Welcome to New Zealand, Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, and home to a whole lot of Kiwis. I know that the kiwi, while it is our national bird, is a flightless ground duckler, but that says little about the people who live in this beautiful country. Sometimes at this point I should say that the kiwi really is a beautiful bird, and to see one in the wild, or even in captivity, is an awe-inspiring event.
Right so now I'm distracted by the kiwi. Where was I? Right, Kiwis, the inmates of New Zealand, also known as the youngest country in the world. We really are an interesting bunch, and I say that in the best possible way, and to come to New Zealand is not only enjoy the stunning scenery, but also meet some very cool people.
So, let's dive right into it. What exactly is Kiwi culture, putting races and people groups aside, let's find out what makes Kiwis tick.
We have to start off with rugby, which was introduced to New Zealand in May 1870. The first game of rugby was played in Nelson and since then rugby has been something that New Zealand has been quite good at, to say the least. For decades Kiwis have been rugby mad, and it has been every young boy's dream to grow up and become an All Black one day. The All Blacks are a national icon and if they lose a significant game the whole country will go into mourning.
Locally, you can expect pretty much every town and city to have at least one rugby club, and most Saturdays, if you go down to the local sports parks you will be grateful to local rugby at its best; town against town, province against province and sometimes even brother against brother. I can speak from experience as I am currently the winger for a local 3rd division team which is really a Kiwi thing to do. I am in it just for fun, but for a lot of locals rugby is lived and breathed and a win on Saturday is a must, as is the after match get together filled with drinks and battle stories.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable things about rugby is the short shorts that the players wear. This piece of clothing is called a stubby and it has filtered into the dress code for Kiwis everywhere. It's not uncommon to see, even in the dead of winter, a good ole Kiwi blocking wearing a pair of stubbies, seemingly oblivious to the cold. I can not say that I always support this symbol of Kiwi culture, but I have been known to don a pair even when I'm not playing rugby. Perhaps it's good for working on that leg tan, but your guess is as good as mine. It does feel pretty freeing though.
I guess while we are talking around sports it would be fair to mention another growing sport in New Zealand, which, whilst it¬ has not enjoyed the national popularity of rugby yet, it is definitely growing in popularity. The sport is football (or soccer depending on where you come from) and the recent success of the New Zealand All Whites and Wellington Phoenix really has boosted it in the nation's eyes. Bring on the Football World Cup and the future of football in New Zealand. Football really is a fantastic sport and for the younger generation is just as popular to play on the weekend as is rugby, so do not be surprised to see a rugby match being played along a football match when you visit that local sports park.
Kiwis are definitely not limited to rugby and soccer, however. We excel in sailing, cycling, endurance races, golf, basketball, kayaking, horse racing, growing, cricket and netball. These sports can be found all over New Zealand in some degree and this all goes to show that Kiwis are not only rugby mad, but sports mad in general. Other sports that can be found are tennis, table tennis, bowls, boule, badminton, volleyball, squash, and athletics, not to mention all the self defense schools around.
Okay, so maybe everything is not centred on sports. We are a fun-loving country, but our work ethic is very high and internationally recognized. Most Kiwis believe that if a job is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. Perhaps you have heard of Kiwi ingenuity, also known as No. 2. 8 wire mentality? We are a nation that believes in just getting in and doing it, no matter what the obstacles. If, however, there are obstacles then expect your average Kiwi to successfully and speedily come up with a solution or some ingenious way of getting around the problem using unconventional means and whatever is available at the time. It will generally be to a high standard and achieve what is required.
One attitude of kiwis that you will most likely come across is the "She'll be right!" attitude, which is generally reflected in individuals rather than companies or public operations and is very much linked to Kiwi ingenuity. I should mention at this stage, however, that New Zealand does have very high health and safety standards which make it a very safe place to visit and enjoy participating in the attractions and activities it is known for. Whilst the "She'll be right!" attitude is possibly not the best attitude to have, it in some ways reflects what to expect of the people when coming to New Zealand. We are a very laid back society and love to just relax and enjoy other's company, food and good times.
One of the coolest ways to relax is to have a real kiwi barbeque. If you are invited to one the expectation is to bring something along to share with the group, sometimes something to slap on the barbie or a drink or salad for the group. The males at the barbeque will generally be surrounding or near the barbeque eyeing up the food with a beverage in hand, and the females will either be conversing elsewhere or in the kitchen catching up and preparing the rest of the food. A barbeque is a very social occasion and the food is really good.
