Continuing in our Migrant Tales series – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.
Today’s tale is the second in the series ‘Our Take on NZ‘ – sent in to E2NZ by a reader:
“I have to be really careful here that I do not get too carried away. From our experience during 7 years of living in New Zealand, we have met many cheerful, caring and sincere people. Most of these are immigrants themselves and some others are really incredible born and bred New Zealanders. There is however a definite (and partly understandable) feeling amongst many of what I call mainstream Kiwis, that immigrants and new residents/new citizens are a thorn in the side of traditional NZ – a costly imposing burden that have little to contribute towards the betterment of the country. Some of these feelings most certainly have merit as rampant uncontrolled immigration has contributed to many new problems in NZ, with explosive rising living costs being top of the list. None the less, 7 years in we still encounter many situations that make us feel like second-class residents and outsiders.
My overview and experience of NZ and its people, culture and lifestyle is that many NZ born Kiwis can be a somewhat strange bunch, blissfully happy in their own ignorance and self-praise of everything great about themselves and NZ. Kiwis love to promote and plaster pictures of themselves all over their vehicles, business signage and on the products they sell. This, in an effort to possibly display their status and validate their professionalism with a sense of ‘look at how well I’ve done’. All forms of advertising in NZ are heavily dependent on endorsements from so-called local sporting heroes. Even council organizations climb on board with this never-ending NZ sports hero worship. It is as if one cannot market a product or service if it is not connected to rugby in some way or another. Home building packages, vehicle sales, realty agents, clothing and all manner of foodstuffs – absolutely everything is endorsed by current or ex rugby players, their coaches, trainers and other extended family members. It’s just a total overload of the same thing over and over again. NZ sports people; mostly rugby players, are highly revered and idolised in every aspect of NZ culture. Our children are conditioned to look up to these so-called role models. And when one or more of these ‘heroes’ fall from grace on anything from drug charges, to drink driving and other indiscretions, the average Kiwi (and in some cases even the legal system) are very quick to go easy, forgive, forget and nurture these ‘national assets’ for fear of tarnishing The Game and individual player’s future sporting prospects.
We are all sold the idea that NZ is 100% Pure. Kiwi experience is what really counts, and that everything in NZ is the best or at least amongst the finest in the world. NZ has few problems, most everything is great, and if you work hard, everyone gets a good deal and a fair go. From the dairy, meat and wine industry to tourism and agriculture, jobs, training, healthcare, schooling and governance – nothing comes close to NZ. It’s paradise! From my personal experience, much of this stems from the inherent insecurity of many small thinking Kiwis, and their recent newfound access to the real world. If you dare criticize anything about NZ, or offer an opinion in contrast to the accepted norms, you are seen as a rogue agent and whinger. Kiwis constantly sing their own praises, grandstanding about most things with shiny tacky window dressing. I say much of this bleating is 100% beef manure!
Perhaps these types of Kiwis should stop and think for a moment about just how and why they coined the phrase “No. 8 Wire Fix/Can Do Attitude”, for if they had completed the job correctly in the first place, they would not need to fix or do anything ingenious that involves the use of a piece of wire. Everything about NZ seems to be re-active rather than pro-active. Fix it when it breaks – “We have always done things this way” and “She’ll be right mate”. I regret to say that a fair amount of the Kiwis we have encountered are out of touch in world terms, refusing to acknowledge that NZ is actually about 10 years behind the curve ball in many aspects of other developed countries. This fact does of course have its own attraction and allure for some. It also provides some big advantages, especially in terms of untapped business opportunities, booming tourism markets and new technological developments etc… some of which I hope to comment on later.
A large component of the culture of living in NZ has to do with the colourful and all-important Māori Culture. Not knowing enough about this subject, I have quickly learned to keep all my thoughts and comments to myself. This is not that I have anything bad to say at all. The truth is that both my husband and I have just been too busy working 12 hour+ days and raising our family to engage and learn more about NZ Māori. Our bad, as they say! Our children have however acquired a good general knowledge and basic understanding of Māori culture from their school education, sports and other extra mural activities. I think it would be fair of me to say that there are however some ongoing problems and challenges concerning Māori in NZ.
This brings me to the growing issue concerning the behaviour, health and rebellious culture throughout a wide cross section of NZ youth. In general, I find that NZ youth are totally lacking in discipline, and are disrespectful towards their elders and almost any form of authority. Manners and morals have gone straight out the window. Despite what official statistics may suggest, during our 7 year stay in NZ, we have noticed a steady increase in youth offending and criminal incidents. There is a growing trend for young children, teens and adults to challenge authority at every opportunity. Alcohol, drug abuse and STD’s are at what many would describe as pandemic proportions in NZ. If I had just 5 words to describe the NZ lifestyle/culture, they would be: Rugby, Alcohol, Sweet My Mate! Drink driving is commonplace, as are youths fleeing from police in stolen vehicles. With endemic alcohol and drug abuse, comes an increase in vehicle and workplace accidents with more and more senseless injuries and fatalities. NZ also has some of the world’s highest levels of other dangers such as bullying, broken family situations, domestic violence, child abuse, child deaths, mental health needs and suicides of all ages. It is very clear to me that all is not that well in the social fabric of NZ.
