Ahmed and I have only been in Hamilton for three weeks, but it feels like we’re already quite familiar with the country and culture. True, we’ve been here before, on a three-week holiday during which we covered a big part of the North and South islands and talked to several Kiwis who hosted us at their places. We also realise there remains much to be explored and discovered. Nevertheless, we feel that settling in here has been a fairly smooth experience. In less than a month, Hamilton has become our home, and we know that if we ever have to leave it will be with pain in our hearts. Here are 10 (pretty random) thoughts and findings about the country and its people.
1. Kiwis are among the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world
Back in 2012, when Ahmed and I were touring the country, we often got the question, “Why don’t you move to New Zealand?” from locals. Being from Europe (and even in the Middle East), where (most) immigrants are seen as a burden and people often wish for “fewer of them,” this was a very refreshing change. Yeah, why didn’t we? Honestly, we had already been thinking about moving here, but were hesitating mainly because of the distance and the question whether there would be opportunities for us to work here. Now that we made the move, we found again that Kiwis are extremely friendly and hospitable.
2. Food (and most other things as well) is expensive
No country is perfect, right? After living for nearly five years in Saudi Arabia, where food (and other things as well) is C-H-E-A-P and wages are high, going for our weekly groceries here gives us quite a shock. It makes sense, since New Zealand is far away from the rest of the world, and it does not have the “economy of scale” that keeps prices reasonable elsewhere. But paying over US$2 for a factory-produced loaf of bread or US$1.50 for a capsicum keeps hurting our wallets a little.
3. Ease of getting (most) things done
We were able to settle down in Hamilton in just 10 days, mainly due to the ease of getting things done here. And this, in its turn, is partly thanks to the helpfulness of Kiwis. We found they are mostly sincere and patient when we have enquiries about products or services. It was easy to find an apartment within three days, open various bank accounts, get a working sim card (this may sound obvious, but when I recall the headache I went through in Turkey to get my sim card working I know this is not always a given), find a midwife, purchase household stuff, and more that I wrote about in this post. The exception was getting broadband Internet, and eventually we went with a company whose Internet is not as fast as we would have liked to.
4. People are not so ambitious
When it comes to working to live or living to work, Kiwis undoubtedly opt for the former. In this country, part time jobs are fairly common, and people seem to be quite content to have an average career. I am sure there are exceptions and Auckland and Wellington could be more of a ratrace kinda lifestyle, but this is at least the impression I get in laid-back Hamilton. If you only look at the infrastructure and the lack of highways, you realise that here, life is not all about money.
5. Change of mind is a no-go
With all the praise about New Zealand and its high standard of living, we were surprised to find out that consumer rights in this country lag compared to Europe and the US. Returning an item is not common, and shops usually reject taking a product back in case the customer changed his mind, even if the package has not been opened! It is often accepted though to change an item and get a giftcard.
6. The range of outdoor activities is mind-blowing
New Zealand is truly one of the greatest countries if you like outdoor sports and activities. During our 2012 holiday, Ahmed and I did some hiking and camping – or tramping, as they call it here – in Tongariro and Abel Tasman national parks, but there is so much more: skiing, rafting, biking, (trail) running, surfing, canoeing, fishing – the possibilities are endless! And these activities are not just for tourists; locals engage in them as well.
7. NZ is a car-oriented society
That being said, we were surprised to find out how car-oriented the society is. We moved here thinking we would live without a car (at least for a while) and although we are still convinced we can do it, we are amazed by the reactions we get when we tell people this. Once we visited a furniture store just outside town. When we asked for the delivery rates, the saleswoman was staggered to find out we had come to the store by bus! Public transport is not great and will keep us from going out after 9 p.m. and on Sunday evening. On the other hand, living right in the center makes it easy to get pretty much anywhere by foot.
8. NZ cinema and literature are quite gloomy
Having seen one Kiwi movie and read half Kiwi book I am probably not the one to write about this yet, but I have the feeling the arts (or at least the cinema and literature) in New Zealand are quite dark. Maybe, after all, not everything in this country is as rosy as we picture it. Or, possibly, I just chose a very gloomy movie (“Once Were Warriors”) and haunting book (“Blindsight” by Maurice Gee). I will have to watch and read more for a final verdict.
9. Integration of indigenous people with white Kiwis does not go without problems… or does it?
Partly inspired by the previous finding and especially the movie “Once Were Warriors,” we have the impression that just like in Australia, Canada, US and other countries with an indigenous population, Maoris and white Kiwis do not always coexist without problems. Discrimination, criminality and other issues seem to be an issue here as well. We also often notice groups of white Kiwis or Maoris walking together, but hardly ever see mixed groups. That being said, a Kiwi friend did not share this observation, telling us the two do mix, and that interracial marriages are quite common.
10. Kiwis are “almost Spanish”
Closely related to number 4, Kiwis are laid-back and work is certainly not at the top of their agenda. People here know how to live a good life and enjoy a relaxed pace of living. As my midwife, who seems to savour her time off and enjoys a good surf, worded it: “We are almost Spanish.” Since I already fell head over heels with Spain a long time ago, this makes me love New Zealand even more.
For those who have been to New Zealand, any observations to add to this list?
Next week I’ll be back with a running post!