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Home Again!

[landscapephotograph description=”Mitre Peak & Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most famous scenes.” photoname=”Mitre Peak” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/MitrePeak-1.jpg” photourl=”http://illuminataphoto.zenfolio.com/milford_sound/h4B7B094C#h4b7b094c”][/landscapephotograph]

To:              Whom it may concern (i.e., our friends and family; Sharyon, Cynthia & Kerry at Waverley Park School; Robyn, Angus, Tracey, Roger, Tom and the Brannamans at Southland Hospital; Jan, wherever in the world you are; and the Ackermans in Deutschland)

From:                Tim Mulholland

Subject:            The Cultural Differences between New Zealand and the United States

As most everyone is aware, we’re back home in the US – Fitchburg, Wisconsin, to be exact. And, it’s good to be “home.”

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

  

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Now that we are back home it’s back to business as usual. A bit of an oversight… we need to hire a landscaping service. Yeah, it kind of already needed work at the time we left so we came back to a bit more of a mess than I can handle. I’m going to call the guys I always, if you’re in the market for a good landscaping service for yourself, check here. They’re quite reliable.

While we were in New Zealand we had many queries as to whether we would choose to stay there for a longer time. We loved our time in New Zealand and we wouldn’t trade this past year there for anything. We have so many wonderful, beautiful memories of our time in New Zealand and we met so many wonderful, loving people there. If I’d been born and raised in New Zealand, I feel that I would absolutely love it there.  But, I was raised in this American culture, and the US is home for better and for worse.  (I suspect that Asta is much more flexible on this than me, since she immigrated to the US fifteen, twenty years ago.)

I want to use this blog entry to highlight some of the differences between American and Kiwi culture. I truly had a fun year being an amateur, embedded anthropologist.

First, most everything is the same in New Zealand – and everything is different. Everyday in New Zealand, I had to have my antennae up because while “something” might appear to be the same as we knew it in the US, there also was a good chance that it was just slightly different. There were many times that I’d start to do something in NZ and find out that the process is slightly different, or purchase a product only to later find that the product was slightly different. This speaks to how much I spend my life on automatic pilot most of my time here in the US. I’ll try to be more specific as I write more.

FOOD:  Kiwi food is healthy and nutritious, so anyone can survive there, kiwi is one of the best foods for special diets from https://askhealthnews.com. In fact, I put on about five kgs/ten lbs during our first six months. You can find most anything in the grocery store there that you’d find here, so no worries, mate!

But, Kiwi food has strong roots in English food so it’s not terribly flavorful or exciting. Our favorite restaurant in Invercargill was Little India. We learned when we ordered our food that we needed to specify that we wanted our food to be “Indian spicy” which is not to be confused with (New Zealand) “spicy.” If we just ordered our food as “spicy,” it would taste more like mild to medium spicy by our standards. I have eaten spicy food at most every meal since returning – I have to catch up and increase my serum capsaicin concentrations!

DRIVING: Most everyone knows that Kiwis drive on the “wrong” side of the road – the left side.  It really didn’t take too long to get used to that, and it was an easy transition coming back to the States. And, I have to say that I love roundabouts – they are easy to negotiate and keep traffic moving. I can understand that folks here don’t like to change, but roundabouts really are a good thing!

Driver etiquette in New Zealand (in fact, all etiquette) seems to be more civilized and nicer. Drivers tend to drive more slowly and thoughtfully in town – they’re not in such a “hurry.” So far, I’m driving like I did in NZ, and it appears to be irritating the drivers behind me. And, crosswalks in NZ are WONDERFUL!!! Drivers actually stop and allow a walker to safely cross to the other side of the street. Back here, I had to get used to waiting for a gap in traffic and praying, rather than calmly ambling into the street.

One last thing: gas cost about $7/gallon (NZ$2.25/L). You get used to it. It seems that people there just drive less, too. That’s the way it is when you import all of your petroleum resources.

WILDLIFE:  OK, America has a very clear advantage here. The diversity of New Zealand’s wildlife is rather limited. But hey, it’s an island nation, and the various human immigrants over the past millennia or so brought their rats, dogs, cats, rabbits, stoats/weasels, and so on with them. These alien pests have done significant damage to New Zealand’s wildlife (especially birds) populations. And, it doesn’t help that the Maori hunted the moa to extinction, which also doomed the Haast eagle, which fed on the moa. New Zealand likely was a veritable Garden of Eden before “Adam’s and Eve’s” arrival. But, New Zealand has a much better landscape, especially when compared to Wisconsin, and especially if you happen to focus on landscape photography.

