An American Asks Himself “Why NZ?”

Continuing our series of Migrant Tales: First had accounts of migrant life in New Zealand taken from locations around the net.

Today’s tale comes from a NZ forum which has since closed down.. In this post is by an ex Brooklyn resident who, whilst on vacation, asked himself  “Why would anyone go to NZ?” He found that although his migration to New Zealand has been, outwardly, a successful one he would still consider leaving New Zealand. This post is interesting because it shows how not all migrants who think about leaving have had an overtly  negative experience, nor are they ‘bitter’. Sometimes it’s simply a quiet disaffection, or a feeling that all is not well, that makes them want to move on:

One Year. Who needs a drink?
Well it’s been a year since we arrived on the island of the long white cloud. We came geared up for change and to be apart of and contribute to our new home country. By most measures our immigration would appear successful—we both have jobs with salaries that are equivalent to our US income, we have found a decent apartment and in general we are living a comfortable life. So, even I am surprised, that one year after our arrival I am thinking that I would leave today if it were practical.

It really hit me on a recent vacation to New Caledonia. I was standing in the line for customs to enter the country watching the line for the locals returning and the thought popped into my head, “Why would anyone go to New Zealand”. Now that is a bit extreme, and I don’t feel like that all the time, but I still couldn’t ignore the thought’s impromptu honesty.

So why do I feel this way. First let me say this will probably be construed as an unbalanced post, but not all experiences in life are balanced, and second I will say I don’t regret coming here one bit. So on with it:

The weather here in Wellington—I know it’s an easy target, but it sucks quite frankly. People like to say here, “but when it’s nice it’s really nice.” Well that is the same anywhere else in the world that has more than three nice days per year.

The people—in most cases I find very rude, from pedestrians that try to charge right through you, to the lack of pleasantries, cars trying to run you down, to the seemingly total lack of a notion of space and position in it. I can chalk these things up to cultural differences, but it remains that these are differences that I don’t like and that make day-to-day life here very irritating. One day OH and I were in the check out line at the super market and an older couple behind us was commenting on our groceries, loud enough so I could hear, alluding that the quantity and quality of our food was extravagant in some way. On another occasion OH and I were in a local gallery talking to the extremely congenial proprietor, both OH and I are artists, so he was asking us a little about our work when a woman who was browsing, out of nowhere says, “nobody is showing Kiwi artists anymore, hey?” We have run into this weird passive aggressive behavior many times here in New Zealand mostly from the 40+ generations.

The cost—is very expensive. Real estate here is ridiculous. Unless you are coming here with equity from a previous house in British Pounds you are pretty much being bent over a barrel. We were naive enough to think our cost of living would go down maybe buy an apartment. We weren’t able to find anything in Welly semi livable for under 350, and when I think of what I could get in the States in a comparable city for 350 especially when the median income here is so low, I just had to say no thanks. All other consumer good are at least double the price and food is fairly expensive. I said above that we have a nice apartment now, but we are paying almost double per month of what our nice apartment was in Brooklyn, NY.

The culture—is barely existent. Go All Blacks …………….. and beer.

The work—is amateur hour. I work for government in an IT / design capacity. Government IT here seems to be all about developing standards, standards that are completely regressive, usually about 15 years past their shelf life. Half of the people I work with on a day to day basis couldn’t meet a quarter of the skill requirements that go along with their title at the most basic level. OH has found the same thing at her work, but since she works for a private company the mistakes have actual financial consequences unlike my job where know one even cares if things get done at all. OH can’t trust half of her co-workers at all and spends most of here time cleaning up instead of being able to focus on what she was hired for. One thing my work does to compensate for the lack of knowledge and skill is to farm work out to one of the largest marketing/branding agencies in the world. This company knows they have a fixed government contract and can deliver half-baked work, all while charging exorbitant amounts of money. If people got to see their NZ tax dollars at work they would not be pleased. Admittedly this last one is obviously not just a NZ characteristic.

