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Thread: Americans coming to NZ

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    nolasmom's Avatar
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    Default Americans coming to NZ

    Are you an American soon-to-be expat or just starting to think about what it means to move to the end of the Earth? This post is for you. I’m going to try to paint an accurate picture of what certain aspects of life are like in the Godzone. I wish someone had written this before we moved to KiwiLand, the shock may not have been so great (obsessively scanning expat forums for months before we came only produced bits and pieces of the following information). On this post, I will discuss houses. Future posts will address moving children and pets, rentals, daily life, cost of living, etc.

    I recently saw a Simpsons rerun which neatly put into perspective for me the Kiwi philosophy towards life. Maggie was determined to give Groundskeeper Willy a makeover and he was stubbornly clinging to his conservative Scottish ways. To the tune of a familiar “My Fair Lady” song, Willy warbles “Wouldn’t it be adequate?” That’s the Kiwi theme song.

    For instance: shortly after moving into our rental, I was discussing repairs with our landlord and his painter. One corner in the hall was especially chewed up and I suggested they put up a corner guard. By their looks, I thought perhaps we had (another) culture chasm. I described the item and they both looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my forehead. Why would such a thing exist when you could just patch the nicks up over and over?

    That leads me to today’s topic, houses. I'll start with a telling bit of news: a law was just passed requiring new houses have insulation. You read that right. Of course, that means existing houses have little to none. You will see log burners, heat pumps, baseboard heaters, and space heaters (lots of space heaters), but no central heating. Why? Because this is a temperate climate, meaning it almost never freezes. But it does get damned cold in the winter. The kind of wet, low 40s cold that gets into your bones and is loathe to leave. Heating is accomplished room by room via the aforementioned heating units and a twice daily kind of dance you do with your window treatments. Yes, central heating is available but the old ways are adequate.

    A lack of central heating means a lack of ventilation, so mold is a constant problem. A window has to be cracked when showering, and curtains must be monitored for mold growth.

    I’ll skim through the rest of the housing issues in no certain order. Garbage disposals are nearly non-existent, meaning they can be had but nobody has one. Gas cooktops are served by tanks underneath the counter (yup, like your barbeque). Toilets are sometimes in a closet next to the bathroom. No sink in there, just the commode. Entry hall closets and linen closets are rare. We were told that’s the reason upright vacuums are hard to find (more on that later). Most rooms only have two electrical outlets, each accommodating only one plug. Windows are single-paned and don’t have screens. Rentals usually do not include “whiteware” (fridge, microwave, washer and dryer - no matter the color). And clothes dryers* are rarer than unicorns, even high end homes have clotheslines. When we purchased one, the salesman said we wouldn’t need an extended warranty because we would only need to use the dryer in the winter. *Only one brand of dryer sheets is available and they smell like the inside of a New York taxi cab in July.

    99% of vacuum cleaners here are canisters which can be stored more easily than uprights in tight quarters. Most vacuums don’t have beater brushes (think just the upholstery attachment), so only surface dirt is removed. Huge ick, right? We bought an upright Dyson, ran it over the carpet throughout our rental, and emptied the canister four times on the initial run.

    I wish I had filled up the extra space in our container with the following: toilet paper, paper towels, Oxiclean, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, Soft Scrub, dryer sheets. Wet and dry Swiffer cloths can be found but cost a fortune. New Zealand cleaning products do not clean. They push the dirt and grime around and leave a streaky mess. Do not pack anything flammable, but do give consideration to any other cleaning items. You’ll thank me.

    I hope others in the forum will mention aspects I may have overlooked. This post was written merely to prepare others for what they will encounter as new residents of this country. Members of the Polarfleece Brigade who love to chime in with “Less is Better” sermons extolling the virtues of the crunchy life need not reply.
    Last edited by nolasmom; 13-11-2007 at 05:00 PM.

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    selchie's Avatar
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    The comments on housing bring on a bit of a chuckle, because that is what many older homes are like where I live (north coast CA). The climate is mild and humid, too, so mildew is a big problem. In that way at least, NZ will be just like home

    I'm preparing myself for the change, and hope I can manage gracefully, but do plan on retrofitting with insulation at the very least. I try to imagine that living in NZ will be rather like my life in the 60s, so it's not so strange.

    Good going with the cautionaries, nolasmom.
    If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.
    - Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, mid-1800s

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    Don't you know that less is really better? Who wants a complicated materialistic life anyway? (Me ... when it is cold.)

    There certainly are a lot of houses about like you described. New Zealand is a couple of decades behind the rest of the Western world in housing, and there are a surprising number of people here who still have not heard about 'central heating', let alone double glazing. We did stay at a house in Auckland that had a waste disposal unit (they tend to be a little more 'forward' in the North Island ) but it had no heating whatsoever, relying on the very hot sun we have here to help heat the rooms. It annoys me too that the toilet is generally separate from the bathroom - very unhygenic.

