Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Brightside of Culture Shock

Would you believe in some ways i've experienced more culture shock here in NZ than i did when we first moved to Dubai?  Really, it's my own dumb fault.  Prior to moving to Dubai, i devoured every book i could get my hands on.  i scoured blogs and met people online who lived there.  i mentally prepared myself for the differences in food, language, culture and friendships.  There were times in Dubai i was surprised i wasn't more shocked.  That's not so say there weren't any challenges because there were but i had braced myself for them and was mentally ready.  i was after all, moving to the Middle East.

When planning the move to NZ, we actually turned down the option to take a preview trip to get a feel for the country because we figured if we can adjust to Dubai, how easy will it be to adjust to a place like NZ??  The only things i really knew about NZ when i landed was that it is beautiful, i'd have to drive on the wrong other side of the road, and the advise from my Ozzie friend, "You will be surprised how small town it is."

If i had to label Dubai, i would say it is a Third World Country Dipped in Glitz and Glam.
Here in NZ, where people, birds and fruit are all called kiwis, i'd describe it as a No Frills Beauty.  Kiwi the people, are very casual and seem to want nothing to do with glitz or glam.  

i think because NZ appears on the surface to be so similar to the US the differences that continue to crop up take me by surprise.  In Dubai, i walked out the door expecting massive differences from my own home culture to assault me everyday.  Here i don't expect differences which is why the subtle NZ differences take me by surprise.  Here are some things i am trying to get used to

1. Cars, streets, houses and closets are small and simple.  Shoes and shirts are optional here.  Go to any public area; the grocery store, church, a restaurant (not limited to fast food) or an elective class and you will see children AND adults walking around without shoes.

2.  ALL wine bottles have screw off tops which make it a perfectly acceptable beverage to bring with your brown bag lunch... to WORK.  Today while waiting for my car service, i watched an employee stick his lunch bag and wine bottle back in the fridge after his lunch break.  

3.  There is a hole in the ozone layer down here which makes the sun really intense when the cloud cover disappears.  Skin cancer rate is at an all time high and we feel ourselves burn more here than we ever did in the Arabian desert.  Everyday we slather on sunscreen, wear hats and drive passed numerous skin cancer centres. 

3a. Dealing with my computer which spell checks all my words with British spelling.  Case in point...  centres

4.  Things are really expensive here!  
Gas cost (in converted American terms) $6.70 a gallon.  
Limes cost $11 a pound.  
This becomes a problem when you are used to driving to the store in your car to pick up a bunch of limes.   

5. Kiwis don't use dryer.  They hang all their clothes outside to dry.  (Take note: going barefoot around town=less laundry to hang. See#1)  
Dryers don't work very efficiently and things like electricity is costly. See#4.  Clothes dry really fast outside in the sun.  See#3
45 minute in the sun to dry for free verses 1.5 hours in the dryer to have the clothes only less damp for about $7.

Let me interrupt myself here and clarify that i am not complaining. i have come to realise (British spelling!) that being an expat in one country does not make you an expert expat in another country.  Parts of life here have surprised me more than i thought because i wasn't prepared and i assumed NZ culture would have little differences from America.  i have learned that with every cultural difference or nuance i encounter it is best to look on the Brightside

My Brightside is Stanmore Bay!
(For the record, besides the arrows, NONE of the pictures are photoshopped.  The sky really does look that blue.)

When you are on a peninsula on an island, it makes for amazing views no matter where you live or drive which helps ease some of the challenges.

The Brightside of hanging laundry is the view.  
Hanging laundry here makes feels like i'm in a laundry softener commercial.

Ok, back to my list....
6.  Kiwi's have an internal clock which instinctively tells them which side of the island is better to be at on any given time of the day.  This American, not so much.

When i was told to take Riley to point A for kayaking that is what i did.  After an hour of driving around looking for the girls kayaking group and not finding them, i felt an idiot and tearfully figured i must have not understood the directions.  Finally giving up and taking a very disappointed little girl back towards home, we accidentally found the group at point B.  "Yep, we decided to move the girls to the side that was not so windy.  Glad you finally found us."
You're probably wondering like i was, why they didn't call the poor American who might not know the change locations rule.  4 leaders, 20 girls kayaking without parents around for 6 hours and no one had a mobile phone on them.  (Blank stare)

Kiwi's are tough and don't worry about emergencies i guess.  

We drove around lost for an hour but discovered this super fabulous picture spot 

Which means we knew EXACTLY where to take Grandma Burnett for the group picture she wanted during her visit.

7.  NZ homes don't have air-conditioning or heaters.  If you want to heat your home when it gets cold in the winter, which it does, you buy a space heater.  When you want to cool your home during the summer you open your windows.  Sounds magical right?!  (Especially coming from Dubai where we had to have 7 air-conditioning units in one house to keep any one of the units from overworking and blowing out, which they did anyways but i digress.) 

"Ahhh...Open windows cooling the entire house," said in a dreamy voice.

Insert sound effect of record scratch and dreamy music coming to a stop

Kiwi's also don't believe in window screens ANYWHERE.
i DO have a beautiful breeze which will usher in cooler temperatures but will also bring along large leaves, cicadas (google 'em if you've never seen those harmless but ugly guys) flies, 
newts, spiders, moths, mozzies (Kiwi for mosquitos) wasps and all sorts of new bugs we've never seen before but like our dishes.

To ease our nerves, we have been assured there are no poisonous spiders or snakes in NZ and we were introduced to the automatic bug sprayer which installs into the house and cuts down the bug population from a booming metropolis to a small city.

We've have embraced different insects and learned a lot from letting them live in our garage.


 8. "New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign."
As stated by the Official Website of the British Monarchy

American English Translation:
  •  Prince William, Kate and Prince George are hanging out in NZ for a bit this month
  • As Americans we are referred to as Yanks or Yankee and they make comments about our "accent."
  • i have to ask people to repeat themselves and vise versa because we can't understand each others' "English"
  • They fill their pies with MEAT instead of FRUIT.
  • We don't always understand each others' humour.
  • When they hear my "accent" they quickly want to pawn me off set me up on a blind friendship with another American they know.  "You'll get along brilliantly, you're both so much alike."  (Should i take offence when that other American is 60 years old, has a loud cackle for a laugh, won't stop talking and makes obnoxious jokes?)  
  • i now drive on the OTHER side of the road and throughout the day you may see me...

Get in the passenger side of the car to drive

Look for my seatbelt over the wrong shoulder

Signal to turn only to have my windshield wipers turn on

i am better at actually driving on the other side of the road than i am at getting into the car. 
i'm officially an ambidextrous driver.

Transitioning into a new culture can be tricky, difficult, frustrating, and exciting all at the same time.     
Expat life is not "picture perfect" but we are thankful for all the Brightside stuff we get to discover in NZ! 


Anonymous said...

A HOOT!!!! TJ, I got up early this am, because we are going home!!!! But i had to check for a BLOG!!! Yea, and what a way to start a new day. Thank you for opening the window again, to let us experience yur change of life and its adventures. The kids are growing so fast, and becoming little people in a new surrounding. Love ya and thanks for the visit!!!! Dad

Betty said...

Love your description of NZ life. In a year, you will wonder why you ever thought this was strange!