How to be a Kiwi

If you’ve ever considered a long-term stay in New Zealand…

  • maybe you’re the “citizen of the world” backpacking type
  • future 6-week honeymooner (I met one of those here)
  • visiting a family member
  • shifting jobs
  • sick of your own country
  • fallen in love with a Kiwi
  • wish a Kiwi would fall in love with you
  • a die hard LoTR fan (I know you hobbit lovers know what that acronym is)
  • got enough digits in the bank to travel for leisure
  • love the idea of living down under (I still find that saying pretty neat myself)

…Then this post is for you.

“How to’s” and tips come from a conglomerate people group that consists of my lovely new colleagues, the banker who set up our accounts, a man that looks like he came from the movie “Up”, the little ol’ lady that Colin sweet talked into selling us her car, the gal that set up our car insurance, random but still very selective pedestrians on the street, gym employees, customer service representatives at just about every public service company there is in NZ, the younger Asian relative of our first landlord…. and more.

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First, a basic: A Kiwi is not a special nickname given to people who really enjoy a good kiwi fruit. The Kiwi is chick-sized bird found in New Zealand. Although it can lay one hell of an egg, it cannot fly. Nowadays, its species is affected by deforestation and “invasive mammalian predators”, says Wikipedia. And still, it remains a national symbol of New Zealand. That is why the Kiwis are called Kiwis.

Getting on with it… Here’s how to be a Kiwi:

Sell your soul to the carb devil. It’s been said that if man could only eat one thing for the rest of his life, it would be bread. Actually, my husband said that — (correction) says that. And in Auckland, I do believe that if man had to survive off just one thing, there’d be enough bread items with more to share with the Aussies, who I hear aren’t quite as carb savvy in the kitchen as my mates in New Zealand are.

As far as we’ve travelled, which is to say about a 20 km radius from downtown, there is an astounding restaurant reality that is not short on coffee shops or cafes. At those cafes, let me tell you carb-loving friends, your taste buds are in for a real treat. Choose from an everyday selection of scones, desserts, cakes, quiches, pasta & orzo salad, cookies (which they call biscuits here), meringues… you can get anything pastried in a pie or rolled up — meat pies and sausage rolls, case in point. (<– This, here, is the reason Colin and I joined the expensive, fancy gym. We figure that if we can spend $25 on scones a week, then we should beat that with $52 a week on gym memberships.)

Basically, if you’re on any kind of special diet that cuts out the most flavoursome foods in life… Auckland cafes are not your scene. On a very contemporary food note, nearly every restaurant offers gluten-free menu options.

Eat onion dip. It’s been told to me recently that the way into a Kiwi’s heart is with some good onion dip. Since New Zealand has replaced all convenience of Mexican food with the inconvenience of way too much Asian food to choose from, chips and salsa have also been replaced with crackers and dip. The real Kiwi dip though is made from onion soup mix and reduced cream. (No, this is not sour cream or condensed cream, it’s simply a different kind of cream that I’ve never seen “packaged” in any American grocery store). Apparently, you mix the soup package with the reduced cream, leave it in the fridge overnight and by morning, you’ll have yourself an afternoon tea snack to share with many — perfect to go with those salt and vinegar chips. And that is how you become a kiwi.

Shoes: Optional. I won’t understand this one, probably ever. I also don’t like it when parents let their children play in public fountains.

I’ve seen it on several occasions now — small children at nice bar-ish restaurants on the viaduct barefoot, grown adults in Starbucks barefoot, teenagers in the mall barefoot, business man in the city on a rainy day barefoot. All of these occasions are real and I have not fabricated this madness in my mind at all. No shoes in public, it’s real. Of course, this doesn’t jive real well with the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” policy that is engrained into my American, law-abiding soul.

How to become a Kiwi | Lindsey Talerico-Hedren

This a real picture I managed to capture inside a Starbucks.

So I did the American thing and asked people I barely knew what was up with the hippie fad. Essentially, no shoes is acceptable. No one could really tell me why. But that’s that. You won’t be seeing me on the streets barefoot. Maybe at the beach though.

