11 strange things about New Zealand, from an American perspective

I have fallen in love with this country and Queenstown might just be my favorite city on Earth (thus far). I think one of the reasons I love it so much is how in some ways it feels so much like home, but it has its quirks that keep me on my toes. So Alex and I have prepared a list. Here are some strange things I love about this place.

1) The accent. I think that this is probably something everyone gets excited about but I can now pretty easily discern between Irish, British, Aussie and Kiwi. I can tell if they are from Scotland too I just can’t understand anything they are saying. The Kiwi accent switches the “e” sound in words to an “i” sound. This provides endless immature hilarity when Kiwi’s tell us about their decks.

2) Its safe. Especially here in Queenstown. In fact the first few pages of the weekly news is rows of people who have found things and want to return them to the owner like, “Found Ipod at such and such bar” or “Have lost passport for John Doe.” Sometimes Kiwis are almost ashamed of how safe it is and have to reassure us that there are gangs here. We just remind them that their gangs don’t have guns so yeah… still pretty safe.

3) There is no refrigerator discipline. In the US we get our milk from the store and then fly home in complete panic, every second ticking by like the milk is a nuclear bomb that can only be stopped by placing it into the chilled safety of the fridge (at least my Aunt does this). Here, however, milk is left out for hours, probably days and no one really cares. Eggs are on the regular shelf in the grocery and never get refrigerated. Butter sometimes makes it into the fridge, sometimes doesn’t. People just eat these items warm and nobody dies.

4) Hitchhiking is a perfectly reasonable way to get around. Especially down on the South Island where there are so few highways and towns. If someone is standing on the road you facing your direction it’s almost 99% certain they are going to the same place as you. In Queenstown there are a lot of people who rely on this method to get to work every day and in Kaiteriteri our new bosses at the hostel told us that we could get to them by either waiting for the morning bus or hitchhiking out. This works in such a backpacker friendly environment where most people are young and on holiday and wanting to meet other travelers. Most people don’t wait longer than fifteen minutes before getting picked up. I have heard of no one getting murdered.

5) There are barely any stop lights. Queenstown doesn’t even have one. Everything is a roundabout or a yield sign. This is where the most racial slurs are thrown out. As foreigners we do not understand how to use these types of roads and this makes locals ANGRY. Alex uses them now like a pro and now as locals, other people using them makes him ANGRY. I think this is probably a true phenomenon everywhere. Everyone else is the worst driver in the world. Luckily, with such a small population there are hardly any jams. In the country all the bridges are one lane but there never seems to be a backup. The only thing to worry about is someone forgetting to be on the right side of the road, and by right I mean left.

6) Cussing is very casual. Everyone cusses. Children, adults, little old ladies. And no words are off limits either. The F word and C word are used as normal parts of everyday language. I have heard the N word here used by middle aged white people greeting each other. While it’s strange to heard ten year old children call each other an F-ing C, I like that words are just words here. If you say them enough I guess all the power goes out of them. I’m not sure if any words are off limits here but I’ll get back to you with my research.

7) New Zealand feels like the nineties. This is especially true when cruising down country roads. Nearly everyone’s car comes from before 2005 and most were born around the same time as me. Station wagons are still in style because of their higher gas mileage and ability to sleep in the back. Our car is actually among the better looking cars here. This loses truth in the bigger cities but out here, we are riding in style with the windows down and Tupac blaring on the radio.

8) The radio. Tupac actually plays once or twice a day, followed by Backstreet Boys or Brittney. And the radio hosts don’t seem to have any rules either. The guy who runs the only station in Glenorchy (where Alex will be working) is retired and bought the radio station to keep himself entertained. He played a song and then said, “Well… let’s see how the All Blacks are faring.” He listens to it for around seven minutes and then sighs and says, “Well, that’s enough of that. Hmmm… Let’s play some music.” And then it seemed as if he just went through his entire collection alphabetically as it switched between a strange songs from a Caribbean language to Christina Aguilera. We have heard radio hosts do everything from forgetting how to run the machines and talking about it for five minutes, to a host explaining to a five year old where babies come from. It is the best radio I have ever experienced.

9) People pretend it doesn’t get cold. While we missed the bulk of winter, we have heard it gets well below freezing. I can’t give you exacts because they use Celsius but it seems like they just don’t feel it. At least on the outside. Outside they wear no shoes and shorts and even forego the shirt in the grocery but I’ve been inside there homes and their homes are filled with heating in the floor and electric blankets and the strange bags that you fill with water and put under your covers. But central heat is like a point of pride for them, they just can’t install it. They are just as warm as all the other Pacific Islands! (Despite their close proximity to Antarctica.)

***As a side note the US really needs to switch to Celsius. Only the US, the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands and Palau still use it and most people probably aren’t even aware Palau is a country so, yeah, I really wish I knew Celsius.***

10) New Zealanders, Aussies, British people: When they say the letter Z they say zed. We say Zee.

11) Kmart is awesome. I think out of all three words I could ever say this combination at one point felt the most unlikely. But Kmart is KILLING it here. It’s got the lowest prices, the best clothes, the cutest homewares. It’s basically… Target and everyone loves Target. We don’t have one in Queenstown but we were looking at possibly making a four road trip to the next city to go back to Kmart so we can make our place cuter. We are going to drive four hours… to go to Kmart. Life is weird.


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