Travelling around the world in a year means that you’re moving between cultures and countries fast, but with few exceptions most neighboring countries don’t differ that much from each other and the gap isn’t that huge. Jumping the continental divide between South America and Oceania takes you between two vastly different cultures and economic realities, though, so we’ve had to do some work adjusting. Here are the three places where we’ve had the biggest culture shock and how we dealt with them:
A totally new economic scale
We’re poor here. After three months of living mostly under USD $20 a day per person, the prices in New Zealand come with sticker shock. A single cheap meal here costs more than a full day of meals in most of South America, and a bed in a hostel costs more than a private room for two. To reign in our costs, we eat out for only one or two meals a day and cook the rest. An Airbnb has kept our accommodations budget from getting wildly out of hand, but it’s still over our daily budget of USD $30. Thankfully, we’ve brought a camping kit, so we’ll be camping wherever possible in the rest of New Zealand to bring accommodation costs down. We still afford ourselves the little luxuries of buying and trying some things on a whim, but that budget now covers only one whimsy purchase per day instead of three or four. The upside/downside is that whoaaa there are tons of options in stores.
Speaking English again
Being fluent in the local language is simultaneously a huge relief and a huge bore. It takes less time and pantomiming to get chores done, from buying medications at a pharmacy to getting directions, but some of the sense of adventure also disappears. It also takes some time to adjust our brains to English and the New Zealand accent. We find ourselves missing Spanish so we speak it to each other while we’re out, much to the confusion of locals (Spanish speakers are nearly nonexistent here). And hey, at least that keeps it fresh in our heads. (Update from the future: we totally didn’t keep this up and our Spanish fluency has cratered. We’ll have to think of new strategies to stay fluent in the future).
Less public transit
I feel bad saying this, because New Zealand’s public transit is still leagues better than those you would encounter in several other cities around the world, but it still just doesn’t compare to the coverage and affordability of metro systems in South America. The primary cause is simply scale of use: in South America a high percentage of a city’s population uses the metro system. Here in Auckland, where more people own, a smaller percentage of the city uses the metro system. The result is it’s more expensive, the stops are further apart, and the metro takes longer. And outside of Auckland, there are even fewer options. Seeing many of the country’s sights requires renting a car, which is a huge chunk of our budget here in New Zealand.
A totally different culture
After living for three months in South America, New Zealand is a bit of a culture shock as well. People are more polite, although they also seem colder and more reserved. In some places, there are undertones of ethnic and social tension that we haven’t experienced in a while: on the way to the Chinese Lantern Festival, we watched some older white people who sat on their porches glaring furiously at the stream of people walking by (who were mostly Asian). While there are definitely socioeconomic tensions in South America, it took the form of protests instead of diffusing into daily life. When the haves and have nots look racially distinct, this is what happens instead. Despite this, much of the city seems happy, optimistic, and less worried about their economic future than many places we’ve been to. We feel like we have to watch our backs less here for theft, and that’s a relief.