During orientation we were asked to embrace the differences between New Zealand and the United States. I appreciate the sentiment; after all, an underlying purpose of the Fulbright Program is to ensure understanding between cultures. But it seems sort of silly between New Zealand and the United States. After all, I have one friend on a Fulbright in Kenya, and another friend currently in Georgia (the country, not the state) teaching English after having spent time in South Korea teaching English and doing the Peace Corps in Tanzania. New Zealand is small potatoes next to those.
With that disclaimer, however, there are a few differences I have noticed, and while I do not want to imply that either country has a single story (the link is to an amazing article written by the friend in Kenya about places having single stories), I do want to point out the most interesting differences I have noticed over the past month.
First, people here walk around without shoes. I thought it was just in the south at first. After all, the south in so many countries (gross generalization) seems to be far more relaxed. But no, people do it everywhere in the country, from the Bay of Islands (think San Diego beach town) to Auckland (think major metropolis – 1/3 of the New Zealand population lives here). And yes, they go into stores and restaurants without shoes. By no means is it everyone, but I see several everyday. The best part was the American I saw at the bank without shoes – apparently he caught on quickly.
Second, teatime! I wrote about how wonderful teatime is on my other blog, Is Yoga Legal, but here I want to discuss it differently. I noted in my last post that NZ used to be tied to the Motherland – the UK until it realized that it is much closer to the Pacific Island nations. I really will get more into that another time, but back to tea. The tea culture, no doubt, comes from NZ’s English history. With no evidence to support this notion, I believe that teatime was a requirement in England. It is COLD and DARK. Tea warms you up, which seems to be as good a reason as any to have morning tea and afternoon tea and tea after supper. I happen to love this, and I love even more that the law school at the University of Otago has a tearoom. It is about the size of a closet, but there is a hot water dispenser, and a sign asking people not to use too much milk, so there is enough for everyone. Many people take milk in their tea here – something that has not caught no as much in America.
Third, lax (or no) security on airlines. I did not remove my shoes or throw out my coffee when transferring from the International to the Domestic Terminal in Auckland and going through security again. I even got to keep my sweatshirt on. I thought it was lovely. Then I went from Dunedin to Wellington where they opened security ten minutes before the flight took off. I thought that was cute. Then, from Wellington to Dunedin, my flight number had 4 digits. Someone told me this meant it would be a small plane with no security. I laughed . . . then I saw that she was right. You read that correctly – no security. I will just leave that for you to ponder.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one final thing (though there are many more, and another post will come with those). I took a shuttle to the airport for my trip to Wellington, and my bracelet fell off in the shuttle. The shuttle driver came inside and found me, outside security, of course, because it was not open, and she returned my bracelet to me. I think that action embodies so much of what I have witnessed here – amazing people. I laugh and grin about shoeless people in banks, but what I really see is how wonderful people have been, how welcoming, warm, and genuinely happy to talk to me.
I know there are wonderful people in the United States, but when we are forced to rely on others, living in a foreign country, we appreciate it a lot more. I feel so blessed to be here, so lucky to be among such amazing and wonderfully warm-hearted people, and to be in this beautiful country.
Namaste and Blessings.
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.