The landscape—eh, I’ve seen better ……………. but it’s still pretty nice.

No. 8 wire—or you could just do things properly? Another apartment story… We were the first tenants in our current apartment. I had to re-install the faucets on our sinks and the washing machine. Now these are things I had never done before but it was fairly basic and I would think if it were my job to do these things every day they would pose no problem. Our last apartment had many many issues, which I have talked about in another post. So far No. 8 wire hasn’t shown me kiwi ingenuity, more like laziness to go and get the proper tool for the job.

A Kiwi living in Brooklyn told me right before we made the move that I would have a hard time being accepted in NZ. Part of me didn’t believe him and part of me said, “well if that is the case, that is their problem.” Well that is the case and it is my problem. I have never needed a lot of friends or support, but the day-to-day hostility I feel from some, definitely not all Kiwis, is wearing me down. I would also say tall poppy syndrome is not just a rumor or hearsay.

Well now that my rant is over, and I feel a little better, what do I like about NZ? I like learning Muay Thai boxing and the great people there. I like that in general activities are cheap because companies don’t have to carry the liability insurance they do in the states. I like that the other designers at my job (Kiwis) can hold a knowledgeable interesting conversation on many topics and have not been turned into monosyllabic twitters like so many young people in the same field in the US. I like not seeing 5000 advertisements in a 24-hour period. I like the Karori plant nursery and the great people there. I like the Alliance Francaise and the great people there. I like that we took the chance to come here even though it’s not for us.

We just returned from our first trip back to the US yesterday. As we flew into WLG I told myself to make the best of the next year here, but after just one day I experienced most of the same irritations described above and is why I decided to write my one-year post this morning a few weeks shy of one year. We haven’t lost our sense of humor and laugh about our experiences together all the time, but we are starting to focus our energy on what’s next. We will not be returning to the US, even though many things seemed more compatible to our personalities there, I still had the feeling that the “Confidence Man” was lurking around every corner. I like the part of the US that is rebelling against a failing food system, a failing financial system, anti-intellectualism, the propaganda industry, poor environmental policy and poor foreign policy, but we still have the need to really learn more about the rest of the world before we say “I do believe I’ve had enough”. Our time in NZ has shown me that to really have any knowledge of a place you have to live there for a while.

This is our experience. Others will find NZ paradise and I can see why many would see it as such. “

26 thoughts on “An American Asks Himself “Why NZ?”

  1. I absolutely agree with the author of this post. We read stuff like this before we immigrated but thought, “Nah, that won’t be our situation, we will be different! We will make it different! The people who complain are just wimps!” Well, 5 years down the road we are right there and echoing exactly the same sentiments.

    I can’t add much else to what he wrote as an American living in New Zealand other than he missed the Maori aspects of the culture. We thought we’d love it! But the more people we met (a lot of Maori go to our large church), the more we found a huge division between the cultures of white vs. Maori. This, along with the ridiculous cost of living, is one of the hardest things. We found the Maori culture to be crass, rude, in-your-face, lazy and anti-white but still wanting all the benefits of what the Europeans provided. Of course this is generalizing things, and I think quite frankly people are afraid to admit the Maori are a huge problem for some immigrants. Some are lovely, but the majority we have spent time with (and we have spent 5 years among the people) have a chip on their shoulder and deep seeded anger towards people who are middle class or above, educated, dress well (aka not looking like they just got out of bed or haven’t showered for days). They get free university education, tons of scholarships and talking to two of our friends who are high school teachers and they have horror stories. I.e. needing to dumb down curriculum to meet Maori lower standards (the Cambridge courses are higher levels but there are still other levels within the grading system). Another thing in schools here in NZ is that the culture is to not let anyone “lose” or get last place or look dumb. Totally protective of the egos of the under achievers. I would LOVE to have a teacher on here do a detailed analysis of the school system to better explain what our two friends have told us all along.

