Well, it has been just over 2 weeks in New Zealand. The second week was much different than the first – less exploring (in a touristy sort of way) and more practical settling (e.g. looking at cars, shopping for things for the flat, trying to figure out how to get from here to there while staying on the other side of the road).
We hit some culture shock this week. In my brief personal experience, culture shock seems to be a situation in which you encounter a way of doing things that is different than the way you are used to doing them. It seems to be a bigger shock when you hit something about which you did not even realize you had a belief about. The more automatic a behavior is, the more jarring it can be when the way you are trying to do something doesn’t seem to fit with the new culture in which you are trying to operate. For me, it has been a gradual collection of little things that led to me feeling more irritable and pissy this week. I’ll go through a few of the glitches, as examples. The details may be a bit boring, but it is the details which reveal the lack of fit between different ways of doing things.
In New Zealand, any internet use is gauged in terms of the amount of data you intend to use. For instance, my mobile (cell phone contract comes with complimentary internet use, but I had to choose between different plans based on how many gigs of data I wanted to use. I had no idea how much data I used in the States. I was told that using skype uses up a lot of data. I got an upper end plan and I haven’t run out of minutes, although I am still trying to figure out how to use the internet effectively on my phone. I also got a mobile internet stick for my laptop.
[An aside, we had been planning on staying in a hotel efficiency for two months until all our belongings arrived. We spoke with my new boss about some different places that we could gradually check out to live in. We took the bus back toward downtown from my work place in Panmure and we stopped in a suburb (which is technically in the city of Auckland, unlike suburbs in the US that are separate cities) and we stopped in with a realtor who gave us a list of places. We walked down to the first one and were standing on the street looking up at the beautiful second floor flat when, lo and behold, the owner of the place looked down, out the window, and waved us up. It turns out she was waiting to show the place to someone else. We hit it off and talked about having shared relatives in Minnesota. So, we ended up getting the flat that day. We then had to contend with the fact that we have no furniture for two months, but that is another story. The moral of this story is that plans change and each time a plan changes there is a ripple effect that changes many of the earlier plans you have made.]
Since we were originally planning to live in the hotel efficiency, I got the mobile internet stick on a month to month basis. Since we had free, unsecure internet at the hotel, I got a lower data plan on the stick, since I thought I would just use it for any secure needs, like checking bank balances and paying bills. Well, once we moved into the flat, we didn’t have any internet, so we were using the stick and now it has reached its data limit for the month. We have been trying to get internet service at our flat, but this has been a long, involved procedure. Mary Pat was trying to get internet without a landline, but she kept hitting problems with this. (In general, things are more expensive in New Zealand and we keep having to adjust to this. It would be nice if I could give side by side comparisons at this point, but I have to admit that my mind has been unable to hold all these variables in place. Suffice it to say that our phone plan with a certain upper end internet data use is NZ$100, about US$70, that is the base rate and then there are various, byzantine charges depending on where you are calling. Right now we can call a landline in the US for NZ$2 for 60 minutes, we can then hang up and call again for another $2 for an additional 60 minutes, but if we call a US cell phone, it is something like 35 cents a minute). Eventually, she did arrange a landline and internet through Vodafone. Again, though, we had to choose how much data we wanted on our internet plan. As I am writing these things, I realize that to the reader, this could sound like me complaining about the routine hassles of life. My point is that in another culture, the routine hassles of life takes on new meaning because each routine hassle takes 5-10 times more energy because you have to figure out what everyone else here takes for granted. When I was explaining to Brendan, our friend at Vodafone, that in the US there are no data limits on internet use, he couldn’t understand it and kept asking questions about whether this was just a deluxe plan. The concept of unlimited internet usage did not fit his view of how internet services worked, just as our view of internet services doesn’t fit the way things work in New Zealand.
