How to be a Kiwi — 4 tips for new citizens or adults

New Zealand may be a small country, but we hit well above our weight in the national rankings. In fact, we’re giving the competition a run for their money when it comes to things such as the ease of doing business (first place in 2019), global peace (2nd in 2019), and stamping out corruption (another gold medal in 2021). 

And our most prized achievement? Irresistible coastlines and rockfaces that can’t be matched by anyone.

So what’s our secret? Besides hitting the geographical jackpot, we uphold a strong sense of unity and social etiquette that keeps our country running like a well-oiled machine. It’s not just our laws and regulations that do the trick — it’s about our day-to-day decisions (even the trivial ones like what we put on our toast).

So whether you’re returning to your ancestral origins as a new citizen, or just entering the Kiwi world for the first time as an adult, there’s a few things you should know before joining our winning team.

Our family is growing     

The Department of Internal Affairs says that around 35,000 people are granted New Zealand citizenship every year. To add to that, thousands of us return home from extended trips abroad every month. That’s a lot of people who may need a slight nod in the right direction when it comes to Kiwi customs.     

Here are our top 4 essential know-hows to help you fit in and get your inner-Kiwi shining. How many do you follow?    

Keep things clean    

Littering is never cool around here (is it ever cool anywhere?) so be sure to clean up after yourself when out and about. Our wildlife has plenty of natural food sources and probably won’t enjoy your leftover chips anyway. Thankfully, you’ll find plenty of bins out in public and filling them up means less cleanup costs for the taxpayer (if you’re planning to work, that’s you too).  

While you’re at it, remember to recycle. We use lots of different coloured bins here depending on the material and type of rubbish, so get familiar with what each one means. It might also be worth checking the recycling guidelines as they may be different to what you’re used to. Check out the Recycle Right quiz to test your form.  

Give way to the birds

While there are all kinds of birds here, most of our native avian species prefer to walk instead of fly. Among them are the Kiwi, Takahe, and Kakapo. Always remember to give them plenty of space when approaching, especially if you're driving or cycling as they may need extra time to move away. Waiting for them to fly off will probably result in a very long wait.

Besides their lack of competent wings or dislike of gravity, you can spot our native birds by their bubbly, rounded figures and strong beaks. If you happen to find one that needs a helping hand, be sure to report it to the Department of Conservation.

Learn the language

English and Maori are the official languages of New Zealand but what most of us speak is better known as Kiwi.

Kiwi is a mix of both English and Maori combined with some odd grammar — e.g. while ‘shouting’ is a bad thing in most of the world, in New Zealand, it means to pay for someone’s drink or food. If you get asked to shout, don’t raise your voice!    

Affirmative and negative words can also be mixed up. If someone says “yeah”, they might actually mean “no”, while “nah” could mean either. It all depends on the tone of their voice and context of the conversation. Unsurprisingly, a lot of communication here is non-verbal so you’ll need to touch up on reading facial expressions or vibes.

A lot of loanwords from the native Maori language are also used in day-to-day settings. Even official government communications will use a mix of both languages so it’s good to learn some of the basics. Common Maori words include:

  • Whanau (family)
  • Tangihanga or tangi for short (a grieving process during or after a funeral)
  • Aotearoa (native name for New Zealand)
  • Kia Ora (hello)

Don’t sweat the Kiwi too much, most of it will come to you naturally over time.  

Learn to love rugby union — and don’t confuse it with rugby league

Not everyone knows the difference between the two sports, and if you’re not into sports at all then they might seem identical. But getting them confused can be kind of a big deal around here. Brash discussions about the games are fairly common so it’s worth touching up on some of the basics in case you get caught in the middle.  

Generally, rugby union is the one that New Zealand is obsessed with. Rugby league is the less popular version that we like but don’t like-like.   

If you ever find yourself in a conversation out of your league (no pun intended), just stick to supporting the All Blacks, our iconic national team. That should get you through most encounters. You can also touch up on some of the common terms and rules of the sport.

Be there for those who matter

New Zealand’s biggest asset is a population obsessed with caring and helping. For many of us, community is family and we do everything possible to look out for our kin. Whether that’s being a good mate during a time of need, keeping the environment looking sharp, or looking after our families, there’s a lot of ways you can jump on board.  

Speaking of looking after families, have you considered how your family would cope financially if you passed away unexpectedly? Learn more about how life insurance can help.