The ‘Deal Breakers’ of Kiwi Life

If it looks too good to be true…

A while ago, before the Kaikoura and Christchurch earthquakes shattered lives for many in New Zealand, some people got together and shared on a forum what they considered the ‘Deal Breakers’ of living in New Zealand.

Here’s what they wrote in response to this question:

What aspect of Kiwi life made you reassess your commitment to being here?
Whether you ultimately decided to adjust your expectations or start packing, please share your personal “deal breakers”.

Not finding the professional work I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life preparing for and practicing. I was prepared to take a step down. As a school administrator, I knew that I’d have to go back to teaching. (NB: I don’t consider teaching any ‘less’ a position in other than the most traditional sense of moving into administration as going up the ladder.) I was okay with that.

But, not being able to find a job and being told to go into relief teaching, that’s too much. That’s not a step down; that’s starting all over.

Then, on top of that, being told (and experiencing) that it’s who you know rather than what you know … well, that makes me feel as though the past 15 years of my life, the very things that NZIS had me spend so much time documenting, are utterly useless here. I believe the expression I am looking for is ‘insult to injury.’  To be honest, I was hoping this would be a permanent move, but I always knew this was really an experiment. I’m not bitter, just disappointed.

For me, it was the difficulty I had on a social level. I work from home for a company in the US so my prospects are limited for meeting new people, but I did make an effort at first, joining social clubs, volunteering, etc. I found that, in Christchurch where I first lived, most everyone seemed to know each other for years and years. I found the people I met to be mostly nice at first meeting, but they seemed to have a real barrier to becoming friends. My closest friend in NZ is an immigrant from a European country. I never had difficulty making friends in the US. Truly, I stopped trying after awhile because I was heartsick at listening to the jokes about spoiled Americans, or how Americans think everyone is their friend, or how Americans are uninformed and stupid, etc etc etc. I was also saddened by the level of prejudice that came along in my husband’s social group with relation to your university degree – if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s then you’re not even worth talking to as you must be stupid.

My husband reminds me sometimes that we (Americans and Kiwis) don’t actually speak the same language. Sure, on the surface it seems that we do, but there are so many little ways in which the language differs. And the devil, as the old saying goes, is in the details.

The prospect of looking for a job scares me after reading about people’s experiences on this board. I sure hope I get to keep my US job for a long time.

For me, it’s two things. The first is the food. Being vegetarian, I find it immensely depressing to be in a country where vegetarianism is at the same place where the UK was when I first became veggie 15+ years ago. When I was a struggling student, it didn’t matter how poor I was, I made sure that I ate well and had good, nutritious, tasty meals. I’m finding that I’m having to relearn how to be veggie again and I simply don’t have the energy and the zeal that I used to now that I have 3 children as a greater priority (who are gluten and dairy free but eat meat).

If I had good food, I could handle a heck of a lot of other things much better.

The other is the isolation. After a year here, to have no friends is tough. After two years, I have a small social circle – but it’s still small, tentative and early days and I’ve reconciled myself to having predominantly migrant friends or kiwis with extensive OE, which is not my preference. In the UK, it doesn’t take much to arrange a play date, Here, two terms of kindy and then maybe, just maybe you can mention it as a possibility. In the UK we saw friends to play with at least once a week. Here, it’s more like once a month. The time difference makes phoning home tough too – if you’re having a rough day, you have to wait until it’s mutually convenient by which point the moment when you needed to talk may have passed.

If I had a job in a field that reflects my interests, it might be easy to make friends (as has been the case for some of my ex pat friends). Being a full time parent is isolating enough – here it’s much, much worse.

I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker as such, but what I call the willful stupidity of the Kiwis here has gone a long way towards making me think seriously about moving overseas. By willful stupidity, I mean the refusal of Kiwis to admit that they might not know something and learn more about it.

For example, environmentalism. Talk to the average Kiwi, and you get a gutsful of Greenpeace propaganda. You know, how the cutting down of forests causes oxygen depletion (it doesn’t), or how tree farming is bad for the environment (it isn’t), or how nuclear power is the worse thing ever conceived by the human mind (like heck it is). But when you try to educate them… You’d think you were molesting their firstborn or something…This type of behaviour frustrates me no end, and to be honest, I don’t see a bright future for whatever society that practices this wholesale. That, coupled with the racism and the extremely low glass ceiling is what tipped the balance, in my case. Now, if I can only get enough job and financial security to move…

Whilst not a dramatic as some peoples problems with NZ. There are two things about New Zealand that I will NEVER accept.

