I always find it very striking: No matter how much you read, how many videos you watch, photos you look at or accounts you listen to – actually visiting/being at a place is more often than not different from what you’ve heard before and has you seeing the real thing with your own eyes, and subsequently shaping your own experience.
Taking my first trip to China as example, I knew that Beijing is horribly polluted as well as crowded with people, like many of the country’s major cities. I’ve also heard that a number of visitors suddenly suffered from respiratory problems after staying for a while. And the reality? To be honest, nothing can prepare an ordinary “Westerner” for seeing the thick and grey smog for the first time – it is depressing if you can’t see further than 100 metres in front of you, because of something man-made. At the same time the air did not smell much different from any European city, nor did I personally have any breathing problems (don’t get me wrong, inhaling this stuff over the long term can’t be good for anyone). There are heaps of people around, for sure, but at least on the streets it’s not as bad as I have imagined – places like the South of Hong Kong’s Kowloon peninsula are where the real insanity starts.
Let’s move back to Oceania and the country that’s the topic on this blog. I stumbled upon E2NZ.org, a blog which fires frantically against New Zealand and strongly advises potential migrants not to move to this “third world hellhole”. I had a closer look at what this community has to say and why I think most people active on this site would have had an equally bad time anywhere outside their home country’s sphere.
“The grass is always greener”, or so they say – there’s certainly some truth in it. The makers of E2NZ.org though want you to believe that the entire lawn in NZ has been burnt down. There are a few common issues that repeatedly appear on the website, and these are usually the ones that all the moaning is about – partially justified, partially completely unreasonable. I will gather some of those points here as well as a comment from E2NZ.org and my viewpoint.
According to E2NZ.org, theft, robbery, violent attacks are almost daily occurrences, despite NZ being touted as low in crime compared to Europe and the US. Examples are “Crimechurch” or “Gear worth €10,000 stolen in Pukekohe“.
Crimes do happen in NZ, likely in the same proportions as they do in the majority of the world’s countries, and it follows the same rule as almost everywhere: Where there is disparity, there is crime. Talking about this connection, it comes down to the two “original” ethnicities in NZ, Māori and Pākehā. The former are indigenous people with a very different cultural heritage who, unlike the Polynesians on Hawaii, have not generally adopted the “Pākehā way” but rather developed alongside the European settlers; and while being much better off then the Aborigines in Australia, the Māori population’s average living standard is lower than that of the average Pākehā, which is one reason for crime.
On the other hand, the low population density has its advantages: There are lots of homes that are never locked and never get robbed in NZ, and the amount of honesty boxes is astonishing – something that would not work in (Western) Europe.
A little bit prior research on NZ would bust the “low crime” myth quickly before one sets off to the “end of the world”, and last but not least: Crimes as described in the links above are by no means unique to NZ. And that Pukekohe story…who leaves a camper van (which screams “tourist”) with gear in excess of €10,000 unattended after a dodgy looking guy had a peek inside already – especially without having insurance? This is plain negligent.
Now, this is one of the valid points and certainly nothing that could be sugarcoated – houses in New Zealand are generally very poor value; one of the many articles on E2NZ.org mentioning is this one.
There are complaints about houses being damp, in bad shape considering the price paid, and overpriced, as well as missing double glazing or any basic insulation that is standard in many countries around the world. Unfortunately this is true, as first hand experience taught me, and this is one of the few things on that website I would 100 % agree with.
Auckland, as NZ’s biggest city, is still the main draw for Kiwis and migrants alike. I wonder how long it will take for significant numbers of people to realise that their income will go much further pretty much anywhere else in the country. According to the Herald, Auckland was the 4th least affordable city to live in worldwide. Get this: If you talk about average relative income and house/apartment prices, it’s cheaper to live in NYC, London or even Singapore! And you will likely get better quality housing in those places too. But then there’s the issue with job availability in NZ…I know, I know.
It’s not only Auckland – parts of Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch are unaffordable under the same measures, Napier/Hastings and Hamilton are becoming unaffordable. Don’t need your own home? The rent is right up there too. In Rotorua, we had to pay a staggering $150 per week for a double bedroom in an uninsulated house that we shared with five other people; however this did include utility costs. Previously, while first searching for a place, we popped into a rather nice house close to an affluent neighbourhood…and were quoted $260 per week without utilities. For $1040 per month, you can a reasonably decent two-bedroom flat in many of Germany’s major cities, and this will include power and water expenses; did I mention that the living cost is much lower and the salaries higher too? Anyway, you get the point.
When coming to live in NZ, in my opinion there are only really three options if you don’t want to suffer from these issues:
– Score a very well-paid job to be able to afford decent housing, or
– Be wealthy to begin with, or
– Be handy, move into an average or shitty place and start renovating. Install insulation, new heaters, double glazing, etc. – however even if not hiring tradesmen to do this or help out, it will come at a high price.
It doesn’t really help that NZ’s government allows any foreign investors to buy properties, because the New Rich in China has unimaginable amounts of money at their hands and a thirst to invest in real estate in Western countries – because these are still MUCH cheaper than the ones in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. It’s a crazy world out there, that’s for sure.
Kiwi culture and job opportunities
There’s a lot of rambling of how simple minded Kiwis allegedly are, how there are no professional jobs, no drive for improvement – example here – apparently coming mostly from British, American and Singaporean immigrants.
