NZ Year One. Day 3

I’ve been driving as long as I legally could in the States. On my 16th birthday I went to our local DMV, took the written and practical exams and took that first horrific ID photo. Since that day I have owned 12 different cars/SUVs, been in 3 accidents and lets not start on speeding tickets. My cars have had 8 track players, cassette players, DVD players and Bluetooth connections for MP3 and wireless streaming. My first car held a bag phone with the glow-in-the-dark keypad that you only had for emergencies. My latest car has hands-free text replies through my wireless phone using voice command. I have taken countless roadtrips, travelled across state to see family and commuted to work in my cars. Family trips, ski days, hiking 14ers…..all made possible via my cars. I enjoy driving and cars have been good to me.

I come from a long line of gear heads and race enthusiasts. I have several cousins that restore classic cars or own garages. I have several cousins that race, either drag or stock car. I spent weekends watching Nascar, Indy car or Rally car races (unless the Broncos were playing football, of course). We went to car shows to see my families restorations. And I married a car geek/Nascar fan as well. I like cars. Until recently, I really had no idea how crazy American drivers are.

I know there are some that would disagree, but drivers in New Zealand are so much more civilized (generally) than in the US. I admit, I was disappointed by the low speed limits on the motorways (100 kph/62 mph) vs speeds I was used to on I-25 (75 mph/120 kph). And the tiny cars. And the expensive gas (currently at 1.80 NZD per litre or about 5 USD per gallon). However, we don’t drive nearly as much as we used to, there is little space for mid-size cars here and we don’t really use the motorways. We actually spend half what we used to monthly for gas now. And, we don’t spend half our day commuting separately anymore.

Oh yeah, New Zealand drives on the left side of the road. Did I not mention? That was a big adjustment also. But not as scary as I imagined it would be. And a big reason for that, other than reduced speeds, were the polite drivers on the roads.

One of the best pieces of advice we received from another American immigrant we talked with when we first drove here was to “just follow a car and do what they do.” Sounds a little strange, but it helped a lot in the city. Driving on the other side of the road was weird, but road signage was even more confusing. Lighted intersections have turning arrows and you can only turn on an arrow. Pedestrian crossings are marked by these black and white barbershop-striped poles with big red light-up lollipops on top. And they use weird arrows to indicate what side of the road you should be on and who has the right-of-way when 2 lane roads randommly narrow to a single lane. And roundabouts everywhere. With all these weird road rules and tons of different immigrant groups cycling through, one of two things were bound to happen: lots of road rage or hyper-vigilance. Kiwi culture is fairly passive and polite, so hyper-vigilance has won out for the most part.

At intersections, people stop and wave people in. You know those times when you try to turn across a busy street and have to wait forever for an opening? Not a problem here: drivers constantly look out for sidestreet traffic and leave them openings. And when someone lets you in, you feel the need to pass on the love. So the drive becomes one overwhelming love fest. I was shocked the first time I drove. I felt like a ginormous asshole for how I’ve been driving my whole life.

The even bigger shock? When we traveled back to the States for a wedding and we had to drive, I was honestly scared of the speeds and the massive sizes of the highways. I was panicking most of the time on the roads. We ended up using Uber as much as possible to avoid the stress. I hadn’t realized how conditioned I was to the craziness before. It was very eye-opening.

But back to Kiwi kind drivers. Not long ago, I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a young girl that wasn’t paying attention. She pushed me in to the car in front of me. I hit my head on the wheel, lost my sunglasses and was completely shaken up. We all pulled over and everyone’s main concern immediately focused on how everyone was doing. When they saw I was so shaken, both of the other drivers insisted on calling for help, helped me sit down and even ran into the grocery and grabbed me a drink. We all exchanged information and drove our cars to our next stops….the man I had been pushed into insisted on following me and made sure I got inside OK. Both drivers called that night and texted the next day to insist I get checked out for whiplash.

It was weird. But nice.

Why was it weird? I have literally had the same incident occur on Colorado twice and both times all parties involved were pissed off (one time I had to jump back in my car, lock doors and call the police). I expected people to be mean. But they weren’t. I suspect this is because insurance and healthcare are an expectation and widely socialized in New Zealand. Your premium doesn’t change because of an accident. I don’t have to pay for healthcare related to an accident. So, when people have an accident they don’t immediately freak out about unexpected costs. They make sure everyone is OK.

I don’t necessarily want to have any more accidents, but it’s good to know that if I do I won’t be punished for it financially. And that systems are in place to help me heal faster that aren’t based solely on my ability to pay.


