Tom Coupe on '10 things that amazed me during my first year living in New Zealand' including cold & damp houses, high prices, bare feet & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Tom Coupé. Originally from Belgium, he's an Associate Professor in the Economics and Finance Department at Canterbury University.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to david.chaston@interest.co.nz.

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact gareth.vaughan@interest.co.nz.

See all previous Top 10s here.

In this Top 10, you can find links related to things that amazed me during my first year of life in New Zealand, or more precisely, in the area around the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

1. Learning by Moving.

One of the advantages of moving to another country is that it makes you realise that what you take as given and consider ‘normal’ can be considered strange elsewhere. And vice versa, that some things that are considered ‘normal’ elsewhere appear strange to you. This makes for a great learning experience.

A great description of this can be found in the article of Bianca Bosker’s on the fascination of (some) Japanese with luxury fruits.

“It wasn’t until later, back home in New York, that I fully appreciated the fruit I’d been served. I was at the grocery store, standing in front of a pile of lumpy, grey, misshapen orbs that, according to the sign in front of me, were cantaloupe—the closest most Americans will get to a muskmelon. They were scratched and asymmetrical, and looked borderline grotesque in a way I’d never considered before. I thought back to Sembikiya’s stand of muskmelons; the spheres’ skin—a soft, tan mesh over a mint-green smooth surface—reminded me of needlepoint, and I could understand why the French described them as “embroidered.”

Like so much in Japan, something that initially seemed nonsensical, even trivial, had altered my definition of beauty. Even fruit could become art. Later, back home, I enviously watched YouTube videos of bloggers and TV hosts slicing into muskmelons, or interviewing growers on raising the monarch of melons. “I think only about melons,” said one farmer, grinning. “I’m a melon fool.” I can relate.”

2. New Zealand’s real estate market puzzle.

While looking for a place to live in New Zealand, I was not impressed by the typical quality of the houses I visited. Especially, the presence of single glazed windows and the absence of insulation surprised me. Yes, many houses were built a long time ago when electricity was cheap and wood free – but still, that was long time ago.

A great description of the situation can found in Peter Newport’s article on ‘ The other housing crisis’:

 “Out of 1.5 million New Zealand homes, 750,000 – that’s half – are still not properly insulated… Every single government agency and health expert agrees – even the landlords and property investors agree. Cold damp houses are a national embarrassment. And yet they are part of our national identity.”

As a consequence, in NZ, I have been cold inside the house, despite the mild winter. While I have been warm inside the house in other countries, where it was minus 20C outside in the winter.

While many houses in New Zealand seem of fairly poor quality, in New Zealand you can also read headlines like ‘Auckland house prices up 85pc in four years’  and  NZ tops IMF’s housing unaffordability list.

3. Where are the shoes and the warm clothes?

Related to the previous point: New Zealand must be one of the few countries where the shoe industry has not been too successful in convincing people of the usefulness of their product. At the university, in shopping malls, one can see people walking without shoes. Now, I do like to walk barefoot too, but that’s inside, not outside! Aren’t they afraid to step in a piece of glass (or worse)?

Even when it’s cold outside, people walk in slippers, in shorts and t-shirts. Together with the cold houses, this suggest that Kiwis are just used to the cold. Maybe this is a good way of being energy efficient: once you get yourself used to the cold, there is no need for heating or warm clothes?

The training for this indeed seems to start early, as this article from Stuff.co.nz suggests.

...And I have to admit: my children are much less bothered by cold than I am!

4. Kiwi made, Kiwi owned, Kiwi operated.

Many countries try to brand their products but for many countries, this ‘Made in’ branding is aimed at export products and hence to be used abroad. In New Zealand the Kiwi branding seems to be very common for locally consumed products. What’s more you can even hear and see firms making publicity for being Kiwi owned and Kiwi operated. Doesn’t the latter suggest discrimination in hiring practices?

This kind of economic nationalism is rather surprising to me given the number of migrants in New Zealand and the export orientation of New Zealand. In some countries, foreign firms are seen as positive, bringing new insights, better products and capital to the country. In Eastern Europe, for example you have Euro-windows or Euro-repairs, where the addition of ‘Euro’ stands for high quality.

