the more obvious factors impacting house-sitting in Australia: the fact that Australia is a large country that is really, really far away from (much of) the rest of the world.

While it’s not uncommon for European homeowners to list a house-sitting assignment that lasts just a few days, when Australians go abroad, their trips tend to last longer than those of their European peers.

As Australia is a long-haul flight to many destinations, Australians seem to make the most of it by taking longer holidays abroad. As a result, house-sitting assignments in Australia can be longer, too.

Cost of Labour vs. Domestic Competition

There’s no getting around the fact that Australia is expensive, both in terms of goods and labour. Sydney consistently ranks as one of the world’s most expensive cities, and Australians earn high salaries to meet cost of living needs.

This means hiring local staff to care for homes and pets can be cost prohibitive for Australian homeowners, further raising the demand for qualified house-sitters to care for homes and beloved pets.

Because house-sitting is well-developed in Australia, however, there is also a large pool of interested, eager and experienced Australian house-sitters in play. Domestic competition for plum house-sitting assignments might be higher, meaning overseas applicants should plan in advance by creating a stand-out housesitting profile, and applying to assignments early and often.

Theories & Concepts to Better Understand Australians

Now that we have a general idea of the geographic, economic and environmental factors that could shape your house-sitting experience in Australia, let’s dig into Australian culture and norms. We’ll look at a few key concepts and theories, including:

  • A Fair Go and Power Distance
  • Individualism
  • High vs. Low Context Cultures, and Directness

But going any further, however, it’s worth mentioning that while cross-cultural theories and findings are widely accepted as true, these concepts refer to macro-level groups, not individual difference. When experts refer to culture and cultural differences, they’re referring to the behavior of most of the people, most of the time, not the quirks, experiences, and personalities that make people unique.

A Fair Go and Power Distance

The concept of a fair go is at the very heart of Australian society. It’s an idea that emphasises egalitarianism over class distinctions; looking out for your friends and family; and ensuring all Australians have an equal shot at creating success for themselves.

A fair go shows up in day-to-day life in Australians’ proud egalitarianism, and it fits with cross-cultural theories that categorise Australia as a “low” power distance culture that is generally intolerant of overt hierarchy, class systems, and unequal power distribution that doesn’t serve a reasonable function.

  • Don’t be surprised if Australian homeowners want to speak to several ‘short-listed’ house-sitting applicants before deciding on the best house-sitter -- they just want to give all the qualified applicants a fair go.
  • Expect casual communication styles, with a preference for first names, rather than titles and surnames. Even in formal and professional situations, Australians favor first names and casual language (many foreigners are surprised at how casually Australians curse, too).
  • Know that Australians are skeptical of overt displays of status, achievement and wealth, valuing modestly and a humble attitude. If you come from a culture where touting one’s achievements is the norm, try to restrain yourself in Australia.

Individualism/Collectivism

Australia is an individualist culture, tending to view “I” (rather than “we”) as the base unit of society. In individualist societies such as Australia, people are expected to look after themselves and their immediate family, rather than the extended in-groups valued in collectivist societies.  Further, individualist societies expect people to be self-reliant and can do, displaying initiative as things come up and solving problems with their own resourcefulness.

  • When Skyping with a homeowner, expect to spend a minute or two on small talk before getting down to business. The focus in individualist societies is more on the task at hand, and less on long-term relationship building.
  • Australians expect personal space during in-person meetings. Handshakes are more welcome than hugs or kisses on the cheek, and touching during conversation isn’t the norm.
  • Note that once the house-sit has begun, Australian homeowners will probably expect you to solve minor problems on your own, without getting in touch or asking them for advice about what to do. Of course, it’s best to confirm this with the homeowner ahead of time.

High Context/Low Context

Australians are known for being very direct, and for saying what they mean. It’s fair to say that with the average Australian, you won’t have to read between the lines to understand what they really mean, because they’ll state it outright.

In fact, Australia is a low-context culture, similar to North America and most northwestern European cultures. In these countries, important information is explicitly stated in the message, and there’s no expectation for the listener to “read between the lines.”

It is quite a different communication style from high(er)-context cultures, which include France, most southern and eastern European cultures, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In high context cultures, communication is indirect, and understanding relies on background information, body language, and shared knowledge.

What does this mean for house-sitting?

  • If you come from a higher context culture, such as France, expect communication to be much more direct than you’re used to. Instructions will be explicitly stated, and Australian homeowners will likely expect you to ask direct questions about the home and pets.
  • People from low context cultures place less emphasis on collaborative problem solving, and value initiative and self-starting. As noted above, once a house-sit has begun, Australian homeowners will likely want you to solve minor problems on your own, without asking them what to do.

