None Too Keen: A Litany

I am unabashed about my love for New Zealand, this wonderful country we’ve gotten to explore and enjoy for a year. From our kids’ schools to the people, the incredibly accessible and beautiful landforms to the more relaxed way of living, New Zealand has won my heart in so many ways and for so many reasons.

As we draw close to the end of our time in Christchurch before one final road trip (this time on the North Island before flying back to the states from Auckland in June), I do want to acknowledge some things about New Zealand that I’m not so keen about.

Quick disclaimer: our family of five has lived on a budget while here on sabbatical. As with anything, if you’re willing to shell out the money and splurge on higher quality (and higher cost) goods and services, you’ll probably have less to complain about. So a few of my complaints below may elicit responses of, “well, if you were willing to spend a bit more you might find the issue resolved.” This may be true… but we did what we could (and it was a lot) with the budget we had, and my complaints still stand.

Additional caveat: we have lived entirely on the South Island and have spent most of our time in Christchurch. Just like anywhere in the U.S. (and elsewhere), there are regional differences. Something I have experienced a few times here in Christchurch may, in fact, not be a problem elsewhere in New Zealand. But because this is my blog and because I feel like it, I am extrapolating out from our South Island experiences anyway.

Without further ado, here are some things about Aotearoa that have me missing the comforts of home.

A trip to the supermarket has gotten easier over the months as both James and I have figured out the particular brands and items our family enjoys the most. The first few trips to the grocery store were perplexing, but just like any new place, once the layout and rules are established, it’s second nature to make the necessary moves to get what you need.

Not so with food packaging. Would it be so hard to have one of those little handy slits to open a wrapper? Perforations?

Pizza crusts, salad bags, cereal bags, lunch meat containers… only a few come with easy-open packaging. Most of them require scissors, a knife, or, in my more desperate moments, car keys or canines. I just don’t get it. Such a small thing and one I used to take for granted but no more… now that I’ve pawed and gnawed into containers like a ravenous mother bear.


food for the trail: let’s make sure we have our camp scissors or pocket knife

Another practically-invisible quality of life difference we’ve all noticed in New Zealand versus the U.S. is window screens.

“What?” you may ask. The humble screen? Ubiquitous and under-appreciated, these denizens of window-frames from U.S. hovel to American mansion are nearly absent in NZ.

New Zealanders seem to really appreciate the indoor-outdoor flow of their residences. Indeed, real estate listings regularly tout the advantages of certain floorplans that permit spaces that function for indoor-outdoor living: verandas, patios, porches, decks, sliding doors, etc.

Want some fresh air? Come on in, bugs!

Which raises the question of bug control. Now, mosquitos do not seem to exist in such high numbers as they do at our home in Delaware. They’re here, for sure, but not nearly as bad. But flies (in Christchurch) and sandflies (vicious, tiny, biting bugs that frequent the west coast and Fiordland as well as other areas with high rain fall and/or lakes) can be pretty awful. And without screens, there’s nothing preventing them from zooming right in to your house.

In only a few places we’ve stayed have screens graced the windows, and they are truly the exception… and we’ve quickly discovered that the sandflies in those areas are so bad that the screens are a Kiwi concession to reality.

When Tiffany and I stayed in Tekapo for one night at a backpackers lodge, large signs in the common room warned the last guest using the kitchen/lounge to turn off all lights and close all the windows. Alas, this order was not heeded and so the next morning, we found thousands of dead flies, moths, and other bugs littering the dining room tables and chairs. They had flown straight into the windows overnight and died sad, pitiful deaths. Yuck.

If only there were screens.

The third major complaint I would like to lodge with the New Zealand authorities relates to my fear of dying my own sad death, but this one perhaps more sudden than the ill-fated flies charmed by interior lights…

Pedestrians versus drivers in Christchurch is something terrifying and it took me some time before I understood how profoundly different the role of walker/runner/biker is in our city here than at home.

While I sometimes complain about pedestrians in Newark, Delaware (a university town with about 20,000 students) crossing outside of crosswalks or looking down at their cell phones or wandering around in mobs with little regard for where anyone else in the world might be trying to go, I operate my car with great caution. I regularly, routinely, unfailingly yield to people.

Is it annoying to have to do so? Yes. But it is the right thing to do.

And it also means that I, and my husband, and my children, can (mostly) safely assume that the same courtesy will be extended to us, should we mistakenly step out ahead of traffic or cross at the tail end of a “walk” sign or even (gasp!) jaywalk.


