Our pamphlet, “Tips on Emigrating to New Zealand” paints a pretty favorable picture of New Zealand, and in my last blog I even linked to a New Zealand tourism video that presents an even more positively biased impression of New Zealand. With or without my help New Zealand is becoming known around the world as an easy, safe, fun place to live that’s not responsible for any of the bloody conflicts that are making front page news around the world.
This is a point worth dwelling on. In the eyes of the media a country isn’t worth talking about until a tragedy happens there. Since we see the world through the eyes of the media, a lot of young people had probably never heard about New Zealand until the earthquakes in Christchurch happened. If the media doesn’t think New Zealand is shocking enough to cover then that gives some credence to the claim that you can expect to experience an un-problematic life in New Zealand.
As a general rule I’ll stand by my statement that if you move to New Zealand you’ll live in a relatively stable, civilized country. You can sleep soundly at night knowing that. It’s a great place for American veterans, because you can go just about any place in New Zealand and be confident you don’t have to look over your shoulder. It’s a place you can let your guard down a little.
If you’re from New York City you know what I’m talking about. If you live in Uganda or Compton, I can pretty much guarantee that New Zealand would feel like Utopia to you, and you probably wouldn’t even notice the first world problems all the white people around you are always angry about. However, if you currently live in a giant house in a mega-burb outside an American mega city and have central heating and airconditioning, a huge back yard and every super store imaginable within a 15 minute drive (that are all open 24 hours a day) then you’re going to experience a significant loss in your quality of life as measured by material standards if you move to New Zealand.
I’ve talked about Kiwi austerity before, but I haven’t done it justice yet. To enjoy the safety, beauty and culture of New Zealand you’re probably going to have to accept an obtrusively low quality of life by material standards. Unless you’re working in upper management or a highly technical, understaffed career field then there’s a realistic possibility you’re going to have to wear a sweater or two around the house during the winter.
That might not sound like a big deal until you wake up at 6:30 in the morning and it’s dead cold in your room, and your electric blanket turned itself off hours ago. So you don’t want to move, because you don’t want to lose any of the heat you have trapped under your blanket. But you have to go to work. So after working up the courage you dash from your bed to the shower butt naked skipping on your tip-toes because the wood floor is freezing. Then you wedge yourself into a cold, ceramic shower and turn on the water and wait for it to heat up while you squirm like an alien. Then you don’t want to get out of the shower because it’s cold out there and you’re all wet and you know you’re just going to snap-freeze as soon as you get out of the shower and you know you’re not going to dry yourself completely because you’ll be in too much of a hurry to get your warm clothes on. Plus, since the humidity never drops below London fog your towels are permanently damp and asthma inducing, sinus-infecting mold grows on all the windowsills. So you end up going to work feeling a swamp beast.
Then on your way to work in the morning you stop to get gas and pay $9 a gallon to fill up your micro car that you bought because it gets great gas mileage, which is important when gas costs $9 a gallon. You take solace from these problems though by reminding yourself that you have really cheap health care, which is important because you’re not getting enough vitamins since bell peppers and squash cost $4 a piece in the winter, and 3 boneless,skinless chicken breasts cost $14 when they’re on sale. The stores don’t stock much variety of anything. So you’re basically eating the same ten meals over and over again unless you can find some hole in the wall ethnic market to shop in.
At least it’s easy to blend in because everyone you see at any gas station is wearing the same clothes as you that bought at the same three department stores, and those stores are just selling all the old left over stock American department stores had left over from the 80’s.
If any of this bothers you, you won’t be able to smoke and/or drink your brain into a comatose state where you don’t realize you’re broke all the time because cigarettes cost $16 per pack and alcohol costs $16 a six pack.
When you put it all together it’s kind of a big deal. It just never really hit me because I’m used to being completely broke all the time. I hate to say it, but if you’re poor, white trash you’ll likely find New Zealand an easy place to live. Case in point, in New Zealand it’s normal to walk around the city and into stores barefoot. I suspect this is also why there are so many hippies in New Zealand. They’re used to scraping by below the poverty level, and they want to spend their weekends and vacations going on grand adventures to green places. So they stay. The kind of Kiwis who detest hippies tend to move to Australia where they can make more money and enjoy more sun.
I hate to put a specific number on this. I don’t know how New Zealand defines the poverty line, but I see lots of people making $60,000 per year eating wilted vegetables and living in cold, rickety houses where everyone gathers around the space heater at night. If you make $30,000 per year you’ll definitely be living like that.
