Posted by: Vallere | May 7, 2011

Friday’s Flipside Five – Things I’m still not used to.

We’ve been in New Zealand for a bit over 3 months now. In some ways, it seems like we just got here last week, and in others, it seems like we are just another Kiwi family.  But even though we are comfortably settled in, with a weekly schedule that we’ve gotten very used to, there are still a few things that never cease to surprise me!

1) Earthquakes

There have been quite a few since we’ve been here. Obviously, the big Christchurch quake just after we arrived, but also a ton of smaller ones. We’ve actually felt two. Now, I’m a North Carolina girl. I was born there and I lived my whole life there. I can tell you anything you need to know about a hurricane, a drought, a flood, a hail storm, a snow storm, or even a tornado. But earthquakes are a new one for me. The first one I felt was while The Doc was down in Wellington for an overnight work-related trip. The epicenter of that one (a 4.5 I think) was right under him, and he said it felt like someone had lifted his bed 6 inches off the floor and dropped it. To me, 2.5 hours down the road, it felt like my washing machine was on spin cycle and off-center. There was a noise, like a truck coming up the road, followed by a low vibration that lasted just a few seconds, and then the noise flowed away. Perfect doppler effect! The second one we both felt here in our house just last week. Again, it was just a low vibration, like what the washing machine does to the house when it’s unbalanced. It lasted maybe 5 or 6 seconds, and was over.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to them. I don’t think it’s typical for Wanganui to experience destructive earthquakes, but then, it wasn’t typical for Christchurch either. These little ones are barely noticeable, but you never know when it’ll turn into “the big one”, and unlike hurricanes (with a weeks head-time) or even tornadoes (where you at least know the storm is coming and might have a few minutes to take cover), earthquakes have zero warning. You go from tra la la to ohwowwhatwasthat. So strange!

2) Meeting other Americans

Ok, I know that sounds weird, but when you’ve been submerged in an accent for 3 months, it REALLY throws you to hear someone who sounds like you! I know it’s hard to imagine, but I really don’t even notice the Kiwi accent anymore. Well…I don’t notice it in adults. Kiwi kids sound SO CUTE and I totally gush over their adorableness when they start talking, but for the adults, I honestly don’t even notice that they have an accent. I’m so used to hearing it, that the thing that catches my ear now is someone withOUT a Kiwi accent.

Wanganui is actually a very culturally diverse town. It can possibly be blamed on the hospital – The Doc has colleagues from America, Bali, Malaysia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, England, Scotland, and probably other places I’ve forgotten. There is also a very large Maori population here, and, although they have a Kiwi accent when speaking English, the Maori language is beautiful and melodic and I thankfully get to hear it being spoken quite often on the street. So we hear other accents a lot. But nothing sticks out to me quite like an American accent nowadays. Even on TV, if I hear an American speaking, I almost do a double-take. And it’s even worse in person. This past week I met two American doctors who work with The Doc and it was really weird to talk to them! That American accent seems so out-of-place here!

3) Safety

This is such a safe place to live…and I’m not really talking about the “lack of crime” aspect, although that is there as well. I’m talking about the fact that pretty much nothing in my yard…or the park…or at the beach…is potentially going to kill me or my kids. North Carolina has 2 poisonous spiders and 6 poisonous snakes. There’s also poison ivy in the ditches and woods. There are fire ants in the yard. There are coyotes yipping at night. Bears, wolves, puma. Probably some gators in the swamp.

What does New Zealand have? Well…there are a couple of spiders that bite. The bad one – the katipo – is so hard to find that I know women who are grandmothers who have lived here their whole life and never seen one. There’s the whitetail. We’ve killed a few of those in the house, but I hear that even if they do bite, as long as you keep the wound clean, it’s no biggie. And maybe if you go swimming in *some* areas there *might* be sharks and killer whales, but that is easily avoided. That’s it. There are no indigenous mammals here other than bats, and the introduced ones aren’t going to hunt you down while you’re on a bushwalk. No snakes to watch out for in the woodpile. No top-line predators hiding in the night. It is safe here. I can let my kids play in the back yard and not have to worry that they are going to stumble over a snake hole or get nicked by a coyote in the evening. We can hike up a mountain with no fears of coming around a bend and being face to face with a mama bear…or worse yet, a baby bear. You never need to worry about whether you’ll accidentally set your tent up on top of  a snake.

I love the safety…but it’s hard to get used to. I have to constantly fight the urge to hover when we’re outside. When we’re on a bush walk and I see some movement by the side of the trail, my immediate thought is “SNAKE!” until reality reminds me that there ARE no snakes. I wonder how long I’d have to stay here to get used to that?

4) Nature sounds

I grew up on a farm out in the country, so I’m used to being woken up by the sound of birds outside my window. But the animal sounds I hear here are so different! There is a tui that lives in a tree across the street from us, and he sings all. day. long. It is the most curious song ever. Something like toooEEEE…wooo wooo wooo wooo. And then he croaks like a frog. I love it! There are bell birds who have this sound I can’t even try to explain. The little fantail that hangs out on our patio sounds like a squeaker toy that a hyperactive toddler got ahold of. I hear sheep bleating and cows lowing through the open windows at night.

All of these sounds are so totally out of the ordinary for me, that every time I hear them is like the first time. It just thrills my soul, every single time. I hope I never get so used to hearing our tui that I don’t notice him anymore.

5) Tea means 10 different things

I love tea, and I’m really thrilled to finally live somewhere that tea is appreciated. Every house has an electric kettle and a box (or 3) of tea bags in easy reach. Earl Gray, English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, Chai. Mmmm.

But is tea by any other name…still tea?

Because in New Zealand, you have to listen for context to figure out what someone means by “tea”. If someone says, “We’d love to have you over for tea!” as an American, I’d assume they want me to come by for a cuppa. But I could be wrong. The word “tea” can mean a lot of things. Tea can refer to the drink (hot, in a cup, with sugar and milk). It can refer to break time (ie, morning tea or afternoon tea). It can refer to a meal (Kiwis eat breakfast, lunch and tea.) This is the most confusing to me. I’m not sure WHY they substitute “tea” for “dinner”, but they do. And it always, every time, confuses me.

Like the time when a friend said her husband had to work late so she stuck his tea in the oven.

My brain shut off and it honestly took me the rest of the conversation to figure out that she meant that she put his DINNER in the oven, and not a kettle.

*shrug* Well, maybe one day I’ll get used to it!



  1. I am in total awe of you and your move! I have been having a lot of fun reading about all your new experiences 🙂 Keep ’em coming!

  2. It’s to the point now that if I hear and Aussie, Kiwi, or South African, I have to listen for a few seconds to pick which is which. That’s embarrassing! I never knew that NZ has so few poisonous animals… so tell me, what’s your take on God lumping them all in Australia?? ;>

    • Before we came here I could totally tell Kiwi from Australian from English…but now they all seem very similar! South African I can pick out. The Doc works with a guy from SA, and there is a lady at our church from SA. To me, that one sounds different enough that I can pick it out. But Aussie/Kiwi/English get me sometimes for sure.

  3. LOVE IT!!! NZ is safe where as in Australia the only thing that’s not dangerous as Terry Prattchet would put it “are some of the sheep” 🙂 I’d have a hard time getting used to that one too! MISS YOU

  4. Great post! I was giggling at the last section because we’ve dealt with similar experiences here in Japan though it isn’t called tea here. 🙂

  5. That is so weird about the tea. I can see “afternoon tea” as more of a time-frame, but how can it be used to mean an entire dinner meal? Strange!

  6. I probably would’ve remained confused on the tea! I definitely would love to visit NZ now.

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