What I’ve learned about Auckland in one month

I’m falling fast for my new home Auckland. Since I’ve been in here for one month (and 4 days), I think it’s fair to blog about what I’ve learn about this city from an expat point of view. I read a lot about NZ and its people, but there are things that I just couldn’t comprehend until I saw them in person.

  1. Door knobs here are very high. I thought it was just the design of my house initially, but I soon realized it’s just what they do here as I’ve seen the same in friends’ houses too. Usually in HK or US buildings. Door knobs are placed at about waist height. (I’m 5’5″.) Here, they are almost at shoulder height for a short person.
  2. No locks for bedroom doors. At first I thought perhaps my landlords designed it this way for some purpose, but I went to a friend’s place and noticed the same thing! What’s up with that? Kiwis don’t need privacy? Fortunately there are locks in bathrooms. 
  3. There’s vomit everywhere on Queen Street on friday nights. I almost stepped on some (eww). I never really went out as much when I was back home. I guess it’s not unique to Auckland?
  4. Drinks here are surprisingly cheap. Everything here is expensive to me, so when I went out for the first time and ordered a mocktail for NZ$6 (once for only NZ$4!). It blew my mind, but when I told me Kiwi friends about that, they all told me they thought drinks are expensive. I guess in HK we are used to thinking drinking is a luxury?
  5. Coffee is cheap too. If you want to buy a bottle of water from anywhere but a supermarket, expect to fork out about NZ$2.5. Yup, just a bottle of water. However, you may be able to get a nice cup of cappuccino for NZ$3.5 or even NZ$3 at a cafe (they are everywhere). Coffee is a much better deal by comparison. 
  6. Don’t worry about fashion. No one cares. There are pros and cons to that. Decent fashion chains like H&M and Zara don’t exist in New Zealand. Most of my Kiwi friends have never heard of them. There are some fancy local boutiques on High Street and New Market, but I don’t think a broke PhD can afford that. They only affordable fashion chains here are like Cotton On and Glassons, which hardly interest me. The lack of fashion scene here is always a good topic to break the ice with any European. I’m glad I’ve set my expectation pretty low to begin with and bought A LOT before I came. It does help me save though, and frankly speaking, people here are just so down-to-earth. They don’t really care about what you wear (but I have standards!)
  7. Everyone needs an electric blanket. Whenever I tell people I’m freezing every night, I get the “but you lived in Iowa” response. I need to set the record straight. In cold places in North America, most homes have heat! Here, most don’t. Some may have fireplaces, but I believe the majority of the people just layer up at home or sleep with their electric blankets on at 1.
  8. Never buy anything that is not on sale. I repeat. NEVER. Things are insanely marked up here. You need to be patient as the prices come down quite frequently. If you want someone that is not on sale, just wait. Chances are in like 2-3 weeks it will be 40%-50% off, but after the sale period it goes up again. Unlike in HK it just keeps coming down.
  9. Sistema is now my favorite NZ brand. Sistema is like the Kiwi version of Tupperware. It makes very good microwave products, and they are sold in many countries at much higher prices. I already own two microwave noodle bowls and one smoothie travel tumbler. They are very very cheap when they are on sale. 
  10. Burgerfuel makes the best burgers in the world. I had McDonald’s a lot at home because it is just so cheap and convenient. In Auckland they also have KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s and Carl’s Jr. Fast food here isn’t as cheap as in HK, so I had no intention to try. One day I was with a friend and I needed to get a quick dinner. He took me to Burgerfuel, a Kiwi home grown burger chain. At first I was shocked at how expensive it was–NZ$10 for the cheapest burger! There really isn’t a combo option. You may well spend NZ$15 on a fast food meal. I thought I was getting ripped off until I took my first bite. It was soooooo good! Even though Burgerfuel is a fast food joint, it serves gourmet burgers made with NZ ingredients, and the sweet potato chips are just divine. Since I’m a broke student, I need to limit myself to one visit a week.
  11. Lemon, Lime and Bitters is my new go-to drink. When I was in HK, I almost never drank, except with I was with my wine expert friends who love drinking wine expensive to pay for my tuition because I felt rude not to accept their offers. When I did go out, I usually ordered mocktails or Bailey’s with milk. Turns out Kiwis aren’t big on cocktails. I’ve been to a couple places where the barmen just told me they couldn’t make cocktails, so I had to order Bailey’s with milk even though I didn’t want alcohol. My solution finally emerged when a school friend told me she usually got this thing called Lemon, Lime and Bitters when she didn’t feel like drinking. The good thing is it is served everywhere! It doesn’t taste exceedingly good, and it’s sugar content is pretty high, but I normally only get one drink, so I think it’s still better than alcohol. 
  12. Kiwis are very casual about manners. I had heard of the bare feet phenomenon before I came. It’s chilly now cuz it’s wintertime in the Southern hemisphere, so I don’t see that everywhere, but I did see three kids walking on the street without shoes in Devonport once. I’ve also seen many people put their feet on the desks/coffee tables in common areas/offices/lodges, sometimes without their shoes neither! Like they own the place! My mom had always found my flip-flop everywhere policy bizarre when I was in the States. She would be dumbfounded by what they do here.

Yes, things are very different here, but I’ve learned to keep an open mind and just enjoy my new found freedom and friendships. I’m loving my new life, and I hope I’ll always be this happy!


About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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