Tips for Applying to House-sitting Assignments Across Australia

Now that you're familiar with some of the key factors and cultural norms impacting house-sitting in Australia, consider these tips when preparing your next house-sitting application for Australia.

  • If you’re a non-smoker, mention it outright in your application. Only ~16% of Australian adults smoke, some of the lowest rates in the world.
  • Australians tend to treat their pets as family members, and the “pet parent” trend is strong in Australia. Be sure to emphasise your interest and care for their animals in your application, and list your experience with different animals.
  • Greet Australians with a simple Hello first name/online alias (Hello Sarah / Hello DogLover123). While Aussies may use G’Day or other Australian slang terms, it can be seen as condescending when foreigners do the same.
  • Feel free to be familiar in your tone while still being polite. Share personal information about your experience with animals, travel, and housesitting, why you’re interested in visiting Australia, and what you do for work, if applicable.
  • Note that many nationalities, including Canadians, Americans, UK passport holders, and many Europeans, are required to complete an ETA (electronic travel authority) if arriving in Australia by air. This replaces a traditional passport visa or stamp, and allows for stays of up to 3 months within a 1-year period. It must be applied for in advance.

Environmental Considerations

While it’s easy to associate Australia with the untamed and wide-open space of the outback, the fact is close to 90% of Australians live in cities or their surroundings, and most house-sitting assignments in Australia reflect that.

That said, mother nature is a considerable force in Australia, and is not always kind to Australians, their homes, and their pets.

House-sitters need to be aware that natural disasters occasionally impact Australia’s cities and rural areas, and should speak with homeowners about the specific risks and responses, especially if it’s something uncommon to your own home country. As with all house-sits, always find out where small animals’ carrying cases are, in case a situation arises where you need it!

  • Earthquakes: While Australia is not on the edge of a continental plate, it does experience earthquakes as a result of collisions and friction from nearby plates. On average, Australia experiences 80 earthquakes per year measuring 3.0 or higher, with Adelaide measuring the highest risk of all state capitals. Earthquakes are also relatively common in Western Australia, but thankfully most earthquakes in Australia are more a nuisance than a serious danger.
  • Heatwaves: During a 2009 summer heatwave in southeastern Australia, temperatures climbed as high as 48.8 °C (119.8 °F) in some areas, causing significant risk to children, the elderly, and -- of course -- pets. Some state governments in Australia produce guidelines about how to keep animals safe during heatwaves, but you should also speak with the homeowner about specific plans for each animal, and differences in heat tolerance by breed.
  • Fires: As recently as late 2016, bush fires from the surrounding region blanketed Sydney in smoke, destroying and damaging many homes and creating risks for property and animals. Speak to the homeowner about their animals’ experiences with smoky conditions, and ask about any respiratory or cardiovascular conditions for each pet so you can adapt the animals’ routines in case of nearby fires.
  • Floods: Heavy rainfall has been known to cause flooding and building damage throughout Australia. Ask the homeowner about flooding tendencies in the region, and standard evacuation plans for keeping all animals safe in case of the worst.
  • Dangerous Wild Animals: While there seems to be a perception among foreigners that Australia is full of scary snakes and wild animals, the fact is most Australians live in the city and see dangerous animals the same way the rest of the world does: at the zoo. That said, if you’re considering a rural assignment, be sure to ask about anything that could endanger a pet, such as snakes, as well as what to do if something happens.

Final Thoughts

As we noted in the first two Country Guides about France and Canada, it’s difficult to avoid generalising when speaking about cultural differences, especially given the fact that Australia is such a large and culturally diverse country.

As such, we’ve tried to cover the general considerations specific to Australia, and the cultural norms that apply to most of the people, most of the time across Australia. That said, know that  individual difference, age, and personal preference will also shape homeowner expectations and behaviours.

As always, we’d love to hear how this guide helps you, and whether there are any other cultural or country-specific differences you think should be included in this Australia country guide.


A Note About Sources
This guide was written with the input of the Nomador team, and drawing upon my education in Intercultural Communications. Other sources are linked within the body of this post.


Katie Matthews
Wandertooth.com

As full-time travellers, Katie Matthews and her husband Geoff frequently housesit as a way to gain a deeper interaction with different cultures, meet like-minded people, and spend some time with furry animals. They have been housesitting since 2013, and spend their days spoiling pets, creating travel-themed adult colouring books, and writing on their blog, wandertooth.com. Holding a Master's of Arts in International and Intercultural Communication, Katie has a keen interest in how culture shapes communications.

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