Never trust the weather, or New Zealand women. Two days after moving to Auckland, we had already walked ourselves enough time around the city to have picked out a banking institution. On the third day, we walked into the bright yellow but nicely wooded foyer of the downtown branch of our soon-to-be bank. We met with a Sri Lankan man who had moved to New Zealand when he was 16. Actually, his family migrated here from their home country to pursue a “better life.” He likes it here, finds that there is actually a pretty good Sri Lankan subculture – a bit underground, but easy to find if you know where you’re looking, which he does. He thinks Auckland is a great place to raise a family but probably the not most ideal if you’re disturbed at all by inconvenience (referring to the 5pm shut down time of every store and institution in the city). He probably won’t stay here forever. In fact, he’s itching to get out soon since he is a restless soul. Maybe he’ll move to Melbourne because everybody makes more money in Melbourne. That’s where all the doctors and nurses go from New Zealand, because they are better utilised in Oz.

All these things we know because he told us… in the 2 hours we sat in his office opening our accounts. As well, he also gave us some wise advice — and I quote: “Never trust two things: New Zealand weather and New Zealand women.” The weather part, I have found to be unbelievably true.

Adopt New Zealand pop culture with the best of ‘em. One of the first ways I was introduced to New Zealand pop culture was with this video.

By small country standards, this video was wildly popular. Based on these 0:48 seconds, the phrase “nek minnit” was coined a new induction to becoming a Kiwi hick. I’ve been told that over 200+ more nek minnit videos have been created from fans of the street skater’s country grammar. I, myself, have watched 4 of those videos. I have also witnessed t-shirt stands that sell nek minnit paraphernalia in all sizes. Perfect for your Kiwi little one.

Celebrate all occasions in the workplace with morning or afternoon tea, or beer. Twice last week, I received invitations in my email for morning tea (to celebrate the upcoming birth of a colleague’s first baby) and afternoon tea (to celebrate two March birthdays in the office). I recently have taken the brunt of some newbie foreigner teasing about the difference in the ways Americans and other English speaking peeps spell our words. Americans use: organization, utilize, realize. The others use: organisation, utilise, realise. (I’ve had to switch my language on Word to New Zealand English and download a special Firefox plug-in to help detect my misspellings now that I live here.) The gist of the teasing was that Americans change all things for our own convenience (like business hour stores to 24-hour Walmarts)… as is the case with such words so that, conveniently, their spelling matches their phonetics.

I tell you this story because I’ve done the same (innocent) American wrong to “tea time.” Of course I figured tea time was… tea time. A time you drink tea. Seems like a very English thing to do. WRONG. Tea time is a full on brunch or linner depending on when it takes place during the day. It is an absolutely delightful event filled with those carb coma-inducing treats I mentioned earlier, dips (like the onion one) and a period of non-work related socialisation. A very, very lovely thing. Perhaps the Americans should took one from the New Zealand book here.

Although I hear from Colin that at his new work, they celebrate special occasions with Friday afternoon beer. Don’t know what culture that originates from, but no complaining from us.

Not sure what to say? Just say “keen.” In Maui two years ago, while my family dined at a cutesy local joint for some loco moco and pina coladas, our waitress was telling us about the favourite of all Hawaiian words — dakine (perhaps this is where the brand name came from, too). She told us how you can use the word dakine to mean anything you want it to. How are the waves today? Oh, they’re dakine like dakine. It’s just dakine. Dakine you up to later? (I did a poor job of remembering the exact words she said, but you understand).

Well, the equivalent of the Hawaiian dakine is the Kiwi “keen.” You can be keen about anything. It can mean excited — like Oh, I’m really keen to try out that new pub. Or it can mean interested — like I’m keen to take a trip to Melbourne for the weekend. Or it can mean able — like Are you keen to post that letter by Tuesday? I find it to be like a chameleon of words. Camouflaged to be whatever you want it to be. I’m actually really keen to use it but don’t want the Kiwis to think I’m trying to copy their sayings.

On an ending note… How to be a Kiwi that insults another Kiwi? Replace the insulting title of “douche bag” with tosser (pronounced toss-a). How I learned that one is quite a different story.

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