Although “only in New Zealand” is probably not true, and I might be generalising a bit, I do want to write down and share some of my observations in my first months here. Now I still notice these things; in a while I guess this will all be perfectly normal to me.
In general my experience here is pretty positive. Most people I meet (there might be some “measurement bias” here) are open, outdoorsy, and with a good work/life balance. Although I do notice that outdoorsy/sporty is true for less New Zealanders than I thought last year: I am quite suprised about the amount of people that do not go out in nature in this beautiful country. Also with an obesity prevalence of 32% (compared to 14% in the Netherlands), weight and related health issues are a serious problem here, and that is not really the image I had of New Zealand before arriving. The openness of the people is still true: most people will take some time to talk and will go out of their way to help you. Also in dealing with businesses and bookings the people are in general very trusting and flexible: for instance, I was test driving cars from a dealership without even giving my full name, and when I had to change my hut and hostel bookings due to car trouble, I was able to do so without extra costs (even though the booking stated differently). That is a very pleasant way of meeting and doing business, and might be due to the size of the country and the amount of social control? In a city as Wellington (approximately 200.000 inhabitants, 500.000 in the region) everybody seems to know each other and it is common sight to see people walking into each other on a zebra crossing where then one would change direction to join the other for coffee :-).
One place where the average New Zealander does not seem to be patient is on the road. In New Zealand there is just one speed limit outside urban areas and that is 100 km/h. Regardless of the road: you can drive 100 km/h on a very good two lanes highway near Christchurch as well as on a windy mountain road with narrow parts and oncoming traffic. There are a lot of advertisements with the message that 100 is not a target but a speed limit, but there are still a lot of cars (and trucks!) that seem to use it as a target. On most of the corners the advised speed (black on yellow signs) is pretty accurate and while in good weather you can offset it easily by 15 km, in bad weather on unknown terrain I prefer to be on the safe side. Because it is often difficult to overtake on these roads (depending on space there migth be an overtake lane once in a while), these are the moments where you will have a car or a truck (somehow this is often a milk truck or empty logging truck, probably because they know the road so well) uncomfortably close in your rear mirror…
Staying on the car topic: the majority of the cars here are of Japanese make. There are also quite some US built, but the European manufacturers are clearly in minority. You will see that servicing a European vehicles will be more expensive then “standard” (apparently meaning non-European in this context), and parts might be harder to find (which could make sense considering the distance?). An interesting phenomena is the market here for imported second hand cars, specifically second hand from Japan (since they are also driving on the same side of the road). This is the reason why I am now studying basic Japanese… My car was originally made purely for the Japanese market so there seems to be no English menu and the user interface is quite a challenge. By now four passengers/ hitch-hikers have tried to change the time from Japanese time-zone, but they got all lost in the Japanese menu’s and all what happened is turning on more random noises and Japanese voice messages. I heard they do not make these cars for a very long life (A Nissan Note on the Japanese market is apparently not the same as one you would buy in Europe), which is why they come relatively cheap. Fine for now, but I do not expect to reach the same mileage as on my trusty Astra.
From my car to (car) insurance. So far this has been the only occasion where I was a bit frustrated because of a miscommunication/culture clash. The situation: I bought my car private, because it was a lot cheaper than through a dealer and the only advantage would have been a three month warranty. Since I am not a car expert, and I did read some horror stories about early CVT transmissions, I decided to get a car inspection and a mechanical breakdown insurance for the engine and the transmission. All together this was still a lot cheaper than the dealer option. The inspection was fine, although it did had a remark of a (previous) “oil leakage”. Of course I asked further and the inspector told me that there seemed to be nothing really wrong there and it was just something to monitor in the future; it was just an observation and no reason to fail the inspection. So I bought the car, drove it back to Wellington to have it serviced and in the meantime went to an insurance office to arrange the mechanical breakdown insurance. All was set-up, I just paid, and then in leaving the agent just said as a passing remark: of course you need to show that you have fixed the oil leakage. I was taken aback, does that disqualify my whole engine for the (engine) insurance I just bought? I did not get a satisfactory answer, and I had a feeling that I was dismissed with an “it will probably all be fine”. But is not insurance all about thinking what could happen taking many scenarios in mind? I shifted the discussion to how I could proof that I fixed this not existing oil leakage and we actually ended up in a phone call with the insurance agent and the car mechanic who was at that moment servicing my car. To no avail, I did not get a clearer answer and by now everybody seemed frustrated :-). I left it at that for that moment (I had some days to still cancel the insurance contract) and went to get my car. Luckily the car mechanic proved to have the most practical approach, since when he and his supervisor saw that there was really not a leak they updated the inspection report that their colleague from another branch has made that morning. So I guess all will be fine after all if I have to ever claim my insurance for engine failure, let’s hope it is never needed!
When I was discussing this example with Ioana later that week, she mentioned to me the difference between common law and civil law. One of the best explanations of the difference I found here. Quoting: “In civil law systems, by contrast [from common law] , codes and statutes are designed to cover all eventualities and judges have a more limited role of applying the law to the case in hand”. Common law is prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon tradition and the former English colonies, like New Zealand, while civil law is the norm in most other countries, like the Netherlands. It was very interesting to notice that such a difference in our country traditions apparently formed our basic beliefs on how things should work, and could cause this misunderstanding.
There is quite a strong safety culture here. I am used that from the offshore industry and I know that for instance in Australia that is very well developed. I noticed that also here a lot op people are very aware of safety: they will for instance tell you what to do in case of an earthquake when you enter a building (or even their house), or notify another library user if their charging cable is a tripping hazard. I think in general they struck a healthy balance, with a strong safety awareness without being patronizing: there will be warning, but that potentially dangerous cliff walk is not fenced off. On the round the mountain track we encountered a stark warning when entering a large gorge. If the volcano erupts or the crater rim fails this is the most likely lahar (volcanic mudslide) zone: pass as fast as possible, no stopping, and never cross if you hear noise up river.
It is hard to get your head around the risks involved in living on a fault line. I was reading the new about the eruptions in Hawaii when I was in Rotorua, which is based in a giant caldera and where there are geothermal vents everywhere you can see (or smell). That makes the fact that these eruptions can indeed happen without much warning all the more real. The potential for earthquakes is even stronger apparent in everyday life. The Kaikoura earthquake last year that was felt strongly in Wellington, and a lot of building are still undergoing re-enforcements to satisfy new government regulations. But then, what do you do if your favourite vegetarian restaurant is based in a not yet earth-quake approved building?
Vegetarianism seems to be not really common in New Zealand, but with all the tourists around and all the international influences there are a lot of vegetarian or vegan options when eating out. Wat I did notice is that most people I spoke to are very aware of where their food/meat comes from. I do think that if you eat meat you should be able to kill it yourself, and a lot of people here pass that test (hunting and fishing are pretty common). However on some other topics the awareness still needs to grow, like the effect of intensive farming on the rivers – no, it is not longer safe to drink from all rivers, and maybe first blame the cows instead of foreign hiking tourists. Or the insane amounts of plastic bags handed out in super markets – your goods will already be bagged before you know it (similar to this video from Australia).
That’s it for now – to be continued with some more stories about Wellington, still my favourite NZ city 🙂