Top 10: Immediate Differences I Noticed Returning to the States from New Zealand

Recently I became patriated back in the United States and lost my ex-pat status. Having lived in New Zealand for three years, while gaining professional development in my field, I was the outsider. There were some obvious things that changed about my everyday life once acclimating to the Kiwi lifestyle. Little driving here, little change in cuisine there, you get the idea. NOW, after coming back to my home country, the Motherland if you will, the Red, White, and the True…Gun toting, freedom speaking, manifested country, where if you look at our current election process proves that truly anything is possible in this land of promise (good or bad), I take note to the things that immediately stand out to me…in comparison. For your enjoyment, here is the Top 10 VERY different things about the two countries that I quite immediately noticed in my first week back. [I want to offer a DISCLAIMER that this is observational humor, try not to take too much offence to it. Also, this is true about the cities of Montgomery, IL, Aurora, IL, and parts of Naperville, IL as is the direction of my writing today.]

10. Accents

This was the first real thing that hit me coming back. You would think, “Eric, you’re an American. Our accent should not surprise you.” You would be right. The accent didn’t really surprise me, it was something else. I was attending a Josh Garrels concert a few days after coming back, and I was sitting in the auditorium when I noticed that I was not the only American voice in the din. For three years, I was the American. If in New Zealand I overheard an American in a crowd, it excited me! I went over to them and struck up a conversation about how they came to be in New Zealand, where they were staying, etc. The accent was special…unique. So was I. I’ll put it to you like this: You know how some women in America love a foreign accent? It was kind of like that, but now reversed. People made me say words just to hear how they sounded coming out of my mouth. It was bizarre at first, but it ended up being kinda cool. Now, I looked around, listening to all the Americans at this concert in Wheaton, IL thinking, “I’m no longer the only American in the room. I’m surrounded. This is no longer unique. Hmm.” SIDE NOTE: I also noticed at this concert…how loud we all are. For a long time (and even still…), I was the loud one in the room. But man, I just became attuned to so many loud, obnoxious, shameless people. For some reason, I heard WAY more Valley Girl dialects as well. Gag.

9. Gas is cheap….actually, clothing is cheap…also electronics are cheap…EVERYTHING IS CHEAP.

It’s true. If you’ve ever been outside the country, you know that things can get a bit pricy out there. But when I came back and gas was $1.29 per gallon, which equates to about 56 cents per liter…I was shocked. Apparently there is some fun stuff happening with our country providing its own gas now, leaving middle eastern countries in the cold and driving competition WAY up. I think I remember that competition is good in Economics class. Sweet! Clothing. Oh man. I’ll agree with you who know American clothing. Some of the clothing is cheap and not very well made. But I have noticed that there is some very good clothing made here that is not expensive at all. More and more people are getting into “U.S.A Made” products and textiles, which in my opinion is awesome. We should start taking more pride in this countries efforts and bring some more jobs back to our own. All in all, I’m noticing a vast difference in price, even with the exchange rate. Yes, some of the price difference is because things get shipped to NZ, but still. This leads me to number eight.


Oh my Lord. I have so missed Amazon. Also, GET AWAY AMAZON! Too easy is it to buy vintage leather toiletry bags and a bundle of my favorite DVD’s, but also beard oil! No longer will I succumb to your tempting offers to also buy an add-on cedar scented candle with the sea sponge loofah. It stops now. Also, I never want it to stop. Amazon…you do you. And keep offering me free shipping.

7. No cafés

Where there are an abundance of cafés to choose from in NZ, almost too many, there just aren’t any in a good distance of your immediate location here. That to say, there are cafés around, but you’d have to drive there. The point of a local café is that it is proximate and offers a good selection of coffee and cabinet treats to get you on your way. They really are delightful in a way that you really take for granted. This leads well into my next observation.

6. Good Coffee

Right here, right now, know that I am not a coffee person. This being said, I have to tell you that the best coffee I have ever tasted was in NZ. My friend, who is a coffee fanatic, traveled across areas of Europe…including Italy, America, and other countries, and has sworn by NZ standards of coffee. For some reason, Kiwi’s decided, “Hey, yeah, we’re going to be the best in the world at this.” And that’s what they’ve done. They just get it. I don’t know how or why, but personally, I think they are coffee wizards. Magic. Dark Roast Magic. So if you go there, get Supreme Coffee. Now. America. Not bad, just not as good. Again, I’m not a coffee guy, but I’ve had enough to know. Leading neatly into quality vs. plain.

5. Industrial Everything

New Zealand is known for it’s mom and pop shops. Little places that open up and might be gone in a year, or might stick around for a lifetime, depending on their appeal with the surrounding community. NZ is known for having a variety of these kinds of places open up and about 80% don’t end up thriving and eventually shut down. Still, this environment gives you the blessing of choice. You could eat at a different Indian restaurant everyday for a month. You could also do this with Chinese, korean, mexican, tapas, burgers, you name it. Then you have unique pop up’s like Vietnamese, Southern St. Louis cooking, and authentic American diners. It’s incredible. When I came back I noticed that we have plenty of choice, but it felt so industrial, concrete, and plain. Restaurant chains were very common, as were shopping malls, strip malls, fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and long highways connecting it all. If I had to try and describe it, there just didn’t feel like there was any culture in it. These areas were constructed for convenience, but devoid of any individuality, any…pride. That’s what I liked about small shops. You found someone in there who fought, sweat, and bled for their dreams. Again, this exists in America, ABSOLUTELY, it just wasn’t the impression I got when coming back.

