New Zealand Feature


Local Do's and Taboos

Customs of the Country

In general, Kiwis are accommodating folk who are more likely to good-naturedly tease you about a cultural faux pas than to take offense, but there are a few etiquette points to keep in mind. First, the word "kiwi" refers to either people (New Zealanders) or to the protected kiwi bird, but not the kiwifruit. Also, don't lump New Zealanders in with Australians. A New Zealand accent does not sound just like an Australian one, or a British accent for that matter, and a Kiwi will be the first to point this out.

Be considerate of Māori traditions. For instance, marae, the area in front of a meetinghouse, should not be entered unless you are invited or unless it's in use as a cultural center. Also, it's best not to use hongi (touching foreheads and noses in greeting) unless someone else initiates it.

If you're visiting someone's house, take along a small gift. Among gestures, avoid the "V" symbol with the first two fingers with the palm facing in—an offensive vulgarity.


Kiwi English can be mystifying. The colloquialisms alone can make things puzzling, not to mention rural slang. Known as "cow cockie" talk, this is what you'll hear when "girls" refers to someone's cows, and "gummies" (galoshes) are the favored footwear.

The Māori language has added many commonly used words to the New Zealand lexicon. For instance, the Māori greeting is kia ora, which can also mean "thank you," "good-bye," "good health," or "good luck." You'll hear it from everyone, Pākehā (non-Māori) and Māori alike. Many place names are Māori as well and can be so long as to seem unpronounceable. (A Māori word stands as the longest place-name in the world.)

The biggest communication glitch between New Zealanders and visitors often involves the Kiwis' eloquent use of the understatement. This facet of Kiwi speech is both blessing and curse. Everything sounds relaxed and easygoing … but if you're trying to judge something like distance or difficulty you may run into trouble. No matter how far away something is, people often say it's "just down the road" or "just over the hill." Ask specific questions to avoid a misunderstanding.


If you are driving a road maggot (camper van), be considerate of the drivers behind you. Pull over when safe and possible to let them pass.

There is etiquette when visiting a marae, best illustrated in the book Te Marae: A Guide to Māori Protocol, available through Raupo Publishing (

New Zealand is big on sheep, and you might lose smarty points if you ask dumb sheep questions. "When do you cut their fur?" or "When do their tails fall off?" will elicit laughter: sheep have wool, and their tails are cut off. And remember, there isn't a sheep joke here that hasn't been heard.

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