One year in New Zealand

It is the one year mark–we arrived just in time for a rainy, chilly August a year ago this week.  In honor of the anniversary we thought we’d compile a random list of Pros and Cons of Kiwi life, through the eyes of pansy pampered Americans.  It’s good to end on a positive note, so we’ll air our gripes first.

Cons:

  1. Everything costs at least 2-3 times what it does in America.  This was the number one annoyance for months when we arrived, particularly as we didn’t ship absolutely everything a household would need and had to do some shopping.  Parting with $9 for six little cheap plastic stick-on hooks to hang stuff on the rental-house walls felt like a personal insult.  Paying more than double what we paid per month to own our lovely house (including taxes) in Owego just to rent a chinsy little house with a puny yard felt like a punch in the gut, not to mention the reduced status of being renters rather than home owners.  In addition, “cheap” takes on a whole new meaning in New Zealand.  If you buy cheap left-over containers, the tops might not fit even from day one.  Cheap new dryers randomly slip their belts and have malfunctioning timers.  Cheap here is below Walmart quality, while still being double the price.
  2. Lousy home construction.  While we’re talking about housing, it’s bewildering to think that south island Kiwis live in a climate where you want your home to be warmer than the outside air for 6 months of the year, yet you can still see light through the cracks around the front door.  Weather stripping, insulation, and quality windows are luxury items, and a central heating system is almost unknown.  Kiwis act like it’s still a frontier town and settlers should rough it. “Put on another jersey,” as they say.
  3. Technology is not as advanced, on average.  Americans take for granted that if something new and nifty is invented, it’s available to us.  Internet and internet shopping is centered around us.  At home we can buy just about anything on line and have it shipped to our door.  Internet shopping is still in its infancy here, we can’t even “google shop” to price compare.  High speed (fiber) internet service just came past our suburban house this week.
  4. Bad drivers.  Seriously, for a culture that is relatively laid-back and easy going, these drivers are crazy.  They pass on impossible turns, drive like there’s no speed limit, and take off from stop lights as if they were in a Nascar race.  In addition, drunk driving laws are weak, and there aren’t really any serious penalties for a driver hitting a pedestrian or a biker.  The one up side to NZ driving is that they use traffic circles extensively, which make traffic flow much smoother than the banks of traffic lights and turn lanes that plague suburban shopping areas in America.
  5. Stuff we miss: Good tea.  Someone told me that in NZ you could get a good cup of tea day or night….but I guess “good” is in the palate of the taster.  The grocery store selections are just various flavors of English-style black tea and a smattering of herbally stuff, and I have yet to find a really good tea store with selections from India and China.  But at least if you order tea at a cafe, it comes piping hot in a tea pot.  We also miss graham crackers, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and Stewart’s hard ice cream.  I guess we have a sweet tooth!  Oh, and ice scrapers.  It frosts here, but no one has heard of scraping ice from the car windshield with a tool specially fashioned for that purpose.  Apparently no one thinks that credit cards are inadequate ice scrapers….
  6. No one understands my name.  How can this be?  Molly is a common English/Irish name, right?  I realized that my whole life I’ve been pronouncing my name “Mahley,” whereas Kiwis would say “Mohley.”  But when I say my name, they think I’m saying “Marley,” because of course they just “HHHH” their R’s here instead of pronouncing them in a “growl” like we do.  I have to mispronounce my name for it to be understood.

Pros:

  1. 12-month-long hunting season (guess who added that one to the top of the list):  In New Zealand, all mammals besides a tiny bat are not native, and are therefore considered invasive pests.  DOC (the equivalent of our DEC) would like them all to be gone….so there’s no restriction on hunting them, no rules about carrying out the meat and not just the antlers, no requirement to even report what you take.  Molly wasn’t sure whether the 12 month hunting season should go in the “pro” or the “con” list….but I have to admit that our freezer is full of delicious healthy meat.
  2. Access to the outdoors:  30% of New Zealand is public land, and there is an amazing system of DOC huts in place, many of them from the days of the deer cullers.  We haven’t had to carry a tent since we got here, a big bonus with an ever-growing Milo load.  Plus the huts usually have a wood stove, bunks with mattresses, and are just a convenient place to perch with a small child.  We’re also never far from the ocean, and there are miles and miles of open un-built stretches where, if we had the gear, we could collect crayfish (lobster), paua, and mussels for free.  The summers in the outdoors are actually pretty brown in the rain-shadow of the southern alps, but winters are wonderfully green, and there’s always something blooming.
  3. People are polite:  It’s hard to remember how much this annoyed me when we first got here, because in stores all I seemed to get was an extremely polite nice person pronouncing “cool” as “kewel” and telling me that they’d never heard of the item I wanted.  But now I appreciate that even if we haven’t found Christchurch residents to be super warm, they are definitely polite.
  4. Personal lawsuits are almost unknown:  Before we moved here I didn’t realize how much the fear of ligation shapes the American society.  Private property is posted because the owner could be sued if someone tripped on their land.  Here, a national fund covers all health costs having to do with accidents, no one sues for emotional damages, and it’s common for walking tracks to cross private land.  In America, OBGYN doctors recommend tests and procedures at least in part because if they don’t, they might be sued.  Here, a midwife (who administers all prenatal care for most women) informs you of the available tests, and you decide which ones to use.  Sure, the traffic control around obstructions is almost laughably casual at times, but on the whole I prefer that to the American finger-pointing and blame-shifting.
  5. Food:  On the whole food is not a highlight in NZ, but Jeremiah wanted to applaud the fish and chips (which we’ve indulged in all of 4 times), as well as the craft beer and availability of home-brew paraphernalia.  I think the beer is good, but expensive–wine is definitely a better deal.
  6. Kid-friendly:  People just seem to like kids, and to be happy to accommodate them.  Coffee shops have high chairs available.  Shopping malls have “family bathrooms,” that are clean and well cared for, sometimes with a miniature toilet and always with a changing table.  No one blinks an eye if you nurse your baby in public.  We’ve never gotten a negative comment bringing Milo to multiple huts and hostels, and we’ve hear nothing but encouragement when we run with him in the jogger in events.  Maybe it’s also this family-orientation that is to credit for the 4-week standard holiday that all Kiwis enjoy, even those employed in minimum-wage labor.  To be a pessimist, I’m sure this contributes to the high cost of goods and labor, but it is still nice to be on the receiving end of the paid holiday time.
  7. Random little perks:  Tipping is unheard of.  You don’t have to figure that cost in to the price of a meal, or wonder what the going rate is for an airport shuttle bus driver.  Similarly, sales tax, though high (15%), is added to the listed price of an item, rather than being added in at the register.  No surprises.
I like the light switches better here.  How petty is that?  But when we first came I was grasping for anything that I could say was better, and light-switches made the list.  The little square that tips one way or the other is just nicer to use (and quieter) than our lever switches.

I like the light switches better here. How petty is that? But when we first came I was grasping for anything that I could say was better, and light-switches made the list. The little square that tips one way or the other is just nicer to use (and quieter) than our lever switches.

The toilets are also different, and now that I've gotten used to them I can maybe say they're better. Those of you who remember your high school physics might ask which way the water swirls, being in the southern hemisphere, but the water just gushes and splashes in a raucous cascade and exits the generous whole in the bowl without any serene swirling. The up side? I've never ever seen a plunger in any bathroom, nor had the need to use one.

The toilets are also different, and now that I’ve gotten used to them I can maybe say they’re better. Those of you who remember your high school physics might ask which way the water swirls, being in the southern hemisphere, but the water just gushes and splashes in a raucous cascade and exits the generous whole in the bowl without any serene swirling. The up side? I’ve never ever seen a plunger in any bathroom, nor had the need to use one.

Note that the post title is not “One year as Kiwis.”  I’m still constantly aware that we’re Americans….and I’m still happy to be one.  Actually, I’ve never appreciated being American more than I do now.  But I’m pleased to say that for the time being, I’m also happy living in New Zealand.

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3 thoughts on “One year in New Zealand

  1. It’s interesting to imagine what the list may have looked like if you were not in an English derived foreign culture. Like Argentina, where you visited. Or Jerusalem, where Becky is now.

    • You’re definitely right, NZ is not very foreign compared to other places we could be, like Chile….or somewhere in southeast Asia! I have a feeling that in those types of pros/cons lists, light switches and toilets wouldn’t even make the list. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll be able to make a list like that.

  2. It is a good thing that humans are resilient and adaptable. I remember some of these issues from visits to Tijuana, Mexico & St.Petersburg/Moscow. Mark & I have often said, we should all experience life in other countries so that we will truly appreciate how lucky we are in America.
    I can’t believe a year has flown by already!

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