Australian Culture: When is it appropriate to call someone 'mate'?

Not easy to get right.

Generally:

  • Men mostly call other men 'mate'.
  • Men mostly don't call women 'mate'
  • Women can call other women 'mate' (IMO not as common as men-men)
  • Women sometimes call men 'mate'
  • Strangely, perhaps, people usually refer to strangers as 'mate'; not friends or relatives (unless it's a friend you've not seen in a while, in which case it would be even more exaggerated, like "maaaaaate, how's it been?"
  • Normally used in very casual, not formal, situations (however recently I was greeted with "G'day mate" at a fairly informal job interview; this was perfectly fine, but I  still replied with "great thanks" and left out the 'mate' as a sign of respect)
  • If you don't have an Aussie accent, it usually sounds... off. But with acclimatisation you can pull it off, even with another accent.
  • It usually runs off the tongue quickly; for instance if I stopped a stranger in the street with "mate!" and then paused for a response I would be greeted with a puzzled look but if I said "hey mate, have you got the time?" it would be fine)
  • Often if I'm greeting a 'new Australian' (often difficult to pick of course) I will usually drop the 'mate'
  • Not strictly answering the question, but a hint to getting the pronunciation right, try not to accentuate the T in maTe too strongly (don't do the tongue-against-the-teeth sound) :)
  • We don't always say 'mate' :) If in doubt, leave it out.

There are generalisations! In recent times the rules have changed somewhat but stick to the above and you'd normally be fine.
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