    Another thing is the welfare/dole culture. Rampant! Tall poppy syndrome is very real.

    We are leaving to Canada in four months and are thrilled. It took us 5 years of living here to see it for what it is. A beautiful country to visit but not to live.

    Now I realize that many other people will jump on me for saying what I just did, but it is my right to explain what we personally have found living here for 5 years. It may or may not be your experience, but it has been our experience. Everyone is different and are bothered by or notice different things. But alas, we cannot agree enough with the original poster. He is spot on.

    • Late replying to this one but as someone who grew up in NZ Jeff’s description of the Maori situation is spot on. If you are not Maori you basically dare not say anything about Maori things, that’s how it seems. Did you happen to see anyone wearing those “Mean Maori Mean” t-shirts? Like they are proud of being associated with a thuggish image.

  2. Well I must say this is disconcerting. I am an American from Nashville and have been living in Manhattan the past two and a half years. I lived in Melbourne, Australia for a year after college, and as I am 25 I was able to secure a one year working holiday visa for New Zealand. I am moving to Auckland in a month.

    I am hoping you’ve heard of better situations in Auckland. For reading this right now it sounds within a month I’m going to be poor, outcast, and pale. I thought I’ve read a lot better about Kiwis but perhaps not.

    • A working holiday is a bit different to actually settling down here. I’m assuming you’ll find some casual work and do a bit of travel here.

    • Working holiday is far different than immigration. You might still be surprised by the low quality of the housing and accomodation, the substandard public transportation, the expense of goods, and other things you’ve read about on this blog. You might notice that the information you get about New Zealand is often absurdly hyped up and it’s not really how you imagined it. But you have not left your job, sold your house, or imagined your children will be better off here.
      You will likely enjoy your stay, have a look at the interesting bits, and go home happy you came, especially as you’ve been warned to take necessary precautions, as you would if you travel anywhere.

      • This is correct, a holiday is nothing like living in a country and tourists seldom experience the realty of living in New Zealand.

        The working holiday visa cushions visitors from the reality of daily life for workers in New Zealand. ie. they are required to bring in $4,200 to support themselves, hold a return ticket and a comprehensive health insurance policy. The obvious downsides of this visa are that it excludes the holder from taking up permanent employment and from working with the same employer for more than three months. However, in common with working New Zealanders, the visitor will be required to pay tax and there are no personal tax allowances in New Zealand so every cent you earn is liable for tax.

        In summary, its a win-win situation for New Zealand. You provide cheap seasonal labour, pay tax, spend $4,200+ and have to leave after a year. If you decide to return to work you then have to go through the costly EOI process.

  3. Im not a NZer by birth, my family migrated here in the mid 60’s. I was 4….
    yet Im still a whinging pom/pomme or pommie bastard…. go figure Im the product of Kiwi education system.
    I don’t hate anyone, even the Americans ;-), but not a huge fan of some policies. Have always been proud to have been one of the many who walked arms linked up roads in Wellington to protest racist rugby tours, to have paddled my surfboard out onto Wellington Harbour in front of foreign warships to defend out nations right to be nuclear free. I didn’t sail with but would have gone to Muaroa to defend the rights of the people to not have the French blow up bombs in their islands. I applauded when the NZ police caught the Rainbow Warrior bombers- and cried in anger when foreign powers made us hand them over….

    and that was about the time NZ died as a nation to be proud of. Ask a kiwi today to stand up and be counted on behalf of another, ask them to have principals and convictions and you’d be wasting your time.

    Over the last 20 years I’ve watched what was once a nation to be proud of, one that stood up and put up when the chips were down turn into a substandard nation, bordering 3rd world, not just declining in world rankings but rushing head long down the gurgler. A Nation of selfish, self centred, mean spirited moaners.

    Theres only one reason Im still here- My mum. But when that day comes its down the travel agents to a but a oneway someplace else.
    Hell I even know a former Somalian refugee who feels he’d rather be home than here!