A break from this. Right now, I am sitting at my favourite café to read or work at. It has a second floor. I look up and see part of Rangitoto Island, which is a common view around Waitemata Harbour in Auckland. I can see a couple of kites against a mostly cloudy sky, some watercolour-like patches of grey, some white fluffy, a couple of patches of bright blue. There are a few evergreens across the street. My favourite is a tall, sparse pine, I am assuming it is a pine, but I am not sure. It is a conifer, but it has long, thick, finger-like “needles” that seem to like to reach upward. There are a few pigeons flying around. I have seen a number of more exotic birds, although they seem to be fairly common here. One variety is a Pukeko, I might not be spelling that correctly. It is a bird about the size of a duck, with longer legs, that walks like a chicken, and has a blue head, quite a pretty bird, I have seen it on various New Zealand tourist items. I have seen a couple of herons, white-faced, I think. A couple of Kingfishers, which I quite like. Yesterday we saw a couple of varieties of oyster-catcher-like birds, one type all black with a long, curved orange beak, the other, pretty similar except it has a white breast and underbelly. There are some large crow/magpie looking birds that have an off-key, humorous song. We’ve seen a few of the New Zealand goldfinches which have a red head. I have also seen a few little greenish coloured birds that have prominent eyes, like a vireo, but smaller, maybe a Rifleman? I haven’t done much reading or identifying on the birds. As in the US, pigeons and English Sparrows are the predominant birds. Close behind are a couple of thrush-like birds that seem to be in the Robin-niche. One variety has white splashes on its wings when it flies, the other doesn’t. They look similar enough that maybe they are male and female of the same species?
I am not sure if I have commented on the weather. It is winter here, but that means maybe 45-65 degrees F, (7.5 – 17.5 C). The first week we were here, it didn’t rain at all, and we were kind of surprised and perplexed by that. Since then, it has been grey and rainy for the majority of the time, but even so, there are periods of sun most days. Yesterday it didn’t rain at all. The day before it was sunny and rainy, sometimes at the same time. One rainbow, so far, but this type of sun and rain would lead one to expect that they are common here. The thing that is different here (aside from it being beautiful and green in the winter, and that there is water and hills everywhere) is that people are in relationship with the outdoors in a way that they are not in the US. Even in a light rain people are continuously walking along the beach. All the restaurants and cafes here have French doors or large windows that are open, even during the rain. (I had spoken with an American physician who lives in Northland, a couple of hours North of Auckland, and she said she wasn’t used to being cold indoors and spent her first winter miserable and cold the whole time).
I have bought some outdoor, moisture-wicking undershirts that seem to help. You have to be prepared that you might get wet and when you stop in a store or restaurant that the doors may be open, even if it is 50 degrees F and damp outside. Even when you go home, there is no central heat, no storm windows, and places where you can see the outdoors through gaps in the windows. There doesn’t seem to be a concern about keeping the outdoors out and the indoors in. I am gradually getting used to this. Mary Pat is probably getting tired of me quoting something I heard on the radio in the US that I liked, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just being improperly dressed.” In New Zealand, I have read that if you complain about the weather, people will say, “stop your whining and put on another jumper.” I have learned that a “jumper” is a pull-over sweater. People will comment on how bad the weather has been, but they still leave the shop door open. I have seen a couple of people at work wearing fingerless gloves. The attitude seems to be to adjust to the reality of the environment instead of trying to adjust the environment to suit you. I spoke with an Indian cab driver who has a brother in Michigan. This brother was explaining that in Michigan, you can stand in your shirtsleeves looking out at snow and freezing weather and still be quite warm. It seemed like a strange concept to the cab driver as well as to his brother, a unique experience to see the cold and not to feel it.
Tomorrow is my first day of work. I am excited about it, but it is also sad that this time of transition of not working for the past couple months is coming to an end. In some ways the big adventure seems like it is over. I know that is not true in some ways, but in some ways it is. That is what this past week has been more about, settling in to a place. There will still be plenty of exploring and learning ahead, but it will be from a more stable home base and not from a place of being a wanderer.