New Zealand Language & Customs Zealand/NZ_LanguageCustoms_01.jpg

New Zealand Language & Customs

New Zealand is a lovely country to travel, not just for the amazing scenery, but also to experience the friendly and relaxed culture of the Kiwis and their can-do attitude.

For Australians travelling to New Zealand, the cultural differences are very subtle. Australians will easily assimilate with New Zealanders, so you can focus your energies on skiing, boarding and partying. There are a few language variations around words like “six” and “fish and chips”, otherwise the language is pretty much the same. Another tip would be not to ask a New Zealander if they are wearing their “thongs” to the beach!


English is the common language spoken by the locals in New Zealand, and Maori also became an official language in 1987. New Zealand English is incredibly similar to that of England and Australia. The obvious differences are in the pronunciation of the language, but considering that many people from the northern hemisphere can’t differentiate the accents of Australians and Kiwis, the differences can’t be too great? Of course, many would disagree! Ask a Kiwi to say "six" and "fish and chips".

Many New Zealand slang words and phrases are also common to Australia and Great Britain. A common word used by New Zealanders is “eh” pronounced as the letter “a”, and is used at the end of sentences when expecting a response to a statement. This is similar to the Canadians’ way of saying “don’t you think?”

Another oddity is the word “tramping” which may conjure up strange thoughts, but simply means hiking or bush-walking. Jandals are thongs or flip-flops, and a bach is a holiday home. The dairy is a small shop that sells dairy products and other incidentals; in other words a milk bar. A “chilli bin” is an Esky. A lift operator is called a “liftie” in NZ – they might get offended if you call them a “towie”. Favourite phrases for young Kiwis are “sweet as” and “choice eh?”, and you’ll see plenty of souvenir t-shirts with these words emblazoned across the front of them.

Many Maori words have been absorbed into everyday use and are commonly used in conversation. Many place names are Maori in origin, and considering they don’t have 26 letters in their alphabet, it seems to result in many of the names becoming tongue-twisters. One example is “Whakarewarewa” which is made trickier because “Wh” is pronounced “F”.

There are five vowels but they are pronounced differently:
• ‘a' as in ‘far’
• ‘e’ as in ‘egg’
• 'i' like the ‘ee’ in ‘fee’
• 'o' sounds like "or"
• ‘u' like an ‘o’ in ‘to’  


The culture of New Zealand is not too dissimilar to that of Australia, although the Kiwis might want to try to differentiate themselves from their Australian neighbours.

New Zealand is very multi-cultural. About 14% of the New Zealand population are indigenous Maori, and there are also many Pacific Islanders (6%) and Asians (9%). The white population (Pakeha) comes predominantly from a United Kingdom background.

As a gross generalisation, the New Zealanders love the outdoors (even when it’s cold) and like to undertake recreational activities such as hiking (tramping), skiing, and water sports.

The primary religion of New Zealand is the All Blacks (rugby union), and of course any opportunity to beat Australia or England at cricket is also sanctimonious.

Before many sporting matches (and at the pub) a version of the haka is performed, which is a generic term for Māori dance. Below are the words in case you want to “sing” along. You can do the dance in your undies for maximum effect.

Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuru huru
Nana nei i tiki mai
Whakawhiti te ra
A upa…ne! Ka upa…ne!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra! Hi!!!

Here’s the English translation, although it might not help your understanding of what the haka is really about.

I die! I die! I live!
I live! I die! I die! I live! I live!
This is the hairy man
Who fetched the sun
And caused it to shine again
One upward step! Another upward step!
An upward step. Another… the sun shines.

Dress Culture

The dress culture around the New Zealand ski fields and ski towns is incredibly relaxed. Around the towns, you’ll fit in well if you keep it very relaxed and easy – jeans, casual pants and casual shoes are the order of the day. Girls, in Queenstown or Auckland you can get away with wearing your high heels, but in most other parts where a ski culture exists, you will not fit in if you dress up too much.

The dress code at the resorts is also very laid back and functional. In New Zealand you rarely see the smart and flashy ski outfits that grace the slopes in other countries. It may well be that the dress culture is dominated by the need to be functional. When there are muddy carparks and dirty ropetows, you don’t want to wear anything light in colour. Comfort and practicality are of the essence.