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Thoughts on New Zealand

Auckland at Night

Other than some obvious things like driving on the left, I’m amazed at how easy it is for an American to fit in, in New Zealand. As I was driving around the country, I could just as easily have been in any number of US states. As I’d drive around, I’d say “this is just like the Pacific Northwest”, “this is just like the Rockies”, “this is just like Kentucky”, or “this is just like Northern California”. The people are nice, its very clean (very), and there are tons of things to see. Here are some things that stuck out in my mind:

Commerce

Everything I’ve purchased so far had the tax included in the sale price. If you see something for $2.50, that $2.50 includes the GST. I have no clue what the GST here is. Its very well hidden. I spoke with an American working in a sporting goods store in Auckland who said it was like 12% and there is another 12% on imported goods. Many things here are pretty pricey. Not ridiculous, but more than you’d expect.

One thing which is cheap is lamb. Its dirt cheap. I purchased 3 nice sized lamb chops for dinner tonight for about NZ$5.50. That’s about US$3.50. Fish is also pretty cheap. I’ve been eating lamb almost every night, because why not? I’m in New Zealand. One night I also ate smoked roe….smoked fish eggs. It wasn’t bad.

Driving around, I saw farms everywhere. Until I reached Wellington however, I didn’t see a single bit of cultivated land. No crops. Nothing. Everything was grazing cattle and sheep. Granted it’s winter here, but I didn’t even see any barren land. In the Midwest of the US, when you see dairy farms, you usually see fields of corn, alfalfa, or hay. Here, it seemed all the dairy farms had their cows just graze on grass. I did see some hay bales so it must be grown somewhere, but I didn’t see any. The only major cultivation of anything I’ve seen so far are vineyards on the South Island (Marlborough Region).

Their smallest coin is 10 cents. They have recently phased out the 5 cent coin. All purchased I’ve had with odd numbers have been rounded. This is a good case study for getting rid of the penny in the US, and probably the nickel too.

Their paper currency is almost plastic. All the bills do have a transparent bit of plastic on them (two in fact). Edmund Hillary is on their $5 note, which I think is very cool. Their coins go up to $5 and the $1 and $2 coin are very common. There are no bills smaller than $5.

Sports

The three most popular sports in New Zealand are rugby, rugby and rugby. The big New Zealand team are the All Blacks (actually, legend has it the team got its name from a typo in a UK newspaper during a trip in 1905). Ruby is huge all over the Pacific. Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands produce great rugby players. I got to listen to the NZ/France test match on the radio while driving.

You might not know it (and you would if you visited Auckland) but the Rugby World Cup is happening in about three months. I did a bit of research and it turns out that the USA is playing in the World Cup. I’m guessing that most Americans don’t know that. I’m also guessing that when the World Cup happens, it will get zero media attention in the US. (FYI, the US team are called the Eagles).

Any American that watches rugby will get it immediately. Its really similar to football (called “gridiron” here). The ball is sort of the same. The field is pretty much the same. The object of the game is similar (get the ball into the endzone). Unlike football, its more fluid like hockey or basketball. You move the ball forward by running and you can only lateral the ball. Its obvious watching rugby where American football got its roots. You can even see why the forward pass was such a big innovation. The big difference between rugby and football are 1) football has plays where as rugby action is continuos, and 2) rugby has no dedicated offense and defense.

I think the USA could put together an awesome rugby team by just taking a bunch of washed up college and high school football players. Rugby players are built like brick shithouses. Get former fullbacks and linebackers and they’d do great.

The reason why American Football will have a hard time gaining popularity overseas is because of rugby. Rugby is cheaper to play (no expensive pads and helmets) and you only need half the players.

I have encountered one sport here I’ve never heard of before: Netball. I don’t know much about it other than what I’ve seen on TV, but it seems like basketball without dribbling or a backboard, and it looked like you play with a volleyball.

Netball is REALLY stupid. Women don’t need a special version of basketball. They can play basketball just fine. What is really stupid about Netball, is that all the players have to wear what position they play on their jersey. That is like Bret Favre having to have “I AM TEH QUARTERBACK” on the front of his jersey, least he forget.

NZ is also in the finals of the America’s Cup right now. Its getting a lot of press because the team they are facing is pretty much made up of Kiwi’s. In fact, most of the boats had Kiwi’s in major positions.

Current Events and Culture

The big story while I’ve been here was a woman in Auckland who was on oxygen who died when her power was cut off. This sort of gives you an idea for how small the country is. Things which would only be news at a local level are national here.

I saw some sort of current events “comedy” show on TV and it was horrible. I forget the name, but the actors had exaggerated faces of political officials. While I’m not up on NZ politics, I know funny when I see it. I can watch shows from the UK or Canada and laugh even if I don’t know everything. This was not funny, however.

All the toilets here have two flush buttons. At first I didn’t know why. I assumed (correctly as it turned out) that they were for full and half flushes. The thing is, I don’t really notice a difference between the two buttons when you use them.

Before coming here, I sort of assumed that a Kiwi accents was just sort of a watered down Australian accent. It sort of is in the south island, but its really closer to an English accent. Some people I talked to seemed to have accents more British than the British.

The populations of the North and South Islands seem different too. More places in the north have Maori names than in the South. The north has more Maori, and Auckland in particular has a very big Asian population. I saw almost no Asians outside of Auckland.

NZ has had a bad history with Maori/European relations in the past, but they’ve delt with it better than the US did with Indian relations.

A great example is the All Blacks. Before every match, they perform the Haka, which is a Maori war dance. It’s very cool:

There is a high school in Texas with a big Tongan population that does this before football games.

I find it interesting how doing the Haka (and singing the NZ national anthem in Maori) are done as a sign of respect to the Maori, but in the US, if you name a sports team after an Indian tribe or did a dance, it is considered offensive.

  • 6 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Gary says:

    I didn’t discover Flight of the Conchords until I had left NZ and I saw them on YouTube. They are by far the best cultural export that NZ has going right now.

  2. Dave says:

    Well, I think it would still be offensive to call a rugby team “the Maoris”. Or the Ngati Whatua or something. Except, of course, if it was actually the NZ Maori team or something…

    But I think Maori culture is more integral to NZ life than native American culture is to American life. Like we will use Maori words (kia ora, whanau, kai etc) in casual language without being pretentious. And many boys’ high schools will have their own haka that the entire school does at sports fixtures.

    As for that political satire show, yes, it does suck. There is some brilliant kiwi comedy (search on youtube for Pulp Sport or Flight of the Conchords), but there’s also a lot of crap that gets aired anyway because they want to promote local tv industry, even if it sucks.

    As for the US rugby team, I’m pretty sure it _is_ made up of washed up gridiron players :) But the tactics and tackles are different enough that the skills aren’t as transferable as you might think. Also, not all rugby players are thick and massive, you need to have some speedy dudes on the wing (e.g. Rokocoko) too.

  3. Andy says:

    I graduated a high school here in the US that was the Indians. 5 years ago somebody decided that was “offensive” and even found a tribal representative to come and say that before a school assembly. Granted with their sports record I would have been offended as well. Now? They are the Patriots.

  4. Amy says:

    The woman who died after her power was shut off actually made world news – as I had read the story.

  5. Wendy says:

    NZ is a beautiful country. I visited for a month with my family while I was in high school (14 years ago). Of all the places we have visited, its one of my favorites.

    Safe Travels!

  6. martha says:

    If Americans did pay attention to the Rugby World Cup, they would find out that the Eagles suck. Go Wallabies!

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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