  4. I read all you experience in nz and I did not like one bit of it. Why are you here? No one has forced you to live here, they have not tied you down so you can’t move. If America is that great, be there, live there. Why waste your money here? You can save a lot of money buying an apartment, saving money on groceries. Then why be in a place that is causing stress and why waste your energy in this. Be humours and happy in USA. It’s simple as that. I have lived in San Diego and I did not like it one bit so I decided to come back, perhaps you should do the same. Go back!

    • We normally don’t publish “don’t like it then leave!” comments but we’ve allowed this one through. That’s only because we think that prospective migrants may learn something from the replies. So many people emigrate to New Zealand believing that if it doesn’t work out they can leave, but is it easy to leave NZ?

      If anyone has left, or is trying to leave NZ, please give others the benefit of your experience.

      • We left, and we post here to warn other people about not finding what they might be looking for. But the reasons why I have noticed that people are stuck and cannot simply leave – 1. money. It’s easier to move to New Zealand than move out of it. You start becoming poor once you move there. 2. your house won’t sell, or won’t sell for “enough to allow you to move and buy a new one”. 3. legal issues, tied up in some lawsuit, losses, labor or investments gone pearshaped and have to clean it up. 4. health problem they developed while there, I know some Americans who can’t go back because they wouldn’t find health insurance anymore. That might change with Obamacare. 5. elderly parents. 6. children residents of NZ, stuck due to Hague. 7. spouse likes it and will not leave. 8. cannot find job to move TO and cannot just fly out for interviews (see money reason above). So many reasons that immigrants cannot just decide to leave when they don’t want to live there anymore.

        • Tuesday :
          We left, and we post here to warn other people about not finding what they might be looking for. But the reasons why I have noticed that people are stuck and cannot simply leave – 1. money. It’s easier to move to New Zealand than move out of it. You start becoming poor once you move there. 2. your house won’t sell, or won’t sell for “enough to allow you to move and buy a new one”. 3. legal issues, tied up in some lawsuit, losses, labor or investments gone pearshaped and have to clean it up. 4. health problem they developed while there, I know some Americans who can’t go back because they wouldn’t find health insurance anymore. That might change with Obamacare. 5. elderly parents. 6. children residents of NZ, stuck due to Hague. 7. spouse likes it and will not leave. 8. cannot find job to move TO and cannot just fly out for interviews (see money reason above). So many reasons that immigrants cannot just decide to leave when they don’t want to live there anymore.

          Oh my god, this, exactly. I am with a NZ partner who also wants to leave (to Canada) and we would be considered wealthy by most peoples estimation, but we are mortgaged to the hilt and have financial, business and ethical obligations that are not easy to just walk away from. And this is after staying here for aged parents (his) for decades. Which I am glad I could help him with, but I hate living in New Zealand. There are plenty of people I love and care about, but the country is in a lot of strife in many different areas – financially they need foreign $$$ and consequently anyone who comes here (Kiwis included) feels ripped off.

  5. I must admitt that I was trolling, and didn’t take long to find some very unkind things said about the AC win from OTUSA.
    I was at reading some of the comments;
    bought it with Larry’s money,
    automated leveling system is cheating…
    Nausiating, they’ll shove their victory down your throat, but will accuse you of cheating and lack of integrity if they lose. Most are bad winners and really bad losers.
    Some kiwis wouldn’t know integrity if it hit ’em upside the head.

