Holy shit. I’m sorry for starting a blog post with a swear straight off the bat, but holy shit. It’s July 2016. I have been living in New Zealand for nine months. Nine months! That’s enough time to conceive and birth a human child. I could have created and sustained a human life in the same amount of time in which I have lived in New Zealand. (Don’t worry, this is a not a birth announcement.)
I meant to do so many things before I hit my 9 month anniversary. For example, I meant to write a shocked and amazed post on my six month anniversary. I meant to write about all the things I did this summer once the scorching heat finally subsided. I meant to write about the beautiful fall colors that were so bright and vibrant it almost made my eyeballs bleed. I meant to talk about homesickness, making new friends, and going on dates and driving on the left side of the road. I meant to write about my friends and family who have made the very long trip to New Zealand to see me.
I hate to sound like a cliche old soul reflecting on how quickly life passes, yet here I am, amazed that it’s July 2016. Had things gone according to plan, I’d be selling my car and writing a reflective blog post about all the things I learned in my year in New Zealand. Well, I am going to sell my car, but mostly because it’s a lemon and it’s causing me problems, but I’m not going to write a blog recapping my year in New Zealand because I’m not done with New Zealand yet. When I came here, I foolishly thought a year would be enough time to see what I needed to see and I’d be on my way home.
I will be coming home in August but only for a month. After that, I’ll be returning to New Zealand and doing everything in my power to stay a bit longer because quite frankly, I still have mountains to climb here.
With that said, New Zealand ain’t perfect. Despite its postcard appearance, it has flaws just like any other country and like any long-term love, I’m learning to appreciate its beauty despite its flaws. After 9 months, this is what I love (and hate) about New Zealand.
Love: Electric tea kettles and clotheslines.
If it seems like these two things are totally unrelated, you are correct. These were two things that hit me hard when I moved to New Zealand despite being incredibly simple and mundane. It seems stupid but when I move back to the United States, these two things are coming with me.
As far as clothes lines go, I think the US might be a lone soldier when it comes to our exclusive use of massive dryers. Sure, they can dry your clothes in an hour but they also wear out your clothes 10 times faster than hang drying (please don’t fact check that number). Hang drying doesn’t shrink your clothes so you never feel like you gained an extra 10 pounds in your sleep when you go to put on fresh pants in the morning. Hang drying clothes is so foreign to me that the first few times I did it in New Zealand, I was actually anxious and paranoid having my clothes out in the open. What if someone steals my best black t-shirt!? What if someone makes fun of my non-sexy underwear?! Even worse, what if someone thinks my underwear is sexy and steals it because they are a psychotic pervert? You cannot imagine how much stress this all caused me my first few months in New Zealand. After numerous washings where I’d casually loiter around the clothesline most of the day until I could recall my garments, I finally learned that no one here gave a damn. Literally, every other person in this country is doing the same thing and they couldn’t care less about my hanging clothes.
Electric tea kettles must exist in the US but they are certainly not the norm. I don’t even drink tea that much but it’s nice to have the option so handy. They boil water in minutes which is great if you like tea or if you want to fill up a hot water bottle since houses here are freezing.
Hate: Freezing housing.
New Zealand is not a third world country. They have running water and electricity and the internet (albeit, terrible internet). I’m telling you this because it’s shocking to me that houses here are still so poorly insulated. In my house, for example, we have a wood burning stove in the living room that is supposed to keep the entire house warm. This works great in theory but terrible in practice when you realize you’d rather die of hypothermia than get out of bed at 3 am to stoke the fire. Most houses have large floor to ceiling windows which are clothed in thick curtains meant to keep the heat in and the cold out.
Surely people have curtains in the U.S. but they seem more decorative than functional there. You can imagine my surprise when it was brought to my attention that the duvet cover (also an unnecessary item on my hate list) I had been using for months was actually in fact a curtain. I’m waiting patiently for a curtain expert to come forth and explain to me why a curtain, which was placed in the bedding section at the second-hand store, opens up and fits a queen size duvet.
Anyway. Aside from a few cold weeks, we’ve had a mild winter so the poorly insulated houses haven't been a huge bother to me yet. Duvet covers and curtains, on the other hand, are at the very top of my shit list.
Eggs here are not refrigerated, which is not strictly a New Zealand thing, I know. As someone who has access to a small fridge and who also eats eggs on the regular, I’m a fan of this. I don’t know the science behind refrigerating eggs or not but I do know the science behind being publicly shamed if you buy the wrong eggs. I’m not talking about refrigerating eggs, I’m talking about buy free range everything when it comes to chicken products.
