While New Zealand is in fact an English-speaking country, the language is obviously not the only aspect that defines a culture. The language may be the same, but the culture brings an entirely new vocabulary (with alternate spellings, as you may see later in this article). For example, when going on an overnight trip in New Zealand, you may be asked to bring along your ìjandals,” ìtogs” and ìrunners.” People may greet you with, ìKia Ora,” and exclaim, ìSweet as!” if you tell them an exciting story.
It takes a bit of time to become accustomed to the new vocabulary, but you soon learn that if someone says, ìsweet as,” they are in fact not complimenting your backside, but simply inferring that your story is ìcool” or ìawesome.” Jandals are sandals, togs are bathing suits, and runners are sneakers.† Kia Ora is a greeting used in the language of the native New Zealand people, the Maori. The Maori culture is extremely prominent in New Zealand, and as a result their language becomes a part of everyday speech in the country.
In addition to language and vocabulary, there are small aspects of the culture in New Zealand that are quite different than in the States. First, they drive on the left side of the road. Because they drive on the left hand side of the road, they walk on the left hand side of the sidewalks, walk in the left doors of buildings and walk up the stairs on the left side. When crossing a street, I still have to remind myself to look to the right first to see if there are any cars coming, and when getting into the passengerís side of the car, I must walk to the left side. While this may seem quite minor, it has actually been one of the more stubborn of my habits to break.
While walking on the sidewalk, Kiwis (the international name for†† people from New Zealand) never make eye contact with other pedestrians. Unless you know someone or you ask a question directly addressed to someone, you simply make no eye contact and continue walking.
At first, I found this rude and awkward, but this is simply how it is done here. If you do have a question about directions or whatnot and you need to ask a pedestrian, I have found that people are more than willing to help you get around, and will often go out of their way to walk to your destination.
On one of my early experiences using the bus system in Wellington, I asked a driver which bus I needed to be on to get to campus, and he gave me a free ride to the correct bus stop. As a whole, Kiwis are extremely friendly and are willing to help you out.
The scenery in New Zealand is breathtaking. There are rolling hills with grass so green it almost hurts your eyes, and on a nice day it is hard to differentiate the sea from the sky at the horizon. There are snow-capped mountains in the distance, framed by the city skyline and surrounded by the winding waterfront.† In the country, the hilly farms are spotted with white sheep, trees and numerous lakes and reservoirs ó and of course the sea is always close by.
There are only 4.2 million people inhabiting this country, so pollution is nowhere near the issue it is in the United States, and the water from almost any river or stream is absolutely safe to drink.
There is also no need to fear any kind of wildlife while tramping (or hiking) in the wilderness. In fact, snakes do not exist in New Zealand Ö at all. A bite from the most dangerous insect could possibly require hospitalization. There are no bobcats, bears, lions, tigers, raccoons or predators of any kind. Your biggest threat on a hike would be the occasional opossum or perhaps a rabbit. In fact, you would be more apt to come across one of these two pests than a tick or chiggers, because they are not here either!
This lack of dangerous wildlife really allows people to enjoy all of the wonders of the country. There are camping huts set up all over the country equipped with cots, a wooden stove and shelter to appease travellers from all over the country and the world. You simply pay $5-$10 as you walk in, which is all done through an honor system ó the country trusts that campers will support the building as a thank you for the shelter.
If youíre at all into extreme sports, then this is the country to visit. There is bungee jumping all over the place, ranging from the 142 meter Nevis, to a 47 meter jump with a water dip. There is skydiving, foxgliding, canyon swinging, gorging, spelunking, zorbing and much more.
The craziest thing about these sports, to me at least, is that you donít have to sign a waiver! I cannot speak for every single one of these activities, but I did go bungee jumping, and all I had to do was sign my name, of course, then pay the bill. The program that I came through actually has to make up waivers specifically for the Americans who come through the program. The country just is not big on suing for liability.
I could go on about minor differences in New Zealand, such as eating pies with meat in them on a daily basis; how rugby is played instead of football; being permitted to drink at 18, yet you ìcome of age” at 21; high school being called college and college being called university; a university degree only taking three years to complete, the fact that they do not readily use dishwashers or clothes dryers and that insulation in housing is not a legal necessity, but I could go on all day.
The most important things are that the people are wonderful, the country is beautiful, and the differences in culture are exciting and interesting ó I learn more every day.