Te Apiti wind farm near the Manawatu Gorge.

Te Apiti wind farm near the Manawatu Gorge.

The number one thing I find myself asking people from other countries is, “What would you say the biggest differences are between (your home) and the U.S.?”  It’s also what I tried to find out about New Zealand before I moved there.  Initially, this country might seem pretty similar to the States—and, in many respects, they’re nearly identical.  But as I continue to spend time here, more subtleties emerge that further differentiate the two.  Here are some of the more glaringly obvious:

Driving.  Like all Commonwealth countries, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, opposite to what an American is used to.  This was probably the most difficult thing to get used to my first week here; after being taught to look left THEN right, doing the reverse seems odd.  The rule extends to walking, as well—stay to the left on the sidewalk, stairs, etc.  However, after a few weeks of acclimation I now barely notice the difference.  Also: everyone here yields to pedestrians on the road, which is refreshing!

Coffee.  Ok, so this isn’t really exclusive to New Zealand.  Just like in Europe, “coffee” means “espresso”—you’d be hard-pressed to find drip coffee on any menus (no, not even at McDonald’s).  Terminology here is different as well: for instance, my beloved Americano is called a “long black”.  The “flat white” is the national standby, similar to a latte but with less milk, a different consistency, and smaller in size.  “But wait,” you might say, “what am I supposed to do about my mug of morning dark roast?”  Two words: instant coffee.  Although this might initially send a shiver of fear down your spine, worry not!  Instant here is actually dehydrated, and much better than what we find at home.  Trust me…it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Footwear.  Unlike at home, this seems to be optional in New Zealand.  Yes, I definitely did a double-take the first time I saw someone barefoot in the grocery store.  This can probably be owed to   If you are going to wear shoes, opt for jandals–or, as we call them, flip-flops.

No Netflix.  Yes, you read that right.  Fingers are crossed for a May release.

So those are the things you’ll notice right off the plane.  But spend a month here, hang out with some of the people, and you’ll notice that things might be more different than you thought:

Native culture.  What was the last time you saw signs subtitled in Ojibwe?  Have you used any Anishinaabe words recently?  If you weren’t from the U.S., it would be nearly impossible to discern the existence of a native population from our daily culture.  However, the role of New Zealand’s indigenous people—the Maori—is prominent in society here.  Signs everywhere are printed in English and Maori, children are taught about the culture in school, and certain words and phrases are common in Kiwi English.  Although there is still controversy over the Treaty of Waitangi, signed between the British and the Maori in 1840, the respect toward New Zealand’s first peoples is evident.

Trust.  It’s not uncommon to walk by a house and see the windows and even the doors wide open.  Kiwis don’t seem to be worried about their stuff being stolen, or maybe about the neighbor’s cat weaseling its way into their living rooms.  As a whole the culture is very trusting—for instance, hitchhiking is quite common here.  To someone who grew up shutting, locking, and deadbolting the front door at the behest of their New Yorker father, this whole thing seems pretty foreign.

Urgency…or lack thereof.  It takes some time away from America to realize how fast-pace our lives really are.  Everything here is much more relaxed, and impatience doesn’t exist to the extent we’re used to.  This might explain why the people are friendly, and always seem willing to lend a hand, offer directions, or just strike up a conversation.

So my first week at Massey is over, which went well despite being late for four consecutive classes due to navigational difficulties.  I’m already enjoying my subjects, but still getting used to the reading-heavy structure of coursework here: when you only have two assignments and one exam, the pressure is on…

Tomorrow makes a month since I left Minneapolis for Manawatu.  I can’t really say if my time so far has gone quickly or slowly, and I know I don’t want to comment on it in the context of the four months I have left.  But I can say with certainty that I’ve already had some incredible times, and that I intend to continue enjoying the hell out of life here.  Cheers, everyone–and here’s to a good March.


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