Here in Christchurch, I have been nearly hit by vehicles *while myself on the sidewalk,* as when walking across the entrance or exit to a carpark or drive way. I have seen myriads of walkers standing, completely vulnerable and halfway crossed, on the center line of a busy roadway, as car after car after car hurtle by them.

The strangest thing about this, to me, is that Kiwi people–when not in cars–are so very laid back and friendly and accomodating. We have experienced incredibly generous gestures of friendship and support (exhibit a: I am sitting writing this on a mattress and boxspring set loaned to me by friends here in Christchurch, no questions asked; but I could just as easily be writing it sitting on a couch downstairs, also on loan, from different friends…). We have found people with whom we feel genuine solidarity and confidence in, from watching our children to serving as emergency contacts for our travels to picking up our mail and loaning us trucks. It’s amazing.

Which is what is so weird about the nearly agressive ignoring of pedestrians on Christchurch highways and byways. We’ve taught the kids to never, ever jaywalk here. In theory, of course, they should never jaywalk at all, but especially not here. James and I run on trails and in parks, mostly; this helps avoid the frustrating temptation of having to pause at every block to decide whether it’s worth risking your life to make it to the next corner.

My next NZ gripe is related to the driver/pedestrian complaint and also a contributing factor to that problem.

Most of you already know that New Zealand cars drive on the opposite side of the road (on the left), and the driver’s steering wheel in the car is on the right.

It’s a trip the first few times you try it out!

But even after I had stopped turning on the windshield wipers (on the left of the steering column) when I meant to signal a turn (on the right), I had not yet learned that turning right is undesireable. So when you have to get somewhere here, it’s way easier to turn left than right because of the flow of traffic.

You know how in the states, major intersections have a (frequently short) left-hand turn light so you can safely cross oncoming traffic?

That’s just not a thing here.

Now, to be fair, there are also a whole lot of traffic roundabouts, which I adore. They are awesome and the vast majority of NZ drivers know how to handle them beautifully and I just wish that I could package a whole bunch up and bring them home with me in my suitcase. I would sprinkle them around my hometown in place of all the miserable, ugly, tedius traffic lights or worse, 4-way stops.

(Think of every time you’ve ever been out early-early in the morning or late-late at night and have had to sit through a full cycle of timed red lights to make a simple turn to be on your way… now imagine a large, friendly circle into which you could easily steer your car and signal your turn without having to wait at all… magical.)

But in Christchurch, there are also many stoplights, and if you have to turn right at many of them, good luck. 

Good luck.

There seems to be an unwritten rule (though I will not be held responsible should you try to drive according to this rule and encounter a vehicular accident as the result…) that traffic turning right enters the center lane of the intersection and, if there is no opening in oncoming traffic during the green light, slips through at the tail end of the yellow light, or even at the start of the red.

Oncoming traffic, with the yellow light indicating they are about to get a red, is supposed to stop if at all possible, thus granting a small window of space and time for the woebegotten right-turners to squeak through.

Most of the time this works, though it can be a bit scary. Sometimes, however, if oncoming traffic does not cede, accidents or near-accidents occur.

Thankfully we’ve been safe and James and I both proceed on right turns with great caution. But I’ve got to say, it really makes me wonder whether it would be so hard to have a right turn arrow, at least every other light cycle…?

My final what’s-the-deal-New-Zealand? complaint is more about comfort than safety.

What’s with the poorly insulated houses and crappy heating? I think, because New Zealand benefits from a pretty temperate climate, builders and residents have just assumed that they don’t need to prepare for the vagaries of Mother Nature.

I can feel cool air (the low tonight is 46F) billowing in around the window edges of our (relatively recently-built) townhome. There was no central heating in our university house, only a wood pellet stove that did an adequate job of heating the living room but nothing for the bedrooms or bathroom. There is *supposedly* underfoot heating in the living room of our current house, but again, no central heating or airconditioning, no radiators, etc.

It’s about comfort–I have seldom been truly cold outside during the day in New Zealand but frequently feel chilly and damp inside my house–but it’s also about environmental responsibility… the heat (or cool) from inside is seeping out, which must result in lower home-energy efficiency. I only hope that much of the new construction around Christchurch since the 2011 earthquake has better insulation and window/door seals than any of our residences has had.

Whew. I am glad I got all that off my chest. It had been bothering me.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post in which I’ll share some of my favorite things about New Zealand culture!



2 thoughts on “None Too Keen: A Litany

  1. Well, up until now, I had been blissfully confident of my sweet family’s utter safety… but now, I shall not be able to sleep a wink, concerned most of all about the possible misuse of those knives, and just to open a slab of balogna! 🙂 Love you!


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