15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New Zealand

1. Stoplights and stop signs are rare.

I have yet to see one…Get comfortable with roundabouts, and instead of stopping, you must Give way [yield] occasionally. As a pedestrian, you have no right of way. Run fast.

Stoplights are suggestions, road signs are decorations, and crosswalks are target practice.

2. Bean bags are all the rage.

And I love it. I think bean bags need to be brought back right along with tamagotchis, please. Sorry, Furby, you can stay in the 90s. New Zealand is doing things right. Here, you can find bean bags at many wineries, and most of the houses I’ve seen have a few, too, mainly for outdoor lounging. At my house, we even have a bean couch if you will.

3. Big on Thai & other ethnic cuisine.

Before moving to NZ, I was expecting lots of lamb, seafood, and I also heard Italian food was popular. However, when I first arrived, the choices were pretty much Mexican, Thai, or Turkish. I’ve come to notice that there are Thai places everywhere, although you can still get your fill of green mussels at most restaurants. (I’m still waiting on the whole Italian part.)

4. Water is free.

Maybe my view is distorted having lived in Spain all last year and traveling around Europe, but I was expecting to have to pay for water. I was pleasantly surprised to find out every place brings you a jug of water right away or has a water station where you can help yourself.

5. It’s illegal to bike without a helmet.

Don’t worry, I didn’t learn this the hard way. When bike shopping, some friends warned us that we could get a ticket for biking without one. Same goes for bike lights – $30 fine for both the front and the back lights.

6. It’s also illegal to serve someone who is drunk.

Here’s a large grain of salt to go with that. Seems fair, but not exactly a cut and dry  kind of law.

7. Don’t do change.

Example: If the total is $3.64, the customer would only pay $3.60.

Whenever it comes to a weird total, NZ just rounds up or down. Their lowest coin value is 10 cents, so they do “Swedish Rounding.”

8. The toilets don’t flush weird.

“You know, I’m used to sailing down under with the Kiwis, so everything is backwards. Even the toilets, when you flush them the water spins the opposite way. It really freaks you out the first time you see it.” – Owen Wilson

Name that movie. I heard countless times about water flushing the opposite way, and I was weirdly excited about seeing it. But the toilets remind me of Europe with two buttons on top, and the water doesn’t seem to swirl in any particular direction – so disappointing.

9. People walk around barefoot A LOT.

You’ll see people roaming the sidewalks barefoot, running across the streets without shoes, and even shopping shoeless. Grocery stores, bars, cafés…

No shoes, no shirt, no problem.

10. All wine bottles have screw tops.

Apparently they never used to get the good cork, so they just use screw tops. As a bartender, I fully support this.

11. They say thanks before you would expect it.

When people are ordering a drink, they will say “Bourbon & Coke, thanks.” I would probably be more used to a please there.

12. Plaster = Bandaid

Someone was asking me for plaster at the bar, and so I asked him to repeat it about 3 times before I finally shook my head no. I thought maybe I was hearing him wrong, or maybe plaster was a type of shot. But then he asked if we had any in our office…Try the hardware store down the street.

13. Kiwi is not a fruit.

Well, it is, but not in New Zealand. Kiwi refers to the people and the bird. If you want to talk about the green little fruit, you must say kiwifruit. And it’s hardly that popular here. The kiwifruit you find in the grocery store isn’t even from New Zealand. Passion fruit seems to be the go-to.

14. Cricket is a big deal…and more importantly, who knew that one game can last a few days?

The All Blacks & Rugby are obviously the bees knees, but I had no idea cricket was just as big. The Cricket World Cup was just last weekend, and some helpful friends compared it to the Super Bowl for me, but failed to mention that a single game goes on for like 8 hours, maybe even days. On the bright side, that’s more time to tailgate.

15. Lemonade = Sprite

Who knew I would have more difficulties understanding people in an English-speaking country than I did in Spain.

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