One thing that we’ve REALLY enjoyed since returning is our very special “home entertainment system.” We have several different species of birds that are flocking to our bird feeders outside our kitchen windows – chickadees, nuthatches, house finches, eastern goldfinches/wild canaries, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows (yes, the English kind, just like New Zealand –surprise!), and ruby-throated hummingbirds. And we’re also reacquainting ourselves with red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, robins (the American, red-breasted kind), ducks, geese and wild turkeys. The squirrels and chipmunks are chittering around our backyard and with the cooler weather coming we’re expecting to see “our” groundhogs and deer.

We don’t miss New Zealand’s sandflies. However, our mosquitoes are more annoying than theirs, mostly because it’s warmer here and there’s less wind.

New Zealand definitely has more sheep than Wisconsin, and is trying to catch up in dairy cattle.

CLOUDS: This one goes to the country in the south. New Zealand, a.k.a., Aotearoa, “The Land of the Long White Cloud,” has some of the most beautiful clouds I’ve ever seen – consistently puffy and beautiful! On the other hand, it is so nice to get back and see these massive, towering cumulo-nimbus storm clouds that we have in the Midwest – awesome! And, New Zealand has a lot more rainbows than we do in the Midwest, something to do with having more rain. But, seriously, while it was more humid and may have rained a bit more in NZ, it wasn’t depressing at all – and this comes from a guy with S.A.D.! The clouds roll in and out there, while we get these long drab periods, particularly in the winter.

SCHOOL: The kids loved their Kiwi school – Waverley Park School. The curriculum seems to be very similar as here at Stoner Prairie Elementary School. Schools in NZ seem to be housed in several smaller buildings, whereas here in the States we tend toward these large buildings.  I don’t know why the difference – climate? funding?

Another difference – so far – is that there doesn’t yet seem to be quite the emphasis on standardized testing. Testing is coming, though. The principal at Waverley Park School is not a supporter of standardized testing as a major tool for measuring student performance for the same reason that a lot of people (including me) don’t support it in the US – it’s only a singular measure of a very complex social and developmental issue. (The principal at Waverley Park School is one of my favorite people that I met in NZ.)

Our kids spent a lot of time running around barefoot at school, which is really healthy in my opinion, at least that’s what the Inspire team told me. They’d go to school with their shoes/jandals (flip flops) on their feet and then shed them. The major problem with running around barefoot is that if it’s a little cool outdoors, it’s easier to not put your shoes on and head out in your socks.  So, we went through more socks than previously.

RUGBY vs. FOOTBALL:  This one is a toss-up.  If I better understood the rules and strategies of rugby, I’d probably like it better – hard hitting, no padding other than what you’ve grown into your body.  I just wish that I could get the All Blacks’ games on my computer when they play – any suggestions?

NICE PEOPLE: Frankly, the people of NZ are nicer than your average American. Several travel surveys have come to the same conclusion. One of my metrics for this is that I was only flipped off once in my year in NZ, and that was by our friend, Tracey, in good fun.

CLIMATE:  This is a tough one. NZ’s climate is sort of a cool Mediterranean climate, especially where we were in extreme southern NZ. The Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea have a nice moderating influence on the climate. The daily temperature range was narrower than living here in the middle of the US. The humidity was higher, which causes a few different issues – window condensation, mold, so the use of a mould removal singapore is essential for this.

HOMES: The Kiwi homes that we experienced were generally smaller than American homes – no big deal.  American homes tend to be too big, so this wasn’t a surprise. The biggest problem, for me, living in a smaller home is that my introverted side didn’t get enough “space” away from the family, particularly in the evenings. Yes, I know – that’s my issue.

Since the climate is cooler there wasn’t much air conditioning where we lived.  In fact, I can hardly remember feeling AC the whole year in NZ. But, heating is a very different beast. Where we lived in southern Invercargill, there were enough homes that were heated with coal or wood that the air quality was a noticeable issue on cool mornings. Thank goodness for the wind! Our home had a single heat pump in the living room. The living room would be pleasant enough on cool days, but the further you went into the bedrooms, the cooler it became. J It was interesting to see how many homes opened their windows a bit during the daytime, no matter the temperature; I think that this was mostly a reflection on the buildup of moisture in homes (any Kiwis want to set me straight?).