I can’t guarantee that if you move to New Zealand you’ll ever experience any of this. All I’m saying is that I’ve looked around, and I’ve seen a lot of it. If you want to learn more about Kiwi austerity, see what real Kiwis have to say about this article.
[This was all I could afford to do that day.]
Filed under: life in New Zealand | Tagged: how big of problems does new zealand have, is it hard to live in new zealand, is new zealand poor, whats wrong with new zealand, why do people move to new zealand | 5 Comments »
If you’re going to live in New Zealand then you owe it to yourself and to your host nation to understand New Zealand’s history. If you’re not going to read the entire Penguin History of New Zealand then at the very least you should know about the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Treaty of Waitangi was the document that legally created the nation of New Zealand and gave England authority over the the island and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the wording of the treaty and the circumstances surrounding it were nothing short of a clusterfuck. I’ve never heard any Kiwi of any color dispute that accusation. What’s hotly disputed is what significance that treaty has today. I’ve got my opinions, but I’m not touching that subject with a ten foot pole because anything I say will enrage somebody. At any rate, I’m a first generation immigrant. So who cares what I think?
I will hazard a prediction based on historical precedent though. I predict that the Treaty of Waitangi will be debated for generations until New Zealand becomes so ethnically diffused and the government becomes so tied into the global economy that the treaty loses all relevance and is basically forgotten by school children before a final, official decision is made one way or the other. In other words, the issue is going to be ignored until its no longer an issue. At least, that’s the solution that mainstream New Zealand society seems to be using so far. Granted, there are some extremely vocal and active organizations doing a lot of Waitangi-related work. All I’m saying is, The All Blacks are more talked about in modern New Zealand culture.
But you still need to know about the Treaty of Waitangi, because the issue isn’t dead yet. Plus, the issue is extremely interesting because of the legal precedent it would set if it were outright accepted/rejected. If the British Commonwealth ruled that treaties (regardless of age) can (or can’t) assign ownership of land and resources to specific ethnic groups then how would that precedent be applied to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Or how would it affect ownership of the land and resources in Texas, which has flown 6 national flags? At any rate, who has the right to say one human being or organization has sovereignty over another? Does one person have the right to give one human being or organization sovereignty over another human being’s decedents? Should immigrants be considered second-class citizens to the decedents of locals in every country, and should the decedents of immigrants be entitled to land/resources in their ancestors’ homelands? If so, how many generations do you go back to determine one’s ancestral entitlements? It’s something to think about…or ignore.
I haven’t paid for the website upgrade to embed video into this blog, but you can watch a well-made re-enactment/documentary about the Treaty of Waitangi by clicking the link below:
Note: This blog was written in 2011. Things may have changed since then.
Music– New Zealand has a rich, vibrant music history that you’ll never hear about, even if you move here because most of the music you’ll hear in New Zealand is American. Even on our recent holiday to Rarotonga, we spent an evening listening to live music at an open-mic night, and all the locals played were American songs.
New Zealand does have some up and coming R&B and Hip Hop artists. Those genres are really popular with the Pacific Island ethnicities, and there are a lot of young artists trying to push their way up the ranks. If any of them make it you’ll probably know about it in America, because they’re all trying to get to America, because that’s where the real money is at.
New Zealand claims to have a thriving country music industry. In fact, Gore claims to be the country music capital of New Zealand, but I’ve never heard a New Zealand country music song. I’m sure they exist, but Kiwi country music artists must have the worst promoters in the world.
Busking is really popular in New Zealand. There’s even a busking festival. If you don’t know, buskers are street performers. With all the green hippies hitch hiking their way around New Zealand you’re bound to run into a white guy with dreadlocks playing “John Butler Trio” on an acoustic guitar in front of a grocery store sooner or later. Kiwis and Aussies alike seem to really like laid back acoustic folk music. I know I’ve heard a lot of folk music since I’ve been here, but other than “John Butler Trio,” which is an Aussie band, I can’t tell you the name of any other South West Pacific folk singers off the top of my head because their promoters aren’t very good either.
Movies- New Zealand has a government-owned movie production company called “The New Zealand Film Commission” which produces high quality artistic movies every year. Most of their movies are worth checking out, and some of them even make it overseas. Kiwis also make a lot of short films that are encouraged by annual short film festivals and awards. If you live in Wellington there’s a good chance of getting to be an extra in a Peter Jackson movie, and if you live in Auckland there’s a good chance of getting to be an extra in any number of television shows and commercials. A lot of American and British commercials are made in New Zealand. Even Spartacus is filmed in Auckland. New Zealand actually seems to be a pretty good place to break into the movie business since it has such a large industry for such a small country.
