Posted by: Vallere | March 18, 2011

Friday’s Flipside Five – Volume 1

I’m fantasizing about going forward with a feature on Fridays that focuses on five fascinating differences in New Zealand from the US. There are a fair many, so I should be flooded with fodder for the foreseeable future. For real. 😉

Welcome to Volume 1 of FFF:

1) Footwear

New Zealanders have these things called Gumboots. In America, we’d think of them as rain boots (except I think Gumboots are more rubber than plastic), or maybe the rubberized boots worn on a chicken or dairy farm. But in NZ, you don’t need to be a farmer to wear Gumboots, and it certainly doesn’t need to be raining. They are a national phenomenon. The town that makes Gumboots – Taihape (pronounced Ty-happy) – has a huge statue of a Gumboot displayed prominently. They even have a Gumboot Festival each year with “Gumboot tossing” as an activity.

EVERYONE wears Gumboots. Men, women, and especially kids. In the middle of summer, it’s not odd at all to see a man walking through the grocery store in shorts, a tank top and…gumboots up to his knee. (Of course, on the topic of footwear, it’s also not odd to see a full-grown man -or woman or child – walking through a store barefoot, either.) I think I need to buy some for my boys  because they might be the only kids in NZ who don’t own a pair.

2) Roundabouts

When we first got here, we were faced with suddenly driving on the left-hand side of the road, in a car where the steering wheel was on the right and the blinkers/windshield (called windscreen in NZ) wipers were backwards.  Just THINKING about a roundabout made me panic. But now that I’ve been here a while and find driving on the left quite comfortable (and haven’t mistakenly turned on my wipers when trying to turn on the blinkers in at LEAST a week), I LOVE them! I wish we had them in NC! They are the most brilliant idea ever.

How many times has this happened to you? It’s the middle of the afternoon. Traffic is light. You pull up to a stop light and it’s red. You stop. You look left and right and NO ONE is coming. Yet, you have to sit at the light for 2 minutes until it turns green, just waiting to go for no reason at all. In your head you secretly contemplate your odds of getting caught if you just ran the light.


You pull up as the third car in the turn lane. The light turns green. You sit and wait…and wait…and wait…while all the folks going straight go. By the time they have gone, the light has turned yellow. The two cars in front of you zip through the intersection. You are stuck waiting for the next light cycle.

This NEVER happens in a town with lots of roundabouts! In a roundabout, you just give way to the right and when it’s clear, you go.

In Wanganui, there are probably more roundabouts than stop lights. Because of this, in a town of 42k people, “rush hour” lasts about 20 minutes.

3) Curse words

One thing we’ve been shocked by is how loosely words we’d consider “curse words” are thrown around in NZ. The “f” word, the “s” word, da*n and h*ll are OFTEN heard on TV, during what I’d call supper time/prime time hours. We’re not sure if these words just don’t hold the same weight here that they do in the States or whether it’s just more acceptable here to say them.

4) Ice Ice Baby

If you go to a restaurant (including fast food places, like McD’s) and order a drink, you’ll either be given a bottled drink or a cup of fountain drink. If it’s a fountain drink, expect the cup to be full to the brim with…drink. Your drink will not have ice in it, and it will not include a refill. It’ll be cold, but not ice-cold.

Even in homes, most people don’t put ice in their drinks. I have yet to see a refrigerator in anyone’s house with an automatic ice maker. People here are quite happy to have cold tap water or drinks chilled in the fridge. Maybe it’s because the climate is more temperate than what I’m used to in NC, but ice-cold drinks are not the norm.

5) Rugby

You probably already know that Rugby is the national pastime of New Zealand. I’m pretty sure that Cricket comes in a close second, just from the news coverage, but Rugby is king. And lest you think that Rugby is just American Football without the pads, I’ll go ahead and quell those beliefs right now. The fields (called a pitch in rugby) are roughly the same length, and the balls are roughly the same shape, and they both have uprights you can kick the ball through…but that’s about as far as the comparisons go.

I found a really neat video that explains Rugby for Americans, so if you are interested in the Rugby rules, I highly recommend you watch it.

To give you an idea of just HOW fanatical Kiwis are for Rugby, consider this: due to the Rugby World Cup being held in NZ this year, they actually changed the public school schedule to fit around the games. Seriously.



  1. Very interesting! Especially about the ice… we’re ice-a-holics here in TX!

    Great new feature on the blog…. looking forward to reading more. 🙂

    • We love ice, too. It’s been an adjustment for sure! At least here if you order a drink at McD’s, you know you aren’t getting 3/4 ice and 1/4 drink. I always HATED that in the States!

  2. How interesting! I love learning about cultural differences. I look forward to learning more.

    Hey, here’s a tip for you. From the WP dashboard, look under “General Settings” under the main “Settings” heading. From the general settings, you will see “Tagline” and that is where you can write a brief description that will appear under the name of your blog in your header. So under “On the Road to Emmaus…” you can say something like “Our Year in New Zealand” rather than the default “just another WP blog.”

