New Zealanders are generally warm and sociable, but they keep strangers at bay.
- New Zealand is a country where the words “please” and “thank you” can be used more than once in a sentence without being inappropriate, and where an initial rejection of an offer is part of polite banter. You should respond to a politely declined offer with a ‘Are you sure? Criticism and compliments are often underestimated.
- If you want to communicate with a New Zealander outside of a formal situation, it is best to engage in conversation. If you are not sure where you want to go, ask a local person. Your accent triggers locals to want to be helpful to tourists and they will usually offer more than directions to help you.
- New Zealanders will often ask you many (sometimes profound) questions about your country of origin or culture. This is not meant to be insulting: it reflects a genuine interest in other people and cultures and a desire to learn first-hand.
- If you are staying with someone for more than a few days and that person is under 35, it is considered polite to leave a token amount, say $20, to “cover the electricity bill”, especially if you are a guest in a shared apartment or house.
- In conversation, if you want to contradict something someone has said, be nice. New Zealanders are often happy to learn something new and incorporate it into their knowledge, but they are also strong advocates of something they know first-hand.
- Some New Zealanders tend to swear a lot. Sometimes they even use swearing to refer to friends. It is not usually meant to be insulting.
- New Zealanders see New Zealand society as classless and egalitarian. While in reality New Zealand is far from classless, talk of class and personal wealth is generally not well received. New Zealanders, even wealthy New Zealanders, tend to be somewhat frugal.
- The majority of New Zealanders are generally open to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. New Zealand decriminalised homosexuality in August 1986, banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in February 1994, introduced cohabitation and civil unions in April 2005, and legalised same-sex marriage in August 2013. In all cases, these goals were achieved through laws passed by parliament with the support of MPs from all major political parties. Although there are some homophobic attitudes (especially among religious fundamentalists), even people who are uncomfortable with homosexuality tend to adopt the pragmatic “live and let live” attitude common in New Zealand.
New Zealanders generally dress “smart casual”, with black or dark clothing predominating. In the cities, you will only see people in suits on weekdays.
- If you wear colourful clothes, you will make a good impression as a tourist. In most cases, this will work to your advantage as New Zealanders want to be very hospitable to tourists. However, being branded as a tourist can attract unwanted attention from less tasteful people. Use common sense when you are approached by a local.
- The weather in New Zealand can be very changeable, a cold front can cause a sudden drop in temperature. Be sure to take a jacket or jumper with you. Even if you have a nice warm sunny day, you may need to cover up to avoid sunburn.
- If you go out to eat in a fancy and expensive restaurant, you don’t have to wear a suit and tie, but jeans and T-shirts are frowned upon. Smart trousers, a collared shirt and suit shoes for men and smart trousers or skirt and blouse for women would be typical. Smart attire is expected at any informal meal.
- When drinking in bars, check what the locals are wearing beforehand. Wearing shorts and sandals may be acceptable in rural areas, but trousers and shoes are a minimum standard for most bars and restaurants in the city. Some (but not all) nightclubs insist on the wearing of collared shirts and refuse entry to men wearing sports shoes. Women are generally admitted regardless of what they are wearing.
- Nudity is frowned upon on most beaches. If you want to get naked (or topless for women), you are only breaking the law if you offend another person. So if you move away from the main beach and go to a quieter spot, you can usually avoid the problems.
Māori cultural experiences are popular tourist attractions appreciated by many people, but as with any encounter between two cultures, there is room for misunderstanding. Some tourists faced more challenges and ceremonial receptions than expected. These are serious occasions; avoid gossip and laughter. Make jokes and laugh later. You will have plenty of time to relax later when hāngi is discovered.
Māori, Pākehā (Kiwis of European origin) and other New Zealanders (who all came) generally get along well.
New Zealanders have a distinct and jealously guarded national identity. Although it shares many similarities with other Western cultures, it is not a state of Australia, nor is it still part of the British Empire (although it is a member of the Commonwealth). Although Australia and New Zealand are closely linked in foreign policy, there is considerable mutual immigration and the cultures overlap, saying that New Zealanders are essentially Australian will not win you any Kiwi or Australian friends. It’s a similar relationship to Canadians and Americans or Irish and British. In many ways, Australia and New Zealand have a similar view of each other, with the same cliché jokes.
Despite the jokes about New Zealand, most Australians have a genuine affection for New Zealanders (and vice versa); the relationship between the two countries is often described as brotherly, with fraternal rivalry as a bonus. This rivalry goes back to ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps), participation in two world wars (notably the Gallipoli and North Africa campaigns), Korea, Vietnam, the Malaysian crisis, Solomon Islands, etc. The relationship between the two countries is often described as fraternal, with fraternal rivalry as a bonus. When disaster strikes in one country, you see fundraising for relief efforts in the other.