4. Music

In New Zealand, you are going to expect some different types of music. I definitely heard more Pacifica music than I ever had in the states. I kinda liked some of it…enough to make a mix-playlist for the return back home. I’m not sure if I’ll ever hear the soothing tones of Stan Walker singing over the radio to Aotearoa from the beaches of Piha, but it will always fondly remind me of another time in my life.

3. Banking is Getting better…but

I’ve never really been too impressed with the banking infrastructure in the United States, but when I went to New Zealand…I got a dose of how this can be done better. Not only are the banks in general better at getting back to you and helping you with your problems and not charging you weird fees, BUT their “pay-and-go” system is incredible. They have a thing called EFTPOS or electronic funds transfer at point of sale. This allows you to pay very quickly. We pretty much have this too. But, they have “Pay Wave” allowing you to, when prompted, place your card next to the machine and pay with a beep. You’re done! That’s it! So simple and so hassle free. On top of that, their mobile banking is second to none. Because the banks communicate with each other fairly well, I can pay any of my friends via my phone, even if they have a different bank than me. I just type the amount, and send it. It’s like the money never left their pocket. This came in handy when we saw a movie together and ordered tickets online, or when we paid for a meal after eating out together. Seamless. SIDE NOTE: You can order seats in a theater for movies. How genius is that?! No more waiting in line. I’m gonna miss that.

2. Cars are HUGE

I will say this. Maybe there is less demand for a massive truck in New Zealand (definitely not true on the farms), but you just don’t see massive trucks, especially with 6 wheels on said truck’s axels. You don’t. Neither Hummers, massive Expeditions, Escalades, or whatever massive car you can fill in the gap with. You do see a lot of Land Rovers though. Hmm. Anyway, we like it big here in the good ol’ U.S of A. and I’ve known for a while now that this love permeates into food, clothing sizes, houses, and yes gas guzzling cars. I guess it was just a little bit of a shock how many more massive cars there are here compared to NZ. Which leads me in a car related note to my final and most passionate observation.

1. Aggressive Driving

Some who know me, whether in NZ or the U.S., know that I can be a bit of an offensive driver. I take turns quickly, zip into an opening when I see it, and pass cars faster than some would like. Growing up on I-88, I-294, I-355 and the formerly dreaded 80/94, I had to learn how to make some decisive decisions. Out there, if you don’t make a choice quickly, you get passed up. Sometimes and indecisive driver can cost someone their life. When I moved to New Zealand, I was told to “chill out.” There is no need to drive this way. And they were right, there wasn’t. New Zealand has bad drivers, as any country will, but what I noticed was a vastly different driving culture. Let’s take merging for our primary example. “Merge like a ZIP!” The catchphrase will be written on a road sign and burned into everyone’s memories growing up in NZ. Drivers over there know how to merge and let people in, taking turns and not getting self righteous when someone needs to get in. It’s beautiful people. For three years, I had an incredible merging driving culture. In the second day back in the country, I went out to do some errands, as you do. I turn right on red into a two lane road with traffic in the left lane and me in the right lane. The road quickly turns into a merging one lane road. I indicate to the other cars in the left lane that I want to come in. The car just behind me on the left speeds up, blocking off my way in. Naturally I’m a bit mad about that, but I wait for him to pass so that I can get in. It’s what happens next that sends me into the deep, dark pit of “bad-driving-habits.” A hole reserved for foul mouthed sailors and vindictively colorful sign language. The car behind the car who sped up saw that I was trying to get into his lane. He also saw the car in front of him speed up to block off my entrance. I can only assume the man had a brain aneurysm and this caused his foot to jam on the accelerator because he ALSO sped up to block me off. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. I am now driving through a “right turn only” lane…because I had no other choice, the two cars pass me. As they glide blissfully by, singing the tune “Penny Lane” in their stupid cars, they would get a front row view of my window…displaying a most offensive bird attached to my hand. Was I proud immediately after I did it. Sorta…yeah. Then shock settled in. I had NEVER done that to anyone before. I had never in my life been so enraged by another driver’s actions. Something spoiled me in NZ when everyone merged so well, no matter what. Most kiwis are probably thinking, “Well, that guy is probably pooping in his pants and is racing to the nearest porcelain refuge. I guess I’ll let him in.” But really, it’s because they’re decent human beings. Godbless kiwi merging.

So that’s it, the Top 10 Immediate Differences I Noticed Returning to the States from New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed that. If you did, check out some of my more impassioned writing on the home page labeled “BEST OF THE BLOG”. Enjoy.