7 Things New Zealand Could Learn from the US

by Marian Schembari on June 14, 2012


It’s been almost two years since I’ve been home to the States, and while New Zealand has grown on me to the point that I can’t imagine leaving anytime soon, I also sometimes still want to crawl into a hole and cry about how no one here knows how to use apostrophes.

And on that highly positive note, the biggest things I miss about the US of A:

Brand variety. It would be really super awesomesauce to not shop at the same stores over and over. You see, New Zealand doesn’t have the population to support many different mobile phone providers/grocery stores/tshirt brands, you basically get one or two options for everything. Meaning when I walk down the street in my snazzy new coat, I inevitably run into someone wearing the exact same thing. (This is a daily occurrence, y’all.)

Customer service. I miss being able to return something to the shop if it’s broken and not get into an argument. Kiwis don’t complain, which is actually a pretty pleasant environment to be around, but it means if you buy, say, a pair of pants from Country Road and they stretch out so much during the course of the day that they’re falling off you (literally), you can’t return them because, well, you can’t. Coffee’s cold? Don’t expect the barista to make you another. Does that stereo you bought only play out of one speaker? Too bad.

Fast internet. ‘Nough said.

Not spending absurd amounts of money on things that aren’t worth absurd amounts of money. Peppers (or, capsicum) that aren’t $4 each. Generic mascara that doesn’t cost $30. Oh, and international shipping that doesn’t require taking out a loan, customs fees and a two week waiting period.

Ease of travel. I never thought the 7-hour flight from London would feel short, but now I appreciate how close the States is to the rest of the world. I would die a thousand deaths to go home for a quick visit without needing to take three weeks off work just to deal with jet lag. How amazing would it be to travel to another country that’s NOT Australia and NOT pay $2,000 for a plane ticket? (To be fair, New Zealand’s distance from civilization makes it an incredibly special country, it does start to feel oppressive and isolating after a while.)

World news. How is it that NZ’s biggest newspaper features FRONT PAGE HEADLINES about toilet taxes, dodgy chicken or a woman’s Coca Cola habit? Maybe it’s not that New Zealand is so far from the rest of the world, but that people here just doesn’t give a shit about it?

What do you think? Is this really front page news?

Correctly used apostrophes. Grammar here is going to be the death of me. I realize Americans aren’t the pinnacle of grammar success, but I’m shocked at the number of huge brands and ‘high-quality’ publications here – who should know better – that can’t capitalize or use grammar properly. Take Glassons for example, a major NZ clothing brand. Now look at how they’ve spelled cardis in one of their shop windows. I have no words.

And this isn’t the worst of it. On menus you’ll see things like sandwich’s and nacho’s for sale. And my very very brilliant coworkers are regularly asking me if they should capitalize words when they’re “important”. No one knows what I’m talking about when I ask if it’s a proper noun.

Things I don’t miss:

1. People who feel the need to complain about every little thing. The stereotypical American sense of entitlement that has begun to exhaust me every time I talk to an American here. (Ironic? Perhaps.)

2. Loud American accents. Seriously. Keep your damn voices down. The person across the room doesn’t care about your dogs love of cardis.

3. More more more. This is a post all on its own, but there’s a Kiwi way of life that’s almost entirely devoid of ambition. It’s part Tall Poppy Syndrome/part sunstroke, but Kiwis don’t feel the need to constantly be moving up in the world/making heaps more money and it’s so effing refreshing to not constantly feel you’re not good enough.

Are you an expat too? What do you miss most about home?

{photo credit}

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  • http://twitter.com/marianschembari/status/213258031369166848 Marian Schembari

    7 Things New Zealand Could Learn from the US http://t.co/hks9aOUI

  • purplekat99

    I guess it depends on the product, but I found the customer service in New Zealand fantastic. No way would you get personal attention on lots of things in the US, which in New Zealand the person on the phone might know exactly what you are talking about, vs in the US where you are mostly just a number.

    And maybe because I knew I wasn’t going to stay in New Zealand forever, but I found the quaintness of the rest of your list endearing. It made me appreciate home so much more.

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Customer service is definitely waaaay nicer here and there’s less automation. I never said customer service wasn’t nice, only that often it doesn’t even exist. A lot of this stuff didn’t bother me at first. Now that it’s been two years though, it’s started to grate on me. A lot of people who are here only temporarily don’t see these things as much as those who have been here for ages. As much as I love it here, I’m starting to understand why so many Kiwis do gap years.

  • http://www.percolate.co.nz/ Lucy Smith

    What do you mean you can’t return stuff? Go for it! I’ve never got into an argument over it. Of course if something’s defective you can take it back – that’s why we have the Consumer Guarantees Act :-) Also, capsicums are expensive because they’re out of season. Buy your fruit and veges when they’re in season!

