Remember when I started that series called Kiwi Quirks (or rather, when I wrote that one blog post and said that it would be a running series)? Well, here’s the much-anticipated, feverishly-awaited second installment. Enjoy!
1. Assigned Seating at Movies
Walk into any major movie theatre in New Zealand and you’re bound to find that – save for the prices – it’s exactly like any movie theatre you’d see back home in the States. Same slightly shabby interiors, same fluorescent lighting and hideous carpeting, same reek of popcorn and the dead-eyed looks of various clerks and ticket takers. That is, until you attempt to buy a ticket and are asked which seat you’d like to purchase. That’s right – you don’t get to just saunter into the theater, pick a seat, lounge there for a while, change your mind, pick a different seat, change your mind, and go back to the original. No, no – you must pick your seat ahead of time, and what’s more, you’d better damn stick to it! Because they’ll check on you, and heaven forbid you’re in the wrong seat. It could get ugly. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
2. Dryer What?
If you come from the United States, the idea of putting your clothes into a dryer after washing them is a kind of universal dualism that, like bacon and eggs or Sonny and Cher, should never be tampered with. But come to New Zealand and you’ll find that not only have they broken this cardinal rule, they’ve ignored it altogether. Lucky Kiwis, thanks to their perpetually sunny and windy climate, tend to dry their clothes (gasp) outside! In fact, most of the people I’ve met don’t even seem to own a dryer! Of course, there’s the odd nut job who owns a dryer for those terrible rainy two months of winter (boohoo), but in my first six months of living in New Zealand I used a dryer a grand total of zero times. ZERO. And it was glorious. Why do we put ourselves through the horror of drying our jeans at such high heat that they shrink to half their original size (and our egos, with them)? Why do we spend so much time ruining perfectly good fibers by putting them in a scalding hot, big rotating metal drum? Why?! I think the Kiwis are on to something…
3. Eggs in the Open
If I had to choose one key aspect of Kiwi culture that’s different from the United States, all I’d have to do is to point out the eggs in the supermarket. Back home, the slight undercurrent of terror that underlies every decision we make can be seen in the massive refrigerators reserved for anything even remotely perishable, so as to prevent even the slightest possibility that something could go rotten. This includes our eggs, which any American would buy from a supermarket refrigerator and then immediately place in their own refrigerator back home. They’re perishable and dangerous, those raw eggs, right? Not so in the land of Kiwi! Here, they’re packed right onto the shelves next to the pasta and the canned peaches. And the thought of putting them in your refrigerator when you get home? Why would anyone do that? They’re perfectly safe on the countertop, as long as you eat them in a week or so, and you can always do the egg/water test if you’re concerned! Laid-back, unconcerned and laughing in the face of danger – the true Kiwi lifestyle.
4. Shh… They’re Secretly British
Ok, so I might get shot for suggesting that Kiwis are even remotely similar to their former colonial overseers. But to be honest, it’s kind of true. They still honor teatime, they love a good biscuit (or scone), they watch polo and tennis like it’s their job, and they still use fabulous words like ‘cheers’ and ‘trolley’. Their accents even sound similar. But there’s one aspect of Kiwi/British culture that I love the most (and of which the elementary school student inside of me is desperately jealous): teatime in schools. Yeah, that’s right. Not only do NZ students get a break for lunch and recess, they get a break for tea and biscuits. Seriously! Can you imagine being in the middle of the worst, most boring history lesson ever (or math, or science, or geography, take your pick), and stopping for tea and cookies? Genius, I tell you!
Come to New Zealand and an amazing thing happens: time stops. No constant chatter of Fox/MSNBC/E-News in the background, no politicians hurling insults at one another and getting outrageously worked up about the smallest of sleights, no end-of-the-world dramatism surrounding every little international snafu. Nothing. It’s like walking into an alternate universe where the media doesn’t exist. In New Zealand, they have one major new channel, and they report on one of three major things: 1) sports, 2) rugby, and 3) the latest local issues, like what John Key is doing about asset sales and whether or not police can crush the cars they confiscate from boy racers. If you listen closely you can catch a couple of minutes of international news (“Look! They’re still shooting at each other in Syria!”), but usually this gets covered up by more pressing issues like interviewing all of the Kiwis who’ve moved to Australia about how they felt when an earthquake happened… in Melbourne. It’s amazing, but from an American perspective the change has actually been a refreshing one. Constant celebrity gossip and cat-fighting? Gone. Perpetual political back-biting and campaigning? Nonexistent. Monotonous, nonstop, invariable whining from 16 “news” channels that make every tiny problem a catastrophe? Null. Of course, New Zealanders have their own petty problems and their news stations actually do try to focus on things other than Marmite shortages, but a beautiful thing seems to happen when you stop feeding yourself into the media merry-go-round — the world stops. The weight and stress of constant drama is lifted. And then, suddenly, you start to see the world for what it is (instead of what it was on the screen). You start to focus on your own life again and realize that the world probably won’t end if you don’t intervene. And you start to realize it’s probably ok to unplug every once in a while and miss that episode of Game of Thrones (even if you really, really, really want to see it). Going to the other end of the world to realize the stress and drama that surrounded you before? Priceless. (And for the record, yes, sports and rugby are two different things – one is a religion.)