The poor housing standards (easy target, I know).

They are freezing cold in winter (and I live in Auckland, so I REALLY feel for you guys down south). They are damp. They are made from poor quality materials and do not (even now) have the same standard of compliance checks as other modern countries.

A third of New Zealand houses are below the World Heath Organisation recommended minimum indoor temperature of 18 degrees centigrade (Source: NZ Human Rights Commission). New Zealand houses are rather rudimentary in design. It has been said to me that New Zealanders are kidding themselves that they live in some sub tropical paradise, however the reality is that they could do with doing a little more to keep the elements out.

Double glazing, effective central heating and insulation are the exception rather than the norm. I’ve had conversations where New Zealanders didn’t appreciate the difference between double glazing and secondary glazing. They thought that double glazing was simply two sheets of glass with a gap (secondary glazing), rather than specially made vacuum sealed double glazing units. New Zealand houses are notoriously damp- a dehumidifier is a necessity. The houses have no damp proof membrane (DPC) – if you lift the floor boards you will find soil. If your house is on a grade (as is the norm in NZ) rain water will likely trickle under the house, the sun comes out heats the ground moisture rises into the house through the floor. Brick house walls do not have cavities, just one brick thick with an insulation board on the inside (there may be a little gap between the bricks and the board- formed using timber batons). I know of new houses being built with external wall being made of chicken wire sprayed with concrete. They are nothing more them mud hut being built using modern materials. Living in a New Zealand house is like living in a 1960’s conservatory or a mobile class room/site hut (as least the site huts that I’ve worked in had heating).

Today I shouted to my wife through the house wall- when she got into the car she could no longer hear me. Our car is better insulated than our house.

Poor Quality Standards

New Zealand prides it’s self on its “can-do” attitude. That Kiwi ingenuity. It’s part of what brought me here. No messing about- just get on a do it. I love fixing things- sorting thing out. According to the books that just what New Zealand’s all about?

Yeah right.

“Can-do” attitude= “That’ll do” attitude. She’ll be right attitude.

In New Zealand, quality comes second, or maybe third. I don’t know whether it’s because they can’t be bothered, or because they don’t want to pay for it. As long at it sort of works, it’s ok. Job done.

One of my character traits is that I’m a hard task master- on myself and on others, a bit of a perfectionist, as it were. I fix my own stuff because that is the way I ensure it’s done properly. I’ve always been like that. It’s not a New Zealand thing, it’s a me thing.

You only have to take a look at the pieces of smashed up rubbish that people drive around in to see that quality is not an issue here. If you like things done properly, New Zealand is not for you.

When trying to explain that quality assurance is more that just ticking boxes on a check sheet, I’ve been met with a puzzled expression. I argued for a year that the quality that I was getting on one project was substandard. I was made to feel like a picky trouble maker. It took a year. But now they are sorting it out.

The bar is so low in New Zealand. There is no sense of quality, very little style or class and only misplaced pride. If this is some sort of frontier attitude, I could respect that- if we were in the 1800’s, but we are not. Shame.

o, how can I follow that!

Firstly after about 4 months we noticed we had covered most Christchurch local attractions and started to look further afield. After about 6 months we realised we were treading old ground -and so started looking for other interesting areas locally and further afield.

That is when the first disappointment set in – and we began to compare the lifestyle we had in Germany compared to the Christchurch lifestyle.

Then winter set in which we have discussed in other threads (no need to repeat myself!) – and we realised how very different life was in NZ with no central heating and double glazing.

The isolation for me was dreadful and because I put all my energy into a church that we then decided to leave (you will remember that from the racism thread) – I did not really make any new friends quickly.

The job situation (not being registered as a nurse and being turned down for heaps of jobs) was a real downer and I began to feel even more isolated and unworthy of employment.

About 7 months after we got here, P**** changed jobs as were suffering financially as his initial salary was not enough to live on and to cope with the financial impact of the cost of migration. He secured a better job and things began to look up – but then I panicked one day and said to P**** that I hoped he would not see the job as an eternal one – at last we had broached the subject and the floodgates opened about how unhappy we both had been about our choice to come to NZ but were both being careful not to say anything so as not to upset each other!

