Monday, May 14, 2007

Good Riddance

In a lame attempt to alleviate at least a little of the sadness about going home, I've decided to dwell on all the things I hate about New Zealand. True, it would probably be more productive and healthy to focus on all the things I love about America, but it's always easier to complain.

Crap Technology
Okay, this isn't completely true, but at least compared to the US, New Zealand is a little behind the times. Not so far behind that I'm in a complete state of deprivation; it wasn't like living in Kenya where I gave everyone my snail mail address and made two phone calls in three months. More like five years behind. So I can see the future--high speed internet, wi-fi, color cell phones--but it's just out of reach. Peter already wrote a blog about living in the internet doldrums, and I've already talked about my annoyance with expensive cell phones and stupid text messages, so I'll just leave it at that.

Lack of Mexican Food
I think I've discussed this before, but proper Mexican food is nowhere to be found. You can find Mexican food, but it's pretty much shopping mall food court quality at fancy restaurant prices. I can make better Mexican food myself. And I have. And I have gotten friends hooked on Mexican rice and quesadillas (which they still can't pronounce). But I still fantasize about taquerias and fresh guacamole and tamales and even about Qdoba and Taco Bell when I'm really desperate. On the other hand, I'm sure I'll get back to the US and immediately start wondering why there aren't Turkish kebab stands and Malaysian restaurants on every corner. I've gotten really hooked on laksa.

Road Signage
On long-distance trips, I like knowing how much farther I have to go at any given time, so I love American interstates with mile markers. These do not occur on New Zealand roads. You sometimes get signs that say how many kilometres left until whatever city, but you have to hope you're going to that city. And those signs can be few and far between. I quickly got used to tracking distance on my own odometer.

Also annoying is that signs never point you north, south, east, etc. They point you toward a place. So when you drive around Auckland, you're sweet if you know that going toward Manukau means going south or that you need to go through Three Kings to get from the airport to my house in Kingsland, but if not good luck. Similarly, driving around the country you need to know the geography of towns to know if you're going in the right direction, and it can be especially confusing when multiple roads lead to your destination. There are numerous ways to get from, say, Hokitika to Nelson, and if you don't know that you want to take a certain highway, you'll pass numerous signs that point you toward towns that are near Nelson, but not quite where you're going. Ugh.

"Good On You"
I've adopted or at least gotten used to most Kiwi slang, but I really hate this phrase. I hate it even more when it's used to refer to a third party i.e. "Good on him". I don't know what it is, but I just hate it.

Baskets at Supermarket Checkouts
When you take a basket to do your grocery shopping, at some point you have to put it back. You unload your groceries on to the checkout, and then put your basket... Well, in the US there's a little bin for them right at the beginning of the checkout, before the conveyor belt. In New Zealand it's after the checkout. So you have to unload your groceries, then hold on to your basket while you pay, take your bags, etc. and then put it at the end of the checkout lane. Or you have to unlaod your groceries, walk around the other people in the queue, put your basket down, and then walk past them again to get back to your place. It drives me crazy every single time. It's not hard to put a little basket corral at the beginning of a checkout, and just think of the increased efficiency.

Poor Customer Service
Maybe I have been a bit spoiled by working at organisations that place a high value on quality customer service, but see what you think of this story: When I was looking for plane tickets back to the US for the wedding in October, I figured it would be cheaper and easier to go through a Kiwi travel agent than use an American website. I asked three travel agents for quotes. One called me back the next day with a quote and when I asked if there were any other dates/times that might change the price, it took her two days to get back to me to say that no, there was no difference. I went into a store, but it took the agent too long to look anything up while I was there, so she called me a few days later with a potential itinerary. When I asked if there was any way to get into Detroit earlier in the day, she said no, that there was only one LAX-DTW flight, as if the direct flight was the only possible way to get between the two airports. A third travel agent was also unable to find flight info while I was sitting in the store, so he took my contact info and then never called. Eventually I spent about 30 minutes checking some American travel websites and ended up with a better itinerary AND price than any of the travel agents had found.

This story has not, unfortunately, been an exception to the customer service rule. In America I'm used to speed and options, and then speediness in finding more options. I want choice, and I want it now.

Excessively Friendly Customer Service
This is not to say that the travel agents weren't lovely people. Kiwis are nice. Very nice. Incredibly nice. Ridiculously nice. So I believe the poor customer service I've encountered is not a reflection of being uncaring or uninterested, but rather just a reflection of the slower pace of life. People are not in a hurry to quote you airfares, nor are they in a hurry to do much else. I, on the other hand, am an American and am always in a hurry. When I go shopping, I like to get in and out and be on my way. Kiwi shopkeepers, no matter whether they're at souvenir shops, the petrol station, or the corner dairy, like to chat. They want to know who you are, where you're from, why you're here. They want to show you things in the store and tell you stories about themselves. There's no used car salesman feel to it; they're not trying to chat you up just to get you to buy something. They just want to talk, and they're truly interested in what you have to say. But I don't want to talk. I want to have a look around, decide if I want anything, and move on. I feel bad cutting off the conversation, but as a cold, unfeeling American I get confused and uncomfortable when people are warm and friendly and genuine. I guess this is not so much something I should hate about New Zealand as something I should hate about myself.

I know this isn't a very long list; I've had a lot of trouble even coming up with these things. It seems I've developed a serious love for this country, so even the hate-able things mostly come with caveats about how they're really blessings in disguise. I don't know whether that's a good or bad sign, but it's definitely a sign that there will be a bit of adjustment period when I get back to the US.

1 comment:

JNelson said...

Thank you Geetha, for bringing us along on your Ausi/Kiwi travels. I've thoroughly enjoyed catching up on your blog to see where you were and what you've encountered each month. Many of it bringing back memories and much of it leaving me for a real yearning to go back to experience the true life of NZ with my family.