    There are, however a lot of newer houses already with insulation, and I am well impressed by my new house, a cheap four-bedroom house built by a well-known building company. No central heating or double glazing, but if we had the funds we could have had them installed. It is warmer where we are so even the heatpump is rarely used. We also have double electrical sockets in the rooms, and could have had triple(!) if we were willing to pay. These more modern houses are increasing in number, but the traditional NZ flimsy weather-board will no doubt still be around for a while yet.

    Not an American, but look forward to your next observations.
    Glenda
    In NZ since June 2005
    Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness - Chinese proverb

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    kokopeli is offline God like figure
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    As a friend, I feel obliged to say that I think you're living on the wrong side of the railway tracks


    If you need a 'fix', you're welcome to come over for coffee and play with our garbage disposal system

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    nolasmom's Avatar
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    Default Follow up

    Yes, one might think that but we live in Sumner on the hill. And yes, some newer homes in NZ have upgrades. But what I'm talking about is that even low-end homes in the US have the amenities I discussed. Central heating and adequate ventilation aren't luxuries. Well, unless you live in Darfur. Or New Zealand.

    I'll be over tomorrow with my vegetable matter, Kokopeli.

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    kokopeli is offline God like figure
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    Quote Originally Posted by nolasmom View Post
    Yes, one might think that but we live in Sumner on the hill. And yes, some newer homes in NZ have upgrades. But what I'm talking about is that even low-end homes in the US have the amenities I discussed. Central heating and adequate ventilation aren't luxuries. Well, unless you live in Darfur. Or New Zealand.

    I'll be over tomorrow with my vegetable matter, Kokopeli.
    Ahh you see, that's where you went wrong. Strictly speaking, Sumner isn't part of New Zealand. It has been re-classified as Little Britain on account of its high density of Poms. And we all know that Britain is a 'new' Third World Country....

    A ex-pat (English) friend of mine goes to Sumner for coffee with a bunch of mates after their Sunday morning bike ride. He reckons that a few years ago, the place was full of Kiwis and he was usually the only Pom. Now he says the situation has completely reversed and that Kiwi's in Sumner are rarer than hen's teeth!

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    Funny coz we were just commenting that our house has an over abundance of electrical sockets and it's one of the old ones as well.

    As for all American low-end homes having all modern conveniences readily installed, I'm pretty sure there are several million poverty stricken Americans who would like to know why they don't have them seeing as entitlement is the order of the day. Come to think of it there are probably several million homeless Americans who'd be grateful just for a roof over their heads and sod the garbage disposal. Strictly speaking I suppose they do have the air conditioning living out there on the street don't they and hell....there's such a thing as cardboard to keep you warm right? So there's the central heating issue sorted.

    God bless America. Land of the free - albeit dependant upon central heating, air conditioning, garbage disposal units and upright vacs.

    I don't believe I have any polar fleece in my wardrobe, I'm not known for preaching sermons as I usually try to do what I think is right rather than tell others what they're doing wrong, I'm not actually sure what a 'crunchy life' is so I can't comment on that although it certainly sounds more interesting than a 'smooth' one. I'm sure I would tire of a clean and shiny existence as quickly as it would tire of me.

    No offence Nolasmom but Americans always seem to moan about the same things. I'm sure other Americans thinking of heading this way will take heed of your warnings and load their crates with cleaning products. Have you thought of importing them and educating the masses?

    I await re-buff.

    Taffy, I know what you're thinking and I'm sorry
    Passionate about the unfathomableness opportunities of kiwi-a-gogo-land

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    kokopeli is offline God like figure
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    Play nice now

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    Putting on a diplomatic hat here, and hiding under the table, I would say that my impression is that nolasmom (maybe or maybe not feeling a bit p***ed off and homesick) is warning other Americans that New Zealand is not some far off US state with the standards and gimmicks expected worldwide by some fellow Americans (even though we do have a lot of their tv shows here).

    Her warning is a valid one for Brits too, because Brits are used to certain standards too, e.g. heating, glazing, upright vacuum cleaners, Bisto gravy granules.

    Dawn is right in that there is a good opportunity to import and educate the masses (... well, the NZ population) on so many different products. Or supply fellow American expats like yourself. You have to start quick though, for if you stay here too long you become just as indifferent to change and progress as the rest of us (must be something in the water).

    :o)
    Last edited by Glenda; 16-11-2007 at 01:38 PM.
    Glenda
    In NZ since June 2005
    Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness - Chinese proverb

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    selchie's Avatar
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    Dawn, I think Nolasmom's warnings are useful in that they prepare folks for things they might not have thought about. Being forewarned being equipped with radius and ulna, and all that. Moving to NZ may not be anywhere near like moving to Kabul, but the little things one isn't expecting can contribute to a feeling of frustration.

    I know I'm still rather surprised at "green" NZ's slash-and-erode timber harvest practices, apparent narrow scope of recycling and nascent awareness of household energy conservation. Yes, I'm spoiled coming from eco-groovy California, but still...

    I'll just have to adjust and help with the cause.
    If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.
    - Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, mid-1800s

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