Getting to Know Us
New Zealanders have a very similar way of life and share values common to most Western countries, but there are some special features. We are passionate about sport, and have a firm belief in social equality. The social welfare system prevents extreme poverty, and the nation has neither a strong class system nor major social tensions.
Differences between high and low-income people are not pronounced. Some minor ethnic tensions exist, but are low by international standards, and goodwill between races is usually evident.
Informality and friendliness
Forms of address
New Zealanders dislike formality and people tend to see each other as 'equals'. Neighbours and people in the workplace are normally on first-name terms.
However, it is still quite common to speak more formally to people in authority. For example, a doctor might be called 'Doctor Smith' rather than 'Mary' or 'Bill'. It is also, of course, standard to address Police as 'Constable' or 'Officer'. However, this title is normally used only when addressing a doctor or Police Officer in his or her professional capacity.
It is also standard to address all correspondence, and particularly job applications, formally to Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Smith. However, old-fashioned greetings such as 'Honourable Sir', 'Esteemed Editor' and closing phrases such as 'I remain your humble servant' will be regarded with derision.
Social relations at work
New Zealanders dislike stuffiness and needless formality, and this attitude is evident in the workplace. Most companies are small, with between five and ten employees. In this context, formality is unworkable and managers and business owners usually treat their staff as they would friends. Although relations are inevitably more structured in large organisations, informality and friendliness are still generally the rule.
Relations between the sexes are egalitarian. Requests from male staff for their female colleagues to 'get a cup of tea' or 'wash the dishes', and patronising or sexually motivated remarks about women or girls, are not acceptable. However, old-fashioned courtesies such as opening doors for female colleagues, although no longer standard, are still generally appreciated.
Informality and friendliness also extend to social occasions, and it is common for management to socialise with their staff on equal terms. Particularly in small firms, this often extends to entertainment at the manager's or owner's home – often barbeque get-togethers held in the summer months. A standard and rather charming feature of working life in New Zealand is 'Friday Fives', which generally involves management and staff sharing drinks together in the office after close of work on Friday.
Many New Zealanders praise new migrants for their good manners and politeness, and you will probably find that New Zealanders are mostly similar to people everywhere when it comes to the types of behaviour they like and dislike. For example, they like people to wait their turn in queues, to ask if it is acceptable to smoke, and not to make uninvited sexual advances. When walking down pavements, it is normal to keep left so that people do not have to dodge each other – it is considered rude for groups of people to take up most of the pavement width when walking together. It is not considered polite to spit in the street, or to blow your nose on to the pavement. Littering is also frowned upon and can incur fines or other penalties.
All types of personal violence are frowned upon. For example, it is increasingly considered unacceptable to smack or otherwise physically discipline children, and more serious instances of family violence are criminal offences.