This Nielsen Global Brand- Origin Survey has some interesting statistics on the preferences of New Zealanders for global and local brands:

“Only 14% of New Zealanders say national pride is one of the most important reasons for choosing local brands but two-fifths (59%) [sic] strongly or somewhat agree they prefer buying local brands because they support local businesses.”

5. Work-life balance.

While the number of hours per year that workers in New Zealand work is fairly average compared to workers in other countries (according to OECD statistics), there are several signs that suggest that the work-life balance in New Zealand does allow for a well-balanced life. Shops in the Mall close, for example, at 1800. Even more surprising, many doctors and dentists do not work after 5 o’clock, and are often closed on Saturdays. Wouldn’t one expect their clients to work during working hours and hence to need their services after the standard working hours?

A recent blog on life-work balance makes some good points.

“At the limit, you probably should care about work-life balance – it’s not going to remain a static thing your whole life. But at the margin, as a new grad, you should focus on the most important problem. Find the thing that motivates you, work your ass off, learn as much as you can, and trust that today’s gains will compound well into the future – your future”

6. Discounts, Discounts and Discounts, and pack to save.

The level of prices in New Zealand is high (NZ$10 for a kilogram of tomatoes? One would exaggerate only a little bit if one would claim one can fly over a bag of tomatoes in economy class from Europe and still make a profit!). Food prices are high and so are prices for consumer electronics.

This recent article provides some possible explanation for the high food prices:

"With Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises running our main supermarkets, New Zealand has a "cosy duopoly" which is almost worse than a monopoly, Ms Chetwin says. So those supermarkets aren't really competing that hard, whereas in Australia they've had the entrance of Aldi, which is a low-cost supermarket chain and I think that's really making a difference for them. I think it would take somebody like an Aldi to come into New Zealand - somebody who's got deep pockets and give it a go - it would be great for New Zealand consumers if it did happen," Ms Chetwin says. Another factor is Fonterra's dominance of our dairy market.”

But luckily, New Zealand shops love discounts. In fact, it seems there are huge discounts to be found on most of the products (not tomatoes though…) on most days making me wonder why shops don’t just announce their prices are always discounted.

And you can always save money by packing one’s groceries oneself – the idea of a retail chain to make money based on this concept is just brilliant. In the countries where I shopped before, however, I had the impression that packing yourself had become the default long time ago.

Not only prices seem high, so seems price variability. Where I shop, the price of salmon is either $28 or $32, varying from day to day. The same pack of juice can vary between $1 and $2, $5 and so on.

This all probably makes sense in some way but it’s not clear to me yet …

7. No tipping in NZ.

While prices can vary, one source of uncertainty about prices – what’s the right amount to tip – fortunately does not exist in New Zealand.

Hope it stays that way though:

“Deputy PM Paula Bennett is calling for Kiwis to tip hospitality staff more often, in an effort to increase the quality of service.”

Just to be sure: here are 9 reasons to keep the tipping habit out of New Zealand.

8. CDs are still being sold.

In this age of online streaming services and illegal downloads, it is amazing to see CDs still being sold. To be honest, I didn’t realise that computers with CD players were still sold…

Maybe in New Zealand, the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) has been strong enough to prevent illegal downloads becoming widespread. Though this report suggests IPR in New Zealand is fairly average only.

“As in years past, Canada and New Zealand continue to stand out as examples of developed high-income economies closer to the score of middle-income economies than that of the U.S. and EU.”

Whatever the reason, I remain a sceptic about the long term future of CD sales, even in New Zealand.

9. Maybe’s it’s just me?

As one can notice from the above, many things still puzzle me. But maybe that’s just because economists don’t know that much.

 ‘What Do Economists Actually Know? Turns out, not as much as you — and they — would like to think’.

10. New Zealand is a great place to live in!

Despite some puzzling characteristics, New Zealand is a great place to live. New Zealand ranks 14th in the USNews 2017 Best Countries ranking and 8th in the 2017 World Happiness Report. According to the Best countries’ ranking, NZ scores an impressive 8.5 out of 10 on quality of life, 8.4 on openness for business, and 10 out of 10 for ‘scenic’ and family friendly.  No wonder migration to New Zealand is high!

