My Top 10 Adjustments to New Zealand Life - The Story of an American Living in New Zealand
Whether You're a Visitor or an Expat Living in New Zealand, There Are Surprises Heading Your Way
Don't get me wrong, I love my New Zealand life and am proud to now be a citizen of this great land.
However, as an Americans living in New Zealand there are several things which took us by surprise at the beginning. Not the big things like learning to drive on the other side of the road. We knew about that in advance and were prepared for it. It is the little things. We shifted from California, USA to New Zealand about six years ago, and still laugh occasionally at the unexpected, as we shake our heads and say "only in New Zealand."
Here you will find my top 10 list of adjustments to New Zealand life. I hope you enjoy it in the light-hearted vein in which it was written. Either way, please leave me a comment or two.
Photo Credit: © Rhonda Albom 2007, photo location Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Specifically the lack of central heat
Heat is Lacking in New Zealand Life - Before living in New Zealand, I was never cold indoors
We shifted from latitude 37 degrees north (San Francisco) to 37 degrees south (Auckland). The outside temperatures, although opposite seasons, are similar but suddenly I find myself cold indoors. Despite being an island in the Southern Pacific ocean, it gets cold in the winter.
That's not the problem. Most homes here are still built with single pane glass and without central heat - our brand new, modern home actually has no heat source at all.
Coming from America and a world of constant indoor temperature, I had no clue how to keep warm. People continually told me "put your woolies on." What were they talking about?
Apparently, "wollies" refers to any warm layers. It was three years before I discovered that it's not uncommon to wear three pair of socks to keep my feet warm. It took us nearly five years to understand Kiwi's warm only the main living area of their home in the winter. Most Kiwi homes are built so the living room faces North allowing the sun to warm this room all day. As the sun dips down at the end of the day we close the curtains, light a fire and close off the doors to the main living area. This warms our kitchen, dining room and living room only. The bedrooms stay cold, so we sleep with hot water bottles.
The bathrooms - well I try not to use them in the middle of the night. We are down on the South Island now, actually closer to the South Pole than the equator, and I am fairly sure I could see my breath in the bathroom last night. We stoke the fire before bed, but it doesn't last all night and by morning it is usually in the low 50s(F) in our bedroom.
It Is Possible to Keep Warm at Home in the New Zealand Winter? - Heaters, fireplace, and extra clothes do the trick
How do you heat your home now?
Lonely Planet Travel Guide for New Zealand - My favorite book to carry when I travel around the country
2. Off with the Fairies and Other Bizarre Idiomatic Expressions
Whether Visiting or Living in New Zealand - It's Time to Learn Some New Expressions - Is this really an English speaking country?
My first mistake was assuming I could actually speak New Zealand English.
Kiwi speak is loaded with interesting idioms, and delightful expressions to describe children. Now entrenched in the language, I hardly notice the difference, however, when I first arrived, I had no idea what people were talking about much of the time.
Here are some of my favorite idiomatic expressions along with my understanding of their American equivalent (any native Kiwi's reading this, please correct me if I am still missing the plot):
* Thanks to all those who let me know in the comments marked with a * are also British expressions
- Off with the Fairies* - daydreaming
- It's like a box of fluffy ducks - Just a positive reply to the state of something wonderful.
- Happy as Larry - very happy (I have no clue who Larry might be)
- I can't get my head around it - I don't quite understand
- Good as Gold - everything is in order
- Good on ya mate - good for you
- She'll be right mate - everything will turn out okay
3. What Happened to the Letter R?
And how is it that "claw" and "door" now rhyme?
It's Not Just the Expressions, I Can't Understand the Accent Either!
New Zealand has an accent all its own
I remember the day another American expat mom was telling me about a new rhyming game she just picked up for her kids. They matched all the rhyming words and had two cards left over - "claw" and "door". At first we laughed about quality assurance and the two missing cards. Then she mentioned it to a Kiwi friend, "No, they rhyme." And when she spoke the words, the did in fact rhyme.
It's the allusive letter R. For some reason in Kiwi English it appears randomly at the end of all sorts of spoken words: peninsular, and of course: clawr. And if that's not confusing enough, the R is seemingly randomly left off then end of other words in speech: supa (super), ca (car), etc.
Actually R is not the only odd letter. There is "T" used for past tense:
In my daughter's English book we found an instruction: "Circle all words spelt incorrectly". While I thought it was an example of incorrect spelling, it turned out to be past tense with a 'T' rather than -ed. While it sounded really funny with these words spelt, learnt, burnt, I soon remembered kept.
Then there is the added 'u' as in: colour, favourite, neighbour.
And some words are just different like tyre (tire).
Want more? Don't Miss this Award Winning Article:
Top 10 Funny New Zealand Language Blunders:
This Book Helped Me a Bit - And it gave me a few laughs
4. What Is THAT Doing On My Hamburger?
I Miss That Little Slice of Pickle on my Burger!
Photo credit: Licensed under creative commons attribution by: Pauline Mak
I am not a fan of beet root, and I really don't want to see it on my burger. Unfortunately for me, the classic the kiwi burger: Hamburger on a bun with:
- Beet root
- Fried egg
5. Baked Beans on Toast Is Not a Sandwich!
We sure eat different now.
Meal time sure has changed. A Kiwi dinner is a "meat and two vegetables" (potatoes are defined as a vegetable).
