When one travels to the other side of Earth, one expects to find a place rather different from their point of origin. What has been most striking to me about New Zealand is how much it has in common with the U.S. of A.
Let me paint a mental picture for you. It’s my first day in my new flat. The bus pulls up to the place I will live for the next five months. I fill my lungs with a long inhale as I gaze upon the building. My new home. An experience unlike anything I’ve ever known. As I fling open the front door, I toss my bags into my bedroom, hardly giving the place a second glance. I wanted to see everything in the house! I wanted to meet my new flatmates with whom I would live in a way I had never thought possible before. Voices were audible from the second floor, and I sprinted to greet them. With a few bounds I ascended the stairs, and ran into the room I heard the voices coming from, and lo and behold there’s……
my Kiwi flatmate, eating Pizza Hut and watching HBO’s ‘The Wire.’
In short, things didn’t start out the way I planned. I was not immediately floored by the stark contrast between my host and home institutions. However, over time, I did come to realize and identify the differences between the two countries in light of their undeniable similarities. I’ll break these differences down into a few categories:
The Extremely Obvious Differences:
- Language – Yes, they speak English here. However, the various accents are quite different from most other English-speaking countries, as they are rather separate from most of the world. Here’s a video made by a few Kiwis that demonstrates my point:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISP5-Itz_dUYou’ll notice that the main difference lies in the pronunciation of vowels- they all kind of sound the same. ‘Yes’ is pronounced as ‘yis’, ‘chips’ – ‘chups’, and ‘apples’ ‘ipples’. You’ll notice that almost all vowels take on an ‘i’ sound, and anything with the letter ‘i’ sounds like a ‘u’. Confused yet?Other words are pronounced with emphasis on different syllables than ours. For instance, Kiwis refer to the herb ‘oregano’ as ‘ore-ah-gah-no.’Spelling also accounts for a great deal of difference in language. They left the letter ‘i’ in ‘alumin’i’um’ so it is pronounced ‘al-oo-min-ee-uhm.’
Other things have just totally different names, or different terminology.
On top of all of this, there’s the slang. Here’s a brief list of some of the most commonly-used slang terms/phrases I’ve heard here:
‘Cheers’ – Typically used in place of ‘thanks.’ I have yet to hear a Kiwi say ‘thanks.’ Always cheers.
‘Sweet as’ – If you watched the video above, you heard the term ‘beached as.’ That was making fun of this. Really you can say ‘(whatever) as’. The whole idea is that it’s an unfinished metaphor. So if I were to say your shirt was ‘sweet as’ that would be a complete sentence, and a compliment. Knowing this will keep you from getting offended if someone behind you says the term. They’re not talking about you, or your bottom.
‘Heaps’ – An abundance. Lots of something. ‘There’s heaps of sheep out there!’
‘Keen’ – Similar to saying you agree to something. If you were to ask someone if they were ‘keen to head down to the Bee Gee’s concert,’ you’d really be asking them if they would like to accompany you to a complete waste of an afternoon.
- Transportation – Again, you think you know the subject, but it’s all different here. I’ll start with the big one: They drive on the other side of the road.
While you may have known that, this also means that they walk on the other side!
Also, cars here tend to be much more compact/fuel efficient than back in the States, although I think that is true for most countries.
The Less Obvious:
- Prices – Think about the knowledge you have attained throughout your life in regards to how much things cost. You have spent years upon years formulating what the true value of a dollar is. Now, FORGET ALL OF THAT. That’s what it’s like in New Zealand. You can buy five beautiful porterhouse steaks here for about $15.00, something completely unheard of in the U.S. They’re practically giving them away! Now, how much would you venture a few limes would cost? I mean, the steak was basically free, so limes must cost like, 50 -75 cents, right?
So, basically, prices are unpredictable here – it’s a living and learning process. Really, we just keep spreadsheets of where we think we can get things for the best deals, and hope for the best.
- Food – Really, there are few things that can be identified as ‘New Zealand’ when it comes to food. The food available here is a mixture of Pan-Asian, Indian, and English cuisines. However, you can find food from just about anywhere here. Sam and I have tried Danish, Malaysian, and Japanese food here in the past couple of weeks. It’s amusing to see the ‘American food’ in the international aisle:
Also, they don’t refrigerate their eggs here! While this seemed very odd to me, my friends from the Netherlands and Denmark assured me that it was safe and common in their native countries:
– I could spend a lifetime writing about this (and indeed thousands of people have), and hardly graze the surface here. That being said, this slight mention will fail to encompass the complexity of the subject in every way. I very well may have been better off omitting it altogether, but it’s really too important to leave out.Really, socialism is at work in the United States, and has been for well over a century (see Social Security, collective taxation, government subsidy programs, etc.). The main difference between the U.S. and New Zealand’s socialism is health care. In New Zealand, every human is covered by Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). This no-fault insurance plan enables anyone to receive medical treatment and attention at any time. This system seems to be the pride and joy of New Zealand – as far as I can see, no serious suggestion by even the most conservative politicians has been made to do away with the ACC or its role in the nation.This idea of people being cared for seems to exist in most aspects of life in New Zealand. Sam and I have seen frequent ‘random acts of kindness’ to the point where it doesn’t seem so random at all. People here are constantly watching out for one another, and ready to lend a helping hand when they can.
There seems to be a greater respect among all people here, which is evident in the fact that minimum wage is so high that tipping is actually frowned upon, college education is heavily subsidized by the government, and nearly all crosswalks and intersections have accessibility technology to aid individuals with disabilities so that they may independently travel with greater ease. People would prefer to help rather than harm each other here. Perhaps this is why the majority of police officers choose not to carry firearms in this country, and it’s entirely common to see people leave their front doors unlocked or completely open at all hours.
All of my life in the United States I have heard all sorts of prejudice against socialism, most of it mindless dribble that Joseph McCarthy could have very easily been charged of saying. I’m not sure I will ever understand this mentality as anything other than people fear what they cannot understand. Well, they know socialism in New Zealand, and having had the privilege of seeing it in action, I think it is a beautiful thing. You don’t have to take my word for it though – the World Bank rated New Zealand the most business-friendly place on earth in 2005, the United Nations index declared New Zealand to be the third best country to live in circa 2010, andthe Fraser Institute named it the most free country in the world this year. Clearly, they’re doing something right.
Any country on earth will have its positive and negative aspects. Nowhere is perfect, despite the fact that any nation has patriots within it who will claim their country is – and that’s fine! However, I need something more. I live under the philosophy of Socrates, in that the only thing I know for certain is the magnificent depth of my own ignorance. With this in mind, I can not proclaim any nation to be superlative in any category, but I can enjoy the various benefits one may offer, adapt to its hindrances, and compare and contrast them from my previous experiences. I hope that you can do the same, if you don’t already.