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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24 Comments

All true , especially prices .

Food in particular.

Why on earth is fish , a ready source of good protein, so expensive ?

And why are there no fishing villages that we see EVERYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET that have fishermen allowed to sell their daily catch on the Wharf ?

It would rid our small coastal towns of poverty and unemployment if the locals were allowed to fish and sell their catch.

My take on NZ is that Kiwis March to the beat of their own drum and could not give a toss what anyone else thinks

Unfortunately, locals rank behind the commercial operations.

Who in turn rank below the foreign operators that are not always operating in an entirely legal manner

In 2 words - quota and fuel.

My experience of Belgium is fairly limited but it certainly can be cold and wet. It's main claim to fame is the best beer in the world with maybe a few Bavarian's competing. My son in Lille crosses the border to Belgium just to fill a car with beer and despite his determined efforts I doubt he has to repeat a beer from one year to another. Splendid variety and great taste.

I know the EU is mainly an organisation devoted to subsidising farmers with the average cow getting a subsidy that would let it fly round the world twice. However a simple question: given the right season in Auckland we can buy Braeburn apples for 79 cents a kilo. I wouldn't pick them up of the floor for that price. It is a pricing miracle and a better apple cannot be found in Europe.

Tom Coupe is the kind of immigrant I like; highly skilled and well paid. Confident that somewhere in the world is an equivalent Kiwi prof plying his/her trade. But one feature Belgium and NZ has in common is an predominately ethnic underclass doing the dirty jobs - the result of ill-considered immigration.

with the average cow getting a subsidy that would let it fly round the world twice.

Now that's something I would like to see. Even more than raining cats and dogs and flying pigs.

Wonder if they'd fly Business Class or just stick to Cattle Class.

but .. but .. the carbon emissions ? and surely airplanes make them fart more ?

Belgium may also have the world's best chocolate...

Thanks for the advice. Hope to be in Belgium next year.

and chips, and waffles....

Jacinda Ardern reveals Labour's election slogan is 'LET'S DO THIS' lol
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11898865

Let's do what?

Delivering what for NZers?

Every time I read that slogan I always think it's missing an asterisk and a terms and conditions apply disclaimer.

@ Lapun ...... lets do this ....... Tax and Spend other peoples money until it runs out

Or we could borrow it instead huh? Remind me agin what national debt was when Jk arrived and what it was when he left?

Here Rastus - I'll remind you again.

"Core Crown net debt is also expected to rise to $44.7 billion or 20.7% of GDP by
June 2013. The increase in net core Crown debt is owing to the run-down of
NZDMO financial assets and increases in borrowings expected during the forecast
period."

"Gross debt is forecast to increase by $40.3 billion in nominal terms and as a

percentage of GDP by 15.6% over the forecast period. By the end of the forecast

period in the June 2013 year, gross debt is expected to be $71.6 billion or 33.1% of

GDP."

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/budget/forecasts/eff2008/eff08.pdf

"National had barely got its feet under the Cabinet table before the Treasury further revised its forecasts and projected deficits of $6 billion-plus.

So much for “careful management”. Labour is relying on short memories to rewrite history, however. It won’t fool everybody. But in the heat of an election campaign, it is easy to spout fiction and difficult to establish fact."

http://m.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10762347

Could be worse : "I'm with her!", or "Make Aotearoa Great Again!"

Or "Delivering for New Zealanders"

Reads more aptly as "Delivering for Few Zealanders".

Let's do what? Let's do this: https://youtu.be/weBkbxM36EM

After seeing that link, I feel a strong urge to go to Glendowie and buy that house, and in the process, do my little bit to keep Eastern suburbs property prices ticking along. I think I'll bid to at least $3m, maybe $4m.

Me too! I'll see your $4m and raise you...but, but wait! Is that a plaster cladding I see..! Mmm maybe not then...

If you're borrowing that extra million to, that'll be ok because that's normal for Auckland ,