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Cold, expensive, crap: What Brits really think of life in NZ

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 12 Jun 2024, 4:20pm

Cold, expensive, crap: What Brits really think of life in NZ

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 12 Jun 2024, 4:20pm

A British woman asking if she should move to New Zealand has been met with a flood of responses, many from expats who found life in Aotearoa was not all they had hoped for.

The mother-of-one took her question to the popular online British parenting forum Mumsnet, saying that her husband was concerned about the threat of war in the UK.

She explained they had one son who was due to start school and that her husband had been offered a very well-paying job in New Zealand but she was concerned as she had never visited and did not know anyone living here.

She said her husband’s fear of war was driven by concerns that an expansionist Russia might soon be at war with NATO but she didn’t think “a knee-jerk life-changing decision is the way forward here.

“Am I being unreasonable to want to dig my feet in about this and say no?”

If the original poster was not being unreasonable, some of the respondents arguably were.

Soon the post was filled with quick takes on the horrors (and delights) that might await a new migrant to New Zealand.

One Brit living in Auckland wrote: “Wages are s**t. Food is expensive. Houses are cold. Transport is crap.”

But surely it’s not all bad? The criticism fell into some broad categories:

Everything is expensive

“I hope it’s a great offer as it’s very expensive there. I’m from NZ and can’t afford to move back,” wrote one Kiwi expat. The cost-of-living commentary was widely echoed in the responses.

“Food is expensive. Clothes are expensive,” wrote one Brit whose family had shifted here. “Most things are imported which means they are expensive and not readily available.”

“Salaries are lower and you won’t have much spare,” another wrote.

“Our pay in NZ doesn’t go as far,” said one British transplant. “Food is really, really expensive, particularly fruit and veg. I am in the UK at the moment and food is still cheap here, in comparison.”

That'll be $300, thanks. Photo / NZME

That'll be $300, thanks. Photo / NZME

Others claimed that the cost of dental care is prohibitive compared to the UK public system, with one claiming: “Any Kiwi you meet with decent teeth is very well-to-do.”

In response, some claimed that fears of prohibitive food prices were not borne out by their experience here.

“Food is no more expensive than the U.K. now plus if you’re up north you can grow your own produce. The climate in the upper half of the north island is a lot milder, where I live it is t-shirt weather 9 months of the year. There is about double the sunshine hours too so no horrendous grey sky,” wrote the woman who seems unlikely to live in Auckland.

“I earn more in NZ so does DH (darling husband) so research your area, don’t listen to someone else,” she concluded.

“The food tastes about 70 billion times better than anything grown here in the UK,” wrote a Brit with a sophisticated palate.

It’s too far away (and it’s boring)

These were common gripes. Many complained that our remote spot in the depths of the South Pacific meant that not only were they were they too far from family, they were also without easy, affordable access to international travel.

“It’s a fecking long way from anything,” one person opined. “Which is great in some respects and terrible in others.”

“It is sooooooo far to get anywhere different. Made me really appreciate Europe. I had an amazing network of friends etc but it was quite suburban even in the city,” wrote one former NZ resident.

“I’ve been and it’s like stepping back to the 80s,” one time-traveller said. “Beautiful but a bit weird.” They did not make clear when they visited.

A beach scene in NZ, apparently recently. Picture / Moontide Collection
A beach scene in NZ, apparently recently. Picture / Moontide Collection

“It is a different lifestyle so if you don’t like doing lots of sport and outdoor things then it isn’t a country for you. While they speak mainly English and aren’t as rude/blunt as Australians the culture is still different,” one insightful commentator offered.

“Their capital city was like a town here. I felt like unless you were doing extreme sports I’d be bored,” another wrote, bluntly. “And yes, it’s expensive,” they added, twisting the knife.

“My son lives in Auckland. We went for an extended visit/holiday, & we were bored - and that’s the city!” one grumbler wrote.

“He likes it there, but he was a boring old fart when he was a teenager,” the loving parent added.

NZ has earthquakes

“New Zealand has earthquakes,” wrote one person in a brief response. Others made the same point. To be fair, it’s a good one.

