Sunday, January 30, 2011

How New Zealand Is Not Canada

This blog is not about the landscape and the weather. It's about living among the Kiwis.

The most obvious difference to me was the driving. Kiwis drive on the left side of the road. I've already driven on the "wrong side" before in England and Scotland but that was in the early 90s. All I remember is that regardless of what country I'm driving in, the driver always has to be closest to the center of the road. It took only about 48 hours to get used to that.

Thank goodness the gas and brake peddles are the same.

I'm still not completely confident where the left side of the car is. I put a pretty serious scrape into the left front hubcap of our rental car in Auckland - oops! "It was there when we rented it."

When reversing, I still tend to look over my right shoulder towards the driver-side window instead of over my left shoulder.

One thing I haven't gotten used to is that the indicator handle is on the right side of the steering wheel instead of the left side. It would be easy to spot our car in Palmerston North as we cruise this city that we barely know and suddenly careen across lanes with our windshield wipers going on double speed instead of our indicator lights .

There is one other aspect of driving on the opposite side of the road that occurs off the road. Walking around the hospital, I've startled a few people and split a few coffees as they steer around me in the corridors until I realized that like Canadians, people tend to walk on the same side of the corridor that they drive on. In Canada, everyone tends to walk on the right side of the corridor. In NZ, the Kiwis walk on the left.

Personal Hygiene
If any of you come visit, please PLEASE bring me antiperspirant sticks. In NZ, deodorants and antiperspirants come only in roll-ons! Ewwww!

It seems acceptable for Kiwi kids and even some adults (more frequently in young adults) to walk around everywhere in bare feet - on the street, in the grocery store, in restaurants! A sizable proportion of the student body at the kid's school go barefoot rain or shine! Wierd!

Kiwi Sense of Humor
One of the things I most like about living here in New Zealand is their ... it's hard to be politically correct here ... broadened sense of what's appropriate. They're more relaxed, more laid back. We noticed this most in advertisements, most of which would never ever see the light of day in North America for fear of offending people (and being sued). Canadians and Americans definitely lose out. When the advertisements are funny, they're REALLY funny. When they're serious, they are often truly brutal. Here are a few samples.

I'm sure you've noticed how staid and boring the pre-flight safety videos are. Sure airline security is no joke bla bla bla bla. Check out how Air New Zealand briefs it's patrons.

Did you catch it? The BARE essentials of safety? Did you notice that the women were never visible below the shoulders? Were the men's nipples a little more visible than usual?

This next ad is famous among Kiwi's even though it's a few years old.

This is pretty standard fare for a beer company. Tui beer, whose slogan is "Distracting The Boys From The Task At Hand Since 1889" ran this commercial recently.

We haven't had too much difficulty understanding the Kiwi's, but there are a few differences in our expressions.

Flip-flops  =  Jandals
Spite/7-Up = Lemonade
Lemonade = Lemonade (but doesn't really exist)
Windbreaker = Windcheater
Cash = Do Ray Mi
Hike = Tramp

Pace of Life
Coming from a caffeine-fueled aggressive pace of life where I always drive over the speed limit and where every waking moment feels rushed, the Kiwi pace of life took some getting used to but is a hugely welcome change.

Like most of you back home, our lifestyle was to rise before dawn, guzzle caffeine-enriched coffee, speed to work/school, multi-task all day long, walk around checking our iPhones/Crackberries every 60 seconds, grumble loudly if plans go awry, speed back home again, take kids to hockey/football/soccer/figure skating 6 nights out of 7 and then collapse for less than the recommended amount of sleep.

Perhaps the most welcome change in New Zealand is that the pace of life is so much more relaxed. Starbucks is going out of business in New Zealand because people find it too strong. Almost everyone has a cell phone, but they are phones, not Blackberries or iPhones. And they are not glued to them. People drive below the speed limit. The kids start school at 9:00am with three snack breaks and finish by 3:00pm. Their school has a pool that they use at least three times per week. Their favorite part: NO HOMEWORK! Mom & Dad's favorite part: Trish and I can hang up our chauffeur caps - all the activities are part of after-school time: rugby, swimming, cricket, art, computers, music .... When we're all home, it's pure family time.

Our kids had no idea what these were for
At home, we have a TV but there are only three channels unless you get SkyTV which only 1/3 of Kiwis have. When we watch TV, it's those 3 channels or we rent or buy something off iTunes.

Before leaving Canada, we had heard how wonderful the Kiwis were. Part of this is that everyone is keen to chat with you. Cashiers, barristas, waitresses, etc. all seem keen to engage you in conversation. I don't think they are particularly interested in foreigners, although the topic soon turns around their detection that my accent isn't Kiwi. However, they are equally courteous with each other and I've realized that they were not simply friendly with visitors. It's just the way they are. In my surly urban Canadian-ness, despite being on vacation, I treated the grocery store clerk's chit-chat with the customer in front of me with mild annoyance. "Helloooo? Waiting in line here! Time is precious!" [in my head thank god, but with pronounced eye-rolling]. But then I had my turn too and it's all good. No one seems rushed. There's time to chat. I've got a lot to learn.