    The rest, you’re so spot on. I hate how the news media focus on trivial stuff (COKE HAS NEVER CLAIMED TO BE HEALTHY. And, for that matter, neither has McDonald’s. Get over it.) And domestic travel is soooo expensive – in some cases, it would actually work out cheaper to travel between two NZ destinations via Australia. There’s something so very, very wrong about that. And the same coat thing? Exactly why I learned to make my own clothes!

  • Susan

    As always, you are SOO right on Marian! I love this post, but could have made it three times longer! My big epiphany last time I was back in the states was that everyone in the US is unsatisfied. The media and everything about the culture have people always wanting – a better job, a bigger house, a thinner body, more stuff, and more money, especially more stuff and money. There is ambition here, especially in Auckland, but people don’t live to get more. Makes for a very calming and  very pleasant place to live.

  • Cagette

    Fast internet and good customer service for internet provider : NZ EPIC FAIL !

  • http://twitter.com/beallison/status/213441061186580482 Ben Allison

    New Blog Post 7 Things New Zealand Could Learn from the US – It's been almost two years since I've been home to the … http://t.co/0znDN20B

  • http://twitter.com/chickybus/status/213458043818610689 Lisa E

    Like this! RT @MarianSchembari: 7 Things New Zealand Could Learn from the US http://t.co/arRmTE5L

  • Rachel Gardner

    Your list made me grin. I’ve been living in the UK for the last 7 years, and occasionally I’ll miss random things like root beer and Target, but there’s very little from the US that either isn’t already in the UK or that my mom wouldn’t send if I asked nicely.  I get back once or twice a year though, and I think I’ve found the things that do irritate me do so on their own terms, rather than out of a sense of comparison with the US.  Does that make sense?  There is a lot of apostrophe abuse in the UK, especially on signage, and it drives
    me nuts. And while I noticed it in NZ, it seemed to be on par with the UK, so I’m not sure who’s the worse offender.  I did get the feeling from both NZ and Oz media that things that happen in the northern hemisphere–like the current economic situation–are interesting, but kind of theoretical. Unless they involve the royal family, then they get excited about whatever William and Kate are up to. *shakes head*  Also I noticed the reliance on foreign media feeds or taped segments from US/UK broadcasters–I guess it’s too expensive for NZ to have reporters stationed around the globe?

    While we *loved* the 2 months we spent in NZ and are actively pursuing ways to move there, I realize it’s going to be a different ball game living there rather than visiting.  Keeping in touch with my family, for example, is going to take more effort, I probably wouldn’t get to see them as often, and it will be even more difficult to persuade folks to come visit, which is hard enough as it is.  And while I found things in the UK to be expensive when I first moved here, I know the sticker shock will be so much worse on certain items in NZ.

    Loud accents (American and some British) piss me off–generally I’m one of few Americans where I’ve been living, so when I go somewhere more touristy and there are hordes of them, it makes me wince.  Also it annoys me when I say I live in England and people assume I must live in London. Er, no, there’s actually quite a lot more to the UK than the capital, would you assume every American you met lives in New York, every German in Berlin, etc?  Not that I don’t enjoy visiting London, but I seem to have grown a chip on my shoulder about living up north. ;)

  • Sarah

    This expat misses *nothing at all*. I used to think I was homesick whenever I experienced culture shock but now I know better. Sometimes I think I miss the fabulous farmers’ markets in Paris but I never got to enjoy them when I was living there, when I could definitely go if we had them here. I guess I’m not an expat anymore… :)

  • http://sylverblaque.wordpress.com/ Sylver Blaque

    Still laughing! This is good stuff. :)

  • mirikwrites

    Brillant! I knew someone out there felt the same way as me. Ridiculous shipping costs, bad customer service, no international news coverage. And worst of all, no one complains about things that they should complain about. Your article made my day – or as kiwis say ‘You’re article made my day’ :)

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      Bwaaahahahahah!!! Amazing amazing comment, thanks ;-)

  • http://www.byjanet.net/purple Purple Panda

    haha i didn’t notice the loud american accents thing until i moved to the Philippines. whenever i hear foreigners aka americans talk.. it’s so jarring! They’re SO loud!! 

  • Christine Negroni

    Marian, I laughed so hard I cried at the question about using capital letters for “important” words. Don’t they know that “important” words are italicized? ; – ) But seriously, while we wait for your blog post on how unique Kiwis are, here’s mine from my visit last year. http://christinenegroni.blogspot.it/2011/07/of-aviation-pioneers-old-and-new.html

  • Corina Willey

    I love that our front page news is about stupid penguins(happy feet) etc! It means we’re not constantly reading about local bombings and murders because we are lucky enough to be a country without that kind of drama as a usual happening. That’s why I love our pathetic news. And every new Zealand should appreciate that!

    • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

      You know, now that I’ve been out of New Zealand for four months now, I really miss the silly front page news. Ahhh, the grass is always greener I suppose…

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