By now, some readers may be thinking that I am making NZ sound like an absolute train wreck. It is not. My point here is that many countries have similar societal health and order issues, but in NZ they are often hidden, pushed under the carpet and not openly discussed or spoken about. Possibly for fear that many New Zealanders may be shocked to realise that there are indeed many serious and dire social needs that require urgent attention. NZ needs to pull its head out the sand, slow down on the marketing and relentless self-praise and concentrate of getting the basics right. Please remember that all my comments are based on my family’s experience of our life in NZ so far, and are given as useful and hopefully informative, helpful advice for those who wish to hear my opinion.
The good news is that despite my negative comments and frustrations, I can honestly say that NZ does indeed offer a great outdoor lifestyle opportunity for those who can afford the time and expense to explore and enjoy all that is on offer. During our first three years in NZ we were still in the ‘honeymoon phase’ as they say, and in a reasonable financial position to do some extensive road trip travel and exploration throughout NZ. In hindsight, maybe we should have saved that money for…. well everything! Getting back on point, NZ offers almost every outdoor activity and attraction I can think of. There is so much to see and do. Thankfully, lots of free or low cost activities such as swimming, tramping, cycling, fishing and hunting are within easy reach for most people, given the time and opportunity to get out there. Other more adventurous adrenaline activities such as river rafting, jet boating and a host of tourist-focused options are very, very expensive. Great beaches, wetlands, forests, mountains, ski slopes and an endless array of scenic coastal locations are part of most everyone’s reason for immigrating to NZ. Make no mistake; NZ is blessed with natural beauty. The NZ outdoor lifestyle is wonderful, but an undisputed utopia it is not, especially as things are starting to change with the rapid degradation of the NZ natural environment (more on this later).
I say again, the main downside or limiting factor for my family’s NZ lifestyle is the overwhelming cost of living. Eating out at a modest café and going to the movies with some drinks, popcorn and ice cream has become a really expensive pastime, easily costing around $200 for a family of 4. A single large coke, large popcorn and an ice cream cost $16 in the cinema. Utter madness!
Property/building costs and property rental rates are astronomical – and are in fact amongst the highest in the world. Food costs are very high (more about this in a later comment), clothing too, and petrol/fuel is taxed to the hilt. Home appliances, electronics and household maintenance items are also becoming way too expensive. Most people we know have to buy lesser ‘on special’ budget food options and cheap clothing as anything of really good quality is simply unaffordable when one has to budget for the family essentials and basic weekly living costs. For us, it’s been 4 years since our 3 year long honeymoon phase came to an end, and further travel and holidays are still simply out of the question.
I know that I must sound like a sour, ungrateful, disgruntled snob when I say I am a hard working, qualified professional with a Masters Degree in my field of work, my husband is responsible for managing 20 co-workers in a large business with a six figure weekly turnover, and yet after all these years, we are financially worse off than the day we arrived. On top of this, we have to think twice about buying our kids some treats at our local cinema during the school holidays. Some Kiwis tell us that we just “expect far too much from NZ and need to adapt, tighten our belts, save more and cut back on our spending. Do the hard yards and you will eventually get ahead” – all of which is hard to accept and implement when you have already exhausted so much effort and resources in an ongoing struggle of long demanding work hours and shift work (my husband), together with the rigors of raising a family with two very active young teenagers.
To sum up, there are many hard working parents like us that simply have less and less available time and money, despite earning what sounds like a decent income. An annual income of 60k, 70k, 80k or 90k+ for a family of 4, may sound fine, but as mentioned, with more and more taxation, together with relentless rising living costs, the buying power of what is essentially a fixed income is becoming less and less by the day, and so too, the NZ lifestyle becomes less and less easy to enjoy. As for how single parents, or those with other challenging living situations and/or circumstances cope, is beyond my understanding. Our family finds it really tough, so they must find it near impossible.
My bottom line belief is that if you want to enjoy a quality family orientated Kiwi lifestyle in NZ, you need to have a good work vs. play balance in your life, at least some discretionary income and a respite from constantly chasing the dollars in an effort to simply keep pace with the cost of living the lifestyle that enticed you to NZ in the first place. There’s more to come in PART 3 (if you will have me after this somewhat long-winded commentary).”