    • I have noted an inverse proportion between their actual graciousness and the loudness with which they proclaim their national humility. (gag)

  6. We were amused by the observation about overhearing yourself talked about loudly by Kiwis only a meter away. We found the under-40 crowd did this more deliberately, and the over-40 less so. We tried our best to keep our voices “quiet” so we would give them less to comment on, but this trait was very annoying when we lived there. They either want you to hear their comment because they resent your presence and want you to know it, or they seem to think that foreigners of any persuasion will not understand them, just as some simple folk believe that if you’re blind, you are also deaf. When confronted they would utter bland assertions that I must have been “hearing things”, so you could not even hash out their attitude with them. I was reading about Diana Nyad’s marathon swim this morning. Challenged as to whether it was a proper swim because she wore a suit to protect against poisonous box jellies. Yet New Zealand’s long-distance Cook Strait swimmers are permitted to actually exit the water to avoid sharks, and no one seems to say anything about that. Are they too little to call down? Why does no one ever give them a hard time about anything? Until Americans go abroad, they often do not realize how much they will be treated as representatives of a disliked country and not as human beings with little control over their own government traveling on a planet we all share. Now the Kiwis are screaming about Oracle, for example: but it wasn’t too long ago (google “Glassgate” and “Plastic Fantastic”) that Kiwis were bringing new elements to the race and claiming that “as long as the boat is 12 m” they were abiding by the letter of the rules, and it didn’t matter that everyone else had aluminum boats. A request for a core density scan of their fiberglass boat to make sure that they hadn’t included weights, in the making of it, was denied. Let someone else bring something advantageous to the race, however… and you’ll hear them yelling about the “pure sport being ruined by…” and what a lack of morale those nationally heterogeneous crews are. We are so glad we are not living over there anymore and copping it from those miserable small-d***-syndrome people over that dumb race. Hard to say whether they would be more insufferable if they won it or lost it.

  7. As a bred (from age one) New Zealander the post and comments above both embarrass and anger me. They embarrass me because, although I hold an Australian passport (born there), I speak with a kiwi accent. They anger me because I detest being accociated with such ignorance and stupidity. The ingorance to insult people (of ANY nationallity) that have flown half way around the planet to rescue YOUR dying people from under the rubble of YOUR crappy buildings! The stupidity to actually think what you say is witty or clever. Even before I read this post I was booking a one way ticket somewhere else, now I know I won’t be looking back.

  8. carpentaro :

    There is a nasty prediliction at ridiculing and making fun of others. I wonder how making fun of the ChCh earth quake would have gone over with a Kiwi in the States?

    NZ is a small place, with small thoughts and small ideas.

    This immediately brings to mind the shameful treatment of the American USR teams as they were leaving Christchurch airport after assisting with the rescue operation. Symptoms of the Anti-Americanism that is so prevalent in NZ and its culture of brutality (bullying)

    See American Search and Rescue Teams Mocked at Christchurch Airport, March 2011

    ” Ingrates

    I must say: I highly enjoyed watching the Kiwis (and Europeans) at the Christchurch airport today, as they insulted and mocked the US rescue team for being “American” … You’re welcome, folks. All in a day’s work. Just be glad they’re American. Not only did they take the hardest USAR job in a foreign disaster area without complaining, they’re also used to that sort of abuse/cultural racism and are MEN enough to shrug it off. I say pull them all out right now.

    …I was at the airport picking up a friend. And there were about 10 of the American USAR team there checking in for flights home. (I think there are 80 here in total…) The guys were there in their uniforms, just talking quietly among themselves, and most of them looked pretty tired but in pretty good spirits. (I really hope NZ is paying for them to fly first class!)

    And I overheard some really strange comments, from several groups of bystanders, over the course of my hour-long wait:

    “I hope they don’t colonize us [chuckle chuckle].” WHAT?

    “Leave it to the Americans to leave the job half finished.” (? They did finish — the hardest USAR tasks — and most are still in Christchurch still working!)

    “Look at the flags on their uniforms. Typical patriotic Americans.” (Um, all USAR teams have a flag on their uniforms — it’s required.)

    “Obnoxious.” (? 80 guys who spent time away from their homes and families, risking their own lives in order to save lives a foreign country, is not obnoxious.)

    “I wonder how much the Americans are going to overcharge us for this.” (WHAT?)

