Migrant Tales – Brit Feeling “Foreign” In New Zealand. How About You?

Continuing in our series of Migrant Tales, first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand taken from locations around the net.

Today’s tale is a short one. It was orginally posted on an emigration forum frequented mostly by British people.

Given the close association that New Zealand has with Britain (it’s a Commonwealth country and even has a Union Flag on its own flag) British people sometimes view New Zealand as a safer, more traditional version of their own country. New Zealanders are considered distant family.

It’s not uncommon to hear them say New Zealand  “is like Britain was thirty years ago” but this blog seeks to demonstrate that New Zealand is anything but an outdated British clone.

The opening poster is a Brit, married to a New Zealand man living in SW England and contemplating their a return to New Zealand

“What makes you feel foreign?”

“My kiwi husband says that in his 14 years in the UK he has never felt or been treated differently despite his kiwiness and accent.

Yet during my previous 3 years in NZ I did, on occasion, feel ‘foreign’.

Never more so than when being interviewed for a job.

Mr C says that people he meets along the way, all across the country are always polite, friendly and show a genuine interest in his life before the UK. The only irriation is when he occasionally gets asked why he left ‘Australia’. An easy mistake I suppose. But on the whole, totally accepting in every aspect.

This worries me a little about our return to NZ because I didn’t really feel that same acceptance. Outside his family and friends I felt that it was hard to make my own friends other than a couple of expats for which I was very grateful. Beyond having to endure ‘pommie’ jokes from his friends there wasn’t much interest in my previous life.

I’m hoping that by moving to a city that people with be more ‘wordly wise’ if that makes sense. We lived near Hamilton before.


I was going to say ‘laughing out loud’ and not taking myself seriously. Seems to cause me no end of bother here.

The lack of good queuing technique and etiquette; having my toes trampled on by marauding crowds at checkouts and stuff, there’s always someone who wants to get there before you, even if they obviously arrived after you did. The complete lack of sensitivity to one’s personal space, standing toe-to-toe, leaning over you and breathing down your neck at the Eftpos or cash machines.

Bartering in established retail outlets.

Lunch and breakfast (particularly in work situations) but I might save that for another conversation.

Public toilets (again a work thing) – yeugh!! I’m not even sure I can bring myself to write about that topic publicly. So I’ll hold that thought too!!

People selling stuff at the side of the road, from the back of a truck.

Saying my name and having to spell it out a dozen times, before eventually writing it down for them.

If this is what makes Brits in New Zealand feel uncomfortable, how do other nationalities feel?

What is it about New Zealand that makes you feel foreign?

We’re throwing this question open to our readership for them to answer, it may help if you could state your country of origin but there is absolutely no obligation to do so.


2 thoughts on “Migrant Tales – Brit Feeling “Foreign” In New Zealand. How About You?

  1. Americans here.

    My accent, body language, facial expressions made me feel different. They tend to be more reserved here. It makes you feel self-conscious. I toned myself down to avoid alarming them with big laughing, invading personal space, smiling too much, oversharing, too much candor or looking them for too long in the eye.

    I also found I could not communicate well with them. They are easily overwhelmed by too much information. It was not easy to find conversation topics. because they did not seem to have a level of broad knowledge. I found it heavy going to hold my end up sometimes because they would not take the conversation ball and run with it in an informed way. I am referring to many of them, not all of them. The ones who had been abroad seemed much more normal. Their view of Americans was that we are ignorant, fat, racist, bullies, lazy, but I found these qualities in New Zealand in at least in the same proportion as home. They did not see their own vices.

    I think the more “real American” (of the midwest type,with those valies) you are, the more you will dislike it here. Liberals I have known disliked it because of racism/bullying, not green enough. They seemed to come over with very high expectations because of the 100% Pure Campaign. Conservatives I have known disliked it because of their automatic critic wth no off button about the US Government. When they stopped crying about Bush, they just amped up the volume on capitalists, American banking system ruining the world.

    We have known Yanks who said Kiwis tried to start fights with them in bars after a few drinks, and service employees who have grumbled that they should go back where they came from once their backs were turned. We never had anyone try the former. We did experience a bit of the latter.

    My wife and I missed culture, buzz, life, connection. There was something big missing, but we never managed to put our finger on exactly what it was!

    Still, let’s be honest, some migrants do enjoy living here. If they have a great deal of money and they fell in love with the scenery, they usually have a good time. For these, being slagged off doesn’t matter much to them. They aren’t here for the company, so they do not feel alienated.

    I would like to say more, but it’s a busy weekend. I will think about it and come back.

  2. Canadian.

    Kiwis think you have inexhaustible saved sums of money.

    Some hear your accent and boost the prices of goods and services. The poorer among them sometimes think you have useful connections. They may hint for work or loans. They will look at you oddly, as if you were a small object of study, show resentment over your voice or body language, or try to impress you. Some will mention having visited your own country before asking for a favour.

    My daughters felt alien in their schools. The Kiwi girls were sports-mad and “ditzy”, the boys were loutish, they said. Preponderantly, not all. They feel comfortable criticising your own culture, but become angry if you criticise their own. They think there is nowhere better than their own country, and that every other place is worse in some way.

    Everything costs too much. They are used to living on next to nothing, and relatively speaking, I suppose some of us are actually “rich”, compared to them, when they look at what we bring over from home. So when we indicated surprise at what things cost, they became angry as well. It was just small, and small-minded.

    There were amiable individuals and there are good traits. Not enough to hold us there. They tend not to look below the surface and perceive complex situations. They are naive and make snap judgments. Some were unbearably smug, and any relationship that progressed some degree would tend to level out at a certain point, as we found one another mutually exhausting I think! I still cannot piece together why I could not communicate with these people. We all spoke English. I think they do not chat for chatting’s sake, too much. They are utilitarian and do not share their inner thoughts.

    Despite the many good points of this place, we felt very lonely, never integrated and were happy to leave after 4 years.

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