New Zealand's number one national priority is treating birds with love and respect and I guess this includes chickens and their little eggs too. Nothing is guaranteed to get you a one-way ticket to hell faster than buying non-free range eggs. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen a carton of eggs not branded as free-range. I don’t get it but I’ve learned not to ask questions and to profess I love free range eggs as much as I love rugby sports ball team.
Hate: How expensive eggs are.
Ok, this isn’t about eggs anymore but I needed a segue. This is a rant about how expensive everything is here. Minimum wage is something like $15 so I know it’s all relative but a little piece of my soul dies every time I go to the supermarket and see avocados are $5.99 for ONE avocado. You want to add some (very mild, in my opinion) spice to your meal? A kg of chiles is going to cost you $40. Apples? $4/kg. I know most of you reading this won’t know exactly what that converts to in ounces and pounds so just trust me when I saw it’s soul-sucking and bank account draining. It’s not only food, either. I’m not driving as much now that I have a home base but I still can’t overlook that fuel is $2/liter ($7.40 NZD / gallon).
Love/Hate: Being Stuck in the 90s
There are certain things about the 90s I love. For example, I love turning on the radio and hearing C’est La Vie by Bewitched followed Chumbawumba, followed by Ja Rule. There are also certain things I hate about the 90s. For example, not having free and immediate access to the internet in most public places. It’s 2016 and internet is basically a public utility at this point. I don’t suggest everyone cease having real life human interactions in favor of being glued to a smart device but it’s a little disheartening to see how much joy and satisfaction my boss gets out of telling cafe customers No, we don’t have internet and no I don’t know anywhere else that does. You’d think of a tourist hotspot like New Zealand’s South Island they’d throw the poor travelers a bone and give them a medium to help them communicate with their family back home. I’ve admittedly become less passionate about this point though since I have unlimited access to the fast internet in my house.
Love/Hate: The People
Once I got settled and stopped roaming around so much, I was able to get a much better feel for local Kiwis and not just soul searching travelers. I had heard that Kiwis were the nicest bunch of you people you’d ever come across, and in part, I found this to be mostly true, but Kiwis are a proud people with an often impenetrably tough exterior.
Kiwi customer service is nill and you can expect to get the side eye from every Kiwi serving you until they find out you have a connection to the town in some way or another. Once they find out you're not just some slimy tourist wreaking havoc on their town, they are much more friendly and accomodating and willing to engage in basic polite conversation.
Like I said, Kiwis are hard. They are not politically correct and they don't care about offending you with sexist jokes or derogatory slang. I've heard everything from "women belong in the kitchen" to "what are you fags up to today?" and have even heard the "N" word thrown around in casual conversation.
Despite this, the Kiwi people are wonderful. They joke about women and race and sexuality and no one seems to really harbor hatred towards foreigners or women or gay people or people of color. New Zealand has had more women Prime Ministers than we’ve had presidents. They legalized gay marriage long before the Supreme Court ruling in the states. They don’t actually actively wish any harm to people who are different from them.
Despite being seemingly unaware of the long term effects caused by normalized casual racism and sexism, New Zealand is a very open and welcoming country. Perhaps New Zealand is not as used to cultural diversity as many other countries who have been familiar with it for longer periods of time. I know the USA has a long way to go before we can claim we’ve squashed racism and sexism but I’d be lying if I said hearing these things wasn’t a shock to my system after seven years of my liberal Chicago bubble.
Kiwis will go to the moon and back to lend a hand and help out. When they ask you “Hi, how are you?” they genuinely expect an answer. It’s not a small talk formality like it is back home. They want to know what you’ve been up to and how you’ve been, even if they just saw you a few days ago. Kiwi people value their personal relationships and unlike in the US, cafes are reserved for places to meet up with friends and families. It’s hard to find cafes where people are plugged in and zoned out. Kiwis are also incredibly hardworking and durable. I joke about them not having heated houses and in part, I do believe this is a direct result of years of being a summer resort area and not having a need for central heating. But on the other hand, I kind of think Kiwi pride is behind it all. They are tough and can go barefoot with short shorts in 40-degree weather. Like hell they’d need to heat their homes! There’s a great sense of self-sufficiency which isn’t surprising given it’s a small island. And above all, despite having a crazy boom in tourism the past ten years, Kiwis don’t seem to harbor any real hatred towards visitors and tourists and don’t seem as possessive of their land as many other countries being invaded by hordes of tour groups.
I'm teased constantly about being from the USA where an orangutan reality TV celebrity might actually be the next president and yet despite the horribly embarrassing things that happen in the USA, most people respect and appreciate my culture. Just look at this American flag flown just for me in my cafe on Independence Day.
Love: The Scenery.
Just look at it.
When it's all said and done, I love so much more about this country than I hate. I can't say that it will be my forever home but I can't be done with it quite yet!