So let's talk now about the variety of food to expect when you get here. Barbeque food is one of the varieties, and it is definitely well worth trying. The meat can be cooked to perfection and you will be amazed at some of the things that go on the barbie. Another well known kiwi favorite is fish 'n' chips. The chips are beautifully deep-fried and come either yummy and crispy or hot and soggy, depending on where and what you like. The fish is battered and deep-fried as well and the type is generally snapper, shark, hoki, rig or blue cod, although the fish 'n' chip shop will have it clearly displayed. Other delicacies you will find in your average fish 'n' chip shop are wedges, spring rolls, donuts, kumara (sweet potato) chips and other yummy stuff. You may even find some battered and deep-fried mars bars and bananas. The amount of fat that may be consumed is potentially high, but it's a delicious meal to try and easily eat anywhere. I need to mention here one of New Zealand's iconic soft drinks, L & P. This lemon drink is my personal favorite and has its home in Paeroa.
In New Zealand you will find all the usual fast food outlets we have all become so used to, like them or not, but you will also find a lot of places that advertise and sell organic and amazing fresh food and produce, so do not Be concerned that all you are going to get over there is barbeques and fish 'n' chips. The dining experience is of a high standard and you will find food from all influences here, from European to Mediterranean to Asian to Pacific. Perhaps none is more famous, however, than the New Zealand seafood experience. New Zealand boasts some world class seafood and you can taste and enjoy some of what the ocean has to offer in many places. Bluff oysters and Marlborough Sounds mussels are examples of iconic kiwi seafood and many other places sell fresh seafood for you to enjoy.
Many Kiwis will compliment their eating with a glass of wine or a beer, and with the amount of wineries and breweries around they are spoiled for choice. Beer was used to be the drink of choice for Kiwis everywhere, but wine is fast becoming the more popular drink and is generally the drink now to have with your meal, since when you are invited to dinner a bottle of wine is a common gift to bring.
Unfortunately not all aspects of New Zealand culture are good. The Kiwi male used to be known to be hard, tough and potentially violent, and this included hard drinking. This still permeates into culture, though thankfully not as much. New Zealand is a changing country and bad habits and mannerisms are starting to be frowned upon. The average Kiwi, however, is definitely not as liberal as their European counterparts and private details and circumstances will generally be kept that way. Kiwis will take everything with a grain of salt and are cautious of anyone who sticks out or is in a position of authority.
In saying all that, however, Kiwis really are for the most part a great bunch to be around, and are fiercely proud of their nation. I have to say that we have good reason to be proud of this piece of paradise as well. Here you will find some beautiful beaches, loads of sunshine and scenery that will blow you away. Kiwis are well aware of what is here as well and that reflects in the activities that many enjoy participating in and the holiday destinations for families and individuals alike. In rural New Zealand hunting is a common past time and there is plenty of opportunity and game out here. Fishing is also a very common activity and there are loads of family friendly places to cast a line or launch a boat to hit the waters for a leisurely day of fishing. Kiwis are very outdoor orientated and just love being on a beach or anywhere in the sunshine. I fondly remember the days when I was youngger heading down to the local river and just lazing around in the sunshine.
A common Kiwi past time worth mentioning is market shopping. A lot of towns and cities will, over the weekend, hold a market with loads of things to see and items to shop for. There are famer's markets, art and craft markets, seafood markets and general township markets and here you can expect to see, try and buy some iconic Kiwi food, art and gear. Most towns will also annually hold what is called an A & P show. This is normally held over a weekend or a day and will showcase the best of rural New Zealand. Expect to see farm animals, iconic wood chopping, horses, antique tractors, Ferris Wheels, cotton candy, farm dog trials and a whole host of different stalls, food and activities.
Writing about Kiwi culture would not be complete without a mention of our common rivals. Other nations have their rivalries; ie USA versus Canada, England versus France and Sweden versus Norway, and we felt we needed one so we picked Australia. So there is a bit of a size difference there, but we Kiwis like a challenge. We secretly like each other but neverless love to take the mickey out of each other. Rugby union and league, cricket, basketball and football are where you will currently find most of the rivalries played out, however, it is a very generalized feeling and one that is happily played out on either side of the Tasman with both assuming superiority but happy to admit defeat, sometimes.
There really is a lot more I could say about Kiwi culture, but I am going to draw to a conclusion here and leave you wanting to come to New Zealand to find out more. We love having visitors over and are proud to show off out nation to anyone willing to see, use and respect it. Good old fashioned Kiwi hospitality is everywhere and needs to be experienced by all. So book your flights, pack your bags and come on over!