To me, this is (another) clear case of not doing one’s homework. New Zealand is not the place to earn big money, nor is a place which offers highly specialised jobs. In NZ, it is definitely about the lifestyle: The laid-back lifestyle in a far away corner of the Earth. With proper research, or even better, a two-week visit would quickly reveal this (provided one talks to the locals rather than jumping from attraction to attraction). Outside of the few cities, many people live very simple lives. Kiwis go out hunting, fishing, swimming, tramping, flying, climbing…it’s mostly outdoor stuff, and that’s not surprising given the landscape that surrounds them. For a good 150 years, the descendants of the Europeans, as well as the Maori, have been building their lives around what’s available because every other country was extremely far away. One has to keep in mind that flying only really became affordable for the masses about 40 years ago, that’s half of an average lifetime – nothing in relative terms. My impression of the European settlers that eventually came to NZ voluntarily is that these were mostly the ones that wanted to escape the “rat race”, or “hustle and bustle” that Europe already was back in the day. They did not come to re-create Europe on these islands, but to live a different life – and this shows until today.
Yes, it would be desirable for NZ to develop a new path within the economy besides dairy and tourism, but this needs some government advances first (read: incentives), otherwise business-minded people will always choose an overseas location due to closer proximity to the world and likely less initial business cost. Maybe this would also keep more ambitious Kiwis from moving to Australia, the US, the UK and other countries with more economic opportunities.
The people of Aotearoa are not generally stupid or simple either, not more than the people in any other country. I’d rather say a good chunk of people focuses more on learning practical skills (carpentry, mechanics, …): You’ll be hard-pressed to find a group of Kiwis in which there are not at least two or three people that can fix anything on a car, take over all the aspects of renovating/building a house, or run a farm. In Europe, the number of people capable of doing so is shrinking, leaving one at the mercy of the tradesmen who now start to choose which clients they work for.
Not the lifestyle you desire? Then NZ is probably not the right place for you, just as Asia is generally not a place for being an employee seeking a good work-life balance, or as Scandinavia wouldn’t be if you detest having to pay huge taxes that get redistributed for the good of the whole society. Take off the rose-tinted glasses and do your homework…before moving to a new country and eventually ranting about how the culture is totally unlike home (how dare they!).
There’s several accounts of people feeling extremely isolated in NZ and subsequently claim to suffer from depression and related problems; here’s the lament of a British couple that used to live in Queenstown.
Isolation in NZ has two sides to it: Geographical and social isolation. To the people complaining about the former: Phew, who would have thought that going anywhere from two isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean would take time and money? Seriously, that’s five minutes on the internet or a chunk of common sense. Either that’s a destination you’re looking for, or it isn’t.
Now, social isolation is different and as a European myself I can partially understand this. It’s hard for many foreigners to make Kiwi friends, and I believe there are a few reasons for this (although I cannot fully explain it, and the following is written mainly from a Western point of view).
The small population doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone who’s not part of the mainstream. If you’re part of a niche subculture back home in Europe or the US, it’s likely that you won’t find it in NZ, leaving you with “the rest” to make a connection with. But even if you consider yourself as someone who’s “going with the flow”, you have to connect to the Kiwis around you – because these are the only ones you’ll have a chance to connect to. This is less true in the few big cities, but generally applies to the whole country. With the large populations in Europe and America, it’s easy to find like-minded people – if you can’t connect with a particular social group, you look for a different one; this is often not possible in NZ.
However, even if one tries to make a connection, many people (as myself) struggle as Kiwis seem reluctant to open themselves to outsiders; sometimes they simply deny doing so, of course in a polite way, and “leave you stranded”, having to start over again. Another reason may be that large numbers of migrants stick to themselves – in particular the Asian and Indian ones –, so possibly Kiwis have somehow “adapted” and mirror this behaviour…granted, it’s a rather far-fetched theory, but who knows.
To wrap it up, it probably is more difficult building social circles here than in many other places around the world. The best plan of attack is likely immediately joining clubs/associations/trusts etc. that resonate with one’s interest and start building relationships there. For families, it can be easier as aside from the workplace, the children’s school, the activities it arranges and the meeting of other parents can be a stepping stone for making new friends.
Once more, New Zealand is not unique here. Apparently it’s equally difficult to make friends as foreigner in Scandinavia, for example. It depends massively on the host culture, one’s own openness and the chosen environment to live in.
Aside from the above selection, there’s more to be found on the website:
Ruthless drivers and bad roads (the former exists everywhere, and the latter isn’t generally true – except for small, wealthy countries, there will always be bad roads somewhere in a country)
Everything is expensive while being poor value (an unfortunate reality – one that has to be accepted when deciding to move here)
Not much to do besides outdoor activities outside the few main cities (it’s all rural – who would have guessed? It’s the same in Europe’s villages, the only difference being that a big city is never far away. Another case of love it or hate it, really)
While some problems are indeed local ones not manifesting themselves like this in other developed countries, none of this is a secret. In the age of the internet, there is no need to fall for cheap marketing claims and one would think a person contemplating to move overseas would do a little bit more research before cutting all ties at home and heading off.
For the most part, E2NZ.org only seems to be a valve for those who cannot cope with the living conditions in NZ, and I don’t see why a “shaming” website like this would be needed. It is surprising how many people who comment there are claiming to have been living there 5+ years – I sure as hell would be out of a country I don’t like in less than that. Alas, let them continue to complain rather than make a change to their lives.
What’s better in NZ than elsewhere?
After all this negativity, let’s look for some light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to a recent article of my fellow blogger Peter on NZ2Go, I learnt about an essay by The New Zealand Initiative, a think tank based in Wellington. It’s called “The Outside of the Asylum”, and I reckon it’s a pretty good read that gives you some appreciation for a couple of things that a better in New Zealand than elsewhere, for example airport security and the absence of a “nanny state” prohibiting all kinds of stuff. Have a read and let me know what you think!