Lessons in culture - A Californian in N-Zee

Uprooting your life and moving to any country can spur a culture shock. I moved to New Zealand in March. The past couple of years I’ve spent considerable time in Australia, the US, China and, now, New Zealand.

And, believe it or not, New Zealand isn’t that different from my homeland of California.  Our roots are in agriculture, we consider ourselves clean and green, and we love our wine.

I say my homeland is California and not the US because if the state were its own country, it would be the 12th-largest economy in the world.

New York and California are different the way Auckland and Christchurch are different. You can’t visit one urban area, and say you’ve experienced the flavor of the entire country. Eh hem, I meant flavour.

Since setting some roots down in the North Island, I’ve found a few things I love.  Some of them I love because they are just like home. And others I love because it’s the opposite of home. 

1. The St Heliers fire truck in Auckland has a latte holder. I asked a fireman back home about that and he says: “That’s very contemporary. I hold my coffee between my legs and hope my driver doesn’t hit any bumps. But he usually does and I burn the s*** out of my legs.”

2. People here are proud to be Kiwi. The National Business Review has five 500-gram tubs of butter in the fridge. I’m pretty sure this is more dairy per capita than most offices around the world.

3. My co-workers correct my pronunciation of certain words, such as the letter “Z”, in zed versus zee. If this were California, journalists would never correct their fellow foreign journalist on pronunciation because they’d want to keep the newsroom “diverse”. ["B-N-Zee". Honestly. Deport her already - CK]

4. My partner had to drive from the CBD to Penrose in a gas-guzzling vehicle to drop off an old computer at an e-recycler. It was the closest one we could find, but at least you have e-recyclers. In China, people just sort of dump old electronics on the side of the road.

5. Your elected officials have affairs too. California Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger even bore a child with the family housekeeper. Sorry, Len Brown, according to your ex-lover’s texts, you were only a four out of 10.

6. Many New Zealanders ask me if I surf and how come my hair isn't blond if I'm so Californian. Many Californians ask me if New Zealanders dress up in hobbit suits and attend Lord of the Rings re-enactments every weekend. I love how our cultural understandings stem from high-definition television. 

7. Like California, wine in New Zealand is widely available for under $10, bringing my weekly expense to about $70. While staying in Western Australia, my low-end wine was more like $A12-$A15, which largely cut into my vegetable budget.

8. The use of the word solicitor fascinates me. To me, lawyers will always be attorneys and solicitors will always be what walks up and down K Road during nocturnal hours.

9. It’s interesting the way Kiwis embrace technology, then apologise for it. Back home, anytime paper is reduced and truck routes are shortened, it's seen as earth-loving and friendly. People are outraged that NZ Post plans to slash up to 2,000 jobs. Well, welcome to 2013. At a recent press conference at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland, Prime Minister John Key told reporters: “Unfortunately, technology is dramatically changing the way we communicate with each other.” Unfortunate? Or playing catch-up? Let’s see how much hate mail I get over this one on pen and paper.

10. In California, In-N-Out Burger puts religious messages, such as quotes from the Bible, on its burger and chips’ packaging. Meanwhile, Burger Fuel, refers to its chicken "breasts in plants" as succulent and all natural.


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