NZ Life Posting Self Challenge

June 16 marked my one-year anniversary of arriving in New Zealand from Colorado.  I have been wanting to do a write-up of my thoughts and experiences over the past year, but I’ve been having a hard time focusing on what to write about. Once I start writing about one thought it seems to lead to another then a random tangent pops in and I’m left with a scary map of my thoughts that no one really needs to be subjected to.

So rather than try to fit it all in one post, I am going to challenge myself to something different. A post a day for four weeks; each day a post about my thoughts on life in New Zealand after living in Colorado for 36 years. I’m not saying that each post will be monumental, but I hope to get a lot of my pent-up thoughts out and give you an idea of how it feels to immigrate from the States.

Day 1

I don’t honestly know how to answer someone in New Zealand when they ask me “How do you like living here?” The short answer: it’s different and I’m still adapting. Long answer: I’m not completely sure and my feelings about it change daily. I don’t like not knowing an answer to something when asked and honestly, this question stresses me out more than I’d like to admit right now. I feel like I should be able to say quickly and definitively “I love it” (like my kids and my husband do) or “I can’t wait to leave”, but neither seems true. I’m getting comfortable with telling people “I’m still not sure” and being OK with giving that kind of non-commital response.

Of course once I give the response, I am then faced with how to field reactions to my response. Most people expect an easy positive response when they ask this question and are using it as an opening lead question to go in to another discussion entirely. And by giving my honest response, they are suddenly shoved into a more in-depth discussion than they expected. I have presented them with conversational anxiety. They look surprised, get flustered and try to avoid probing too much, but ultimately probe a bit to understand better. Which is fine. I didn’t exactly give them much to go on. Ultimately, though, I feel that I’ve somehow insulted them or their choice to live where they do. So the whole encounter ends awkwardly.

I will honestly say when I was asked this question when we first moved here I responded with “I love it” or “people are so nice” or “glad we don’t have to deal with this Trump mess”. But my initial joy at jumping in to something new has settled into the day-to-day survival we all fall in to at times. And, while most people are still very kind and nice (Kiwis give Canadians a run for their money), I’ve run into rude and mean people as well. Enough to jade me from quickly responding with this reply. And as for “not dealing with Trump”: because I am one of the few Americans around (only about 3% of immigrants to NZ are from the US annually), I am seen as the local expert to ask about American politics. Which means I end up researching more about the electoral college or impeachment laws then I ever would have back in Colorado because I get asked about it regularly. I actually carry a description of the damn electoral college system in one of my notebooks at work. I feel like I’m more of a patriot now than ever before.

We decided to move as a family because we were looking for a big change in our lives. My husband hated his job and needed to get into another pool of engineers to mix things up. I was spending too much time at my job as a nurse educator and not enough time at home. On top of that, schools in our area were focusing more and more on test scores and taking away extra curriculars like music and art. I finally snapped when the kid’s school announced they were cutting an entire recess period and lunch time down to 15 minutes so the kids had more time in the classroom and my 11 year old son was having anxiety attacks related to testing. We discussed at length what we could do and started looking at other schools in the area. Then we broadened our search to private schools and other states. And we came to the conclusion that most schools are so focused on raising young children’s test scores to gain funding that this trend was pretty much the same everywhere. And we don’t make near enough money for private school tuition.

So, we started looking at living in another country. I have a nursing license and most counties have nursing shortages, so me getting a job wasn’t a big deal. My husband had to check around regarding his work qualifications, but engineers are fairly universal as well. So, we decided we’d look for a mainly English speaking country with a warm climate to immigrate to and that pretty much narrowed down our choices to Australia or New Zealand. My husband got a job offer in New Zealand and now here we are.

Is my husband liking his job? It’s the happiest I’ve seen him at work in more than 10 years. Do I spend less time at work? Absolutely. I’ve never had better time management. And I feel less stressed and more in tune with my family. Are schools better? No. There are massive teacher shortages in Auckland and low funding for schools from the government (see the July/August edition of Metro magazine for a full discussion of issues being faced). But my kids are happier, less stressed and are enjoying school again. Both of them are experimenting with instruments right now and love the emphasis on culture and the arts that has strong support in their school.

So, do I like living in Auckland? Yes I do. I also liked living in Castle Rock, Colorado. The problems in some areas are shared in others. There is no perfect place to live, just better ways to live. And I’m still trying to figure out the best way to live my life. I just happen to be working on it in the South Pacific now.