Lunch is often a sandwich, but not one I was familiar with (we quickly noticed the lack of protein):
- Baked beans on buttered toast with fried egg on top
- Tinned (canned) spaghetti on toast
- Peanut butter and butter
- Salt and pepper on toast (I don't actually think anyone but one 9 year old we met eats this, but that was her request)
- Maramite on toast (a Kiwi yeast spread similar to the Australian Vegimite)./li>
- Two slices of bread with butter and one slice of ham or other lunch meat
Then to add to the food confusion for Americans in New Zealand the food language is often different - same words, different meanings:
- American: French Fries = Kiwi: Chips
- American: Potato Chips = Kiwi: Chippies
- American: Cookie = Kiwi: Biscuit
- American: Biscuit = Similar, but not exactly the same as a Kiwi scone
- American: Jello = Kiwi Jelly
- American: Jelly = Kiwi Jam
And then there is Tea
- Morning Tea - snack between breakfast and lunch
- Afternoon Tea - snack between lunch and dinner
- Tea - dinner
- If you just want a cup of tea - that's a "cuppa"
6. Children in New Zealand Are Barefoot
Being barefoot was the first thing my girls loved about living in New Zealand - (and the wonderful ice cream)
Kiwi kids rarely wear shoes.
Really that is all that need be said. From their first steps until nearly high school, shoes seem optional here. My girls were thrilled to join in. Suddenly, they didn't have to wear shoes anywhere. We see barefoot kids at beaches and pools as we would expect, but they also leave shoes at home before heading to the doctors office, zoo, restaurants or even the grocery store. Even to school, where uniforms are required, shoes are often optional (the option being bare feet or a specified uniform sandals in summer or shoes in winter).
A few times it caught me off guard. They signed up for athletics (track and field) so I went out and bought them decent running shoes. First I was surprised how difficult it was to find child sized running shoes. When the first day arrived I understood. The children (up to about age 12) were all barefoot. Nearly all, my girls and a few other immigrants showed up with shoes.
There are bare feet at beaches, doctors offices, zoos (yuck), restaurants and grocery stores. Importantly, all kids have a pair of jandals, just in case they don't want to be barefoot. The school children wear uniforms, however many schools allow children the option of bare feet or uniform shoes.
Jandals (the New Zealand name for flip flops) take over for adults, and they can be seen everywhere all summer. Professionals, retail and food service workers all wear more traditional shoes, but that wasn't part of our adjustment.
Barefoot Children - Where is it OK? - (Your turn to chime in!)
My kids love being barefoot. It took a while for me to be comfortable with them barefoot in places which sell food. I have even seen adults in the grocery barefoot. What's your view?
Should children be required to wear shoes at places where food is sold?
#7 Butter Is Big, Everything Else Is Small
Everything in the New Zealand Kitchen Is Small Except the Butter
New Zealand is a dairy producer and nowhere is it more evident than when shopping for butter. Rather than quarter-pound sticks I was used to as an American, butter in New Zealand comes in a 500g block (1.1 pounds). In contrast, just about everything else in my new kitchen is smaller than its American counterpart.
For instance, my kiwi paper towels are too short for my American paper towel holder; while my large American pots and pan don't really fit on my burners or in my sink; the refrigerator is too tiny to comment on; yet the butter is four times larger than my American butter dish.
I Had to Learn a New Way to Do Laundry While Living in New Zealand
New Zealand life is sometimes a bit behind
One of our first major purchases (after the house, space heaters and a wood burning stove) was our washing machine. The sales clerk showed us a tiny washing machine, claiming it is perfect for a family for four. I asked for something larger and she replied, "Oh that's right you Americans like everything big." So I ended up with the largest washing machine they had, which was still about half the size of the one I left in the states. And the clothes dryer - what a waste of money. For starters, it's really tiny - holds about 1/2 of the small washer. But not to worry as everyone hangs their laundry, either outside on nice days or on a rack in the living room on rainy days (remember, it is the warmest room in the house).
It wasn't until we were here long enough to need new clothes that I discovered why the dryers are so un-used. Kiwi made clothing is not pre-shrunk, so nearly all labels read "do not tumble dry."
So, as part of my New Zealand life I learned a new skill, hanging laundry outside.
9. No Gown?
Going to the doctor is a bit different here
New Zealand Life Sometimes Involves the Medical System
Don't miss my mammogram story:
New Zealand has socialized medicine, with private insurance options, which I think is mostly used by expats. To date we have had excellent medical care through the public system. A few broken bones, minor illnesses all treated and recovered.
However, I still giggle when I think about my mammogram . . .
My first was self paid:
1. I offered a changing room to put on a gown.
2. Politely exposing only what was needed she took the x-ray
3. I waited only 10 minutes whilst the radiologist looked it over and told me the results.
The next year I qualified for the "free" mammogram through the system - at the same location:
1. I was brought straight into the exam room
2. Told to take off my shirt and stand topless for the entire procedure
3. Sent home to wait 2 weeks for them to post the results.
Photo Credit: ©Rhonda Albom 2007
10. Fart Tax
Only in New Zealand - Where Else Do They Call it the Fart Tax?
As an American in New Zealand, I had to respectfully bite my lip to restrain from laughing when I heard about the fart tax.
It wasn't really an adjustment issue, just one of the top news stories back when we arrived. It was enough to make you shake your head and wonder what is the government thinking. The proposed tax was to help reduce greenhouse effects caused by flatulence of NZ farmers' millions of sheep and cattle.
No kidding, this was on the news for weeks. While it had an official name, the broadcasters nearly always referred to it as a "fart tax". After many farmer protests, eventually New Zealand dropped the issue.
More New Zealand Fun
- Hike to Monroe Beach-Spotting a Fiordland Crested Penguin
The hike to New Zealand's Munro beach was spectacular on its own, but the added bonus of seeing a Fiordland Crested penguin made this a special day.
- Photos: Walking on Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Walking on Fox Glacier in the South Island of New Zealand is possibly the best thing I have ever done in the cold. We took a helicopter tour, opting to land and walk on Fox Glacier.
© 2009 Rhonda Albom