Sunday, February 5, 2017


Years ago, I was temporarily working for a company that graded standardized tests where I met a guy who was a student from New Zealand. It was the first time I ever met someone from New Zealand. I don’t even remember his name, but I do remember that once he told me in his lilting accent, “Well, I’m going to just step out a minute for a fag.” I’m pretty sure I stared at him for an embarrassingly long minute. I began to wonder if all Kiwis were so bold, but then something in the back of my mind remembered that fag was a slang term for cigarette (the perks of being well read). He saw the look on my face and confirmed what I thought was correct. Yes, we both speak English, but there are obviously clear differences that can cause some major confusion. 

The country was originally named after the Dutch province of Zeeland (Nova Zeelandia) when Abel Tasman first came across the islands. It wasn’t until the British explorer James Cook decided to Anglicize its name to what we’re more familiar with today. The Maori name for the country is Aotearoa, which loosely translates to “land of the long white cloud.”

New Zealand is located in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of Australia. It’s separated from Australia by the Tasman Sea. Directly to the south lies Antarctica, and to the north are the islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga. The International Date Line lies to the east of New Zealand. And although the country consists of the two main islands (aptly named North Island and South Island), there are several other smaller islands that are a part of the country as well. The terrain varies between mountains, rolling hills and plateaus, and beaches. They generally enjoy a temperate climate, and because of its isolation, it’s known for its biodiversity. 

The earliest people to arrive here more than likely were Eastern Polynesians. The islands were among some of the last major places to be inhabited. They actually weren’t there too long (roughly 350 years) before the first Europeans arrived. The Dutch (under Abel Tasman) were the first to arrive, and then the British (under James Cook) were to follow. Other European and North American ships stopped by; it was mostly for whale/seal hunting and trade purposes. It wasn’t always a friendly stop either; skirmishes occurred between the Maori and the foreigners. However, there was a certain amount of trade that went on between them. During the 19th century, Europeans brought Christianity to the Maoris. They also brought along diseases that the Maoris had no immunity to whatsoever. The British already had control over Australia, so it was nothing to take in New Zealand as well. It eventually became a colony and worked to become self-governing. In 1893, they became the first country in the world to actually pay attention to women’s suffrage and give them the right to vote. In the following years, they would be the first to adhere to an obligatory arbitration between the unions and employers as well as offer old-age pensions. New Zealand would become the Dominion of New Zealand in 1907 and would rule that the British could no longer legislate for the country a few decades later. Throughout the 20th century, the Maoris fought for the preservation of their culture and language as New Zealand increasingly became more Eurocentric. As the country rose to a first-world country status, it began to use its influence in world affairs.

Contrary to what many think, the capital city is not Auckland. It’s understandable to think that, though, because Auckland is the largest city. However, the capital city is the more centrally located Wellington, the southernmost national capital in the world. It’s located on the southern tip of the North Island and nestled in between Wellington Bay and the Rimutaka Mountain Range. Despite its smaller size (est. population 405,000), it’s rife with cultural arts, sports, cuisine, higher education, museums, and commerce on top of being the center for government and media. It often makes the top cities lists and coolest capital city lists. Wellington is famous as a film location for several top-grossing films such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, and King Kong.

New Zealanders use the New Zealand dollar, which is also used on a number of other islands (Niue, Tokelau, Cook Islands, and Pitcairn Islands). Their high-income economy gives them a certain amount of economic stability. Traditionally, they depended on agriculture and sea-related sectors (fishing, whaling, sealing). Because they’re an island nation, they depend on international trade, especially in food (like kiwifruit) and other agricultural products. Dairy farming and sheep farming has long been an important part of their economy, and New Zealand depends on wool as one of its major exports. The Kiwis also have a sizeable wine industry as well. 

The Anglican Church of New Zealand
Although in the past, Christianity has been a dominant religion (and still holds a historical importance for some), New Zealand has grown to be one of the most secular countries in the world. In the 2013 census, nearly 42% of the people reported not having a religion. Of those who identify as Christian, the largest denominations include Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and nondenominational Christian (along with two Maori religions that are also considered Christian: Ringatu and Ratana. And because of its location in Oceania, there are also smaller numbers of Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu populations throughout New Zealand as well. 

The vast majority of the people speak English; it’s close to Australian English with a few minor differences in vowel shifts and probably some vocabulary. During the mid-20th century, Maori were discouraged from speaking their own language in schools, businesses, and government; however, it was given the status of an official language in 1987. There are many areas where there are bilingual signs in both English and Maori. Other languages spoken here include Samoan, Hindi, “Northern Chinese,” French, and New Zealand Sign Language (which was actually included as an official language in 2006). 

That name, though.
New Zealand has long been ok with doing its own thing. It’s a great place for being outdoors, and its scenery definitely doesn't disappoint. It’s quirky and has its own weird things and list of firsts. I’ve been looking for a few reasons to move there, and here are a few of my favorites: 1) About 5% of its population are humans, and the other 95% are animals (which is good for animal-loving introverts). 2) New Zealand is one of the least corrupt countries in the world (and they don’t have Trump). 3) There are no land snakes (need I say more?). 4) No matter where you are, you’re always less than 80 miles from the sea. 5) About 1/3 of the country consist of protected national parks. 6) At one time (ok, like in 1990), the prime minister actually appointed a National Wizard (I’m somehow ok with this). 7) They are really into rugby. 8) There are no nuclear power stations. 9) The national bird and logo for the Air Force is the kiwi, a flightless bird. 10) They have places where you can stay in hotels designed to look like Hobbit houses.

Up next: art and literature

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