The weather

Brits, like Kiwis, love to talk about the weather. To the obvious delight of Britons on Mumsnet, a discussion of weather in New Zealand meant having the ability to discuss the climate outside and inside the home.

Our homes were described as “freezing” and “damp” and many complained of feeling cold inside their homes here.

Kiwis will feel this one, deep in their bones.

Even those of us fortunate enough to now live in a well-insulated home will remember time spent in freezing flat where mould runs rampant. But some of the criticism was a little silly.

Children and the elderly often pay the worst health costs associated with cold, damp, mouldy homes. Photo / File
Children and the elderly often pay the worst health costs associated with cold, damp, mouldy homes. Photo / File

“If you get invited to someones house in winter, you have to take an extra jumper and socks as you will likely be chilly. Most houses have heat pumps, but they aren’t that great tbh,” one rugged-up respondent wrote.

“The houses don’t have heating,” one misinformed Brit wrote, likely because NZ overwhelmingly does not have central heating (unlike the UK),

They were kind enough to add: “It doesn’t get as cold in the winter”.

Bringing a plate?

There was a genuine moment of cross-cultural confusion when one Briton took aim at the proud Kiwi tradition of ‘bringing a plate’.

We might think it reduces pressure on the host, adds a communal air to events and offers the opportunity to feel superior about one’s own scones. One Brit disagreed.

“Typically, when most people invite you over to their house you have to ‘bring a plate’ as the host can’t afford to cater for all those that they have invited,” they wrote, the point flying over their head at speed.

They were swiftly put in place but multiple Kiwis and British expats, with one writing: “Honestly, what a load of friggen nonsense.

“Out of all the drivel and misconceptions spouted on this thread about NZ, this one is particularly annoying. Kiwis will be bring a plate for numerous reasons - respect for host, the sharing of kai, sharing the workload to name a few reasons. Your ascertain that the ‘bring a plate’ tradition is because a host can’t afford to cater is quite frankly rude and insulting.”

But other Brits also felt that New Zealand wasn’t particularly welcoming to their kind, despite our shared language, head of state, system of laws, popular sports, love of aforementioned scones etc.

Even Kiwi politicians bring a plate. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Even Kiwi politicians bring a plate. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Some wrote that there was an “anti-English” sentiment in New Zealand that had seen them struggle to find employment.

Others disputed this, gently pointing out to those complaining that they should not expect a ‘little England’ when they arrive.

“Culturally it is very different to the UK, and its history is increasingly viewed from a less Anglocentric perspective, which some migrants from the UK find quite challenging,” one wrote, with shade.

“The culture is different, it’s not 1950s Britain or England with beaches,” a British expat mum wrote.

“There is a strong Māori and Pasifika influence and kids are learning to speak te reo Māori and do kapa haka etc (I think this is amazing).”

‘A crackpot reason’

Many took issue with the initial reason for the question, asking why she was even entertaining her husband wishes to move because of the threat of war.

“Your DH (darling husband) should not confuse desperate Tory Party electioneering and Daily Mail scaremongering as a ‘threat of war’ which necessitates emigrating,” one wrote.

“That’s a crackpot reason to move to the other side of the world with zero connections to a place you’ve never been. I wouldn’t be entertaining the idea and I’d be getting him therapy for his distorted fears,” another put more directly.

“Sounds like he should address his fears with calm and logic, rather than drag his family to the Southern Hemisphere in a panic,” another said.

Sensibly, one person wrote that Mumsnet might not be the best place to seek advice.

“Go and see the country for yourself as it is now instead of reading opinions about NZ that were formed twenty years ago,” they wrote.

“Or join a forum for people who live there or are planning to move there and read up-to-date information from people who are there now.”

Another offered a cautionary tale.

“There was a British family in the 70s who became freaked out about the possibility of war, especially nuclear. And decided to move somewhere remote, to keep their children safe.

“They moved to....

“The Falklands.”

Chris Marriner is an Auckland-based journalist covering trending news and social media. He joined the Herald in 2003 and previously worked in the Herald’s visual team. He is an Englishman by birth, a New Zealander by descent and lives in a very warm house, thank you very much.

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