Dance- Dunedin has a number of dance schools that produce local and international dancers. With all the Pacific island cultures melting together in New Zealand it’s only a matter of time before you see a hula dance. You can’t even watch a Rugby game without seeing a haka. If you want to see more, Pacific dance competitions and festivals are a dime a dozen in New Zealand.
Theater- There’s a lot of theater in New Zealand, but every production I’ve been to has been painfully amateur. I know someone out there will bite my head off for saying that. All I can say is, don’t blame me because you haven’t given me a reason to say anything different yet.
Food- Traditional white, British Kiwi cuisine isn’t much to write home about. Hamburgers aren’t as popular in New Zealand as meat pies. French Fries are called “chips,” and Fish and Chips shops are dime a dozen. Sausage rolls are always popular at house parties, and deep fried lasagna is a staple meal at any party house. Fortunately, the cuisine scene has been saved by all the other immigrant cultures. One thing I really love about New Zealand is you get to taste the entire world here. There’s a sushi and/or sake joint on every corner in Auckland. Kebabs are standard fare (though they’re not as good as the ones in Europe). Coffee/Espresso/Cappuccino/Latte cafes are extremely popular, but again, they’re not as good as the ones in Europe. There’s more Pacific island dancing in New Zealand than there is Pacific island cuisine, but if you look hard enough you can find it.
Another funny thing about New Zealand is that the few American chain restaurants here such as McDonalds and Domino’s Pizza serve healthier food with better ingredients than their American counterparts because New Zealand customers are more discerning, and the New Zealand government has higher standards for what’s safe to eat…whereas in America corporate profits are always more important than human life.
Sports- The big sports in New Zealand are rugby, cricket and net ball. Net ball is a slightly modified version of American basketball with no backboard. Rugby is life for a lot of Kiwis, but professional sports don’t have quite the cult status as they do in the United States. Professional athletes generally aren’t paid millions of dollars. As a result, in a breath-taking act of sanity, high school students don’t generally prioritize sports over academics.
Comedy- I’m sorry, but the New Zealand comedy scene is shit. The biggest stars are the “Flight of the Conchords” guys, and they left for America. The next biggest star is probably. Rhys Darby, and despite his solid stage presence, his solo work just isn’t funny…at all. There’s also “The Laughing Samoans,” but honestly, they’re not that funny either, and most of their jokes are inside jokes that only locals get, which is really common in New Zealand comedy. Even New Zealand’s favorite (late) local comedian, “Billy T. James” owed much of his success to lack of competition. On the upside, New Zealand is receptive to foreign comedy. So if you’re a comedian who wants to work in New Zealand they’ll probably give you a chance.
Literature- New Zealand has a proud history of producing quality literature that nobody knows about. On the upside, if you come to New Zealand and write a book about New Zealand it’ll be an instant hit in New Zealand.
Festivals- There are more cultural festivals in Auckland alone than anyone would have time to visit. If you come to New Zealand and feel like its culture is boring and there’s nothing to do then you must have never left your house.
Painting- If you love paintings of sea gulls flying over the beach at sunset then you’re going to love New Zealand. You won’t have any problem filling your nautical themed art work needs here. If you’re an artist who specializes in painting beach scenes then you’ve got a job waiting for you in New Zealand.
Modern Art- Yeah, we got that pseudo-intellectual faux art crap here too.
NZ is amazing. The cities offer an awesome array of culture and free entertainment. Rural NZ, which is most of the country, is covered by lush, green rolling hills and deserted beaches. I’ve never regretted my move to NZ from the US… until my landlord told me he was going to sell the house we were renting. Only then was I exposed to the Dark Side of NZ. During this two-month experience I’ve questioned my worth and the integrity of NZ’s property managers as a whole.
I knew house hunting would be difficult. Housing prices are going through the roof. Anyone that owns a rental property and can read has seen the headlines on every newspaper Auckland house prices hit new high, thus causing a selling frenzy, and Median weekly rent for three bedroom Auckland houses surged NZ$55 to NZ$550 in February. I knew the market was set against me, but I thought I had a chance.
General Observations during my search:
Property Managers hold no qualms about lying in ads. ‘Three double bedrooms” usually means one double bedroom, one bedroom that will fit a double bed as long as you don’t expect to open the closet door, and the third bedroom is really a larger then normal hall closet, that might fit a crib and a chair if you’re lucky. Just don’t close the door, because I wouldn’t trust the oxygen to hold out for more than a few minutes.