The money never really picked up – and the financial strain really got worse as did the cold house. Being taxed on every cent made a huge difference to our take home pay – and as a result hampered the lifestyle we thought we would be able to enjoy in NZ. We tried to settle the girls in to their horse riding, ice skating, salsa dancing etc so each one continued their hobbies. We thought this was important to help them settle and make new friends – but it comes at a cost of course.

Last new year, we thought we would move to another rented house as that would help – and in April I got a good job. It was only like sticking plasters on a gaping wound though – as the root of the problems are just not going to go away.

At Easter we visited Dunedin and a few places further South – trying to kid ourselves that the beauty of NZ would be enough to keep us here for a few years in order for the children to finish their education here – but we got so bored of keep going up and down the same old road.

Boredom for us set in very quickly – there was no language challenge, although we have learnt some Maori – and no real cultural differences – although we have enjoyed some Maori events.

Then as time went on we noticed how NZ lacked any distinctive identity. We had come looking to settle into New Zealand -but it had nothing different to offer us. We did not want another Great Britain – or Europe – we wanted to experience what NZ had to offer us – but apart from the pretty sights (nothing unusual in the world) – there was nothing to replace what we had left in Europe.

We began to notice how unsafe things were – how shoddily some things are done – and how behind Europe many things were. This was just not expected – we knew New Zealand was a growing country, but we thought things would be more developed in many ways.

These are some of the initial contributing factors – but of course there are many more.

It would be nice to think that people just read this amongst the many stories on this thread – and do not feel they have to take quotes out of context from it – as this account is just our own personal response to the question on this thread and not part of a wider campaign!

I started writing out my reasons when this item got posted. I’m still writing and it is rapidly becoming a book – much too long to be posted here.

So instead I’ll start with just one – already mentioned in my posts and others elsewhere – Reason no. 236 (it is well down the list): the falling quality of journalism. A minor point though this is, there is an example in today’s news.

The Government is buying some new cars, and a news item here headlines that these cars will fail the Government’s own “Emission Test”.

Either the journalists involved do not understand the difference between the Efficiency Strategy recently announced by the government, and the Emission Test itself, or they are choosing to use a false and misleading headline to attract attention. Related though the Efficiency Strategy and Emission Test are – the Emission Test does not test fuel consumption – which is the “failure” highlighted in the article.

This to me is sloppy journalism. I wouldn’t mind if it were from some hack magazine – but it is from the Dominion Post.

The article also speaks to reason no. 8: the Tall Poppy Syndrome. But that will need to be the subject of another post.

It is the attitude of my fellow NZ-ers that will probably prove the turning point for me!

Technically I am a Kiwi and this is the second time I have immigrated to NZ. Glutton for punishment? Not really, the first time I came here from the UK as a child (no option) and my parents had us all turned into NZ-ers (shock, horror). I left again in my late 20s and went to live in country Australia where I had no problem settling in, friendly people, hot, dry climate, (terrible housing)long distances to travel, weird but stunning landscapes, amazing animals and spectacular, wild weather. Two years ago I came back to NZ. I didn’t want to, I like hot dry weather but my husband doesn’t… so I thought it can’t be that bad really, can it? But I have discovered that it can. Actually the place has hardly changed in many really basic ways in nearly 30 years. By that I mean that the attitudes are the same as I remember from the 1950’s, the misplaced pride, the suspicion towards ‘outsiders’, the ostrich like attitude towards the outside world, the conviction that NZ is somehow so different from the rest of the world that one needs ‘New Zealand experience’ before one is employable!

As someone else here has said, two years with no friends is too much. In contrast, when I went to Australis I had a whole social circle going within a few weeks. People went out of their way to be welcoming. They tend to be very laid-back there and are always interested in what a newcomer can contribute, unlike here where people tend towards the unfriendly and suspicious. I have volunteered and worked and tried to take part since I came back, but I still feel excluded. I have never seen volunteers treated so badly!

Our family is lucky that our income mainly derives from outside NZ, so we don’t have the hideous problems with low pay that I am reading about, and we built our own house here and included features to cope with the winters so that is not too bad, but even so I long to go back to Australia, and it will be the people here that send me back. It is kind of embarrassing to be a Kiwi, perhaps I will turn Aussie if I can get back there…

Anyway, what I am really trying to say is that it is not anti Americanism or anti Pommie-ism as such, it seems to be just general anti anyone-who-has-ever-been-anywhere-else-ism, and it hasn’t really changed much in 50 years.

Probably best not to take it too personally…

You can read the rest here, or add your own below…