Getting Used to the Culture of New Zealand

Posted by:
16 Mar 2016

New Zealand is a mix of cultures and ethnicities so you might find the way we act, socialise and do business is a quite different to what you are used to in your own country. Your New Zealand study experience is a great opportunity to learn and immerse yourself in a new culture so don’t forget to keep an open mind!


Kiwi manners
New Zealanders are friendly, relaxed, informal people. It’s easy to start up a conversation and quickly become friends with someone. We like to embrace different cultures and people, especially because many of our own communities are so diverse. When you first meet someone, the usual greeting is to say hello and shake hands. Some Maori people like to hongi (briefly press noses). It’s usual to be on a first name basis with everyone you meet, and equality is encouraged between everyone – we were the first country in the world to allow women to vote, and we take pride in allowing everyone to have equal opportunities.

We like to be polite – please and thank you are used a lot, and in relaxed conversations between friends we often say “no worries” or “sweet as”. Modesty is a big part of New Zealander’s personalities too, people don’t like to boast about their achievements or wealth, but have great national pride and will be open about their love for New Zealand, its beautiful landscape – and possibly rugby!


Food and drink
The majority of socialising in New Zealand is done with or around food. New Zealanders like to be hospitable, and enjoy sharing food and a drink with visitors. If you’re invited to someone’s home for a meal, it’s polite to bring a gift of chocolate or wine.

If you’re asked to bring a plate to a gathering, don’t turn up with an empty plate! You’re being asked to bring a plate of easily sharable food to add to the feast. Before eating, some people may like to say a karakia (a prayer). This is similar to the Christian tradition of grace and it’s polite to wait until everyone has something on their plate before you start eating, unless told otherwise. It’s important to let your hosts know beforehand if you have any medical, dietary or religious needs on certain foods.



The legal age for buying and drinking alcohol in New Zealand is 18 years old. Many people enjoy going to pubs or bars to drink and socialise, especially after they’ve finished work. If someone says they’re going to shout you a drink, they won’t be yelling at your beverage – “shouting” is a slang term for buying drinks for someone else or a group of people. Sometimes people buy “rounds” where one person pays for the first lot of drinks, the next person for the next lot, and so on. It’s polite to buy someone a drink if they have done so for you but don’t be shy if you are on a budget – many people talk about the “rules” of the night out and everyone just pays for their share of the food or drink.


Smoking cigarettes is less common in New Zealand now and can only to be done in designated outside areas. Some public places (like parks and hospitals) have smoking restrictions or allocated areas where people are allowed to smoke. Some places are entirely Smoke Free – so check before lighting up and consider the other people around you.


Socialising and getting out and about
New Zealanders love to socialise, get out of the home and enjoy others’ company. Here are some quick tips to make the most of meeting new people and some basic practices to understand:

  • New Zealanders like people with a good sense of humour, and don’t like to be too serious, especially with friends.
  • If you’re less confident using English or don’t understand a particular word, or part of the conversation, just say so - Kiwis like to help.
  • When you first meet people, don’t talk about personal things like money, religion or their age (especially for older women).
  • New Zealanders like to be punctual, or a bit early to whatever they are invited to.
  • Unless you’re very good friends with someone, New Zealanders like their personal space, so it’s good practice to stand a few feet away. If people are in a relationship they may show affection in public, such as kissing, holding hands or embracing.
  • When walking down the street, walk on the left side of the sidewalk, and don’t take up the whole path if you’re with a group of friends. Be considerate and make room for those who may be in more of a hurry by moving to the side.



No matter what or who a holiday is for, New Zealanders love to celebrate. Along with the usual observances like Christmas, New Year and Easter some events or holidays people like to celebrate include:

  • Matariki (Maori New Year)
  • The Chinese New Year
  • Regional anniversary days
  • Chinese Lantern Festival
  • Japan Day
  • Pacific Island festivals
  • Holi Festival
  • A number of film festivals
  • Music festivals and concerts from around the world
  • Hundreds of food festivals
  • And more!


Unwritten rules
There are some other “unwritten rules” and things you might find helpful to know about:

  • Take your shoes off before entering someone’s home, unless told otherwise
  • Do not sit on tables, or pillows used for sleeping
  • Do not spit, belch or break wind in public
  • Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of people not wearing shoes in public
  • Brunch is a common thing –  usually eaten late morning so it counts as breakfast or lunch, or both
  • Not a lot of things are planned – people just “go with the flow”


We hope this helps you become accustomed to how Kiwis (the people, not the animals) act and live, and hope you join in too!


Photo credits:
New friends by Bournagain, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Pot luck party by kangotraveler, CC-BY-2.0