    And of course the Americans’ presence prompted the same shamelessly ignorant banter about how Americans are the cause of all the ills in all of world history. Add to that the staring and eye-rolling. The above are just some of the more memorable examples.”

    • Average Americans who live there (not the tourists, because they are spending money) will hear similar comments. We learned very soon not to speak up unless we had to.

    • I’m sure most Kiwis would be appalled to have witnessed this ignorance. The general feeling in NZ towards the USAR team was very very positive, and appreciative.. Mind you, it was Christchurch, and I can vouch for the fact it’s the most xenophobic city this side of Memphis. Sad place, even before the quake, due mainly to an english-type snobbery there born of it’s WASP roots.

  9. We’ve heard some anti-American bashing in the several years that we’ve been in NZ. The onset of the storm “Sandy” has brought out a whole new rash. Two that we’ve heard recently;
    “There’ll be no complaining about drought, after all that water that has come.”
    I got the feeling that the person saying this thought that America was a nation of complainers and that the storm “served them right”. I reminded this person that “Sandy” had claimed aprox. 50 lives, and was not clever or funny [what he said].

    More on “Sandy”, “It’s just like a day in Wellington” suggesting that the storm was nothing special and NZers handle things like this all the time.

    I don’t think that NZers can comprehend the scope of what happened. The storm was nearly the size of NZ, there were more people affected in one small state [size wise], NJ than are in all of NZ, not to mention NYC, one bourough has a bigger population than NZ.

    There is a nasty prediliction at ridiculing and making fun of others. I wonder how making fun of the ChCh earth quake would have gone over with a Kiwi in the States?

    NZ is a small place, with small thoughts and small ideas.

    • To be honest, New Zealand is an amazing place, you cant diss it, the only reason people re hostile toward you is because you let them be, Dont let them and it wont happen as much. If you all stopped bad-mouthing us behind our backs we wouldn’t be so hostile either. Just saying. I honesly think New Zealand is a better place then america, People aren’t as ,mean or rude here as they basically are over there. Everyone talks to everyone over here. And the reason why your housing is so expensive is because your staying in Wellington of all places! Anywhere apart from the major cities in New Zealand would be cheaper then wellington, Just saying

      • Total blather, Missy.

        I can diss it. I lived there for years.

        I was friendly as could be. And I did make friends, with difficulty, after awhile. It isn’t about letting people be awful to you. They simply shouldn’t be – by default. The default person you meet should not be an aggressor or nasty person. Default should be nice. And that is what we enjoy back home. Most people are very nice and polite.

        Kiwis learn what Americans are from their TV. Americans are not like that in real life. I found more Kiwis were arseholes than I was given to expect, and so did many others on here.

        I was so relieved to move back home, where it was easy to get casual conversation off of everyone. I never found Kiwis to be chatty unless they wanted something from you. Oh, then you’d hear from them.

        We lived out in the country and housing was 8x as expensive as country properties at home. I suggest you compare house prices using the Zillow tool. And you can bet the quality in the States, for the money, will be better.

        In sum, we have lived both places for years, and we know both places well. Our experience in New Zealand, despite being friendly and not breaking the law, was that people are kind of desperate there and behave in ways to try to survive better. And they know little about people outside New Zealand except what their tabloid media deliberately feeds them.

      • Its fine saying living anywhere other than Auckland or Wellington would be cheaper to live…but thats where all the jobs are. I had a job in Whangarei and liked the lifestyle and cost of living, but has to move once the job ended. When you looking for work in anything other than a menial post your have to go where the jobs are…that Wellington or Auckland adn its cheaper to live in London that Auckland.

      • I’ve worked very hard [during the first few years] to turn the other cheek in regard to comments made [out of the blue, after my accent is overheard].
        I’ve come to the conclusion that envy has gotten the better of them. What they can’t and don’t have they rubbish.
        What makes me laugh is the feeble attempts at replicating the very things that they rubbish.
        Mean and rude? Unsolicited aggression.

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