Following onto this heating issue, it also was interesting to see that commercial businesses usually kept their doors open during business hours when the weather wasn’t too windy and cool. If I was out shopping, then I’d keep my coat on in the stores so that I’d stay warm – and the staff usually wore warm sweaters (“jumpers”) and additional layers to stay comfy.

HEALTH: While “health” is more of Asta’s venue, I’ll wade in here. Again, I feel that the health status of most Kiwis was pretty similar to that of an American person.

I felt that there might be a greater prevalence of smoking in NZ and that appears to be true, and obesity also seemed to be lower (again affirmed by the stats).  There appeared to be many fewer morbidly obese people in NZ when compared to the US.

The NZ health care is a socialized medicine system (which is a part of the reason that we were there). While everyone in NZ is a part of the national health care system (ergo, no uninsured/underinsured citizens as in the US), the option exists (if you can afford it) to purchase private health care and private health insurance through a parallel (?) private health care system.  Again, this is an “observation” based on I don’t know what, but most Kiwis seem to be more tolerant (or, have lower expectations?) of it’s socialized health care system that does not promise “immediate relief” like Americans expect of our health care system. I guess that we have lower tolerance of pain and discomfort here in the US.

Per capita health care spending in NZ is only about a third of that in the US and the healthiness of Kiwis appears to be similar to Americans.  Hmm….

VIOLENCE/GUNS: OK, this is an obvious difference, I hope. One of the more frequent questions I experienced from curious Kiwis regarded the American obsession with guns and the consequent violence. I couldn’t give them a decent answer since I don’t get it either! Yes, there is violence in NZ. I suspect (but don’t know) that domestic violence in NZ is on par with the US. There are stories in the NZ media about shootings and stabbings. But, on a per capita basis, it seems that violence in NZ is much, much less than in the US.

Writing about this issue got my curiosity up, so I “googled” it and I was correct (sadly). According to the NZ Ministry of Justice, in 2000, the US violent crime rate was 506 incidents/100,000 people, while in NZ the figure was 133 incidents/100,000.  Yikes!

Here’s a different set of statistics from NationMaster.com (I’ve not heard of this source before and some of the stats that I saw here looked fishy). In NZ, ~13.5% of homicides involve firearms (10 murders with firearms), while the figure is 39.6% in the US (9,369 murders with firearms). Also according to NationMaster, the incarceration rate in NZ is about 20% of the US rate (I’m not surprised), the rape rate is about three times higher in NZ (I was surprised by that!), and the suicide rate is about double in NZ.

POLITICS: No contest – NZ political life is much more sane!

THE ECONOMY: This is a tough issue about which to write, so I’ll turn to NationMaster again.  According to their stats, the US GDP per capita is about 70% higher than NZ’s GDP per capita. But, NZ didn’t “feel” to us to be significantly different in terms of its economy. Our “economic experience” in NZ felt that NZ wasn’t quite as high as the US, but life in NZ still felt comfortable.

QUALITY OF LIFE: So, here’s the big difference to piggy back onto my economic feelings. We seriously felt that the quality of life in NZ was on par or better than what we experience in the US. Yes, we did feel that the economic quality of life wasn’t quite as high, but overall quality of life there did feel better because of the friendlier people, lower crime rates, slower drivers and a slower, more pleasant, less frenetic lifestyle.  And, let’s not forget about the wonderful, breathtaking recreation opportunities in New Zealand – woo hoo!

THE 60’s!: I’ll close this piece with another anecdotal observation about NZ. We heard this from several folks who have visited NZ, so it’s not starting with us.

There is an observation by some visitors about New Zealand that it feels sort of like they’ve been transported back to the 1960s. Why? Life is a bit slower there. People are a bit friendlier in NZ. Kiwis seem to be genuinely focused on their families and friends. I can understand how visitors might feel that way, particularly if they live in a big, fast city. When I’ve heard people express this feeling about New Zealand, I’ve sometimes heard in a condescending way. But, while I agree that some folks might feel that way about New Zealand, I have to also say that I take it as a compliment for this beautiful, wonderful, friendly country!

OK, if you are a Kiwi who would like to set me straight, please feel free to do so!  I truly do not mean to step on any Kiwi toes, so if I did, I apologize. Similarly, if you’ve visited New Zealand and want to share your different observations and experiences or write shout-out here to New Zealand as a wonderful place, I also hope to hear from you!

46 S. EnZed signing off… (and, it’s time to find a new closing)

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