Having recently returned from a couple of weeks in NZ - almost entirely to see family and to get away from it all, I thought I'd start 2012 on the blog with a post about my observations as someone who has spent the last six year living abroad. I've learned how much there is to appreciate in NZ, but also how much there is to bemoan. It is something that can only really be understood once you have got used to how things work elsewhere, and what your expectations are around all sorts of everyday activities.
Whilst I was in NZ, the Eurozone crisis ticked over, Kim Jong Il died and Christmas happened. However, the one thing you learn about being in NZ is that it is almost impossible to rely on the domestic media to know what is going on in the world, unless it is big. Even then, you can rely on it to get things wrong - perpetually.
In NZ the economy appears to be ticking over nicely (no I didn't visit Christchurch) and there appears to be a level of optimism that is absent in Europe. It can't all be the weather, as that was a bit patchy while I was there. I put it down to naive lack of awareness of the stagnation in Europe and malaise in the United States. Those I talked to about it appeared curious, but unaware of how it impacts New Zealand. The real impacts are seen in how many more Japanese and Chinese tourists there appeared to be, relative to European and North American tourists, compared to previous years.
The absurdly high New Zealand dollar is a crippler for tourists. It was rare to ever think anything in NZ is cheap or good value. The rip off prices for tourists seem absolutely ridiculous now. Yes there are many items you can only buy in NZ that are quite unique and nice to look at, but they are not made by luxury brands in Italy, and they are not that special that foreign tourists are willing to fork out huge sums to buy them. Asian tourists come to Europe for the European experience and will buy one or two luxury items while there, and a few items to remember it by. NZ is not quite in the same league for shopping, what it has is scenery.
So anyway, what are the pluses and minuses I saw from NZ:
- Space! You have LOADS of it, so much you don't appreciate it. Why would ANY cities ever consider urban growth limits or intensification when you can offer so much living space to residents. You do not appreciate how quiet and peaceful NZ is until you have spent lots of time in countries where you are never far away from towns or villages.
- Friendly service. Service in the UK is variable, but rarely are retailers particularly friendly and helpful. In NZ almost all were, including staff at food establishments that do not expect tips. I nearly weeped with the standard of service I got at times, it was helpful without the "I'm obliged to try to sell you more" attitude that training foists upon some in Europe.
- Supermarket packers. Yes I know I mean New World, but it is brilliant to have someone pack your groceries. Ignore those infuriating self serve devices which have infected British supermarkets. Far better to get a minimum wage teenager or grateful retiree to happily pack things for you.
- Well maintained roads. I know why this is, and why it isn't like that in the UK and the US. The more you keep politics out of decisions on road funding, the more that roads keep well maintained over everything else. That includes signs, lines and lighting. It is an absolute delight driving around New Zealand.
- Seafood. Seriously wonderful fish is available across NZ, even if at times it is a bit pricey. However, you can't go past freshly cooked deep fried hoki or terakihi for fish and chips. Most British establishments absolutely wreck it by cooking cod in bulk so the top layer are dried out under heat lamps and the bottom drenched in fat.
- Bread. Lighter, without the texture of freeze wrapped cardboard that much British mass produced bread has. Almost all of it in NZ is far far more delicious than much of that which passes as bread in the UK.
- Ice cream. Yes there are wonderful ice creams in Europe, but premium NZ ones are simply delightful. I know Kapiti ice cream is Fonterra owned, but that hasn't done away with absolutely fantastic flavours.
- Scenery. I only drove in the North Island and I have seen a lot of NZ over the years, but the one thing NZ has to offer over the UK and indeed many other countries is diverse scenery over short distances. Driving in the UK is almost always tedious, with straight roads, few hills and little interesting scenery until you get quite remote into Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Yorkshire, Wales and the Highlands. Natural beauty with very few others to share it with is rather special.
- Rewarewa honey. Beats Manuka. It's truly heavenly.
- Braindead television news. I once thought it couldn't get worse, but it has. Stop telling people what to think about a story by slanting how you describe events a certain way. Yes, you love disasters, celebrities and sport because your tiny minds can easily grasp the concept of good vs bad, you can't grasp politics or world affairs because your frame of reference is adolescent. Seriously, NZ would be better off if TVNZ, TV3 and Prime all abandoned national news and broadcast infomercials instead, you would all be better informed.
- Nanny State on alcohol. Why the hell can't I buy spirits or liquours from supermarkets? Grow up New Zealand. Yes there are some who have major alcohol problems. Funnily enough you don't have less of this problem than countries which sell the lot at a multiple of outlets. Beyond that, stop taxing it to buggery. Yes it is cheaper to buy NZ wine in the UK, figure that one out.
- Media mispronunciation. Are there no people who can enunciate words? TV in particular, but also some radio is full of cringeworthy butchers of the English language, and even worse butchers of foreign place names and personal names. Who told you Kim Jong Il is pronounced Kim Yong Il?
- Fruit juice. Largely non existent in NZ, as most of the market is occupied by reconstituted fructose laden concentrate. Freshly squeezed proper juices tend only to be orange, rare is apple available as a proper juice. I know it is price, but there is no point drinking the cheap stuff.
- Yoghurt. The lack of variety and with premium varieties resembliny desserts rather than actual yoghurt you want to eat, is rather dire. What's wrong with rhubarb and vanilla, what about blueberry, what about boysenberry and blackberry? Why so much damned sugar in it?
- The accent. Yes I've become a snob. It's bloody awful. If you have aspiration, try to de-nasalise yourself, otherwise it really can make one sound like you're a friendly naive idiot. The PM leads the annoying accent stakes, but that may well be deliberate!
- Rip off New Zealand. How funny for the Honey Hive to be the most expensive place to sell its goods. The pricing of "official outlets" and tourist spots is a serious rip off, when it proves not that hard to find the same products in other stores for 25-30% cheaper. Yes I know it feels great targeting Johnny Foreigner because you think he's rich, but he's also not stupid.
- So many travel agents? Hasn't the internet been discovered yet?
- Retailer websites with no useful information. Why doesn't anyone put their products and prices online? Why doesn't anyone offer to sell things online? This is domestic websites, there should be no international bandwidth issues. It is almost impossible to go online "window" shopping to see who sells what at what prices.
- Ancient cars everywhere. The Cuba of the South Pacific. Mitsubishi Sigmas, Ford Anglias, Holden Kingswoods, Ford Falcons (XC, XD, XE), Holden Commodores, Ford Lasers, Mazda 323s, Ford Telstars, Ford Cortinas. Seriously, someone should organise tours for UK car enthusiasts to have a look around.
- Mr Ed on the Te Reo Channel. Accidentally found this one, found it hard to stop laughing when I saw Mr. Ed on the phone saying "Kia Ora Wilbur". Something inspired about doing that.