    • Thanks, Kristy! I’m still learning my way around the blogoshpere. 🙂

  3. Fascinating post! I hope you can keep up with the comparisons; it really is interesting. And it sounds like I’d get along fine in those restaurants because I don’t really care for ice in my drinks either.
    Roundabouts are definitely cool…I know they are used alot in New Jersey. But it would be nice if they used them in more places over here.

  4. Ahhh, you’ve made me homesick. In a good way. So looking forward to seeing what else you come up with!

  5. Hiya! Your New Zealand posts have been an interesting read! I’m in Christchurch and have not been to Whanganui but I know it’s actually a completely different world – the whole North Island is, in fact. I have found your observations so interesting to the point it sounds as if it’s a different country you are talking about. For one thing, no one down here (in Chch, they certainly do down south!) wears gumboots (apart from recently when everyone’s been buying them to wade through the liquefaction), and would most certainly not be seen walking around the shops barefoot. I have been told several times that Christchurch is more refined than other parts of NZ – a statement not meant as derogatory to other regions, it is simply very English here, although it would be to do with being one of the larger cities as well. I don’t imagine anyone in Auckland city is wandering about in gumboots. It is much more of a small town/country thing!

    In regards to the swearing, the words most certainly hold the same weight here as they do for you. It wouldn’t be acceptable to use them in school, at work or in public etc. Even in high school I remember students being sent out for swearing (and I’m 21, this wasn’t too long ago!) I believe the reason for them being so widely used on TV is there is less emphasis on TV regulations. I visited the states last year for a while and was amazed when watching movies. They had actually removed certain scenes and bleeped the swear words. This was after 10 p.m. when I thought anything would be OK to show. That never happens here. I really was shocked.

    Interesting about the ice, too! My drinks are always served to me with ice in restaurants, I am often asked if I would like it or not. McDonald’s, Burger King etc. should always serve your drink with ice unless you specifically ask for none. I must say, I LOVED the free refill thing in America. I miss it so much here :(. I couldn’t get over the price of food, too. My friend (who lives in MN) thinks Olive Garden is expensive, I WISH a meal out cost me less than $20 here!

    I enjoyed your bit about the light switches too – I knew many of the differences between NZ and USA before I went there, but I had no idea about that one. It drove me insane!

    Am looking forward to your post about phrases, a bit scared, too! I know there is some awfully embarrassing lingo used around the country. Would love to know what you think of fish and chips, too – or the “chippie” as they may call it there!

    (I’m sorry this got so long, I am bit of a writer so usually get carried away).

    • Madison, thank you SO much for your input! I’ll have to be careful to say “folks around here” instead of “everyone in New Zealand” from now on. We’ve traveled quite a bit on the North Island – haven’t spent time in Auckland or Wellington, though – and my observations so far seem to hold true for all of the places we’ve been thus far. We are definately planning a long trip to the South Island in a few months and it will definately be interesting to see the differences between the two!

      I hope you and your family weren’t terribly affected by the earthquake, though I doubt anyone in Chch wasn’t. The images from the news are just heartbreaking. We are certainly praying for Christchurch and I hope to get a chance to visit there once it is on the mend.

      And for the record…our family LOVES fish and chips! (though my boys still can’t get the hang of saying chips instead of french fries!)

      Please feel free to continue to comment on the blog, and correct me if I get anything wrong!


  6. I’m very glad to hear you’ll be visiting the South Island too! I haven’t felt any aftershocks for a few days now so hopefully you won’t have to experience any if you decide to visit Chch. I’d say to take your little ones on the trams, but they are all within the city centre which no one can access, and probably won’t be up and running again any time soon anyway :(. If they like animals, I recommend Willow Bank. They can feed the animals and there’s a really neat kiwi habitat. I have been around 15 times and have seen at least two kiwis each time.

    The differences in a single county are always interesting. I visited Minnesota, Iowa, Alabama and Texas, which were all very different places. Alabama was absolutely beautiful despite the heat (it was only November, I wouldn’t do well in summer over there…), and I loved being able to see so much snow in MN. The people are different in each place, too. Of course America is a much bigger country than NZ so it was of no surprise to experience such diversity. I would love to be able to visit all 50 states someday.

    My family are alright, thank you for asking! Three family members have had to leave their homes, but they don’t seem too severely damaged so I hope they can be repaired and not condemned. As for where I am, we cannot use some of the doors in this house because they are stuck, and there are a few cracks in the wall but I’m not complaining. I’m grateful to be able to live here still. I did lose my job, but as that’s all I lost, I count myself lucky.

    I love the name Zollie – I haven’t heard it before, it’s adorable!

    • Thanks for the tip on Willow Bank. We’ll look into it! I’m glad to hear your family is all ok.

      Zollie was my granddad’s name. It’s the pet form of “Saul”…Saul -> Sol -> Zol -> Zollie. It means “Wished For” and his middle name is Isaac which means “Laughter” and boy does that kid live up to his name!

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