Cultural differences in New Zealand


Here is some background information about our culture and to give you a little more input into our society before you arrive:
“With a patchwork history of Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures, New Zealand has become a melting-pot population - but one with some uniting features that make it unique in the world. Today, of the 4.7 million New Zealanders (informally known as Kiwis), approximately 69% are of European descent, 14.6% are indigenous Māori, 9.2% Asian and 6.9% non-Māori Pacific Islanders” (source www.newzealand.com). Geographically, over three-quarters of the population live in the North Island, with one-third of the total population living in Auckland. The other main cities of Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton are where the majority of the remaining Kiwis dwell.

New Zealanders do some things differently to other nationalities. Some of the differences include:

  1. NZ is the least corrupt nation in the world (tied with Denmark), according to the Corruptions Perception Index.
  2. Tipping is not expected in New Zealand, but is nowadays appreciated. There is no set formula and it is at your own discretion. Some cafes and restaurants have a container for tips, which get shared with all the workers on site.
  3. Generally New Zealanders are casual and relaxed, and dress informally on most occasions, including when we go to cafes or shopping.
  4. Many New Zealanders have a quite direct and frank way of speaking.
  5. People are usually very happy to give directions or answer questions, so don't be shy to ask.
  6. Personal privacy is important and subjects such as salary, mortgages and age are not often discussed by New Zealanders. These topics are not usually discussed unless you know the person very well.
  7. Sometimes New Zealanders can be offended if people stare (look closely) at them and it may be considered rude and aggressive.
  8. New Zealanders like a large ‘personal space’, so when talking with someone it is a good idea to stand a few feet away from that person. Intensive eye contact or standing too close can be viewed as an invasion of ‘personal space’. If you notice someone backing away from you, this could be the reason.
  9. Sometimes New Zealanders can be offended by personal comments such as "you have put on weight", "she is skinny" or "his hair is very grey".
  10. Generally people in New Zealand, especially adults, like to hear people say "please" and "thank you" when paying for goods and services or when help has been given. We say thank you to service providers! Kiwis are friendly and polite. Greeting and thanking on buses is normal.
    Kiwis will smile at strangers and partake in small talk – it is normal!!! Don’t be surprised when the cashier at the supermarket starts asking about your day. It might be a little shocking for some, but that’s just their culture and style. Most of them are genuinely friendly.
  11. New Zealanders find spitting offensive and some can get upset if they see people do this. We are a very clean country and protect our environment, to litter is an offence.
  12. New Zealanders mostly speak quietly when on public transport or in public spaces, even when with friends.
  13. We are a very egalitarian country and don’t have really poor people, so everybody gets treated with the same respect. There is no cheap labour in our country at all.
  14. Many New Zealanders have pets, most commonly a cat or dog.
  15. New Zealanders can be passionate about sport - particularly rugby. Playing sport is a great way to make friends.
  16. Schools, institutions/education providers may be open on Saturdays or Sundays but classes will rarely be held on these days.
  17. If you are used to cities that don’t sleep, New Zealand cities do sleep! Many shops close around 5pm, except restaurants, pubs and supermarkets. You will find shopping malls in some of the larger cities and towns and these may be open later on some evenings. Many stores also open on Saturdays and some open on Sundays (particularly in larger towns and cities). In resorts you will find most stores open in the evenings. Some banks will be open on a Saturday morning.
  18. Appointments are made in advance to see professional people (e.g. to see a doctor or dentist).
    In New Zealand people under the age of 18 are not allowed to buy alcohol and there are heavy penalties for people who drive after drinking alcohol.
  19. Young New Zealand people (over 18 years of age) often get together in pubs, bars or cafes rather than in restaurants, which can be costly. It is acceptable not to drink alcohol when socialising.
  20. Generally, New Zealand people do not bargain when they go shopping and this can offend people, but for larger items such as cars, whiteware, electrical appliances or even bicycles there can be a range of prices and it is acceptable to ask for a discount for cash. It may be acceptable to bargain at open-air markets.
  21. New Zealanders don't carry much cash as electronic methods of payment are widely used.
  22. We are generally very casual people who love the outdoors. New Zealand has some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.
  23. Food is very good, as we can generally get everything locally and mostly organic, but in comparison to Asian cooking some foods you may think bland. In the last few years many Asian restaurants have opened in small town ships. New Zealand has a wide variety of restaurants/cuisines.
  24. Even in the remotest places you will have internet connection and generally cell phone coverage. Most locations are of a high modern standard of living.
  25. To protect people from the health effects of second hand smoke, smoking in all hospitality venues, including bars, restaurants, cafes, and casinos, is prohibited in New Zealand. If you smoke, please remember to smoke outside.
  26. New Zealanders do not discriminate – it is against our law. All people are equal. This means that men and women are treated equally and women must be given the same respect as men. It does not matter what country a person comes from; they will be treated as an equal and you should treat them as equal.
  27. Most New Zealanders eat three meals each day: Breakfast (around 7-8am), lunch (12- 2pm) and an evening meal called dinner or tea (6-8pm).

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Written by Veronika Vermeulen
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