All of you must have some guilty pleasure that you would love to do if the house was empty and all the chores were done, but months or years go by without you ever getting to indulge yourself. New Zealand has been good for that. I've made a significant dent into the National Geographics that I brought with me and we go out on walks as a family. I feel better about sleeping 7 hours a night instead of my usual 4-5.

No worries, mate.


  1. Craig,
    As you go along this adventure, please keep business cards, brochures, little notes of advice, because I am planning on following in your footsteps one day! Sounds like you are all about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Soak it all in. 9 months goes by in the blink of an eye. Can't wait to hear about life as an anesthesiolgist there!!! Keep blogging!
    Enjoy Baldry Family!!!
    Shawn Hoffman

  2. Hi Craig,

    I was just showing the Air New Zealand Bare Essentials video to my husband and brother and we noticed they're naked. I didn't cathch it the first time. Their suits are painted on, even the pilot's. The video ends with the slogan - we have nothing to hide - just love the Kiwi sense of humour!

  3. Why would you say eww to roll-ons but not to sticks?
    A stick has just that mass that’s directly rubbed off to your underarm, while a roll-on has a ball that rolls it onto your underarm. In both cases, the result is exactly the same.

    Or do you mean those pore-clogging things that give you heart attacks from being unable to sweat anymore at all? No thanks. I’ve tried them once, and I nearly had to go to the hospital. They should be illegal, and I can’t how anyone can not know that they are bad. There is a reason you sweat. If you overheat, you’ll damage your body. This can be life-threatening! Don’t do it!
    Also, the smell comes from bacteria. Not from the water. If they can’t grow, it can’t smell. Simple.

    What I also wonder, is how you got the idea in your head, that wearing shoes would be the normal case, and being barefoot would be the exception.
    If that were true, why didn’t we evolve that way then?
    Our feet are that way, because that’s optimal for normal use.
    If you have dangerous surfaces, or it’s extremely cold, then yes, shoes are a good idea. But that’s the exception. (OK, maybe not in Canada. ^^)
    Barefoot is awesome! With the grass between your toes, or in the mud. It’s the outside equivalent of a long-haired rug. How can anyone not like that? It’s almost erotic! :)

  4. Heart attacks from antiperspirants? Class action lawsuits against antiperspirants manufacturers for putting all our health in jeopardy from overheating?

    I thought I was the doctor, but thanks for setting me (and the few that read this blog) straight.

    I got the idea that wearing barefoot is bad from the example set by all the rest of civilized world. Can you think of anywhere else in the world where the population can afford to wear shoes but chooses not too? Your closest cousins across the Tasman also find Kiwi bare-footedness less than appealing.

    I lived among the Kiwis for 8 months and they are lovely people. But they have the unfortunate impression that going barefoot in restaurants, supermarkets and hospitals, and not simply in grassy fields, portrays an air of freedom.

    It doesn't. It might be acceptable in children in fair weather. But when it's below 10 C and in anyone over 12, it says "I'm poor and unsophisticated."

    If you really believe that the several thousand years that human beings have being wearing footwear is a step in the wrong direction, I would ask "Do you believe in showers or toilet paper?" After all, body aroma and dirty bums are in God's plan too aren't they?

    Thanks for you input.

  5. "Can you think of anywhere else in the world where the population can afford to wear shoes but chooses not too?"

    Answer: Australia and NZ!

    LOL, I couldn't help it. Actually, going barefoot is much healthier than wearing shoes. "Footwear is the greatest enemy of the human foot" said podiatrist William Rossi and I wholly agree. Shoes are the primary cause of nearly all our foot woes in Western society (bunions, hallux valgus, corns, blisters, athlete's foot, toenail fungus, hammer toe, PF, fallen arches...). Those who live barefoot - like the Kiwis - can attest that the risks from going barefoot are very low (often they are exaggerated by shoe-wearing people). Anyway, if you're interested in the science and logic behind it all, please read my book - The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes.

    Back to the real point of your blog post, it sounds like you had some wonderful family adventures! I lived in Montreal for two years while I worked at McGill. I thoroughly loved living in Canada, but it truly is COLD!! I definitely want to visit Australia and NZ one day, but I won't be taking shoes! :-)

  6. Hi there,

    I am working for a Japanese TV show.
    We're currently looking for a photo that show New Zealand's barefoot culture.
    We're interested in purchasing one of your photos.

    Please contact me as soon as you can.