An expat’s guide to fitting in with New Zealand locals

From jandals and stubbies to respecting holiday time, here's what you need to know.

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Let’s be clear; there’s usually nothing easy about picking up your life and moving to a new foreign country and fitting in with New Zealand locals? There’s a lot to learn.

The food is different, and the language is (often) changed, the culture is different. It takes some serious guts to pick up and become an expat, but with a bit of perseverance, it can be one of the most rewarding moves of your life.

When I first decided to move to New Zealand, I stupidly assumed that because it was a westernized country where English was spoken, I’d have no trouble fitting it. But, as it turns out, life and culture in Chicago are vastly different than life on an Island Nation.

There are some things I wish I knew before moving that would have made my transition a little easier. Here are my best tips for fitting in with New Zealand locals

fitting in with new zealand locals

1. Keep it casual

Kiwis live a relaxed lifestyle from the clothes they wear to how they address their superiors.

Dressing up for Kiwis often means donning their fanciest pair of jandals and their cleanest pair of stubbies. If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it will eventually. Even in the workplace, the dress is usually reasonably casual. Unless you’re in a bank, you probably won’t see suits and ties.

When addressing superiors and colleagues, Kiwis prefer to use first names and often even nicknames. They like to treat everyone the same and often see their bosses and superiors as friends, doctors too.

fitting in with new zealand locals

2. Keep that work-life balance in check

Kiwis are famous for maintaining an excellent work-life balance.

They believe in putting in some hard hours at work but also respect their free time. Hell, the best coffee spot in town is famous for closing their doors over the Christmas break, the busiest two weeks of the year. Could they be making lots of money over that time? Sure, but is it worth the stress? Nah.

Kiwis know when to draw the line and make sure they have time to relax, and best of all, they don’t feel guilty for it. If you want to fit in with the locals, make sure you take some holiday time and respect others when they’re doing the same.

fitting in with new zealand locals

3. Sarcasm reigns supreme

Keen on fitting in with New Zealand? Learn to speak sarcasm.

If English and Māori share the title for the common language in New Zealand, sarcasm would undoubtedly be the second.

Kiwi humor is often described and dark and utterly dry, but if you can pick up on it, you’ll soon find yourself laughing along. A shortcut to understanding Kiwi humor is to assume the opposite for everything they say immediately.

For example, if someone calls you a winner, you’re most certainly not.

fitting in with new zealand locals

4. Stay humble

A quick way to get an eye roll out of a kiwi is to start talking about your most recent accomplishments. Start yarning on about all the things you’ve done, and you’ll be met with silence or a quick change of subject.

This is because Kiwis embrace the tall poppy syndrome, where people who brag about how great they are are resented and criticized. If you’re going to talk about your success, do so carefully and try to elevate those who helped you reach that success.

fitting in with new zealand locals

5. Nix the small chat

Love it or hate it, Kiwis are genuine.

They don’t mince words, and if they ask you how you’re going, they genuinely want to know.

A quick way to piss off a Kiwi is to say, “Hey mate, how are ya” and then immediately move onto the next sentence without giving them a chance to answer. It may seem like a common language to you, but to Kiwis, they find it rude and insincere.

If you’re going to ask them questions, they’re going to want to answer. Kiwis don’t mind a bit of awkward silence, so they’d much rather sit in silence then fill the air with a frivolous chat about the weather.

fitting in with new zealand locals

6. But don’t get too personal

Here’s another goodie for fitting in with New Zealand locals  – don’t also get up in their business.

When you’re asking them questions, be sure not to cross the line by asking them super personal questions. Don’t ask them how much money they make, how much their house costs, or who they’re voting for in the next elections.

In my experience, I’ve found that Kiwis generally tend to keep their personal business to themselves and a select few friends, so when integrating into a Kiwi friend group, tread carefully with the deep questions.

fitting in with new zealand locals

7. Adopt the can-do attitude

Kiwis are famous for the #8 wire attitude. The old saying goes that on remote farms, Kiwis would often have long rolls of number 8 wire, which they would use to fix practically any mechanical or structural problem. The wire became synonymous with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of New Zealanders and is a common cultural characteristic still to this day.

Perhaps part of it is because they are an island nation that has historically had to be self-reliant for a long time. If something is broken, New Zealanders will always give it a crack to try and fix it before buying new.

They’ll go to great lengths to solve the issue on their own, and if you’re trying to fit in, you should too. Kiwis wear their old duct-taped puffer jackets with pride here.

fitting in with new zealand locals

8. Respect the environment

Speaking of not buying new, most Kiwis hold the state of the environment near and dear to their hearts.

Perhaps because they live in a literal paradise, when you get to see pure beauty every day and the risks that beauty faces, you appreciate it, maybe it’s because they have a small population. Here it’s easier to enact change on a large scale.

Whatever it is, Kiwis give a hoot about the rivers and mountains and air. If you want to fit in, ditch your single-use plastic. You’ll quickly be ostracized for getting a plastic fork with your takeaway or forgetting your reusable coffee cup. Recycle when you can, but more than anything, if you want to fit in with the Kiwis, start with reducing the amount you consume, to begin with.

What do you think? Any tips for fitting in with New Zealand locals? Share!

fitting in with new zealand locals

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18 Comments on “An expat’s guide to fitting in with New Zealand locals

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  1. Hi Liz,
    Congratulations on your new adventures with Giulio you are an amazing lady and deserve the best. Hope you continue exploring and updating your on-line accounts.

  2. After traveling to over 100 countries and more than once, I always say New Zealand is the bestest of all. I am glad to have your list of reasons to add to mine.
    I especially loved how women were NOT into fashion and makeup and high heels. Very sports and healthy and beautiful natural bunch. Not a lot of fashion shops and commercials pushing consumerism. Clean environment and clean energy a priority.
    Too bad it is soo far from everywhere else in the world. But I guess that is why it can be purer and gentler.

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