Pictures lie. Trademe.co.nz is the main place to find rentals throughout NZ. If the property manager puts an ounce of effort into the ad it can be very helpful; rent, bond, pet situation, address, etc. There is also a place to put pictures of the property. Quoting an article I found during the worst moments of my search:
“ You absolutely cannot rely on photos made by the rental agency (this also applies to buying houses for that matter). I have never seen as skillful a photographer as the Kiwi real estate agent. Misleading is the only correct word for it. The house in the picture looks great, but you can’t see the garbage dump in the garden, the sky blue kitchen with a 20 year old electric stove with only one element in working order, or the neighboring deteriorated back street houses. ”
The general rental property under NZ$600 a week will have many, if not most of the issues below:
Mold, if you can’t see it you will smell it
Carpet that my dead Grandmother would find shockingly tacky
Several houses had someone living below it. This would have been something important to mention in the ad!
I had one property manager that had never seen the property before and was unable to explain what was behind the locked door at the bottom of the stairs. His guess was maybe someone lived there. Or aliens, whatever… Several showed up the 30 minute showing late, or not at all. Thank you I really had nothing better to do at 1pm on a Tuesday, it’s not like I took off work for this or anything! There was one ad that read “Open house Monday at 12noon for ten minutes. This will be the ONLY showing.” What the hell, I want your job!
The whole experience of looking at rentals highlighted the downside to a society of relaxed and otherwise flexible people. I’ve learned I don’t want a relaxed, flexible landlord. I would prefer someone that fixes things when they break and addresses issues before they become a health problem. I spent two months looking at houses I really didn’t want to live in, but of course applied for every one of them.
In the end we found a lovely three bedroom house that’s managed by the owner, not an agency. How did we snatch up this diamond in the rough? We weren’t able to see the inside of the house before we agreed to sign a lease. It was that or be homeless.
You experience a very special and rewarding sense of joy when you travel and get to see famous things like the Eiffel Tower or the pyramids of Giza. When you stand in front of a historical icon you’ve only ever read about in books or seen in movies you’re lucidly aware of the fact that you get to tick a very popular item off of your bucket list. And before you get back on the tour bus you’re already savoring the fact that for the rest of your life you can say, “Been there. Done that.” or “At least I saw Venice.” or “We’ll always have Paris.”
As triumphant as you may feel standing in front of something famous, you’re only going to spend a small portion of your vacation time actually staring at old buildings. The rest of the time you’re going to be riding in vehicles, eating at cafes, visiting shops, looking for beaches and hunting choice souvenirs. Everywhere you’ll go you’ll see tours and businesses advertised as “off the beaten track.” And inevitably you’ll get swept into doing something exotic you had no intention of doing like skydiving, bungee jumping, eating gelato, eating snake, drinking grappa, drinking kava, riding an elephant or soaking in a mineral mud bath. In a lot of ways these are the vacation memories you’ll savor most. Thirty years from now you’re not going to say your spouse, “Man, remember the time we stood there and looked at that big, old building? Wasn’t that great?” No. You’re going to be talking about, “Remember that time you were riding on that elephant and it started humping that other elephant?”
It’s worth the money to travel and collect experiences and memories of you doing silly, exotic things. It’s even more worth the money when you stumble across something so foreign to you that you never had any idea it or anything like it ever existed. That’s an exhilarating and humbling experience worth traveling the world for.
I felt like this the first time I ate lychee; there’s this fruit that millions of people eat every day. It tastes really good, and it’s way easier to peel than an orange. How did I never know this existed? Are there millions of people out there who have never seen or heard of anything like an orange? How many other things are there out there that I never knew about?
Once you’ve visited a couple of world famous monuments or cities the world starts feeling smaller and you don’t feel so lost or isolated. You start feeling like an informed world citizen. And then someone puts an alien piece of fruit on your plate and it reminds you that you don’t know shit about shit.
I get the same feeling every time I see a pukeko, which is a big blue chicken looking bird that runs wild all over New Zealand. They hang around camp sites, and you’ll see them on the side of the motorways. I probably see three or four pukekos a month, but if I lived in the country I’d see a lot more.
Every time I see a Pukeko I still marvel at how I spent 30 years of my life not knowing there were crazy blue chicken birds running around public parks snatching children’s lollies. Pukekos may be a pest to some people, but to me they’re a symbol of knowledge and humility….or something like that. The point is I think pukekos are totally sweet and everyone should know about them.
Come to New Zealand. They’ve got big blue chicken lookin’ birds.